German filmmaker Paul Leni was a key figure in German expressionist filmmaking, making his greatest contributions with two films Backstairs and Waxworks, both of which were most notable for their spooky ambience and innovative techniques. Waxworks was particularly influential and was considered among the most highly regarded films of its day. On this and the bulk of his films, Leni not only directed, he also functioned as the art director. A native of Berlin, Leni became an avant-garde painter at age 15 and then began working as a set designer for the theater, working with such prominent directors as Max Reinhardt. Around 1914, he became an art director for German films and worked in that capacity until he moved to Hollywood in 1927 to accept Carl Laemmle's invitation to become a director at Universal. There Leni made a distinguished directorial debut with The Cat and the Canary (1927) a classic Gothic haunted house film that had great influence over Universal's later classic horror series. Leni proved to be a master at creating nightmarish suspense through allusion and has untold influence on subsequent American thrillers. Unfortunately, Leni was only to make three more such films before dying of blood poisoning in 1929.