To start things off – Fantomas. Based on a series of 32 novels written starting in 1911 by Marcel Allain and Pierre Souvestre and directed by French filmmaker Louis Feuillade, this 1913 serial was followed by four more movies. Each one based on a novel in the series.
The novels were written to cash in on Arsene Lupin’s popularity. But unlike Lupin, Fantomas is a cold blooded, murderous psychopath. Fantomas was the first evil super-villain. Master of disguise, with a million escape plans and schemes so diabolical that only his arch enemy Inspector Juve can figure them out – usually when it’s too late. Sax Rohmer’s Dr. Fu Manchu was a response to Fantomas. I’ve managed to read the first five novels and have enjoyed them immensely – although it’s almost impossible to find any of the other 32 novels.
Feuillade’s films are fairly faithfully if somewhat toned down from the novels. Still they are filled with cliffhangers, death traps and multiple plot twists. Like the novels each film ends on a cliffhanger. When I read the first novel and this happened it became imperative for me to find the next novel.
Gaumont restored the movies in 1998. Britain’s Artificial Eye released the restored movies on DVD back in 2006. For the longest time this was the only way they were available. In September of 2010 – American company Kino finally released the films on DVD. The five films are released over 3 DVDs. Sadly Kino is missing some of the bonus material from the Artifical Eye DVD – particularly a 23 minute documentary Who is Fantomas? but they do include some commentary tracks and a couple of short films by Feuillade.