The early decades of filmmaking were essentially the Wild West. It was a time of experimentation and little to no regulation, and one that continues to fascinate movie buffs – especially considering how many of those early silent films were lost due to neglect or fire.
Among those bygone pictures, one looms especially large in the public imagination: the supposedly lost film London After Midnight. The 1927 silent production starred Lon Chaney, and the horror mystery film was considered controversial from the moment of its release. It was spooky, certainly, but the movie attained notoriety after a murder in 1928. The killer claimed to have seen visions of Lon Chaney's character, who supposedly urged him to carve up a woman with a razor. The London After Midnight murder made headlines and added to the movie's dark allure.
Was there some malevolent force at work in London After Midnight? Was it a cursed movie, or simply a convenient excuse for a deranged criminal? The true power of the film will likely remain a mystery; the last known copy was destroyed in the 1967 fire that ravaged the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer vaults. But a reconstructed version made from photographs is still available for viewing – if you dare.
The Last Known Copy Of The Film Was Destroyed By FirePhoto: MGM
Not many movies survive from the silent era; the Library of Congress estimates that only 14 percent of those films survive in their original format. Some of that is due to studio practices, which often saw films destroyed after their brief theatrical runs. And then there were the unfortunate accidents – celluloid is highly flammable, and fires frequently wiped out reels in storage.
Such was the fate of London After Midnight. The last known copy of the film fell victim to a massive vault fire at MGM in 1967, an event that claimed a number of features and shorts. London After Midnight's popularity surged even more, and it's now considered by some as the "Holy Grail" of lost movies.
A Reconstruction Was Released In 2002Photo: MGM
If you're still craving more spooky suspense, screen Mark of the Vampire. Tod Browning's 1935 talkie is essentially a remake of London After Midnight.
The Original Poster Sold For Nearly Half A Million Dollars
London After Midnight has maintained its cult status for decades. In November of 2014, a copy of the original movie poster sold for $478,000, becoming the most valuable auction sale of its kind. Experts said the poster is the only such piece in existence.
The Film's Legacy Lives OnPhoto: MGM
For a film that no one has really seen, London After Midnight certainly has staying power. The film's dark influence was cited in the television series Whitechapel. In it, London After Midnight supposedly drove anyone who watched it insane.
The film's imagery also lives on. The distinctive look of Lon Chaney's character, with his long black cloak and top hat, inspired the frightening entity in The Babadook.