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C Entries
Edward L. Cahn
James Cameron
Lewis John Carlino
Richard Carlson
John Carradine
Helena Bonham Carter
Leo G. Carroll
Maurice Cass
Lon Chaney
Lon Chaney, Jr.
John Cho
Arthur C. Clarke
Phyllis Coates
Joan Collins
Sir Sean Connery
Roger Corman
Buster Crabbe
Richard Crane
Tom Cruise
Peter Cushing
 
CHANEY, LON
(1883–1930). American actor.

SCIENCE FICTION, FANTASY, AND HORROR FILM CREDITS
Acted in: The Miracle Man (George Loane Tucker 1919); A Blind Bargain (Wallace Worsley 1922); The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Worsley 1923); He Who Gets Slapped (Victor Sjostrom 1924); The Monster (Roland West 1925); The Phantom of the Opera (and co-directed, uncredited, with Rupert Julian and Edward Sedgwick, uncredited) (1925); The Unknown (Tod BROWNING 1927); London After Midnight (Browning 1927); Laugh, Clown, Laugh (Herbert Brenon 1928).
 
Despite all of the dead trees, rivers of ink, and gigabytes of disk space that have been wasted by horror film aficionados in celebrating the questionable talents of Lon CHANEY, Jr., they have devoted surprisingly little attention to his vastly more estimable father. Granted, Lon Chaney worked almost exclusively in silent films, a form not widely appreciated nowadays, and granted, virtually all of his films lack genuinely supernatural elements, or even a hint thereof. Still, Chaney remains the most important figure in the history of horror films, simply because he invented the horror film.

In his best movies, we first observe on the silver screen the archetypal narrative of horror: the good-hearted but unattractive monster driven to violence by the cruelty of superficial people who value outer beauty more than inner virtue. It is of course a narrative with distinguished literary forebears, including Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre Dame (whom Chaney magnificently brought to life) and the monster of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (whom, had he lived, Chaney surely would have portrayed with equivalent skill); but Chaney pioneered in demonstrating the cinematic power of this narrative and established several of its conventions, such as the shocking first appearance of the monster and its climactic flight from an infuriated mob. This is the narrative of King Kong, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, Psycho, and Carrie, the narrative that informs classic figures ranging from Dracula and the Mummy to Jason and Freddie Krueger. The only difference between Chaney's characters and those of his successors is that Chaney portrayed the realistic monsters of everyday life that people might see on the street or at the sideshow—hunchbacks, men horribly scarred and disfigured, men without arms or legs—and masterfully transformed them into iconic figures who were simultaneously horrific and sympathetic.

While Chaney's power to arouse audience support for such unattractive characters might make horror films seem a positive social force, another aspect of his success is less flattering to the genre. As his legend grew, buttressed by studio publicity, filmgoers were always aware that they were watching a normal person cleverly employing innovative makeup techniques to change his appearance; and this knowledge enabled them to overcome their natural revulsion to the ugly and malformed. Not understanding this, one of Chaney's regular directors, Tod BROWNING, unwisely decided after his death to make a Chaney film without Chaney, hiring real-life circus freaks as his heroes, leading to a film, Freaks, that was viscerally appalling to almost everyone at the time. A decade later, an actor disfigured by acromegaly, Rondo Hatton, was equally unsuccessful in his brief career as a horror film star. Clearly, horror films do little to promote genuine understanding and tolerance for those unlike ourselves; people care for their celluloid counterparts, as Chaney recognized, only because audiences know they are make-believe.

Assessing those areas where Chaney has had a lasting impact, one finds, strangely, that he had little effect on the field which he pioneered, movie makeup, because later generations of makeup artists, unwilling to torment actors the way that Chaney tormented himself, devised other methods to make actors look terrifying. But Chaney's surprisingly modern style of acting, paradoxically best seen in those films where he wears little makeup, must have influenced some of his successors, and Chaney further played a key role in cementing the Hollywood star system as one of the main attractions of the silent film era.

Today, anyone afforded the rare opportunity to watch one of his films should seize it. True, more than once, contemporary viewers of his films will squirm and fidget due to their leaden pace and antiquated style; yet one appropriately endures slow and creaky movements while observing the birth of a monster.

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