Barbe-Bleue (1901)

aka Bluebeard
Article 4610 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-21-2014
Directed by Georges Melies
Featuring Georges Melies, Jeanne d’Alcy, Bleuette Bernon
Country: France
What it is: A flight of fancy

A man wins the hand of a woman by bribing her father, but the woman makes a horrific discovery; the man has the bodies of his seven previous wives hidden in the cellar.

Up to this point, all the movies I’ve seen involving Bluebeard have been based on the character of Landru, who married and killed several wives for their money. I’m assuming he got the “Bluebeard” nickname from the French folktale on which this version was based. If the summary of the original folk tale on Wikipedia is to be trusted, the only real fantastic content to the original story is the serial killer aspect; however, this being a Melies film we’re talking about, several liberties are taken that up the fantastic content dramatically, including the appearance of a tumbling imp, a fairy godmother, bizarre nightmares, an impalement that seems to result more in inconvenience than death, and the resurrection of the dead. It does take a bit of a wait for these elements to come forth; the first half of this ten-minute movie is a fairly straightforward telling of the original tale up to the discovery of the bodies, and that’s when the Melies-style hell breaks loose. It’s a pretty good entry in the Melies oeuvre, and it was fairly ambitious for its time.

An Artist’s Dream (1900)

Article 4609 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-17-2014
Directed by Edwin S. Porter
Cast unknown
Country: USA
What it is: Early trick film

An artist dreams that the women in his portraits have come to life and stepped out of the frames.

It looks like I’m not finished with trick shorts from the very early days of cinema; here’s another one. It’s a standard Melies imitation, with a devil showing up and running the proceedings, though that plot element does raise the question as to whether the artist is just dreaming or if the devil is playing a trick on him. It’s passable, but nothing really sets it apart from the pack.

Hay muertos que no hacen ruido (1946)

aka There Are Dead That Rise
Article 4608 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-15-2014
Directed by Humberto Gomez Landero
Featuring German Valdes, Marcelo Chavez, Amanda del Llano
Country: Mexico
What it is: Comic mystery

An aspiring singer finds himself under suspicion for a murder in a spooky old house.

I was lucky enough to find a copy of this movie on YouTube, but not lucky enough to find one with English subtitles. Furthermore, since the movie is fairly heavy on dialogue, I know that I’m missing enough of the plot and the humor to prevent me from giving a really effective analysis of how good it is, though I will say that the verbal humor had better be pretty good to maintain the viewer’s interest for the one hour forty-two minute running time. From a visual point of view, the most satisfying sequence has the hero, realizing that he’s likely to be fingered for a murder he didn’t commit, trying to elude the police by pretending to be a wax figure. As for the fantastic content, my various sources claim that that there are ghosts present in the movie, but visually, I see no evidence of that. There is, however, a spooky old house full of wax figures and secret passages, so there’s a little of the “old dark house” vibe going for it. The English title refers to a plot twist that occurs fairly late in the game, and is perhaps the element that comes closest to delivering us anything even remotely in the way of ghosts.

Alice in Wonderland (1915)

Article 4607 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-14-2014
Directed by W.W. Young
Featuring Viola Savoy, Herbert Rice
Country: USA
What it is: Lewis Carroll adaptation

Alice dreams she goes down the rabbit hole into Wonderland.

This version of the Lewis Carroll classic is a serviceable if not particularly inspired series of highlights from the story; one of the more interesting aspects is it tries to be somewhat faithful visually to the Tenniel illustrations. Granted, one person’s highlights may not be the same as the next person’s, but that’s one of the oddities of the original story; as there’s no real plot to speak of, it’s open for the directors and writers to choose which scenes to include and which to exclude. This one includes scenes that most of the others skip (the animal convention and the recitation of “You are Old, Father William” come to mind) while omitting other scenes that I would consider essential (the mad tea party is conspicuously absent). Granted, the full movie was only about fifty minutes, and my print runs only forty minutes, so it could be in the missing footage. Granted, I don’t think there’s really a way for a silent version of this story to be truly effective; most of the charms of the book are verbal, and that requires the advent of sound. Still, it has a little curiosity value.

I Married a Vampire (1987)

Article 4606 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-12-2014
Directed by Jay Raskin
Featuring Rachel Golden, Brendan Hickey, Ted Zalewski
Country: USA
What it is: Not what you’d think

A married couple comes to the big city to find out why their daughter has married without telling them. She tells them that she married a vampire, and then tells them the story behind it.

There’s a moment in this movie where our heroine is drawn into a movie theater after being told that the they’re showing “art films”; one of the titles is REVENGE OF THE CRAZED PSYCHO, and though I don’t remember the other one, its title is along the same lines. If it seems pretty outrageous to mistake a movie with a title like that for an art film, please bear in mind a three things. 1) Look at the title of this movie. 2) The movie was distributed by Troma. 3) As outrageous as it may seem that a movie by Troma with a title like this might be an art film, it is better to view the concept not in the light of being a joke, but rather in the light of it being a warning.

This is my roundabout way of saying that if you go into this one expecting an art film, you’ll be on much more solid ground than if you go in expecting a horror film. It is, however, not a good art film; it is badly acted, frequently dull, and, once you get to the main point of the film, fairly obvious. I will give the movie one plus; it is a rather touching moment when you realize the movie’s point, which is that hitching up with a vampire may well be an improvement to an empty, depressing reality. The first half of the movie is nothing but a succession of scenes of a woman being taken advantage of, by evil landlords, shyster lawyers, screwed-up “friends”, religious cultists…. the movie is unrelenting. My guess is that most people drawn to this movie for its promised horror output will bolt long before the vampire even shows up. It won’t even satisfy exploitation fans; there’s very little blood, nudity or violence. In fact, if it weren’t for that little moment of revelation in the middle of the movie, there is nothing to recommend about this movie, and that one little moment isn’t enough to compensate for the rest of this dreary film.

Cape Fear (1962)

CAPE FEAR (1962)
Article 4605 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-11-2014
Directed by J. Lee Thompson
Featuring Gregory Pick, Robert Mitchum, Polly Bergen
Country: USA
What it is: Thriller

An ex-con, released after serving eight years on an assault charge, blames the lawyer who witnessed his attack for his incarceration. He begins to subtly stalk the lawyer, using the knowledge he gained in prison about law to keep himself on the right side of it. Will the lawyer be able to defend himself and his family, and will he himself break the law in his struggle to defend them?

Given that I’ve covered such marginal thrillers as WAIT UNTIL DARK and THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER for this series, I’m not surprised that someone somewhere would consider this movie as belonging to the realm of horror. The biggest argument for its inclusion to the genre is probably the fact that Robert Mitchum plays one very scary and smart sociopath here. Nevertheless, the thematic focus of this one is on the plight of the lawyer; he wants to protect his family, but he can’t get the help of the law until after the sociopath commits a crime, which may be too late. The movie is really about his temptation to break the law by being proactive, and finding a way to remove the threat before it takes action. It’s a nail-biting thriller with substance, and it’s enhanced to two stunning performances from Peck and (especially) Mitchum. The movie was powerful enough that Martin Scorsese would remake it thirty years later; I have seen that one (though it’s been a while), and it doesn’t quite have the impact as this one. My favorite moment in this movie may be the ending; given the theme of the movie and what we know about the characters, it’s just about perfect.

Goodness, a Ghost (1940)

Article 4604 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-10-2014
Directed by Harry D’Arcy
Featuring Harry Langdon
Country: USA
What it is: Comedy short

A sound effects man gets an acting break to play a cop while wearing his grandfather’s police uniform. However, the ghost of his grandfather shows up and insists that if he’s going to wear the uniform, he has live up to the standards of a real cop, and won’t let him back out when he’s confronted by dangerous criminals.

I’m going to start out by saying that I’m not familiar with Harry Langdon’s work from the silent era; reportedly, he was at his peak during that era and his sound work doesn’t live up to it. Therefore, I don’t really have that benchmark with which to compare this one. I say this because I get the sense that fans of the comic are appalled by this one, and though I don’t find the short particularly good (it’s passable at best), I don’t find it awful. It does seem to go for easy and obvious slapstick gags, and the poker game is perhaps the sequence that I found the most amusing. Still, I find if I imagine someone like Buster Keaton being stuck in this role, I can sense the disappointment fans of Langdon might feel at this one.

Son of the White Mare (1981)

aka Feherlofia
Article 4603 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-9-2014
Directed by Marcell Jankovics
Featuring the voices of Gyorgy Cserhalmi, Vera Pap, Gyula Szabo
Country: Hungary
What it is: Fantasy epic

A white mare gives birth to three sons, the third of which swears to go into the underworld and rescue three princesses held prisoner by dragons. Towards this end, he teams up with his two brothers and embarks on his quest.

This animated Hungarian movie was based on Hungarian folk tales and legends, and uses experimental animation techniques to tell the story. The result is, quite simply, a stunning visual feast with its animation roots as far back as the early films of Emile Cohl, though I do sense a certain kinship to YELLOW SUBMARINE as well. The use of color and the ways the various scenes melt into each other are simply breathtaking, and though I sense some might not warm to the visual style of the piece, I consider this one of the finest animated movies I’ve seen. While watching this, I found myself thinking about the 3D computer animation techniques that have risen up during the last couple of decades and now seem to dominate the animation landscape. Many fine movies have resulted from this style, but I can’t help but feel that this technique still lacks the breadth of creativity of the older animation techniques; I wonder if these new techniques will ever lend themselves to anything like this movie I’ve just seen. Still, the new animation has many years to grow yet; perhaps it will reach those levels someday.

Hysterical (1983)

Article 4602 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-8-2014
Directed by Chris Bearde
Featuring Bill Hudson, Mark Hudson, Brett Hudson
Country: USA
What it is: Horror comedy

A writer of trashy novels tries to get away from his life by moving to an isolated Oregon seaside community. However, when he moves into a haunted lighthouse, a ghost resurrects the corpse of an old lover who begins running amuck, turning the townspeople into zombies.

This movie stars the Hudson Brothers, a musical group from the seventies who had a few hits and hosted a variety show at one point. From the looks of it, they also fancied themselves as a comedy group, because that’s how they’re showcased here; though there is a bit of music in the movie, they only sing one brief number and they remain on the fringes of the only major musical number in the movie. The movie is a parody of horror movies, with references to THE EXORCIST, JAWS, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, CHARIOTS OF FIRE, any number of zombie movies and anything else that happens to cross their path. To these eyes, the movie is largely a chaotic mess; though the occasional moment works, it mostly comes off as confusing. The weak direction is a major problem; Chris Bearde seems to have been best known as a producer of variety shows, and this is his sole directorial effort. He shows little ability in establishing a coherent mood or keeping things focused. There’s quite a few of name actors popping up here, most of whom are wasted, though I will admit a little fondness at seeing Dracula played by Charlie Callas and Richard Kiel as the resurrected corpse named Captain Howdy. For me, the biggest surprise is that this movie actually has a rating on IMDB above 5.0, and I had to scan through a few of the user reviews to realize that the movie has garnered a bit of a cult following over the years. The most impressive moment here is the big musical number featuring dancing zombies (probably inspired by MICHAEL JACKSON’S THRILLER), and even that is a mess around the edges. If you’re part of the cult following for the movie, you already know how you feel about it; for the rest of us, it is a confused mess.

NOTE Someone pointed out that this movie actually came before MICHAEL JACKSON’S THRILLER; therefore, if there was an influence, it must have gone in the opposite direction. Now THAT is mind-blowing.

Abou Ben Boogie (1944)

Article 4601 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-7-2014
Directed by Shamus Culhane
Voice cast unknown
Country: USA
What it is: Swing Symphony cartoon

A dancing girl sings the title song in an Arabian nighclub.

I’ve now returned to the Walt Lee book in my compilation of my movie hunt lists, and this increases the number of cartoons I’ll be watching in the near future, as that is one of the only sources I have that lists many of these. Most cartoons have a certain amount of fantastic content to them simply due to the fact that they defy so many physical laws; in this cartoon, a pianist plays his tunes on a roll of paper, which is then cut up into paper men that dance. There’s also a lot of exaggerated reactions to the sexy dancer (eyes getting impossibly big, etc.). The cartoon has the usual structure for these song-oriented ones; the first half is an assortment of gags involving Arab stereotypes, and the second half is the song itself. The most striking thing about this cartoon is the design of the title character, who appears halfway through the song; the outline of the character resembles the style that was used by UPA during the fifties, and that makes this cartoon a little ahead of its time. All in all, this cartoon is fairly decent, though it does overuse a running gag involving the accidental kissing of camels.