Produced by Astra Film
Distributed by Pathe
Released March 10, 1918
Directed by George B. Seitz
Pearl White (Pearl Grant Waldon/Jenny Acton), Antonio Moreno (Harvey "Harry" Gresham), John H. Gilmour (Winthrop Waldon), John Webb Dillon (Haynes Waldon), Paul Clerget (Ezra Waldon), Peggy Shanor (Naomi Waldon), Helene Chadwick (Queenie Kate), Paul Panzer (Death Row Warden), Louis Wolheim (Patch-Eye Pete)
Ask anyone who is the most popular serial star of all time, and the answer will most likely be "Pearl White," generally regarded as "The Queen of the Serials." Ask for the most popular serial of all time, and the answer will probably be "The Perils of Pauline" that White made in 1914. It's difficult to explain, although there have been at least three movies since her serials that apparently felt the name "Perils of Pauline" was a draw - a little known 1932 12 chapter serial with Evelyn Knapp and Craig Reynolds, a 1947 semi-bio with Betty Hutton in the lead, and a 1967 film with Pat Boone and Pamela Austin that has no relation to the original serial other than the title and Pauline constantly being in "peril."
Between 1914 and 1924, White made 11 serials, and, unfortunately, little remains of her work. Some chapters of "The Perils of Pauline" remain only due to a nine-chapter abridgement of the original 20 chapters that was released in France during the silent era. There are chapters that exist from some of her other serials in archives, and, reportedly, UCLA has a complete print of "The Fatal Ring" (1917), but other than some of "The Perils of Pauline," nothing is available for the silent movie fan to view at home - that is, until now.
The Serial Squadron's release of Pearl White's 1918 serial "The House of Hate" is a real treat that silent movie fans won't want to miss. Even though the original 20-chapter serial does not appear to survive today, the Serial Squadron is offering a 10-chapter condensation that was found in Russia - and it doesn't disappoint! It views and feels like a complete serial and presents itself in 10 nicely packaged, distinct and separate chapters - cliffhanger endings and all (well, at least most of the chapters leave us hanging at the end).
The story opens with the wealthy Winthrop Waldon, owner of a munitions factory. Waldon has four family members remaining (let's keep these straight now) - his illegitimate daughter Pearl (Pearl White); a brother, Ezra; a nephew, Haynes; and a niece, Naomi. Waldon tells them that the only one not waiting for him to die and get his fortune is Pearl - therefore, he is naming her his sole heir. Shortly after that announcement, he is murdered by the Hooded Terror who winds his way through the "castle" via a secret passage. Could one of the family members be the Hooded Terror??
There's one more character in our story - Harry Gresham (Antonio Moreno). He's the munitions factory's main engineer, Waldon's most trusted employee and, also, in love with Pearl. In addition to the family members, could Gresham have some reason for wanting Waldon dead?
Let's make it clear. This is a well-made story that has some "meat" to it - and unlike some of the cheaper serials, throws in enough mix to keep us from feeling like we're seeing the same thing repeated in each of the 10 chapters. For example, in Chapter 3, the three family members hatch a plan to discredit Gresham with Pearl. Naomi (the niece) goes to Gresham's apartment to tell him he should not trust Pearl. Ezra (the brother) and Haynes (the nephew) are in the car with Pearl and fake a breakdown. They decide to go to Gresham's apartment to wait on the car to be repaired since it's close. When they knock at the door, Naomi asks to be hidden since she doesn't want to be seen by them. Gresham naively agrees, but Naomi purposely leaves her fur muff behind. Of course, it is found, and Pearl accuses Gresham of being unfaithful. But that's not all. Later that day, Gresham and the Hooded Terror fight outside the castle. The Terror throws his cape over Gresham and knocks him out. When Gresham is found by Pearl and the others with the cape on him, they assume he's the Hooded Terror!
The storyline really does hold the viewer's interest because there is more to it than simply trying to capture the Hooded Terror. Another character is brought into it for one chapter - Patch Eye Pete, played by that great character actor Louis Wolheim in an early role. Just arriving from Manila, he tells shyster lawyer Grimble he knows who the Hooded Terror is. How does a sailor from Manila and this lawyer figure into a family plot to eliminate Pearl and gain the family fortune? Well, as in any good serial, it all gets explained in the end.
The final chapters provide some inventive twists, too. Here we meet Jenny Acton who is on death row and looks exactly like Pearl. Seeing the impending execution in the newspaper and a photo of Jenny, Pearl decides to go see her - an unwise decision for Pearl, or so it seems. Jenny and her father plot with an unscrupulous guard to put Pearl in Jenny's place on death row and let Jenny escape. It's a neat and clever part of the story that has a direct impact on the tale's resolution.
"House of Hate" also does a superb job of keeping us guessing who the Hooded Terror may be. As soon as you begin to suspect one, the suspicion turns to another. One clue we have is that the Hooded Terror is extremely strong -- so strong, in fact, that he is able to bend steel bars. As a result, the camera focuses in on some of Haynes' hand motions that raise our suspicions about him. In another scene, Ezra walks in buttoning his coat immediately after the Hooded Terror has left. Could he have just made a quick change? After a particularly violent fight with the Terror, Ezra shows up with a suspicious bandage on his hand that Pearl notices. Also, several times after encountering the Terror, Pearl tries to check on the whereabouts of her relatives, but they are never to be found at that moment. George B. Seitz was a capable director with 108 credits in both the silent and sound eras. His addition of little touches such as these keep us guessing and add to the fun of this serial.
And, of course, we have the Queen of Serials - Pearl White - so who could pass this up? However, don't expect a lot of spectacular stunts in this one - no daring acrobatics involving fast cars, planes or trains. We do see her, though, walking between buildings high above ground on a clothesline as she holds another line above her, and, of course, the line is cut. She and Gresham climb down the side of a mountain on a rope, which is also cut. Chapter 1 closes with Pearl under a large vat of bubbling, molten steel that is slowly lowering onto her unconscious body. In Chapter 7, she dangles from a chain above a fiery pit in the factory with the Hooded Terror trying to get to her. In true Victorian melodrama style, she is placed unconscious on a conveyor belt that dumps cotton between large gear-like wheels that are supposed to pulverize the cotton (it does seem she took some risk as her head is very uncomfortably close to the gears that are turning - gears that look to be genuine). And Moreno does his share of daring, too, climbing on rooftops, falling into the waters around Fort Lee (and this was filmed in December with snow on the ground!), climbing down a rope on a rocky hillside, exciting and fast moving fights with the Hooded Terror and more.
White's athleticism is evident as she, too, fights with the Hooded Terror - each time a very physical, fast action fight that must have ended up in bumps and bruises when the cameras stopped turning. She, Moreno and the actor portraying the Hooded Terror provide some very realistic and exciting fight scenes that keep the viewer on seat's edge.
As with any serial, too, some things stretch believability or we ask, "How could you be so naïve?!" Pearl, of course, agrees to meet Patch Eye Pete at a warehouse - mistake!! One of the Hooded Terror's henchmen leads her to a secluded place where Gresham is supposed to be - mistake!! We also wonder sometimes if anyone can shoot straight -- lots of gunfire and few people getting hit. Twice, Gresham is supposed to be shot and gets up perfectly fine - he was faking it. But, all in all, the storyline is very solid and not enough can be said about the Hooded Terror. He's a superb villain who seems to be only somewhat short of superhero status. He jumps, climbs, fights, runs, scales buildings and generally eludes capture as someone who is superhuman. He appears just at the right time to give us a quick scare as he tries to kill Pearl or Gresham. And, of course, he seems to have his henchmen everywhere - even one who is a female character named Queenie Kate played by a very young and attractive Helene Chadwick.
It's a well-made serial that is darned good entertainment. It doesn't try to be anything more than good fun, and that's a welcome change from the serials from across the waters that we've been given in recent years. As to print quality, The Serial Squadron has almost been a bit unfair to the film in their attempt to be "up front" with the purchaser. Their website notes that "the release comes from a low resolution but intact transfer," and "the picture quality of this serial is less than our usual standard." This may lead the silent film fan to believe the print quality is hard on the eyes. No, it can't stand beside the Blu-Ray release of "The Big Parade," for example, but it's very watchable, has better than decent contrast throughout almost all of it, and the scratches or occasional speckles or lines on the film will not diminish the viewer's enchantment with White and the engrossing story.
The score is by Kevin McLeod is serviceable, but the film would have been more pleasing with a more traditional musical score. This appears to be electronically produced giving us piano, percussion, violins, brass and even choral background. The abundance of drums for background and repetition of chords or sounds in a scene seem to be influenced by Goth or horror film motifs. It must be noted that actual sound effects are a nice touch to this soundtrack, though - guns firing, factory sounds, fire, horses, screams, etc. In fairness, the mood of the music fits the scenes and is effective in accompanying the action that is taking place at any given moment in the film. It's all a matter ot taste.
Serial Squadron has done a commendable job of bringing this serial to DVD. They've created new opening titles and intertitles, and some appropriate tinting is apparent (such as when Pearl is in a darkroom developing a photo), but not overdone since a lot of the movie is presented in black and white. A nice set of notes accompanies the two discs and provide a synopsis of each of the original 20 chapters so the interested fan can see what editing took place in this 10- chapter re-release from 1925. Nice cover artwork, but there is no artwork on the discs which would have been a nice addition to the attractiveness of the set.
Chapters range from 18 to 30 minutes each for a total of about three and a half hours. The Serial Squadron notes on their website that the first four chapters are essentially intact as originally presented in the 20-chapter version. Chapters 6-8 give the best of some of the action from the middle chapters, and then Chapters 9-10 are taken from Chapters 18-20 of the original. They also note, "What is not present in the condensation is padding having to do with German spies which was added to the serial to extend it from 15 to 20 chapters originally, and had nothing to do with the central story, so this presentation is actually better and closer to the script as originally conceived and written!"
And in closing, just one other point -- this reviewer watched the entire serial in one sitting which attests to the interest it sustains throughout. Definitely recommended!
1. Hulse, Ed. "Distressed Damsels and Masked Marauders: Cliffhanger Serials of the Silent-Movie Era." Murania Press. 2012.
2. "The House of Hate" notes. SerialSquadron.com.
3. "Pearl White." Wikipedia.com.
4. Weltman, Manuel, and Raymond Lee. "Pearl White: The Peerless Fearless Girl." A.S. Barnes & Co., Inc. 1969.
Copyright 2015 by Tim Lussier. All rights reserved
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