Tag Archives: Whitechapel

London After Midnight

15 May

Lon Chaney’s ability to transform himself using makeup techniques earned him the nickname ‘The Man of a Thousand Faces’. Today he is regarded as one of the most versatile and powerful actors of early cinema, renowned for his characterisations of tortured, often grotesque and afflicted characters, and his groundbreaking artistry with makeup – as well as being the father of The Wolfman (1941) star, Lon Chaney Jr. Whilst Chaney senior is best known for his starring roles in such silent horror films as The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) and The Phantom of the Opera (1925), it is one of his lesser-known films that remains perhaps his most infamous: London After Midnight (1927). The movie is now lost and remains one of the most famous and eagerly sought of all lost films, the last known copy having been destroyed in the 1967 MGM vault fire. The reason it is so infamous (and perhaps also the reason why it was destroyed) is that, according to urban legend, anyone who watches the complete, original cut of the film is doomed to become suddenly, incurably insane. This defence was most famously used in the 1928 murder trial of a man accused of murdering a woman in Hyde Park, London – unsuccessfully in that case.

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Whitechapel

11 Mar

One of my favourite shows on TV at the moment is Whitechapel, which explores the many dark and disturbing urban legends of one of London’s famous suburbs. The first series of the show focused on a suspected copycat killer who copied the modus operandi of the most infamous and terrifying serial murderer ever to plague old London town – Jack the Ripper. In the words of Jack himself:

“Below the skin of history are London’s veins. These symbols, the mitre, the pentacle star, even the ignorant and degenerate can sense that they course with energy… and meaning. I am that meaning. I am that energy. One day, men will look back and say that I gave birth to the 20th Century.”

In one sense this is true yet, in spite of the epidemic of 2oth century serial killers with sobriquets like the Boston Strangler, the Buffalo Slasher, the Sunset Slayer and the Yorkshire Ripper, it is Jack who still remains by far and away the most infamous. This is not due simply to the grisly picturesqueness of the nickname but to the fact that the murders took place in the gaslit, fog-shrouded London of Sherlock Holmes and that – unlike the other criminals mentioned above – the identity of Jack the Ripper is still a total mystery.

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