Lesser-known among silent German classics, Waxworks is a carnival of a movie inviting you to visit three distinct freak shows and sample the thrills and peculiarities each has to offer. A young poet (Wilhelm Dieterle, who became Hollywood director William Dieterle) is hired to pen “startling tales” about three figures on display in the Wachsfigurenkabinett. Somehow he and his boss’s daughter (Olga Belajeff) win plum roles in each fantasia he concocts. The Arabian Nights episode, featuring Emil Jannings hamming it up as Caliph Haroun al-Raschid, boasts demented architecture and a blend of comedy and surrealism that inspired Douglas Fairbanks’s Thief of Bagdad. Conrad Veidt, making a memorably mad Russian icon of Ivan the Terrible, towers amid episode 2’s fiercely angular compositions. Then, still-unnerving double-exposure cinematography is used to bring “Spring Heel Jack” (Werner Krauss’s version of Jack the Ripper) out of the realm of fantasy and menacingly into the real-world framing story
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