Alone With the Devil (1914)

aka Expressens Mysterium
Article 4316 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-24-2013
Directed by Hjalmar Davidsen
Featuring Svend Aggerholm, Philip Bech, Moritz Bielawski
Country: Denmark
What it is: Weird melodrama

An industrialist finds himself a victim of the machinations of an arch-rival who will stop at nothing to destroy him… even if it costs the arch-rival his own life.

This movie ended up on my hunt list on the strength of the fact that the arch-rival was a hypnotist who kept the industrialist’s wife under his power. When I was unable to find the movie, it moved to my “ones that got away” list, but I’m happy to say that a copy finally showed up, and the person who passed it on to me was kind enough to add English intertitles to help me follow the story, which would have been impenetrable without them. I have to admit that the basic premise is intriguing; the fact that the arch-rival is so intent on destroying the industrialist that he’s willing to commit suicide in such a way that it looks like the industrialist committed murder makes for a fascinating obsession. Unfortunately, the story that surrounds the premise is badly contrived, and the climax of the movie (in which the industrialist’s chances of being cleared is dependent on the discovery of a missing ring) is handled so blandly and flatly that it fails to generate a modicum of suspense. The movie is interesting, but ultimately it’s unsatisfying.

The Alchemist (1983)

Article 4313 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-20-2013
Directed by Charles Band
Featuring Robert Ginty, Lucinda Dooling, John Sanderford
Country: USA
What it is: Low budget demonic horror movie

A woman and a man she picked up hitchhiking get embroiled in the fate of a man who has been cursed by an alchemist. Things get complicated when the woman turns out to look exactly like the cursed man’s former wife… and the woman the alchemist loved.

Well, I will give the movie at least some credit for the basic story, which is offbeat enough that it isn’t a total waste of time making your way to the ending. Granted, the movie needs all the help it can get; it’s cursed with a badly written script and some very weak acting. Even worse is the lethargic pacing, which is probably due to the fact that there’s too little story stretched out over too much running time. The opening encounter between the woman and the hitchhiker may be one of the most atrocious meet-cutes ever committed to celluloid, and when the movie gets around to unleashing the horde of demons, you’ll be disappointed that there’s only three of them and they’re absurdly easy to kill. Despite all this, the movie does manage to keep from being unwatchable, and there’s the occasional moment that works.

Alcofribas, the Master Magician (1903)

aka L’enchanteur Alcofribas
Article 4202 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 4-13-2013
Directed by Georges Melies
Featuring Georges Melies and Jeanne d’Alcy
Country: France
What it is: Magic trick short

A man pays a magician money to conjure up a woman. The man is hoping to court the woman when she appears, but it seems that the magician has other ideas.

This is another of Melies’s magic trick shorts, though it starts out pretending it has a plot with a man trying to get a magician to conjure up a female companion for him. The reason it doesn’t work out that way is simple; the magician is far more interested in showing off his various magic tricks than fulfilling the man’s wishes. So, once he makes a complete woman appear (his first trick only conjures up half a woman), he then uses her as a prop for other tricks, much to the frustration of the man who paid his money. This isn’t one of his better shorts; it looks ragged around the edges and the special effects seem rather clumsy at times. Melies has done better.

L’araignee d’or (1908)

aka The Gold Spider
Article 4125 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-6-2013
Directed by Segundo de Chomon
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: A moral tale

A poor man follows a group of gnomes who discover a spider that can make gold. He steals the spider for himself, but will he be able to profit from his catch?

The first half of this special effects short is on the dull side; it spends way too much time having the man follow the gnomes around in a swamp. It’s only once we get to the grotto of the gnomes that things pick up; there are some neat special effects sequences of the spider making coins, as well as of other insects engaged in other magical activity (including one that is painting a butterfly). Things seem to go all right for the poor man until he shows he has no intention of sharing his riches with a wandering beggar, and then he discovers the price of his greed. All in all, this is a quite entertaining piece from Chomon, and it does show how at this point of time, he was besting Melies at his own game.

Aunt Sallie’s Wonderful Bustle (1901)

Article 4032 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-14-2012
Director unknown
Cast unknown
Country: USA
What it is: comic short

Aunt Sallie falls over a railing. Can her bustle save her?

You know, when your movie’s fantastic content consists solely of a visual gag, it’s rather difficult to argue that it’s legitimately genre. However, when your movie is one minute long and the whole point of it is that single gag, at least you can argue for inclusion a little more convincingly. I hope this doesn’t mean I’m going to be covering a rash of bouncing bustle movies; I don’t think you can really go very far with the concept. And, once again, it will probably take you longer to read this review than watch the movie on YouTube, where I found it.

An Animated Luncheon (1900)

Article 4027 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-8-2012
Director unknown
Cast unknown
Country: USA
What it is: Trick film

A couple tries to have dinner at a restaurant, but the food they order turns into living animals.

IMDB lists a plot description that explains the action in some detail; for example, it points out the chickens appear when the diners crack the eggs. Actually, this is pretty useful in following the short; the copies I found on YouTube are in such ratty condition that it is somewhat difficult to make out just what the diners are doing when the chickens appear, for I certainly couldn’t make out any eggs. It’s basically an attempt to tap into the Melies special effects films of the period, but compared to Melies’s work at the time, this one is extremely primitive. Granted, a better print might help.

Alice’s Wonderland (1923)

Article 4026 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-7-2012
Directed by Walt Disney
Featuring Virginia Davis, Walt Disney, Hugh Harman
Country: USA
What it is: Animated cartoon

A young girl is enthralled by her visit to an animation studio. That night, she dreams she enters an animated land. All goes well until several lions get loose…

Despite the title, this has little to do with the Lewis Carroll books. Instead, it’s the first of the Disney “Alice in Cartoonland” series, in which a live girl interacts with animated characters. There’s really no plot, but the short can be cut into three sections – 1) the visit to the cartoon studio, 2) her welcome in Cartoonland, and 3) her chase by the lions. It’s really a series of setpieces showcasing the combination of live-action and animation. It’s fun for what it is, though a bit too long; the lion chase goes on too long, for one thing. I enjoyed it well enough, but I suspect it will go over a lot better if you’re a fan of animation with an interest in the history of the form.