Dark Carnival: The Secret World of Tod Browning

Dark Carnival: The Secret World of Tod Browning

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Dust jacket illustration by David Ho.

Published by Centipede Press.

Critical opinion of director Tod Browning—also known as the “Edgar Allen Poe of cinema”—may have been contentious during his time, but most film buffs could at least agree with critic Richard Watts, Jr.’s view: “His cinematic mind is a creeping torture chamber, a place of darkness, deviousness, and death.” It may sound like admonishment, but this critique is most certainly adulation. For even darkness holds value, even if it’s in the eye of the beholder. And fortunately for Browning’s career, no matter the critical opinion, there’s always been an audience pining for the darker side of life.

Born in Louisville, Kentucky on July 12, 1880, Charles Albert “Tod” Browning lived his formative years as a roving, vaudevillian performer, traversing the American countryside in earnest. His role: to dazzle and beguile as ringmaster, escape artist, contortionist, and even living corpse. These are the years he would draw upon to become one of the original auteurs of the weird and unusual, reshaping the landscape of Hollywood forever.

Well-known films like Dracula and Freaks entered the cinematic lexicon long before the Carpenters, Lynches, and Burtons of this world made their film debut. However, it’s Browning’s establishment as one of the most “dependable directors of large-scale spectacles” that built his career to last—one that allowed him the freedom to horrify viewers (and censors!) more than any other director of his time.

In this exhaustively researched, and newly revised and expanded edition of Dark Carnival: The Secret World of Tod Browning, David J. Skal and Elias Savada pull back the curtain and offer us a fascinating glimpse of a director whose private life often mirrored that of his own films. He was an enigmatic character: difficult to label and even tougher to appease. But his compassion for the alienated far outweighed the negative press who rebuffed him for shining a light on the darkest of society’s corners. His films exposed unsavory and taboo topics—marital estrangement, sexual revenge, and human degradation—but this is where he managed to find success: precisely where others feared to tread.

Much like other artists who are ahead of their time, Browning’s popularity and influence have grown exponentially following his retirement and death, leaving behind a legacy that has only gotten stronger…and perhaps a little bit stranger.

Our edition of Dark Carnival is a visual treat, copiously lined with archival photographs, movie poster cards, and other film-related ephemera, much of which was recently discovered in Browning’s own scrapbooks and photo collection. There are 500 signed and numbered copies for sale. It is signed by David J. Skal, Elias Savada, and David Ho, who provided the wraparound dustjacket collage.

Edition Information:

  • Four color printing throughout.
  • Dozens of photographs and film stills.
  • Bound in full three-piece cloth.
  • Top-edge stain.
  • Ribbon marker.
  • Each copy signed by David J. Skal, Elias Savada, and David Ho.
  • Book size is 6¾ × 10¼ inches.
  • 376 pages.
David J. Skal