Taken as a trilogy, Hunebelle’s Fantomas films seem to hew closely to the spirit of those early serials that first brought Fantomas to the screen. You could even regard them as three unusually elongated chapters in such a serial. In keeping with that, Hunebelle doesn’t forget to spice Fantomas up with a generous helping of nostalgic, Saturday matinee style thrills.
Immediately after completing Les Vampires, Feuillade threw himself into his next feature, another original serial called Judex. The slow move toward domestic melodrama that crept into the end of Les Vampires was front and center in Judex.
Musidora wears this maillot de soie sporadically, a few minutes spread throughout the serial’s nearly seven hours, yet that is – not undeservedly – the indelible iconic image not just of Les Vampires, but of Louis Feuillade’s entire filmography.
In the early days of serials and silent film, two actresses emerged who represented two sides of the publicity coin. Pearl White was the queen of the stunt serials, a wholesome midwestern heroine. Theda Bara, in contrast, was dark and mysterious and loved nothing more than destroying men.
Fantomas is less concerned with getting away with it than he is with sowing chaos. Sure, he wants their jewels, but mostly, Fantômas just wants to hurt people. As one of the ads for the movie trumpeted, “Il fait PEUR!”
Strange things were happening on the streets of Paris in 1913. In February, trials began for the surviving members of the infamous Bonnot Gang, a group of murderers and anarchists who cut a swathe of criminal terror across France and Belgium.