Suicide Cult (1975)

aka The Astrologer
Article 4721 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-28-2014
Directed by James Glickenhaus
Featuring Bob Byrd, Monica Tidwell, Mark Buntzman
Country: USA
What it is: Bizarre metaphysical science fiction horror

A brilliant scientist has engineered an enhanced form of astrology, and he creates an organization called Interzod to watch over and control those with powerful zodiacal potential. He becomes obsessed with the second coming and believes he has found a woman with the same zodiacal potential as that of the Virgin Mary… but he also may have encountered a man whose potential for evil may be too strong for his control…

James Glickenhaus is best known as an action director, but this is the only movie of his that I’ve seen. Those who are familiar with his work might be the ones most likely to have picked up copies of this obscure movie that marks his directorial debut, probably expecting an action flick of some sort, especially under the main title above. And if you consider that the movie had taglines like “He’s the gypsy king of the carnival men! To be famous, he lies, cheats, steals, even sometimes kills!”, you can’t blame them. Instead, what they encounter is a talky, cerebral, confusing, fragmented tale that roughly follows two separate plotlines until they come together in the last scene of the movie. Oh, there’s some action and sex, but hardly enough to satisfy fans of that sort of thing. I suspect that this movie’s weak rating of 4.5 on IMDB comes from disappointed fans. Since I went into it without any preconceptions, I liked it a bit better than some of them, but even I have to admit that the movie has some major problems. The direction is not particularly good, though part of the problem there may be the very low budget of the movie. The worst problem is that it feels incomplete; plot points seem to be missing, certain actions and characters are never adequately explained, and it ends at a point where you wish the movie would follow through on everything it’s been leading up to rather than leaving us hanging. It’s apparently adapted from a novel by James Cameron, though not the film director of the same name, and I suspect the novel fills in the missing pieces. Still, I found the movie to be offbeat and it had some interesting ideas.


Magic Bricks (1904)

aka Japonaiseries
Article 4720 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-27-2014
Directed by Gaston Velle or Segundo de Chomon
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: “Magic Trick” short

A Japanese magician performs tricks, some of which involve a box and a set of magic bricks.

When this movie first entered my hunt list, I consulted a source of mine on its availability, and my source discovered that this title was the original French title of the movie better known as MAGIC BRICKS, which is relatively easy to find. There are, in fact, two listings for this movie on IMDB, one for each of these titles. There is a problem in reconciling the data on the listings; the two titles have different dates (1904 and 1908), and different directors are attributed to the movie (Velle and Chomon), but I suspect the earlier date and Velle are the correct ones. Like yesterday’s movie, it’s a Japanese-themed “magic trick” short. Most of it is pretty ordinary, but the cinematic effects involving the magic bricks (in which a film of a child playing is taken apart brick by brick) is pretty striking. That’s the moment for which this short is best remembered.

And thanks, doctor kiss, for your help!

Les papillons Japonais (1908)

aka Japanese Butterflies
Article 4719 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-26-2014
Directed by Segundo de Chomon
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Magic trick short

A Japanese magician performs a series of tricks, some of which involve butterflies.

Yes, it’s another “magic trick” short, but this one is from Segundo de Chomon, so that gives it a different feel. For one thing, the magician is more likely to leave the screen to let certain transitions and tricks move on their own, as he does here when a drawn cocoon develops into a color-changing butterfly. There are some nice touches here; I like the trick where the Japanese dancers disappear behind their twirling umbrellas, as well as the color-changing butterfly mentioned above. This is a fairly decent example of the “magic trick” film.

The Fugitive Futurist (1924)

Article 4718 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-25-2014
Directed by Gaston Quiribet
Cast unknown
Country: UK
What it is: Comic special effects short

A down-on-his-luck gambler is approached by an inventor who has created a machine that can see into the future. The gambler is not interested, until he learns it can show him the winners of future horse races.

The concept of being able to make a fortune based on information from the future is interesting enough to make for a full-length movie; in fact, it seems that an 11-minute short is hardly enough to do justice to this premise. However, the premise isn’t really what this short is about; when you get down to it, the main purpose of the short is to give visual illustration to several “how it looks now/how it looks in the future” location scenarios, with scenes showing future conceptions of the House of Commons, Trafalgar Square and the Tower Bridge, for example. Actually, the scenes where the current shots of the locations melt away and rebuild into future versions of them is the most entertaining part of this short; they exhibit some clever special effects. it’s a good thing these scenes exist to give the short its fantastic content; they really only exist as one character’s imaginings, and if you consider the plot solely, it could be argued that there really is no fantastic content here. This just goes to show that the fantastic content of a movie can sometimes be based on what the movie chooses to show rather than what the movie says about those scenes.

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921)

Article 4717 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-24-2014
Directed by Rex Ingram
Featuring Rudolph Valentino, Josef Swickard, Alice Terry
Country: USA
What it is: War movie

The two daughters of a wealthy Argentine rancher each marry a European; one a Frenchman and the other a German. After the death of the rancher, the husbands take their respective families back to their European homes. Then World War One breaks out, and they find themselves on opposite sides…

Given that this is a movie about WW1 rather than about the apocalypse, it’s no surprise that the title is meant to be interpreted metaphorically rather than literally. Nevertheless, the movie does give the horseman a visual representation, as well as the Beast that spawns them, and therein lies the fantastic content of this movie. To add to that content, we have the appearance of a ghost at one point (though it may be one character’s imagination), and there’s also the chance of some mystical content; a specific character may be a Christ figure, or possibly Christ himself.

As for the movie, it’s quite understandable why the Apocalypse would be invoked to represent the nastiness of World War 1, which was one of the most brutal and senseless wars in recorded history. The movie is most famous for having made a star of Rudolph Valentino, who is well cast as the libertine son of the Frenchman who finds he can no longer stand aloof from the conflict when he is on the verge of losing the woman he loves. The movie mostly focuses on his character as well as that of his father, who fled from France when he refused to serve in the military during a previous conflict; the movie focuses on the life lessons they must learn. It’s an excellent movie, well acted by all, and it has several memorable scenes. There are several other familiar names in the cast; Alan Hale plays the German father, Wallace Beery plays a German soldier, and Noble Johnson pops up as Conquest, one of the four horsemen. This one is recommended.

Der Fliegende Koffer (1922)

aka The Flying Koffer
Article 4716 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-23-2014
Directed by Lotte Reiniger
No cast
Country: Germany
What it is: Chinese fairy tale

A man visits a princess in a tower by using a flying trunk.

Several shorts by pioneer animator Lotte Reiniger have popped up on my hunt list, but this is the first one that I’ve been able to locate and see, thanks to YouTube. Unfortunately, the title cards were all in German, and I have to admit that the actual story eluded me; a reading of the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale also proved not particularly helpful, as it doesn’t seem to quite match the story in this short. That being said, Reiniger’s silhouette animation technique is very striking, and if it doesn’t really manage to visually display plot details (those are hidden in the title cards), they do manage to express more than you’d expect; one can sense somewhat the emotional states of the characters. I’m looking forward to seeing more of Reiniger’s work, hopefully with English titles to help me as well.

Comical Conjuring (1903)

aka Jacques et Jim, Jack and Jim
Article 4715 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-22-2014
Directed by Georges Melies
Featuring Georges Melies
Country: France
What it is: “Magic Trick” short

A clown and his assistant perform magic tricks.

For those of you who have been following this series recently, all I can say is that we have another one of Melies’s “magic trick” shorts here. This one takes more of an overt slapstick approach, which is a bit of a pity, because Melies was better at visual wit than slapstick. Most of the tricks involve a barrel and a vat filled (or not filled, as the case may be) with water. It’s one of Melies’s lesser takes on this type of thing.

The Indian Sorcerer (1908)

aka Le fakir de Singapoure
Article 4714 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-21-2014
Directed by Georges Melies
Featuring Georges Melies
Country: France
What it is: Magic film

A wizard from Singapore performs tricks with a giant egg.

Melies made so many “magic trick” shorts (and they all seemed to come up at once in my viewing system) that sometimes I’m at a loss for anything to say about them. This one, however, made me realize that he was probably the best maker of this type of short. They were certainly about the tricks, but Melies paid quite a bit of attention to the other details, such as set design, movement, touches of dance and pantomime, visual presentation, and a certain visual wit. This one mostly consists of tricks involving a giant egg, and it uses a giant scale as one of its props, and both the egg and the scale have the advantage is that they’re interesting to look at, as well as the other aspects of the production. This makes the short watchable even if the tricks themselves aren’t particularly engaging. In short, there’s really only so much interest value in a “magic trick” short, but if I wanted to watch one, I’d prefer one from Melies.

Lure of the Range (1927)

aka Speeding Hoofs
Article 4713 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-20-2014
Directed by Louis Chaudet
Featuring Dick Hatton, Elsa Benham, Ray Turner
Country: USA
What it is: Weird Western

A heir of a ranch returns to the west. He is there to find a hidden treasure, but is told that the house on the ranch is haunted. Villains are also after the treasure.

I will give this silent foray into the realm of the weird western credit for pulling off one thing; it does give us a real ghost. On the down side, the real ghost (that of the heir’s deceased father) only appears fleetingly, and most of the rest of the running time is filled with a gaggle of fake ghosts and the antics of the obligatory terrified unfunny comic relief black servant. In fact, the movie seems to care hardly at all for its main plot line; after setting up a few expository scenes, the movie putters around with filler and comic relief for most of its running time, and only bothers to get back to its story during the last ten minutes of the movie. I wish I could say that it was an enjoyable experience, but you can only squeeze so much humor out of people running in fear from fake ghosts, and the udders are long dry by the time this movie gives up that shtick.

Coeur fidele (1923)

aka The Faithful Heart
Article 4712 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-29-2014
Directed by Jean Epstein
Featuring Leon Mathot, Gina Manes, Edmond Van Daele
Country: France
What it is: Drama

A woman is forced into a love affair with a worthless drunk by her step-parents, though she is truly in love with a dockworker. When a fight between the two men results in the stabbing of a gendarme, the drunk escapes and the dockworker is held accountable. Once the dockworker gets out of prison, he discovers the woman is married to the drunk and has a child. He tries to help her out.

When I found this one, I knew it wasn’t going to have English title cards, so I armed myself with a plot synopsis I found on Wikipedia. One thing that I noticed was that the story didn’t appear to have any fantastic content, and the Walt Lee guide (from which I culled this title) didn’t list any. I did notice, however, that the movie was directed by Jean Epstein, a director I had encountered before when I watched his very stylish adaptation of THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER, and I figured that what fantastic elements there were would be contained in some expressionistic and surreal imagery that were part of his style. Sure enough, there’s a very short sequence where we get a drunk’s-eye view of the distorted face of a woman, and though I’d hardly call that significant fantastic content, it was there.

As for the movie itself, the plot itself isn’t particularly novel. What makes the movie interesting is the way Epstein bounces his cinematic style off the story, and it is his imagery and editing that make the movie a special experience. It wasn’t a commercial success, but it was quite influential with other film-makers, and is nowadays considered his best film. I do find it interesting that the script was written by Epstein and his sister, Marie, and the two main characters in the story are also named Jean and Marie. It’s not really within the genres of this series, but it is highly recommended.