The Crimes of Stephen Hawke

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In honor of the new 4K restoration and bluray release of The Face at the Window (1939), and with Halloween fast approaching, I thought it was time to turn my attentions back toward Tod Slaughter. I have only seen this single film of his (on an old VHS) but it left a lasting impression. I will never forget the way Slaughter falls out of a window and hits the ground.

The Crimes of Stephen Hawke (1936) is a classic example of the early horror film, made much in the same vein as Universal’s acclaimed “monster movies”. This British “quickie”, directed by George King, stars Tod Slaughter (the English equivalent of Lon Chaney Sr. and Boris Karloff all rolled into one). Slaughter (most famous for originating the role of Sweeney Todd) keeps this Victorian chiller afloat with his customary scenery chewing and menacing line deliveries.

Unlike those films made in Hollywood, British productions like The Crimes Of Stephen Hawke ventured into more explicitly violent territory. The titular character of this film has as his secret identity the persona of the “Spine-Breaker” (which perfectly explains what Stephen Hawke’s crimes are). And it is on the ever foggy streets of London that the “Spine-Breaker” prowls for his prey and is pursued by Scotland Yard. 

Aside from Tod Slaughter bringing the proceedings to a new level of macabre camp, the real stand out feature of this film is its debt to the Music Hall Variety Show. The Crimes Of Stephen Hawke opens and ends with a performance by Flotsam and Jetsam, as well as remarks by Slaughter himself (much like the prologue and epilogue of Whale’s Frankenstein). This is a uniquely English style, and of historical interest to anyone with an interest in the early sound horror film.