ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED 2007-01-13
I thought that I would take another avenue of presenting gorilla suit lore here – a scattershot, somewhat random look at recent Web or Ebay discoveries that may not necessarily lend themselves to extended discussion. Unfortunately my paid space is feeling somewhat tight and I will generally avoid packing more images into my gallery site. I do have oodles of other webspace provided by my internet provider so most additional images can be posted directly here or added on linked webpages. It would also be a fun way to spotlight cool new items that might get lost in the mass of gallery pics.
This week I wanted to share a freaky, casual cast shot from SEVEN FOOTPRINTS TO SATAN. This 8x10 still popped up on Ebay this past week and is rare image from the 1929 dark house mystery. The publicity tag on the back lists the actors as follows: back row - Creighton Hale, Sojin, Nora Cecil. Front row - William V. Mong, Thelma Todd and Charles Gemora as the gorilla. I love the distinctly strange characters – the brooding Asian villain, the kooky fellow in the front row with the mutton chops that threaten to swallow his face, and who pencils on the eyebrows on that wrinkled sourpuss on the right? The gorilla suit is exquisitely grotesque. I must admit to a deep fascination with suits that pre-date the 1940’s. By World War Two, Hollywood had well established gorilla suit performers like Gemora, Corrigan and Emil Van Horn, and their apparel had evolved along with their audience. The movie going public was more intimate with jungle beasts through travelogues, print and prominent circuses like Ringling. Though Corrigan’s ape visage remained extreme (the primary reason I find his flicks so engrossing), Gemora always strived for greater realism. SEVEN FOOTPRINTS is likely Gemora’s third outing in the ape skin and I think it is safe to imagine of his own construction.
SEVEN FOOTPRINTS TO SATAN was originally penned by Abraham Merrit in 1927, and was one of two works adapted to film (the other was BURN WITCH BURN!, filmed as THE DEVIL DOLL in 1936). Merritt had a modest literary output; his primary occupation was that of editor for THE ALL AMERICAN WEEKLY, a Randolph Hearst publication.
Here is a brief, innocuous description of the film from IMDB – coming from the mind of Benjamin Christensen I imagine that the last line in the summary is most relevant. I was introduced to Christensen’s landmark film HEXEN via the brutally surreal and random 30’s shocker, MANIAC. The titular character has moments of crippling hallucinations where images of demons and witches from the Danish docudrama are superimposed upon scenes of mental torment. It is abundantly clear that they are in class beyond this exploitation films’ original material.
A young man of society wants to make an expedition to Africa, but his fiancée asks him for help about one of her father’s guests shortly before his planed departure. Her suspects about that guest were serious, this man tries to steal one of her father’s rubin, and she and her fiancé are kidnapped and brought to a house, where strange things happen. The whole thing becomes a nightmare under the direction of a mysterious Mr. Satan.
The voluminous pages of THE MISSING LINK website have this to say about the early Hollywood effort of the Great Dane:
Daredevil Jim Kirkham, complains when he feels that his life is too mundane, until he and his sweetheart find themselves prisoners in a haunted castle while searching for a gemstone stolen during a reception at her house. The castle is inhabited entirely by monsters, wild animals and screaming victims, but eventually the horrors are revealed to have been nothing more than an elaborate hoax to show him that mundane reality can be as bizarre as any adventure.
A thrilling parade of monsters in a startling symphony of light and shadow, invested with a darkly mocking wit.
That seems a more apt description! I have yet to see the film myself. It was long considered lost until a European version surfaced. Though it is minus the sound effects and synchronized music that accompanied the North American release, the surviving print has Italian intertitles, a recent score, and is available at Creepy Classics. Another item on a long list of gorilla suit must-haves.
Another rare still - note a youthful Angelo Rossito with the curled shoes, best known for his FREAKS role with horror buffs, also widely recognized for his appearance as the Master in the third MAD MAX installment.
The cult film guru Michael J. Weldon of Psychotronic magazine (which sadly may be out of print for a spell while they rebound from some distribution problems) had these comments about the classic dark house film. Weldon’s distinctive obituary pages are unmatched in print or on the web – both the obscure and forgotten names of cult and underground film get their due recognition in a few lines of print. The quote below is indicative of Michael’s expansive knowledge and his top spot as the go-to Hollywood grave watcher.
SEVEN FOOTPRINTS is overloaded with impressive horror makeup faces, interesting characters and visual surprises. One brief (pre-code) scene shows a naked oriental woman (we only see part of her). Her hands are then bound above her head with leather straps while the gorilla holds her feet! A hairy faced man (William V. Mong) who I think is a werewolf and a bearded dwarf (young Angelo Rossitto) both help the hero. A witch woman in a sexy dress (Nora Cecil) and a club footed cripple with long hair (Sheldon Lewis, who was DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE in 1920) both threaten. Also with the director as Eve’s uncle and Loretta Young (an extra). The director, best known for his incredible WITCHCRAFT 2 THROUGH THE AGES (22), also made THE HAUNTED HOUSE (28) and HOUSE OF HORROR (29) in Hollywood, both also with Todd and Mong, before returning home to Denmark. Todd, famous for 30s comedy shorts, died of carbon monoxide poisoning in her car in 35. The Japanese Kamiyama Sojin (also in THE BAT - 26) died in 44 in a U.S. internment camp. Hale, from Ireland, retired after the 40s and lived into his 80s.