Addition and Subtraction (1900)

aka Tom Whisky ou L’illusioniste toque
Article 4002 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-12-2012
Directed by Georges Melies
Cast unknown (but that’s probably Melies in the lead)
Country: France
What it is: Early trick short

A ragged magician makes women appear, disappear and transform.

The addition of the Walt Lee guide to my sources for movies to watch opens up the floodgate to a lot of early fantasy movies the other guides don’t cover. This is a typical Melies trick short in which he creates three women, condenses them to one fat woman and then a child, etc. This is hardly Melies at his most ambitious, but it’s a fairly entertaining one-minute short.


Jabberwocky (1977)

Article 4001 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-10-2012
Directed by Terry Gilliam
Featuring Michael Palin, Harry H. Corbett, John Le Mesurier
Country: UK
What it is: Comic adventure fantasy

A hapless cooper, forced to leave his small village in the hopes of making it in the city, becomes embroiled in a quest to slay and defeat a hideous monster.

I looked through the trivia section for this movie on IMDB before I started writing this review, and I discovered one piece of information that explains a lot; apparently, the movie was shot with such a low budget that many of the scenes had to be shot in a single take. This explains to me why much of the movie seems messy and muddled and why some of the humor falls flat, and rather than faulting director Terry Gilliam (who was here engaging in his first solo directorial effort of a full-length motion picture) for the mess, I actually end up admiring that he kept it together as well as he did. There are touches that I’ve come to expect from Gilliam, such as that his portrayal of the dark ages was about as squalid as he could make it, and that he has a real flair for the visual sense of dark fantasy, and, to be truthful, the actual monster was much better than I expected it to be, given the film’s budget. Still, there are problems with the script (which he co-wrote); the first half is something of an aimless mess, and the often crude humor often lacks the intelligent panache I’d expect from a member of Monty Python. Nonetheless, the second half works much better, and overall, I was satisfied with the movie. Outside of Michael Palin in the lead role, other Pythons that show up include cameos by Terry Jones and Gilliam himself. The movie is based, of course, on the poem by Lewis Carroll. Gilliam is actually one of the few directors who I think might have actually done a worthy job of bringing Carroll’s Alice books to cinematic life, but this is probably about as close as we’re going to get.

If a Body Meets a Body (1945)

Article 4000 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-9-2012
Directed by Jules White
Featuring Curly Howard, Larry Fine, Moe Howard
Country: USA
What it is: The Three Stooges in the Old Dark House

When Curly’s rich uncle dies, he goes to the mansion to claim his inheritance, only to discover that his uncle was murdered, and they’re still looking for the killer.

It’s pretty fun to see the Stooges take on the “old dark house” genre; with a running time of only about twenty minutes, they condense the plot into as little time as possible to make time for their antics, some of which are pretty funny . Fred Kelsey as the detective is a decent foil for the Stooges; he gives back as much as he gets. Curly is not at his best her, but I gather this was made shortly after he suffered a stroke, and it shows a little. Nevertheless, I do admire the way the Stooges knew how to toss off bad jokes fast enough that the work, especially when dealing with the puns surrounding the name of Link.

Zelig (1983)

ZELIG (1983)
Article 3999 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-7-2012
Directed by Woody Allen
Featuring Woody Allen, Mia Farrow, Patrick Horgan
Country: USA
What it is: Fake documentary comedy/satire

The story is told of a celebrity of the twenties, a man named Leonard Zelig who is a “human chameleon”; he takes on the physical characteristics and viewpoints of those that surround him.

I was so intrigued by the premise of this movie that it was one of those rare cases where I went out to catch it at a movie theater. I ended up being mildly disappointed at the time, and mostly appreciated it for its stunning visual trickery, whereby Woody Allen and Mia Farrow were incorporated into actual footage of the period, most noticeably in a sequence during an Adolf Hitler rally. I liked it much better on my recent viewing; I can now appreciate more its satirical views of the desire to be liked, the need to conform, and the vicissitudes of fame. I also couldn’t help but notice how, in some ways, the story parallels that of the movie version of THE ELEPHANT MAN. Still, I do think Woody Allen is an odd choice to play a man who has no personality of his own while trying his best to adopt the personalities of everyone around him; Allen has a very distinctive personality, and in the scenes where we hear his voice, you mostly get the sense that he’s playing himself again. Had the movie been formatted in such a way that we actually saw Zelig interacting with the people he’s imitating, it most likely would have required an actor of much greater range. Still, Allen does have a grasp of the psychological underpinnings of the character, which is probably the reason he wrote and directed the movie in the first place. And the footage throughout does look pretty authentic.

Wolf Blood (1925)

Article 3998 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-5-2012
Directed by George Chesebro and Bruce M. Mitchell
Featuring George Chesebro, Roy Watson, Milburn Morante
Country: USA
What it is: Lumberjack lycanthropy

When the head of a logging camp is injured in a fight with rival loggers, an emergency transfusion is given to him of blood from a wolf. The rumor begins to go around that he is now a loup-garou.

The movie is nearly half-way through before we even get to the fight that mentioned in the above plot description; most of the movie to that point has been a romance/melodrama involving rival logging camps and a love triangle between the foreman, the doctor and the female owner of the logging camp. Pretty much nothing in the movie earlier than that hints at any turn into horror. Still, once it does take the final turn into horror territory, it has its moments; there are some scenes of the foreman being tortured by the thoughts of what he might have done, and there is a nice sequence of him following a ghost pack of wolves into the forest. Incidentally, the ghost pack is all in the foreman’s mind, and that’s not the only product of an over-active imagination at work here, either, and if you’ve seen enough horror movies that emphasize people fretting over what they don’t remember doing but thing they might have done, you won’t be surprised at the final revelations. Overall, it’s not bad, but not quite satisfying for the full-blooded horror fan.

Pasi spre luna (1963)

aka Steps to the Moon
Article 3997 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-4-2012
Directed by Ion Popescu-Gopo
Featuring Ion Anghel, Marcel Anghelescu, Radu Beligan
Country: Romania
What it is: Fantasy of legend and history

A man, bound for the moon, dreams that he must wend his way through the world of legends, myths and history to make his way to his destination.

It’s movies like this that really brighten this whole project. It has no subtitles, but none are needed; the movie is virtually without talk. In his journey, our hero meets such luminaries as Prometheus, Cupid, Mercury, Galileo, Cyrano de Bergerac, Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, and attempts to fly to the moon in several different ways, including hitching a ride with an eagle, using a flying carpet, riding a witch’s broomstick, etc. There’s no real story, but it’s charming and engaging, and filled with touches of humor; the closest I can come to a comparison is with the works of Melies and Karel Zeman. The humor can be quite surprising at times; my favorite moment has the hero coming to the rescue of Prometheus by scaring the eagle away, wiping the brow or Prometheus, and then quietly and casually reattaching part of his fake beard that came loose.

Wild Thing (1987)

Article 3996 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-3-2012
Directed by Max Reid
Featuring Robert Knepper, Kathleen Quinlan, Robert Davi
Country: USA
What it is: Tarzan in the city

A young boy, after having witnessed the murder of his parents by a drug lord and a corrupt cop, is brought up in the streets of the city by a mad woman. When the woman dies, the kid grows into a legendary figure known as the Wild Thing, who does battle with the forces of evil in the city.

I’ve covered quite a few Tarzan movies for my series here, but I’ve always considered the Tarzan series to really belong to the marginalia of fantastic cinema. Transplanting the Tarzan stories to an urban setting (the “asphalt jungle”) is, to my mind, another half-step away from the realm of the fantastic, and despite the fact that the legends say that Wild Thing can turn into a cat, there’s really nothing in the movie to back up anything other than the fact that he keeps a cat as a pet. Still, I couldn’t help but notice that the original story came from John Sayles, and I suspect that he’s responsible for some of the touches of wit and bizarre, offbeat characters in the movie; because of this, the movie is often a lot more fun than it might otherwise be, and there’s even a reference to ALLIGATOR before it’s all over. Still, the movie is somewhat doomed to succumb to the cliches of the urban action movie, and it does that indeed, especially in the Wild Thing’s final standoff with the drug lord. Still, this isn’t too bad for what amounts to an odd little curio.

Luch smerti (1925)

aka The Death Ray
Article 3995 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-2-2012
Directed by Lev Kuleshov
Featuring Porfiri Podobed, Vsevolod Pudovkin, Sergei Komarov
Country: Soviet Union
What it is: Revolutionary melodrama

A death ray invention becomes a pawn in a battle between fascists and revolutionaries.

Before I start the review, I should point out that the first and last reels are missing from this movie, my copy has no background music on it, and what is left of the movie seems to be running at the wrong projection speed; the original movie ran 125 minutes, but mine clocks in 76. Given these circumstances, I’d expect the movie to be a little confusing and incoherent. Still, even given these setbacks, I’m still disappointed, because it feels even more confusing than necessary, what with its bewildering array of characters, its overly speedy action, its occasional overacting, and its multiple storylines. The Phil Hardy guide says that movie has the feel of having been improvised on the spot, and I tend to agree. This is not to say that there aren’t some moments of brilliance and some very striking scenes, not to mention some impressive stuntwork on occasion. Still, I find it hard to enjoy action sequences when I don’t really know what’s going on, and that problem pops up a lot here. Furthermore, I was disappointed by the use of the fantastic content; though the death ray probably comes into action in the final reel of the movie, that doesn’t change the fact that the movie mostly plays it as a Gizmo Maguffin; it’s something for the good guys and bad guys to fight over. Well, at least I got to see it with English subtitles, or else I would have been really lost. At any rate, I consider this one a mixed bag.

Watership Down (1978)

Article 3994 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 7-30-2012
Directed by Martin Rosen
Featuring the voices of John Hurt, Richard Briers, Michael Graham Cox
Country: UK
What it is: Epic animated rabbit fantasy

When his rabbit warren is threatened by a human housing development, a rabbit named Hazel leads a small group of escapees on a quest to find a new warren, encountering perils along the way.

I’ve read the novel by Richard Adams, but it was many years ago; nevertheless, I was impressed that it managed to turn an unlikely subject into what amounts to an epic fantasy quest. Whatever flaws this animated adaptation of the work has, reducing the basically serious tone to one of whimsy and cuteness is NOT one of them; the movie remains serious, and even downright grim at times. The closest it comes to whimsicality is the names of some of the rabbits (Pipkin, Dandelion, Cowslip, etc.), and even the song warbled by Art Garfunkel manages to have those tinges of darkness around the edges. The movie does have a few problems; because most of the rabbits look the same, it’s sometimes hard to tell one character from another, and because the movie is forced to condense the book somewhat, certain characters never get fleshed out as well as I’d like. Still, the movie works very well; the fact that the bittersweet ending nearly brought a tear to my eye convinced me of that. The movie, however, is nearly stolen by Zero Mostel’s performance as Keharr, a lost and injured seabird who befriends the rabbits; his fractured syntax and cranky demeanor provide a welcome dose of humor, but manages also to avoid cuteness.

The Mechanical Monsters (1941)

Animated short
Article 3993 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 7-29-2012
Directed by Dave Fleischer
Featuring the voices of Joan Alexander, Bud Collyer, Julian Noa
Country: USA
What it is: Superman cartoon

Superman has to come to the rescue when a giant flying mechanical man steals a fortune in precious gems, and Lois Lane sneaks aboard the mechanical man’s storage area.

I’ve always had a little bit of a problem with the Fleischer Superman cartoons; in order to fit all that action into the short running times, the characters were kept paper thin and the plots were very simplistic. Still, I know that wouldn’t bother most people, and while watching this one, I found myself most captivated by the incredibly fluid and detailed animation and the wonderful use of color. It certainly looks as if everyone was putting their best foot forward in this one, and there isn’t a moment here that isn’t fun to watch. In fact, it’s so fast-moving and energetic, it probably gets my vote as the best of the Fleischer Superman cartoons.