The Evil Dead (1981)

Article 4324 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-2-2013
Directed by Sam Raimi
Featuring Bruce Campbell, Ellen Sandweiss, Richard DeManincor
Country: USA
What it is: Bloody mayhem

A group of friends staying in a deserted cabin discover an evil Sumerian book that summons demons to possess them all.

I’ve been curious about this movie for some time, and I’m glad to finally have gotten a chance to see it. It’s easy to see why Sam Raimi went on to a successful directorial career; he has a definite sense of style, knows how to use sound effectively, and keeps the pace going at a frantic pace. It’s also easy to see why Bruce Campbell became such a popular cult actor as a result of his work here; much of the movie deals with him being on the only remaining human character, and he does a great job in keeping you involved with his predicament. The movie is often creatively audacious in the way it plays with, subverts, and sometimes succumbs to cliches; you’re never quite sure which way it’s going to go. And there’s something fascinating about the way it employs its nonstop barrage of gore effects. Nevertheless, it never quite becomes “the ultimate experience in grueling horror” that it claims to be; it’s merely one of the most outrageously excessive. It’s so over-the-top that it never really becomes believable; you’re in a (particularly gruesome) funhouse, and you know it. Maybe it’s no surprise that the sequel moved into the direction of comedy; with some of the stuff that happens in this one, it veers pretty close to being comic itself.

The Extraordinary Adventures of Saturnino Farandola (1913)

aka Le avventure straordinarissime di Saturnino Farandola, Zingo, Son of the Sea
Article 4312 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-18-2013
Directed by Marcel Perez
Featuring Marcel Perez, Nilde Baracchi, Alfredo Bertone
Country: Italy
What it is: Whimsical action movie

A man who was raised by monkeys as a baby is rescued and has adventures all around the world.

For some reason, this movie really stands out in the era that it came from; I’ve gotten the impression that most full-length silent movies from this time frame aspired to a certain degree of seriousness, and this one is pretty light-hearted. So I’m not entirely surprised to find out that it was originally shown as four shorts (which I”m guessing were each about thirty minutes long), and that this feature was edited together from them, though it appears that a third of the footage was left out in the process. There are four distinct segments here; the first is in Oceania where our hero has to save the woman he loves from an evil oceanographer, the second is in the Orient and involves the recovery of a sacred white elephant, the third is in Africa and appears to involve the rescue of two princesses from cannibals (this sequence is missing quite a bit of footage), and the fourth is in America where the hero gets embroiled in the Civil war and faces off with a character from a Jules Verne novel who has gone evil. Weird elements abound; there’s a sequence involving a woman swallowed by a giant fish, scenes involving monkeys and men in diving suits marching off to war, a battle in the sky involving hot air balloons, and, unless I’m very much mistaken, there’s a hint of a plot to steal Niagara Falls (which, since it never is addressed again, may be me hallucinating). The monkey and gorilla suits are certainly nothing to write home about, and the movie is often hard to follow (possibly due to the missing footage), but the whole thing is so charmingly bizarre that I’m tempted to hunt up the novel that inspired this. There are fantasy and science fiction touches to the story as well. This may well be one of the most entertaining of the early silent features.

El que murio de amor (1945)

aka He Who Died of Love
Article 4276 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 7-29-2013
Directed by Miguel Morayta
Featuring Julian Soler, Luis Aldas, Fernando Cortes
Country: Mexico
What it is: Switched identities farce

A man suffering from unrequited love is visited by a spiritualist who offers him the opportunity to win the countess he loves by switching the souls between him and the count.

Here’s another movie that got saved from my “ones that got away” list. It’s in Spanish without subtitles, but fortunately, I was given a plot summary to help me along. Still, even though I didn’t have trouble following the story, I do have to reserve judgment on this one due to the fact that much of the humor seems to be verbal, and without being able to follow the movie on a line-by-line basis, I can’t really tender a meaningful evaluation. However, it looks solid and well-acted, and it has a fair amount of fantastic content, as the spiritualist has definite powers. Furthermore, there’s a fictional country tossed into the mix (the man who takes over the body of the count must contend with the fact that the count, coming from this fictional country, speaks a different native language), and there are reference to the story of Aladdin. I do find it amusing that the “lamp” of Dr. Aladino, Jr. is a cigarette lighter, but it is disappointing that the genie is personified as a cloudy sky with a voice. Overall, it seems like a decent little comedy.

Excursion dans la Lune (1908)

aka A Trip to the Moon
Article 4204 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 4-16-2013
Directed by Segundo de Chomon
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Mimicked Melies

A scientist concocts a scheme to take himself and a bunch of travelers to the moon.

This movie entered my list as A TRIP TO THE MOON (1903), though it was actually made several years later, but I gather that a great variety of misinformation made the rounds about this one. One thing is for sure; it is a blatant imitation of the Melies film from 1902. Every scene here has an equivalent scene in the Melies film, and the story arcs are largely identical. Still, it isn’t a slavish imitation; for one thing, this one is much shorter and more compact. Chomon also restages and retools certain scenes so that the effects are slightly different; for example, the rocket doesn’t hit the eye of the moon, but enters through its mouth, giving it indigestion. Oddly enough, one of the biggest differences between the two movies is that Chomon adds a dancing girls sequence to the “court on the moon” scene; though no dancing girls appear in that scene in the Melies film, it is exactly the sort of scene you’d expect from Melies. No, it’s not as significant a film as the original, but it’s fairly entertaining in a “variations on a theme” way.

Eagle of the Night (1928)

Article 4160 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-18-2013
Directed by James P. Fulton
Featuring Frank Clarke, Shirley Palmer, Earl Metcalfe
Country: USA
What it is: Serial thrills

A new invention that muffles the sounds of airplanes is the target of a gang of smugglers. Can the U.S. Government test pilot defeat their plans?

Nearly half of this ten-episode serial is missing; the first halves of episode three, five, six and ten are gone, as well as episodes seven, eight and nine in their entirety. Still, it doesn’t seem as if any major plot points are missing, but that’s also because the serial is one of those that seems to be written with the “bare-bones serial writing approach” I’ve encountered before; set up the premise in episode one, resolve it in the final episode, and fill the rest with incidental action. The fantastic content is also disappointing; the airplane silencer is pretty much a Gizmo Maguffin of the first order, and the fact that it is used a couple of times during the surviving footage doesn’t really change the fact its use not only has no impact on the plot, but that there’s something very disappointing about this particular fantastic content, as it is a pretty unsatisfying one from a dramatic standpoint for a silent serial; what’s the fun of not being able to hear the airplane with the silencer when you can’t hear them without it either? So the appeal of this serial is a combination of the airplane stunt work, which is pretty good (even if the most striking one in which an airplane lands on and takes off of a moving train is more a trick of editing than anything else), and the fact that the villains are pretty brutish in this one; you’ll be really glad that the heroine is as feisty as she is, because these guys are creeps. This is one of the lesser serials I’ve seen.

The Enchanted Drawing (1900)

Article 4119 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-29-2012
Directed by J. Stuart Blackton
Featuring J. Stuart Blackton
Country: USA
What it is: Early trick short

An artist draws a face and several items on a large pad. The face reacts as the artist pulls the various items from the pad and uses them.

This is a simply conceived but well-executed trick film. It’s basically the simple trick of stopping the camera and substituting new items, but it’s done with a sense of wit. It isn’t quite an animated film, but it does point in the direction of animation and can be seen as a film connecting the dots between animation and the simple substitution trick. Blackton himself seems at ease as the artist at work, and this also makes the short fun to watch.

Explosion of a Motor Car (1900)

Article 4098 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-5-2012
Directed by Cecil M. Hepworth
Featuring Cecil M. Hepworth, Henry Lawley
Country: UK
What it is: Black comedy

An overcrowded motor car explodes on a city street, leaving a local policeman with the unpleasant job of sorting out the mess afterwards.

This movie dovetails nicely with yesterday’s movie. Once again, the movie isn’t a horror movie; exploding motor cars don’t automatically qualify as horror, or else I’d have to contend with ninety percent of the action movies ever made for this project. But since the explosion results in the blowing to pieces of the passengers (with a sequence in which the body parts rain down from the sky), we find ourselves immersed in another common horror theme in much the same way that the decapitation in yesterday’s movie did. Granted, this movie plays it less for horror and more for black comedy, especially as the annoyed policeman sorts through the body parts to figure which part goes with which. This may make the movie one of the earliest black comedies in existence, and I did find myself both appalled and amused at the same time.