The beginning of this film sets the tone for the whole: famed pianist Orlac (Conrad Veidt) is returning from a concert via train when the train crashes. The crash itself occupies only a few seconds of footage, but we spend five minutes plus on Orlac's concerned sweetie driving to the accident scene, then we devote more time to stumbling around the wrecked skeleton of the train.
People who dismiss silent stuff as overly ponderous and deliberate could find worse evidence than ORLAC. Scenes are dragged to absurd lengths while nothing much is happening. Even so, there are rewards hidden here. This never jumps fully into the muck of weirdness in which director Robert Wiene's CALIGARI and GENUINE slopped about. But it still gets pretty strange, especially in terms of the performances. Mrs. Orlac especially seems to be a callback to CALIGARI's Cesare, with her herky-jerky movements and sleepwalking stance.
Thankfully, she compensates for this lack of poise with smoldering passion.
The title is the HANDS OF ORLAC for a reason. Orlac loses his hands to the train and gets affixed with some murderer's mitts. The film goes to great lengths to hammer home just how important hands are to the Orlac household. Not only is their concert-pianoing income hand-based, but Mrs. Orlac seems to have some hand-fetish paraphilia happening.
Even a royal baby that just came out could guess the plot from here! The hands seemingly gin up killer thoughts in Orlac's post-train brain. His piano skills deteriorate while his knife-wielding skills rise.
Assuredly not the most intense or horrific movie ever to exist, ORLAC's benefits mostly reside in the surreal performances and the occasional surreal set-piece, like the girl who lives in a mound made of newspapers.
As it incorporates dreamy surrealism and subtextual perversity, two things that I adore in horror, I feel that I should like ORLAC a lot. But the tempo is just too lax, almost a 180 turn from the hyperinsanity of GENUINE. It plods its way to its (too-neat) resolution. Let's call it good, but only just.
1. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)
2. Faust (1926)
3. The Golem (1920)
4. The Phantom of the Opera (1925)
5. The Man Who Laughs (1928)
6. The Unknown (1927)
7. Maciste in Hell/Maciste all'Inferno (1925)
8. The Wind (1928)
9. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920)
10. A Page of Madness (1926)