Epsilon Spires screens trio of 100-year-old horror films for Halloween
A scene from the 1922 silent film classic, “Nosferatu,” which kicks off Epsilon Spires’ Halloween film series on Oct. 22.

Epsilon Spires screens trio of 100-year-old horror films for Halloween

BRATTLEBORO — This year, Epsilon Spires will celebrate Halloween with three early horror movies, accompanied by live soundtracks performed by some of the premier silent film accompanists in the country.

On Saturday, Oct. 22, the iconic vampire film Nosferatu will be screened with a score performed on the pipe organ by Dennis James, followed the next weekend by The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari on Oct. 29 with music by the Anvil Orchestra. The following Monday, Halloween night, will feature a special presentation for mature audiences of the cult classic Häxan, scored by cellist Lori Goldston and trumpeter Greg Kelley.

All films will be shown in the sanctuary of the gothic cathedral that houses Epsilon Spires.

Nosferatu, which turns 100 this year, is the world's first vampire movie. The story is based largely on Bram Stoker's novel Dracula - for which the film's creators were sued by Stoker's heirs - and is filmed in a German Expressionist style inspired in part by The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

The late film critic Roger Ebert wrote that he admired Nosferatu for “its artistry and ideas, its atmosphere and images,” adding that to modern audiences, the beautifully crafted film “doesn't scare us, but it haunts us.”

The soundtrack for Nosferatu will be performed on Epsilon Spires' 1906 Estey pipe organ by Dennis James, who has reconstructed organ music for classic films using archival scores and historically informed approaches to composition since 1969.

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is considered the first horror movie ever made, with scenes that reportedly caused women to scream and faint during its initial run in theaters, but the film has remained popular for over a century due to its striking set design and cinematography.

“We guarantee our live score will be as creepy as the film, and perfect for the Halloween season,” says Roger Miller of the Anvil Orchestra, which will perform a soundtrack during the screening.

Released in 1922, Häxan combines live action sequences with early special effects to dramatize the Satanic deeds of witchcraft individuals were accused of committing. The film is ostensibly an argument for revising our understanding of witchcraft through the lens of 20th-century mental health diagnostic criteria, but its salacious depictions of nudity, torture, and blasphemous acts resulted in the film being censored or banned in several countries.

“The director's intention and finished work is breathtaking in its continued relevance and subversive inquiry of systemic oppression,” Jamie Mohr, executive director of Epsilon Spires, said in a news release.

She explains that the film was banned not only for its shocking visual content, but for exposing that “the real horror actually existed in the institution of the church, which committed horrific and perverse brutality during the persecution of those accused of 'witchcraft' - often women and other outsiders - and how those institutions used public ignorance, fear, and superstition to aid in their violent efforts to gain and maintain power and political control.”

Cellist Lori Goldston says that “Häxan is a genuinely bizarre film that veers recklessly between fact and fiction, scholarly documentary and trashy horror film.” She adds that “a film this weird demands an equally weird score. With ours we aim to work with the film's sections and dynamics while framing its ideas with an uneasy skepticism and irony.”

Tickets for screenings of Nosferatu and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari are $20 for adults and $10 for children under 14. Tickets for Häxan are $20 per person. There is a sliding scale for those experiencing financial hardship. All tickets may be purchased in advance at epsilonspires.org.

Filmgoers should plan to arrive between 8 p.m., when the doors open, and 8:30 p.m to enjoy a refreshment and choose their seat without disrupting the program. Those who come dressed in costume to the screening of Häxan can enter a raffle. For more information, contact Mohr at [email protected].

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