The Babadook Is Based on This Classic Character From a Lost Movie

Jennifer Kent created the Babadook for her horror movie of the same name; however, no movie is made in a vacuum. Kent drew inspiration from a classic horror movie while designing the Babadook’s memorable appearance. Interestingly, no copies of that classic movie survive to the modern day.

The Man With the Beaver Hat holding a woman on a lobby card for 'London After Midnight'
A lobby card for London After Midnight | LMPC via Getty Images

This horror film is 1 of the most famous lost movies

Lon Chaney Sr. was a horror movie star from the silent era. Today, he is probably most known for starring in silent versions of The Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Phantom of the Opera. In his most famous roles, Chaney wore elaborate makeup that made him look very different from his normal self — and very frightening.

One of the more interesting films in Chaney’s filmography is London After Midnight. No copies of the film survive to the current day. It might be the most famous of all lost films. According to Rotten Tomatoes, a fire destroyed the last known copy of London After Midnight in the 1960s.

Despite this, promotional materials for the film exist. Thanks to those materials, we can see Chaney’s character from the film, Inspector Edward C. Burke (more famously known as The Man in the Beaver Hat). The character had a memorable and ghoulish appearance.

A lobby card for 'London After Midnight' with The Man in the Beaver Hat in the bottom left corner
A lobby card for ‘London After Midnight’ with The Man in the Beaver Hat in the bottom left corner | LMPC via Getty Images

How ‘London After Midnight’ inspired ‘The Babadook’

During an interview with Complex, Kent said several silent films inspired the Babadook, including The Man Who Laughs, the films of director Georges Méliès, and London After Midnight. Kent described her reaction to Chaney’s character. “I see that image, which made a really big impression on me as a kid, and I can’t get it out of my head,” she said. “Lon Chaney has his normal face and teeth but the face is pulled back wide, and he has this evil smile.”

During an interview with Mountain Xpress, Kent further elaborated on her love of The Man in the Beaver Hat. “What I loved about that particular image — and you can also see it in the footage we used of him in the movie on TV from Phantom of the Opera — is that you can see that it’s a person’s face,” she said. “It’s just a face that’s been distorted — without CGI obviously — but manipulated so that it looks human, but almost not. And I think that London After Midnight, shot with his face and his mouth pulled apart like that, is really frightening.” She revealed that image inspired the Babadook’s appearance.

A trailer for ‘The Babadook’

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How the world reacted to ‘The Babadook’

Drawing influence from The Man in the Beaver Hat seemed to work out for Kent. Box Office Mojo reports The Babadook earned over $10 million in theaters. It has a 98% critics’ rating on Rotten Tomatoes. In addition, its villain became an icon on social media. While The Babadook is one of the most famous modern horror films, it wouldn’t be the same if it hadn’t taken inspiration from an old movie.