Les exploits de Feu-Follet (1912)

aka Nipper’s Transformations
Article 5232 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-19-2016
Directed by Emile Cohl
No cast
Country: France
What it is: Animated film

An animated man has several stream-of-consciousness adventures.

This short movie made it to my hunt list under the title of NIPPER’S TRANSFORMATIONS, where it languished until it dropped off into my “ones that got away” list. Then a friend of mine tracked down that the movie was actually a retitled copy of this animated short by Emile Cohl. If you’re familiar with Cohl’s work, it won’t surprise you to find out that it’s mostly a plotless stream-of-consciousness excursion into mutating animated objects, though it does follow something of a story in the middle where the title character takes a balloon to the moon but ends up swallowed by a fish in the ocean. I myself enjoy Cohl’s work, but I can see it boring some people, but since the short is only four minutes long, it doesn’t wear out its welcome.

Extraordinary Illusions (1903)

aka Illusions funambulesques
Article 5206 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 7-15-2016
Directed by Georges Melies
Featuring Georges Melies
Country: France
What it is: Magic short

A magician performs tricks in which he creates a woman from his magic box, only to have her turn into a cook.

It’s another magic short from Melies, and like many of the others, it only runs about two minutes long. Some of the special effects seem quite sharp this time, including scenes in which the magic box and a table move of their own accord. Beyond that, this is pretty much run-of-the-mill Melies, but I did take note that he might have geared this one to audiences who speak English; despite being a French film-maker, I noticed that the Magic Box was marked as such in English.

An Extraordinary Cab Accident (1903)

Article 5205 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 7-14-2016
Directed by Walter R. Booth and Robert W. Paul
Cast unknown
Country: UK
What it is: Comic trick short

A man is run over by a horse-and-buggy when he crosses the street. The cop catches the driver, but is the pedestrian dead?

There’s not much to write about on this one-minute short, either in terms of its plot (it’s basically a joke story with a punch line) or its fantastic content (which is the punch line itself). Suffice it to say that the story involves either accelerated healing or resurrection from the dead. Oops, did I give away the ending without a spoiler warning? Well, so be it, but when the movie’s this short, it’s unavoidable. Still, it plays its surprise ending fairly well.

Entr’acte (1924)

ENTR’ACTE (1924)
Article 5203 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 7-12-2016
Directed by Rene Clair
Featuring Jean Borlin, Inge Friss, Francis Picabia
Country: France
What it is: Dada weirdness

Plot: Yes, there is one… sort of…

This avant-garde short was originally shown as part of an opera; the first two minutes were shown before the ballet, and the rest of the movie was shown between the two acts. With a cast that includes Francis Picabia, Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray, there’s one thing you can be sure of, and that is that you’re in deep Dada territory, but the presence of Rene Clair also adds a strong dose of humor to the proceedings. There is something of a plot involve a runaway wagon carrying a coffin, but it’s mostly there as a frame from which to hang the bizarre and sometimes amusing visuals. There is some fantastic content; for example, we have a man rising from a coffin and making people disappear with his wand, as well as a cannon that moves of its own accord. There are lots of abstract and experimental films out there, but this is one of the most fun that I’ve seen.

Edgar Allan Poe (1909)

Article 5202 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 7-10-2016
Directed by D. W. Griffith
Featuring Barry O’Moore, Linda Arvidson, Clara T. Bracy
Country: USA
What it is: Mini-bio

Edgar Allan Poe, desperate to buy food for his ailing wife, is inspired to compose his most famous poem (“The Raven”), but will he be able do sell it?

If it weren’t for the fact that a raven magically appears on a statue near the beginning of the movie, I’m not sure there would be any real fantastic content here, despite the fact that the title character is a famous horror writer and the poem itself would qualify. As it is, it’s historical event as a tear-jerking example of tragic irony. I think it’s efficiently directed, but I do find myself wondering about the audience reaction at the time it was made; to these eyes, both the leads are overacting, using a declamatory acting style that would net horselaughs today. In some movies, this wouldn’t matter, but when you’re trying for pathos, it’s pretty fatal. Reportedly, the original title cards for the movie misspelled Poe’s middle name as “Allen”.

Evolution (1923)

Article 5174 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 6-2-2016
Directed by Ovide Decroly, Dave Fleischer, Max Fleischer
Cast unknown
Country: USA / Belgium
What it is: Documentary

The creation of the Earth and the growth of life thereon is explored.

I found this movie on YouTube, and I have to admit to being rather curious about it. IMDB attributes the direction to three different people; the two Fleischer brothers (who were responsible for many animated cartoons from the twenties to the forties) and Belgian scientist Ovide Decroly. One of my sources claims the movie was made as a response to the Scopes monkey trial, but that took place in 1925; this movie is credited as having been made two years earlier. I also read that it was made to argue the scientific side of the case, but it never discusses the most controversial aspects of the theory of evolution; no mention is made of “Darwin” or natural selection, man just appears initially as “java man” and evolves into modern man, though the fact that this is covered right after the great apes are discussed implies the theory slightly. Still, I can’t help but feel the final title card purposely hedges its bets. I do wonder if the documentary was originally made by Decroly in 1923, and then reworked by the Fleischers in 1925, but that is only speculation on my part. At any rate, the overall feel of this silent documentary is like a slightly more focused version of THE ANIMAL WORLD, and it mostly consists of footage of animals, some of them rather unusual. The fantastic content consists of about half a minute of stop-motion animated dinosaur footage; I don’t see any other type of animation unless the sequence showing the creation of the solar system counts.

Addendum: Thanks to Doctor Kiss at CHFB, I’ve clarified some mysteries about this one. Ovide Decroly had nothing to do with this movie; he made a similarly titled movie from the same era that has no connection with this one. Furthermore, the real director was Raymond Lee Ditmars. The Fleischers’ involvement with the film came from a ‘sweetening up’ they did to the movie. They added the stop-motion dinosaur footage, which was lifted from THE GHOST OF SLUMBER MOUNTAIN.

Empire of Ash II (1988)

aka Empire of Ash
Article 5004 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 11-30-2015
Directed by Michael Mazo and Lloyd A. Simandl
Featuring Melanie Kilgour, Thom Schioler, Frank Wilson
Country: Canada
What it is: Canadian Mad Max

It’s after the apocalypse, but isn’t it always? After her sister is apprehended by a dictatorial cult of religious zealots to use for breeding purposes, a woman joins forces with a mysterious loner to rescue her.

The “mysterious stranger” in this one is one of the more blatant imitations of Mad Max that I’ve encountered in the many imitations of THE ROAD WARRIOR that I’ve seen. This one has a very low reputation (3.8 rating on IMDB at the time of this writing), but I think it’s a little better than that; there’s some energetic camerawork on occasion, some of the stunt work is decent, and it has a couple of interesting ideas. However, it really doesn’t have enough of a story to sustain the length of the movie, so we get lots of scenes of the various factions of the world (the religious zealots, a set of mutants who kidnap people for their blood, groups of ordinary people) fighting with each other for no other reason than to fill out running time. Though it seems competent at times, there’s a pall of dreariness over the proceedings; quite frankly, most of the actors come across as being bored out of their skulls. The only time the movie ever becomes fun is when a couple of eccentric survivalist veterans show up; if the movie had been built around them, it would have been much more entertaining. The movie is known both as EMPIRE OF ASH and EMPIRE OF ASH II; it was released originally under the first title, and then rereleased under the second title; maybe they figured that no one saw the first release, so who’d be able to tell that the second was the same movie? There is a real sequel called EMPIRE OF ASH III.

Eliminators (1986)

Article 5003 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 11-28-2015
Directed by Peter Manoogian
Featuring Andrew Prine, Denise Crosby, Patrick Reynolds
Country: USA / Spain
What it is: Action Sci-Fi

When a cyborg is threatened with disassembly by a mad scientist, he escapes and teams up with a group of adventurers to defeat his enemy.

If I were to make a list of the dumbest action cliches I know of, one that would definitely make the list is the “bar brawl”; it’s a cliche as pointless as it is pervasive. Therefore, it’s a real tribute to this film that when it pops up here, I actually laughed, largely because it serves as a truly funny punch line to a great setup. In fact, there’s a few other times when this rather silly action-adventure flick brought a smile to my face, and though it has its fair share of cliches and clunker moments, it at least doesn’t come across as a mere imitation of some other movie. If the movie had been made after ROBOCOP, I would have thought that the Mandroid character here was a steal from that, but this movie predates that one, though it’s obvious the adventurer is a Han Solo type, and the flying robot is a variation on R2-D2. This cheesy movie does have a pretty low reputation, and though I can understand why, for me it gets by having just the right tinge of self-awareness of its own chintziness. In short, I liked it, so lets call it a guilty pleasure.

Escape from the Bronx (1983)

aka Fuga dal Bronx
Article 4975 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 11-1-2015
Directed by Enzo G. Castellari
Featuring Mark Gregory, Henry Silva, Valeria D’Obici
Country: Italy
What it is: Action

It’s not after the apocalypse. A corrupt government in league with a corporation is performing a forced evacuation of the Bronx in order to build a new series of skyscrapers. They use brutal violence to evict those not willing to leave. The former gang members of the Bronx do battle with the corporation thugs.

The other side of Italian “after the Apocalypse” movies were those which were modeled more after ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK than from THE ROAD WARRIOR. This is one of those; it’s a sequel to 1990: THE BRONX WARRIORS, and through it brings back the dull but pouty hero (who looks like a refugee from an eighties hair band), it lacks the star power of the earlier movie. The only name actor is Henry Silva, and to these eyes, he looks like he’s barely interested in anything going on around him. Most of the movie is a compendium of clumsy cursing, various people being mowed down by bullets, and explosions causing other people to somersault through the air. Those who like nonstop carnage will like this best; me, I just wish the hero had a single iota of charisma to make me care what happens to him, but such is not the case. And I don’t understand why the title is what it is when the main characters are trying their best to stay in the Bronx.

Evilspeak (1981)

Article 4932 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-19-2015
Directed by Eric Weston
Featuring Clint Howard, R.G. Armstrong, Joe Cortese
Country: USA
What it is: Bloody horror

An outcast at a military academy discovers a demonic sanctuary underneath an old church and calls forth a demon to take revenge on his tormentors.

This is what happens when you cross CARRIE with THE OMEN and DADDY’S DEADLY DARLING; a bloody revenge story with Latin chants on the soundtrack and deadly killer pigs. It does get quite bloody before it’s all over, but things don’t really start happening until the final third of the movie. Reportedly, the violence was so extreme that the movie had to be cut to get an R rating. The Blu-Ray I watched of this claimed that all of the gory footage had been restored, but given that the movie still runs four minutes shy of its longer running time listed on IMDB, I have my doubts. The movie is just okay; part of the problem I have with it is that the tormentors are such a one-dimensional bunch that it becomes a little cartoonish, and since the first two-thirds of the movie is mostly just the main character being tormented, it gets a little tiresome. The use of the computer seems more gimmicky than necessary, though I will admit the language translation software that is used by the computer seems to be more advanced that any modern ones. How scary it is may well depend on just how scary you find a sword-wielding demonic floating Clint Howard.