Le cauchemar de fantoche (1908)

Article 4620 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-2-2014
Directed by Emile Cohl
No cast
Country: France
What it is: Early animation

Fantoche has a nightmare.

So, what kind of nightmare would Fantoche have? Well, given that this is directed by Emile Cohl, I’m guessing it involves stream-of-consciousness animation, and that’s exactly what we have here. Fantoche is set upon by any number of of shapeshifting objects, such as coffeepots, funnels, giant heads, elevators, fishermen, etc. He even gets to play with his own head like a ball for a bit. It moves pretty fast, runs only a little over two minutes, and has no real ending, but then, it has no real story; it’s just a succession of surreal images and events. As such, though, it’s a fun short to watch, and doesn’t go on so long that it gets old.

NOTE I’ve been informed that Fantoche is not a name, but the word for puppet. I stand corrected.

The Infernal Cake-Walk (1903)

aka Le cake-walk infernal
Article 4619 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-1-2014
Directed by Georges Melies
Featuring Georges Melies
Country: France
What it is: Comic dance short

In the flaming world where the demons and devils live, the cake-walk becomes the dance of the day.

It appears that I haven’t reached the end of covering the oeuvre of Georges Melies; here’s another one. The cake-walk was a dance that became very popular in the late nineteenth/early twentieth century; it’s popped up in several Melies shorts. Here it takes center stage, only in a milieu that lent itself to Melies’s love for special effect. More than any other of the shorts I’ve seen, this one seems to be intended as a comic dance short; though dances have popped up many times in those shorts, they were generally side items to the action. Fortunately, it’s a fun dance to watch; it’s energetic, somewhat weird-looking, and it looks like it’s rather difficult to do. Things get especially weird when a demon with twisted legs attempts to do the dance, though his limbs keep separating themselves from his body. It’s one of his shorts that really needs the proper musical accompaniment to appreciate; fortunately, the print on the Melies boxed set has some very appropriate music. This is fun, if minor, Melies.

Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend: Bug Vaudeville (1921)

Article 4618 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-31-2014
Directed by Winsor McCay
No voice cast
Country: USA
What it is: Early animation

A bum takes a nap after getting a handout, but the food makes him have strange dreams. He dreams he is in the audience of a vaudeville show featuring insects, but it takes a dark turn…

I recently picked up some DVDs of very early animation, and most of the cartoons from the period from 1910 through the mid twenties were pretty primitive; in many cases, they were like barely animated comic strips. Within this context, it is easy to see that Winsor McCay was one of the best and most ambitious animators of his time, though he never quite caught again the magic of GERTIE THE DINOSAUR. This one was from a series of shorts he did called DREAMS OF THE RAREBIT FIEND, and it’s mostly made up of setpieces in which various insects perform dance routines, acrobatics or athletics; there’s a dancing daddy long legs and a scene of two potato bugs boxing, just to give examples. It’s well animated, though it’s not up to the level of GERTIE, and, possibly because the cartoon doesn’t really give the animator to do much with character, it gets a little dull. The dark turn doesn’t come until the very end of the cartoon, and given the fact that we know our main character is having a nightmare, we’re not really surprised. It’s one of McCay’s less interesting efforts.

Les delire des sens (1977)

aka The Naked Lovers, La fille a la fourrure, Porno Zombies
Article 4617 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-30-2014
Directed by Claude Pierson
Featuring Ursula White, Alain Saury, Didier Aubriot
Country: France
What it is: Exercise film, foreign style

A man, just married to his second wife, sees his dead wife watching him through a window. It turns out her body has been possessed by an alien from the planet Eros who has come to Earth to learn about love and enhanced breathing exercises.

I’m thankful for small favors. I review my movies under the title that appears on the screen of the print I saw, and since I’m in embarrassment mode here again (see my review of THE ORGY MACHINE if you want to know what I mean), I’m just grateful that I didn’t review it with the title I found it under (PORNO ZOMBIES, a title which I find singularly unerotic). On the down side, the fact that I reviewed it under one of its foreign titles also clues you into the fact that my copy was neither dubbed into nor subtitled in English. Nevertheless, I find it rather interesting to compare this foreign movie to the American-made TOM (an acronym I like better than the full title). Whereas that movie refused to take its silly premise seriously, this one seems to be taking itself very seriously indeed; if it’s intended to be comic in any way, it doesn’t show. Perhaps it has some sort of political subtext, though since I can’t understand the dialogue (of which there is some here), I certainly can’t interpret it. At least the exercise sequences here (you know that’s a euphemism, right?) seem to have been shot for this movie rather than lifted from elsewhere, and the actors seem to be actually making the sounds I hear on the soundtrack, which wasn’t the case in TOM, where it sounded like the sounds were thrown in randomly. As for the space aliens in the plot, don’t look for a spaceship or anything like that; the only clue you can get that they are space aliens is that they talk haltingly in an alien way. The most striking scene here has five couples in the forest engaging in synchronized enhanced breathing exercises, and even this isn’t as impressive as it sounds. Though I can’t really fully judge the movie without understanding the dialogue, I’m not sure that this movie is appreciably better than TOM, though I will say it is somewhat less embarrassing.

Mysteries from Beyond Earth (1975)

Article 4616 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-29-2014
Directed by George Gale
Featuring Lawrence Dobkin
Country: USA
What it is: UFO paranormal science smorgasbord

What is the truth about UFOs? What does it have to do with Atlantis? or Witches? or Bigfoot? or….

Here’s another foray into the world of unexplained phenomena, and I’m beginning to wonder just how many documentaries were made on this subject during the seventies; it seems almost as if every six months or so, another pops up on my list. It’s no surprise that this one covers a lot of the same ground that many of the other movies of this ilk have covered, but it’s also no surprise that it occasionally wanders into areas that the other movies haven’t touched. Still, this one’s insistence on wandering all over the spectrum (on top of UFOS, we get Bigfoot, witches, Kirlian photography, auras, the hollow earth theory, cloning, the Bermuda triangle, black masses, black holes, haunted houses, etc.) that it reminds me of AMAZING WORLD OF GHOSTS; to its credit, this movie doesn’t come across as unfocused as that one was, though it comes close. In the end, when a movie like this ranges this far and wide with its subject matter, it’s very difficult to pin down any particular point or purpose to the project, unless all it’s trying to tell us is that lots of bizarre unexplained stuff going on. This one got very boring quickly, and the moment I found most interesting was at least partially due to the outlandishness of the theory presented: to wit, that the various Bigfoot/Sasquatch creatures might be test subjects dropped off by flying saucers to see if they could survive on this world.

Microwave Massacre (1983)

Article 4615 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-28-2014
Directed by Wayne Berwick
Featuring Jackie Vernon, Loren Schein, Al Troupe
Country: USA
What it is: Exploitation horror comedy

A construction worker flips out due to his wife’s obsession with gourmet dishes and kills her. He dismembers the body and hides it in the freezer. He ends up eating one of her hands in a fit of hunger and decides he likes the taste…

If the main image for this movie on IMDB is of any indication, this is one of those movies that eventually tried to market itself to the camp audience, billing itself as “The Worst Horror Movie of All Time”. It’s not. It’s just a cheap, lame, tacky low-budget comedy with horror and sexploitation elements tossed into the mix, and I don’t think the real “Worst Horror Movie of All Time” would aspire that low. Oh, there’s the odd joke here and there that works (which is more than I can say for some other comedies), but most of the jokes are either ones that would have been funnier if they had been handled better, or ones that simply never had a chance to begin with. There’s lots of pointless and gratuitous nudity as well, and it is a little weird to hear Jackie Vernon (who is probably most famous for having given voice to Frosty the Snowman in a couple of Christmas specials) in these circumstances. Probably the campiest element of the film is one of the hugest microwave ovens I’ve ever seen, one which doesn’t even turn off when you open the door. In some ways, it’s reminiscent of THE LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, but I will give it this much; it’s better than the soft-core remake of that movie known as PLEASE DON’T EAT MY MOTHER.

Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood (1973)

Article 4614 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-27-2014
Directed by Christopher Speeth
Featuring Janine Carazo, Jerome Dempsey, Daniel Dietrich
Country: USA
What it is: A walk through a strange world

A family takes up employment at a carnival, where they encounter murder, mayhem, madness and cannibalism.

There’s the basic outline of a plot around which this movie is built, but this is one of those movies where the plot is of no importance. What matters in this movie is the disorienting sense of random madness that permeates every moment. It hovers in a strange grey area located somewhere on the edges of such movies as THE FUNHOUSE, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, RAW MEAT and THE INCREDIBLY STRANGE CREATURES WHO STOPPED LIVING AND BECAME MIXED-UP ZOMBIES?!!, done at what obviously must have been a tiny budget and served up as a cross between a horror movie and an abstract art film. There are scenes of the ghoulish residents of the carnival watching silent films; I recognize both THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA and THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME there. Bizarre set dressing, weird camera angles, unsettling characters… the movie leaves you with the sense of trying to recall a half-remembered fever nightmare. I’m not sure I can really say the movie is scary (it’s way too fragmented for that), but it leaves a mad residue in its wake. The only recognizable name in the cast for me was Herve Villechaize, but the character you’ll probably most remember is the affected and creepy Mr. Blood played by Jerome Dempsey.

The Orgy Machine (1972)

aka The Incredible Sex-Ray Machine
Article 4613 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-26-2014
Director unknown
Featuring Jan Davis, Pete Dawson, Uschi Digard
Country: USA
What it is: 62 minutes long

An ex-Nazi mad scientist creates a machine that will help him take over the world. When the ray is turned towards people it makes them too distracted by other things to do anything but engage in the things they’re distracted by.

Let me be honest; I’m a little on the repressed side, so I’m more than a little self-conscious (in fact, I’m quite embarrassed) to admit to even watching movies of this ilk (which leave nothing to the imagination), much less reviewing them. Unfortunately, I’m also obsessive enough about the comprehensiveness of my movie watching project that I will still seek out these films if they have any fantastic content, even knowing what I’m getting into when I find them. So you can make what psychological hay you want to out of this; my own reaction to the experience is to make my review as G-rated as possible. You see, this ray makes people do stuff. The scientist tests it about seven or eight times, so we get lots of footage of people doing stuff. Ironically, none of the footage of people doing stuff is original to this movie; IMDB lists that all of the actors other than the scientist appear in archive footage. As for the scientist, he never actually does stuff himself; he just enjoys watching others do stuff, until he goes a bit loony and the machine blows up. Oops, did I give away the ending? That would be a spoiler if anyone was watching this one for the plot, which I don’t see happening. All I can say is that you’re never going to take over the world if you’re too lazy to shoot your own footage of people doing stuff for your movie.

The Brave Tin Soldier (1934)

Article 4612 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-25-2014
Directed by Shamus Culhane, Al Eugster and Ub Iwerks
Voice cast unknown
Country: US
What it is: Fairy tale cartoon

When a toymaker accidentally breaks the leg of one of his toy tin soldiers, he tosses it in the trash. That night at midnight, the toys come to life for festivities, and the broken tin soldier tries to join in, but is laughed at for his affliction by all but a ballerina. When the king of the toys tries to hit on the ballerina, the soldier comes to her rescue.

Ub Iwerks was an early animator for Disney who struck out on his own in the early thirties with his own animation studio. He had a couple of continuing characters as well as a series of color fairy tales, and this cartoon belongs to that series. Both the animation and color are quite good in this cartoon, and it has some striking elements (both good and bad) that make it interesting. One is that the cartoon, though it changes quite a bit from the source story, retains a very downbeat ending found in the original fairy tale; given that the basic premise of the cartoon has occurred many times in cartoons and we’re used to the usual way this story pans out, it’s rather startling when we reach that point. I couldn’t help but notice, though, that a coda was added to give the story a (more or less) happy ending. I also noted that the use of Hollywood caricatures doesn’t really work in this one, especially when the caricatures include such obviously comic characters as Laurel and Hardy and two of the Marx brothers; probably the reason they don’t work in this cartoon is that it’s more of a tear-jerker than a comedy. Still, the retention of the darker elements of the story make it an interesting watch.

Jeepers Creepers (1939)

Article 4611 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-24-2014
Directed by Robert Clampett
Featuring the voices of Mel Blanc and Pinto Colvig
Country: USA
What it is: Porky Pig cartoon

Porky is a cop who is ordered to investigate noises in a nearby haunted house. There he encounters a ghost.

This isn’t quite a top-of-the-line Warner Brother’s cartoon, but it is very solid and has a few really good gags. One of my favorite moments has Porky trying to slam the door on the ghost only to discover the door passes right through the ghost. The gag itself is a bit on the obvious side, I suppose, but it’s a wonderful example of the studio’s split-second timing; you’re given just enough time for the joke to happen and to register before the action moves on. Another gag involves the ghost sliding down a banister in a rush to answer a knock at the door; he gets almost all the way to the bottom, stops, slides back up, and informs the viewer that there’s someone at the door, the joke being, of course, that we already know that. It’s these types of gags and the exquisite timing that was already beginning to set Warner Brothers apart from their animated competition. I do have to wonder, though, why the ghost (which, being what he is, is scary enough) decides to concoct an elaborate gag involving frogs placed in empty shoes in order to scare Porky.