DVD Release Sponsored by HENRY MIYAMOTO Restoration by ERIC STEDMAN Musical Score by KEVIN McLEOD
NOW VIEWABLE FOR THE FIRST TIME IN 93 YEARS! A trail of blood leads master criminologist Carter Holmes (Ben Wilson), Explorer's daughter Ruth Stanhope (Neva Gerber) a masked killer known only as Monsieur X, and Asian megalomaniac Wang Foo (Earnest Garcia) into a mystery surrounding nine crooked daggers which lead to the secret to the ancient "Devil's Trademark."
One of the few serials of the 1920s to survive nearly complete, THE TRAIL OF THE OCTOPUS is a rare treasure with surreal pulp-like imagery unmatched by any other cliffhanger in existence. Disembodied eyes follow the hero, a medium switches bodies with the heroine, a comet hits Paris, and what is the powerful secret the daggers will unlock? Be one of the first to know the answers to these and other questions as Ben Wilson and Neva Gerber take you on a cliffhanger thrill-ride that ranges from San Francisco to India to Paris!
Transferred from the original 35mm print, with full score and occasional color tints and audio effects. Restored by Eric Stedman. Music by Kevin McLeod, complete except for Episode 9 which is not known to exist but re-created here, and 2 brief clips which have been covered by title cards and stills.
THE STORY: Dr. Reid Stanhope, a noted scientist, and Raoul Bornay, a Frenchman of questionable standing, set out upon an expedition to explore the mysteries of ancient Egypt. With their caravan of natives and camels, they pierce the very heart of the great Sahara Desert in their search for the Temple of Death and the sacred Talisman of Set, both considered mythological by everyone except Dr. Stanhope.
After weeks of searching they discover a sarcophagus upon which hieroglyphics read: “He that toucheth or taketh away the Sacred Talisman of Set will bathe his hands in human blood.” Reaching inside the sarcophagus, Stanhope takes out the Sacred Talisman which is also known as the Devil's Trademark – the cloven hoof of Satan.
From the moment the Talisman is released, murder and destruction run rampant. Stanhope is forced to kill Bornay when attacked by him and Bornay's final words are “Don't think you killed a friend – they sent me to get you and the Talisman.” Who “they” are provides the foundation for the story of the rest of the serial, which takes place after Stanhope returned to civilization.
When we pick up the story from there, we see Stanhope telling his niece Ruth he has never had a moment's peace since he hid the Devil's Trademark in a rock vault – he's been haunted by the sudden mysterious appearance of a pair of uncanny looking eyes. While Dr. Stanhope tells the story, a thunderstorm arises and the “eyes” appear outside. He tells Ruth she must get rid of the Talisman as it endangers her life. He takes a dagger from a drawer and says, “Eight other daggers like this are in the hands of eight fellow scientists for safe-keeping. You must have all of them to get the combination of the rock vault, in which is hidden the sacred Talisman.” When Stanhope receives a telephone call from the mysterious masked Monsieur X, who tells him that his friend, Professor Hubbard, one of the scientists, is dead, Ruth runs across the street to call on Carter Holmes, the criminologist, taking the dagger with her.
Stanhope's scream in the distance begins a chain of events that leads to the kidnapping of Ruth by a clan of Devil Worshippers headed by a sorceress named Madame Zora, and a three-way battle between Holmes, the Devil-cult, and an Asian mastermind known as the Octopus to possess the Talisman by collecting the remaining daggers and placing them together in a cliffside vault that will reveal its secret.
An extremely atmospheric serial, heavily influenced by aspects of THE MYSTERIES OF MYRA (the Devil-cult with its crystal ball, and characters who disappear into astral form), and anticipating DRUMS OF FU MANCHU in its noir-ish look, THE TRAIL OF THE OCTOPUS changes location and emphasis many times but remains generally in early pulp/detective/horror mode throughout, with more than the occasional element of the paranormal thrown in to kick the mystery up a notch.
THE TRAIL OF THE OCTOPUS has not been presented in its entirety in 90 years apart from one showing at the Library of Congress, which was attended by Squadron researcher Dr. Daka.
"I just finished watching The Trail of the Octopus. Thank you Mr. Stedman, Mr. Miyamoto, and Mr. McLeod for making the effort to get this project completed. It truely was one of, if not, the most satisfying serials I have ever watched. It has elements from just about every movie genre you could think of, and has some of the most astounding and spooky visuals. Also, it is much faster paced than the 3 Feuillade silent serials available (which I also love, especially Judex). A lot of the chapters ended on double cliffhangers that were so thrilling that at times I thought I was watching a modern TV show, and like modern shows like LOST, some of the mysteries were not solved and are up for debate by fans. Hopefully, more people will check it out and will comment and review it. It deserves more attention. Until next viewing, I will miss the characters and the insane world it created." -- Customer Carl H.
"I'm really stunned. It might be the best restoration of a silent serial I've seen - right up there with the Feuillade restorations that Kino put out. The scoring, the tinting, everything. It's a very affectionate and enthusiastic presentation, even aside from the quality of the serial itself which appears to be a great deal of fun." -- Customer David L. W.
Here's Dr. Daka's review of the serial:
"The production standards of the sets and the camera work in this serial were top notch. There were a number of scenes that I'd say were filmed with the best use of light and shadow I have ever seen. Visually, Octopus was fantastic, but they seemed to make the story up as they went along, with the plot and locations often changing suddenly in a completely different direction. This is the "trail" that is the subject of the title.
The producers [at first can't] seem to decide on whom they wanted the main villain to be. First it's a group of devil worshipers and their female leader, then we find out she works for this other guy, then we find out he is an agent for this other Arabic bad guy who lives in "the orient." Well that guy in the orient actually works for yet another guy over in the orient, who is a Fu Manchu knockoff. Perhaps he really is the final leader of all the bad guys? There is also a mysterious masked man known as Monsieur X who pops up in the story every so often, but he's someone else completely. Whew!
Octopus is different than what fans of the talkie cliffhangers may be used to, but those differences may make it a better serial in some ways. Even hardcore fans will admit that most serials are thin on plot and heavy on rather repetitious chases, fistfights, and escapes. Octopus has all that, but the twists and turns in the storyline and the round the world changes in location, make it come off more like a 280 minute feature film than a typical serial. It would have been 20 minutes longer if chapter 9 had been shown.
I will try to summarize the storyline, which was rather complicated compared to the serials made by Republic or Columbia in the 1930's through 1950's. The location of the action changes from an unnamed city, to San Francisco, to "the orient," to Paris France, back to the original city and then to San Francisco again. This serial revolves around a group who are trying to obtain an ancient talisman for some nefarious reason and the various murders, fights, chases, and cliffhangers that ensue. There are some really fantastic scenes where ghost like hands come out of walls and other creepy stuff - better than the best horror movies you've seen. There is a fight on a balcony in a rainstorm that is just amazing - some of the best camera and lighting work ever. There is another fight that starts in a room and then the lights go out. The combatants begin shooting at each other in the darkened room - and as each gunshot goes off we see where everyone is for an instant before it goes back to black. This is an effect much like a strobe light - but the flashing light from each gunshot only flickers on when triggers are pulled, with the actors seen in different places as they scramble about the room between gunshots. I've never seen anything like it before and thought that a scene like this has probably never been topped yet."
NOTES ON THE ORIGINAL FILM AND TRANSFER
The source material for this new DVD transfer is the original and only surviving 35mm positive print from the Library of Congress, obtained and donated by Henry Miyamoto, producer of the first SerialFest activity for the Serial Squadron in Toronto, Canada in 2001. The picture is very sharp with occasional minor issues of focus going in and out mainly in Episode 1 due to age and warping of the print.
The framegrab above is a capture from the new digital transfer. One chapter of the serial, Episode 9, is not known to exist in any form anywhere but a 9-minute re-creation of the episode using video, title card developed from the original plot summary, and stills is included. This DVD set when complete will include all 15 existing chapters, including this re-created one.
2 DVD Set,14 Half-hour Episodes + 1 10-minute Re-created Episode, about 7 hours