Halloween fanatics and horror film junkies can join forces this weekend to relive the action of a motion picture house of the 1920s.
Bijou Players director Jim Luke asks -- no, insists -- spooks attending the first KU Halloween Horror Film Festival vent their emotions.
"We strongly encourage the audience to boo and hiss the villain," he said. "One can never drown out the dialogue."
Luke and his colleagues in the Bijou Players will play orchestral music to accompany three silent black-and-white films at this weekend's festival. The programs are a benefit for University Theatre and KU bands.
"This shows people what was actually done in the silent-film era," he said. "The music we play is mood music that supports the actual happenings on screen."
The lineup at Crafton-Preyer Theatre in KU's Murphy Hall:
- "The Phantom of the Opera," 8 p.m. Saturday. This 1925 film centers on the lavish Paris Opera House. Mary Philbin stars as the aspiring diva, Christine, and Norman Kerry plays her lover, Raoul.
- "Nosferatu," 2:30 p.m. Sunday. This German-made classic is the original Dracula film. It stars Max Schreck as Dracula and Greta Schroder as Nina, the heroine who conquers the vampire through courage and love.
- "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," 7:30 p.m. Sunday. The 1920 film, based on Robert Louis Stevenson's 1886 novel, was John Barrymore's 13th. Film historians cite Barrymore's acting work in the scenes where he transforms himself into Hyde as the movie's most memorable episodes.
Luke said the Bijou Players made their debut in 1980 at the Des Moines (Iowa) Arts Center. In the intervening years, the ensemble developed a repertoire of music for more than 15 classic silent films.
The bottom line for the Players -- Don Haines, violin; Martha Gerstenberger, cello; Stephen Day, coronet; Bruce Martin, piano; John Malett, percussion; and Luke, clarinet -- is to entertain.
"We play an instrumental overture to start the program," Luke said. "We follow that with an old-fashioned singalong."
A projector will display words to the music copied from antique slides used in motion picture houses 75 years ago.
"We also ask people to remove their hats, because at that time some of the ladies' hats were rather extensive," said Luke, who will perform in a tuxedo.
Max Winkler of New York City is credited with first distributing musical cue sheets for silent films around 1913. The suggested music could be played in motion picture house bands to support specific scenes.
"Eventually all major studios would send out a print of a film and a cue sheet," Luke said.
The Bijou Players have the luxury of drawing on 5,000 items in the Silent Motion Picture Archives at Drake University in Des Moines. Luke recently retired from the music faculty at Drake.
He actually stumbled into the silent movie business in 1980. The director of the Des Moines Arts Center had asked him to organize live music for the showing of one of Charlie Chaplin's silent movies.
"I hadn't seen any silent films," Luke said. "I didn't know what to do. The director didn't know either. We survived that first performance. Then we were asked to do another one. I turned ashen. The next one was easier and the following year we began touring."
If the group's music blends with this weekend's horror films, instead of dominating them, Luke will be happy.
"We don't wish to superimpose our sounds so that one is attracted to us over the action on the screen."