How It Feels to be Run Over (1900)

HOW IT FEELS TO BE RUN OVER (1900)
Article 4147 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-3-2013
Directed by Cecil M. Hepworth
Featuring May Clark and Cecil M. Hepworth
Country: UK
What it is: Trauma by proxy

Oh, is that car coming straight for me? Yes, it is! They’re waving at me to move, but I can’t!! What’ll I do??? What’ll I do???????!

You die… or, at least the camera does. What we have here is your basic trick short in which a camera has been set up to catch the view of an automobile racing straight towards you and hitting you. Actually, I’m a bit curious as to how it was done, unless the camera itself was sacrificed in the making of the film. And I’m still not quite sure of the significance of the phrase “Oh, Mother will be pleased.” Nonetheless, this is an amusing silent short. Still, I’m not quite sure if there’s any fantastic content here; being hit by a car is horrible, but it’s not quite in the realm of horror, and though it could be argued that the final words are those of the camera (making it a fantasy), the camera is merely a substitute for the viewer. It’s an odd little silent short.

Die Hamburger Krankheit (1979)

DIE HAMBURGER KRANKHEIT (1979)
aka The Hamburg Syndrome
Article 4146 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-2-2013
Directed by Peter Fleischmann
Featuring Helmut Griem, Fernando Arrabal, Carline Seiser
Country: France / West Germany
What it is: Epidemic black comedy?

When a plague breaks out in Hamburg, several people break out of quarantine and make their way out of the city… only to find that the plague is more widespread.

For the first half of the movie, the odd touches and eccentricities of some of the various characters weren’t prominent enough to shake me from the belief that the movie had a more or less focused story to tell. Then, at shortly after the halfway point, an event occurs that is so audaciously unexpected that you find yourself wondering where the story would go from there. Unfortunately, what does happen is that the eccentricities and weirdness that was kept in check during the first half take over in the second, and the movie turns from a drama into a freaky black comedy. It’s as if the inmates have taken over the asylum, removing the center of the movie and leaving us confused and rudderless. This still might have worked if the characters had been fun and interesting rather than unpleasant and annoying, but such is not the case. There’s still the odd moment here and there that works, but to me, this is a prime example of what happens when a movie goes off the tracks at the halfway point.

How He Missed His Train (1900)

HOW HE MISSED HIS TRAIN (1900)
aka Le reveil d’un monsieur presse
Article 4145 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-1-2013
Directed by Georges Melies
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Comic trick film

A man wakes up in the morning and tries to put on his clothes, but his items of clothing keep changing to other items.

This is something of a companion piece to GOING TO BED UNDER DIFFICULTIES, where a man trying to undress for bed is driven crazy by the fact that new clothes keep reappearing on him. In this, the clothes change to other clothes; while putting on his pants, they change to a shirt, etc. It’s an interesting variant, but not only is the other idea funnier (it’s slightly more absurd), but this short simply doesn’t have the manic energy of the other one. Maybe that’s why the other one inspired so many imitations. This one is merely okay.

Give Us the Moon (1944)

GIVE US THE MOON (1944)
Article 4144 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-31-2013
Directed by Val Guest
Featuring Margaret Lockwood, Vic Oliver, Peter Graves
Country: UK
What it is: British comedy

The wastrel son of a hotel magnate joins a ground of idlers known as The White Elephants, where he agrees to never work for a living. However, he is in danger of losing his membership when his father forces him to take over management of the Hotel Eisenhower.

Let’s get the fantastic content out of the way first. This movie takes place in 1947, three years after the European part of World War II as well as three years after the movie was made. Why? I’m guessing it’s because the central conceit of a likable batch of idlers and wastrels would probably not go over well as a wartime phenomenon, where the idea of someone not pulling his weight for the war effort would go over like a lead balloon; therefore, setting it during peacetime would be more acceptable. It certainly doesn’t use the future setting for any futuristic touches, so I’m saying that the fantastic touches here are more of a matter of convenience than anything else.

As for the movie itself, this isn’t the first time I’ve dipped into the comedy oeuvre of Val Guest, who directed the first two Quatermass movies as well as directing and writing this one. This movie is cute and whimsical, and some of the humorous situations do work well enough. However, the cuteness and whimsicality do get rather overbearing at times, and there are times where it becomes a little too much to bear. In short, the movie is a little too aggressively comic, and the laughs don’t come quite as freely as they should. By the way, the Peter Graves in the cast is not the American actor of the same name.

Hamlet (1921)

HAMLET (1921)
Article 4143 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-30-2013
Directed by Svend Gade and Heinz Schall
Featuring Asta Nielsen, Paul Conradi, Mathilde Brandt
Country: Germany
What it is: Shakespeare… with a twist

Hamlet swears revenge on her uncle for the murder of her real father.

I’m surprised I haven’t covered more versions of “Hamlet” in my journey through the realms of fantastic cinema; after all, the story is driven by the appearance of a ghost. This is only my second encounter with the story (the first being DER REST IST SCHWEIGEN), and I’m amused to consider the similarities of these two productions, in that 1) they’re both from Germany, 2) neither version I saw was dubbed or subtitled into English, and 3) they’re both bizarre variant versions of the story. DER REST IST SCHWEIGEN was a modern-day update of the story, and this one starts with a mind-bending premise, which is that Hamlet was actually a female forced to impersonate a male for the good of Denmark, hence the presence of Asta Neilsen in the title role. Now the last time I saw Asta Neilsen was when I watched and reviewed ERDGEIST, where I made the somewhat unflattering comment that she looked to me like a female impersonator, and the fact that I’ve just finished watching a movie where she plays a male impersonator leaves me speechless on the subject.

Nevertheless, as jarring as the premise is, it works. In fact, it works better if you’re already familiar with the story (which, given the fact that the subtitles were all in German, was crucial in helping me understand it), because you can appreciate how this change plays havoc with the character relationships in the original story. Horatio is no longer just Hamlet’s friend; he’s the unrequited love in Hamlet’s life, and Horatio’s love for Ophelia creates one of the weirdest love triangles I’ve encountered in years. There’s other plot changes that really fascinate; the real villain of the piece turns out to be someone else, the character of Fortinbras ends up being more than just a plot device in the final act, the characters of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are reduced to nameless ciphers, and neither Osric nor Yorick appear. Yet, for the purposes of this project, one unfortunate other change has been made; the ghost of Hamlet’s father does not appear; though Hamlet seems to hear his voice from his tomb and dreams about him, it’s hardly a substitute, and so like DER REST IST SCHWEIGEN, the driving fantastic content of the original story is missing, so all you’re left for the horror content is Hamlet’s feigned madness. You know, I’m bound to see a straightforward version of this one someday.

Yo dormi con un fantasma (1949)

YO DORMI CON UN FANTASMA (1949)
aka I Slept with a Ghost
Article 4142 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-29-2013
Directed by Jaime Salvador
Featuring Adalberto Martinez, Maria Luisa Zea, Mercedes Gisbert
Country: Mexico
What it is: Mexican “old dark house” variation

An aspiring private detective attends the reading of a will in a spooky old mansion and stumbles upon a mystery.

Given that this movie is in unsubtitled Spanish, and that I was unable to find a decent plot description of the movie, I’m hardly in the position to give a truly insightful review of it, but I can give my impressions. It seems to be an “old dark house” movie of the sort that are vehicles for a comic actor (as in opposition to those ones in which the comic character is in a supporting position). The house has some spooky atmosphere, but the overt fantastic elements (the ghosts) seem to only exist in a flashback of the history of the house; I saw no overt ghosts (much less anyone sleeping with them) in the present-day footage. IMDB describes it as a comedy/horror/mystery. I can’t comment on the mystery angle, but from what I can tell, the comedy is tepid and the horror extremely mild. Yes, this is one of those that doesn’t look particularly inspired or promising, though I should point out that almost all of the humor seems to verbal rather than visual, so there’s a chance I may be wrong. At any rate, I wasn’t particularly impressed with what I saw here.

The Trail of the Octopus (1919)

THE TRAIL OF THE OCTOPUS (1919)
Serial
Article 4141 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-28-2013
Directed by Duke Worne
Featuring Ben Wilson, Neva Gerber, William Dyer
Country: USA
What is is: Wild silent serial

A private detective investigates attempts by criminals to get a hold of an Egyptian artifact known as “The Devil’s Trademark”.

When I was a child and first heard about movie serials, I thought they sounded nifty. When I was an adult, and first saw one, I was promptly underwhelmed, and I’ve never quite overcome that feeling. I’ve had to see lots of serials for my project, and though I’ve come to terms with my reduced expectations, I never quite warmed to them. I did start to suspect, however, that the form may have been in something of a decline during the sound era, but most of my encounters with serials during the silent era were either non-representative (I’ve seen some impressive French serials, but they’re something of a different animal from the American ones), incomplete (most silent serials are missing most of their episodes), or were in pretty decrepit shape.

Well, with this one, I’ve finally had a chance to see a silent serial that is mostly complete (there’s one episode in the middle missing, and a few stray moments of missing footage throughout the rest), is in excellent shape (thanks to Serial Squadron), and has a fine score. It’s also heavy on the fantastic content (what with ancient Egyptian cursed artifacts, hypnotism, disembodied floating eyes, machine-enhanced astral projection, comets diverted from their course to crash into the Earth, a mysterious masked villain, an evil Oriental genius, an ape man, etc), and it trots through its various plot elements with a sort of reckless abandon. No, it doesn’t always make sense, and I suspect certain plot changes were made midstream, but that doesn’t matter because of the energy and sense of fun to the whole affair. At least one of the central mysteries is never resolved (possibly due to the fact that a few minutes of crucial footage are missing from the final episode and no known plot synopsis exists of the missing scene), and the title turns out to be only a metaphor trotted out in the final episode. Oh, it’s pretty silly, but I don’t think I’ve ever had quite as much fun with a serial before.