For today’s horror on the lens, we have a film from 1913! A German adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s William Wilson, The Student of Prague is often considered to be the first feature-length horror film. Featuring Paul Wegener (who also co-directed the film) in the lead role, this is the story of what happens when the popular but poor Balduin attempts to get rich by dealing with the dark arts. These things never work out well, as Balduin discovers once his reflection steps out of a mirror and goes out of its way to make Balduin’s life difficult.
Of course, to watch the film today, audiences have to adjust both their expectations and the way that they take in and process cinematic storytelling. As of this writing, The Student of Prague is 106 years old and it’s definitely a film of its time. The camera largely remains stationary and, from a modern perspective, the film is rather slow-paced. And yet, the film’s story remains rather intriguing. Despite the static camera work, the film manages to create and maintain a properly ominous atmosphere and a scene in which Balduin and Margit attempt to meet in a cemetery is effectively creepy. Paul Wegener’s performance holds up well. Largely eschewing the overly theatrical acting style that we usually tend to associate with silent cinema, Wegener gives a nuanced and effectively subtle performance as both Balduin and his doppelganger. When he’s acting opposite of himself, you don’t think about the fact that you’re witnessing an early camera trick. Instead, Wegener creates two separate but believable versions of the same character. The doppelganger represents all of Balduin’s undesirable impulses and everything that has kept Balduin from achieving happiness. By the end of the film, Balduin can’t live with his doppelganger but he can’t live without him as well.
The Student of Prague is an interesting piece of history and one that every true student of horror should watch and learn from at least once.
And here’s your chance!