Silent horror classic haunts Irvine on Halloween

When the houselights dim in Penn’s Irvine Auditorium on Halloween night, a classic, yet rarely seen film will haunt the hallowed hall.

John S. Robertson’s 1920 silent horror motion picture, “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” starring John Barrymore, plays at 7:15 p.m. Based on the book by Robert Louis Stevenson, the film is an allegory about good and evil as mild-mannered Dr. Jekyll creates a potion that unleashes his dark alter ego, Mr. Hyde.

Renowned improvisational organist Peter Edwin Krasinski will provide live accompaniment to the film on Irvine’s famed Curtis Organ, one of the largest pipe organs in the world with nearly 11,000 pipes.

Associate Vice Provost for University Life (VPUL) Max King, a musician and organ aficionado, was instrumental in bringing Krasinski to Penn six years ago to accompany a Halloween screening of Carl Laemmle’s 1925 silent film, “Phantom of the Opera.”

“What he does is really fascinating to watch,” King says. “When [Krasinski] accompanies a film, he doesn’t have a score. He watches the film and plays along with it. He has to know the film in and out. He uses the organ to further the plot and create sound effects and dialogue.”

Before the advent of “talkie” movies with sound, silent films were accompanied by live music from organists to enhance the movie-going experience. Organists shaded music to flesh out characters whose dialogue was subtitled. For example, when villains appeared onscreen, King says musicians would play minor keys to underscore those characters’ menacing or sinister natures.

The tradition of Halloween night horror film screenings at Penn dates back nearly three decades. Over the years, throngs of moviegoers, many in costume, have spent part of All Hallows’ Eve watching silent films. “The Phantom of the Opera” was shown for many years, and F.W. Murnau’s 1922 film “Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror” was shown in 2011.  

Prior to the show, as part of a special program for Penn’s Year of Sound, Krasinski will lead a master class on “The Art of Silent Cinema and Dramatic Accompaniment” from 4 to 5:30 p.m. in Irvine Auditorium.

Krasinski will accompany clips of landmark films such as Fritz Lang’s 1927 “Metropolis” and “The Phantom of the Opera.”

Both the film screening and the master class are free and open to the public.

Jekyll and Hyde