The Headless Horseman (1922)

Article 4729 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-5-2015
Directed by Edward D. Venturini
Featuring Will Rogers, Lois Meredith, Ben Hendricks Jr.
Country: USA
What it is: A tale of rival lovers

A superstitious Yankee teacher takes up his profession in a small Dutch village and begins romancing the daughter of a rich landowner, much to the chagrin of another suitor of the daughter. However, tales abound of a ghost known as the Headless Horseman…

If I were to make a movie about the Headless Horseman, I would jettison the Washington Irving story about it and build my own one around it. Why? Because I’ve always had personal problems with the story. The horror fan in me wants the Headless Horseman to be a real supernatural entity, and, if my memory is correct, nothing in the story explicitly states that it isn’t. However, there’s a part of me that wants the tale as told to be a single, unified whole, and if the Horseman is truly a supernatural entity, then that leaves the whole story of Crane’s and Bone’s struggle for the woman’s hand to be so much filler, and that hardly leaves one with the sense of a unified whole. As a result, the story never totally satisfies.

I bring this up because if there’s one thing I will credit this movie for, it’s for making explicit the nature of the Headless Horseman. So perhaps I’m not surprised that the movie has a weak reputation; almost every review on IMDB sees it as a pretty pallid affair in compare to the Disney version from the forties. And, to tell the truth, it is rather pallid. I do find the presence of Will Rogers as Ichabod Crane interesting, but the sad fact of the matter is that Will Rogers’ humor was mostly verbal, and a silent movie gives him little opportunity to display it. Furthermore, another problem with the story is that neither Crane nor Bones are sympathetic characters; you grow to dislike them both, and you find yourself wishing that the woman would opt for neither one. As for the Headless Horseman himself, outside of a short token appearance near the beginning of the movie, he doesn’t pop up until the last four minutes, so I suspect horror fans will be rather disappointed by this one. And though I do have problems with the Disney version, at least that one is consistently entertaining.

Horton Hatches the Egg (1942)

Article 4703 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-8-2014
Directed by Robert Clampett
Featuring the voices of Sara Berner, Mel Blanc, Robert Clampett
Country: USA
What it is: Animated Seuss adaptation

A lazy bird asks an elephant to sit on her egg while she goes on a short vacation, and the elephant agrees. She stays away for a year while the elephant remains faithful to his task.

This is a bit of a rarity for the Warner Brothers cartoon department; they rarely did (straight) adaptations of books, and this version of the Dr. Seuss classic is fairly faithful to the source. It’s also fairly long for one of their cartoons, running just short of ten minutes. It does have several Warneresque touches, such as the fact that the lazy bird imitates Katherine Hepburn and a fish resembling Peter Lorre shows up at one point. It’s very well done, and if you’ve seen it as a kid, you will no doubt remember Horton’s rendition of “The Hut-Sut Song”. Dr. Seuss would go on and work with Warner’s animation department more extensively with the “Sgt. Snafu” cartoons for the military.

The Hope Diamond Mystery (1921)

Article 4702 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-7-2014
Directed by Stuart Payton
Featuring Grace Darmond, Harry Carter, George Chesebro
Country: USA
What it is: Serial thriller

A criminal mastermind has his eye on stealing the famous Hope Diamond, which is also believed to be cursed so that it brings ill fortune on all of those who possess it.

This serial has two particular points of interest. Firstly, it is one of the very few silent serials that exists in its entirety, with no episodes or reels missing. Secondly, it features Boris Karloff in one of his earliest films, and his parts are significant and pivotal; he appears in every episode of the serial. As you will notice, I wrote “parts” instead of “part”; that’s because most of the major players in the serial had dual roles. The serial starts out in the present, then switches to four hundred years prior for several episodes (hence the dual roles), and then returns to the present.

Unfortunately, I’m not particularly impressed with the serial. The acting isn’t at fault (and Karloff does a good job); it’s unfortunately cursed with a muddled script and terrible editing. At times it feels like several writers were working on it at once without communicating to each other; it’s hard to fathom what the characters are trying to do half the time. For example, it takes great pains to establish that the villain has a hypnotic hold over the heroine of the story, and then uses that power in the most pointless way possible until the final episode of the story. New characters pop up awkwardly and are sometimes poorly integrated into the story. In fact, only the episodes that take place in the past appear to be designed to tell a coherent story; the rest feels like it’s just marking time until the final episode. I suspect Karloff completists will appreciate this one best; however, the serial is poorly done.

Hokus Pokus (1949)

Article 4699 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-3-2014
Directed by Jules White
Featuring Moe Howard, Larry Fine, Shemp Howard
Country: USA
What it is: Three Stooges short

The Three Stooges are caring for an invalid neighbor, unaware that she is actually putting on an act to scam an insurance company. A magician known as “The Great Svengarlic” then discovers that the Stooges make ideal hypnotic test subjects.

This is a pretty good Shemp-era Three Stooges short. My favorite sequence is towards the beginning, when we are treated to the Stooges’ morning ritual, which includes a bizarrely synchronized shaving sequence; after all, only a Stooge would be stupid enough to let another Stooge shave him. The rest of the short is fairly ordinary. I did find myself thinking about Shemp and his work with the Stooges with this one. Now I like Shemp; I think he’s a good comic actor, and I enjoy watching him in action. But, unlike Curly, I don’t get the sense that he had a sharply defined and consistent character in his work with the group. That doesn’t mean he can’t be a lot of fun; I love his face-off with the insurance investigator here. But I don’t find myself thinking of individual Shemp trademark bits as I do with Curly, and that may be one of the reasons Curly remains the definitive third Stooge.

Hell’s Fire (1934)

HELL’S FIRE (1934)
Article 4694 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 11-27-2014
Directed by Ub Iwerks
Voice cast unknown
Country: USA
What it is: Anti-prohibition cartoon

Willie Whopper tells the story of how he descended to hell from a volcano and prevented the escape of one of the inhabitants.

This Ub Iwerks cartoon short only exists in fragmentary condition, but the fragment is of sizable length and I’m willing to bet that most of the cartoon is represented. Willie Whopper was a regular Iwerks character given to telling outrageous lies, but he really doesn’t have a lot of dimension beyond that. That being said, this one is rather fun; we see a parade of the damned, and you should recognize some historical and literary characters in the bunch. I wasn’t quite sure who the blue-faced man attempting to escape was, but according to one of the user comments on IMDB, he was a symbol of Prohibition, so it’s no surprise that people would want to keep him in hell. I did recognize the eagle who appears near the end as the symbol of the NRA (the National Recovery Act, not the National Rifle Association), the logo of which pops up during the credits of many movies of the era. There’s also a bit of nonsense involving Cerberus. It’s not a great cartoon, but it’s fun enough for a time-killer.

Hare Remover (1946)

Article 4691 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 11-24-2014
Directed by Frank Tashlin
Featuring the voices of Mel Blanc and Arthur Q. Bryan
Country: USA
What it it: Bugs Bunny cartoon

Elmer Fudd has been working on a formula to turn a man into a savage beast. When he runs out of experimental animal test subjects, he decides to trap a rabbit.

The Bugs Bunny cartoons qualify for fantastic content on the strength of Bugs Bunny being a talking rabbit, but this one has some extra fantastic value in that it also serves as a parody of DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE; Bugs even makes a reference to Spencer Tracy during the proceedings. Granted, Elmer Fudd’s formula never works; the worst it does is to cause his test subjects to eat grass. The cartoon then gets some mileage over having both Bugs and Elmer mistake a passing bear as the end product of the experiment. All in all, this is good-but-not-great Bugs Bunny cartoon, but it does have some memorable moments; my favorite is a gag in which Bugs pulls out a set of pictures illustrating various derogatory terms during Elmer’s “transformation” scene.

Hilfe Ich bin Unsichtbar (1951)

aka Help, I’m Invisible
Article 4642 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-1-2014
Directed by E.W. Emo
Featuring Theo Lingen, Inge Landgut, Fita Benkhoff
Country: West Germany
What it is: Science fiction comedy

A businessman who dabbles in his own experiments finds his life falling apart when he accidentally becomes invisible.

For the second day in a row, I find myself covering a movie that had dropped off my hunt list into my “ones that got away” list, and the belief at that time was that the movie was indeed lost, as no archive had it listed in their holdings. Apparently, though, a collector must have had a copy, and it popped up on YouTube. Unfortunately, the copy has no English subtitles or dubbing, but then, I didn’t really expect it would. Still, that does mean I can’t really give a fair evaluation of the movie. I will say this much, though – the movie is nearly half over before the fantastic content comes into play. The additional comic twist to the invisibility is that the character can become visible again, but only when he is inebriated. To my sensibilities, this doesn’t bode well for the level of the humor. The humor is primarily verbal, and what visual humor there is didn’t impress me. There’s one impressive little special effects sequence where we get a close-up of the invisible man writing a note to someone; the rest of the special effects are standard fare for this sort of thing. Though I can’t really evaluate the movie, the impression I get from the few plot descriptions I’ve read is that it is painfully unfunny, so take that as a warning. Me, I’m still grateful it showed up.

Hay muertos que no hacen ruido (1946)

aka There Are Dead That Rise
Article 4608 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-15-2014
Directed by Humberto Gomez Landero
Featuring German Valdes, Marcelo Chavez, Amanda del Llano
Country: Mexico
What it is: Comic mystery

An aspiring singer finds himself under suspicion for a murder in a spooky old house.

I was lucky enough to find a copy of this movie on YouTube, but not lucky enough to find one with English subtitles. Furthermore, since the movie is fairly heavy on dialogue, I know that I’m missing enough of the plot and the humor to prevent me from giving a really effective analysis of how good it is, though I will say that the verbal humor had better be pretty good to maintain the viewer’s interest for the one hour forty-two minute running time. From a visual point of view, the most satisfying sequence has the hero, realizing that he’s likely to be fingered for a murder he didn’t commit, trying to elude the police by pretending to be a wax figure. As for the fantastic content, my various sources claim that that there are ghosts present in the movie, but visually, I see no evidence of that. There is, however, a spooky old house full of wax figures and secret passages, so there’s a little of the “old dark house” vibe going for it. The English title refers to a plot twist that occurs fairly late in the game, and is perhaps the element that comes closest to delivering us anything even remotely in the way of ghosts.

Hysterical (1983)

Article 4602 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-8-2014
Directed by Chris Bearde
Featuring Bill Hudson, Mark Hudson, Brett Hudson
Country: USA
What it is: Horror comedy

A writer of trashy novels tries to get away from his life by moving to an isolated Oregon seaside community. However, when he moves into a haunted lighthouse, a ghost resurrects the corpse of an old lover who begins running amuck, turning the townspeople into zombies.

This movie stars the Hudson Brothers, a musical group from the seventies who had a few hits and hosted a variety show at one point. From the looks of it, they also fancied themselves as a comedy group, because that’s how they’re showcased here; though there is a bit of music in the movie, they only sing one brief number and they remain on the fringes of the only major musical number in the movie. The movie is a parody of horror movies, with references to THE EXORCIST, JAWS, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, CHARIOTS OF FIRE, any number of zombie movies and anything else that happens to cross their path. To these eyes, the movie is largely a chaotic mess; though the occasional moment works, it mostly comes off as confusing. The weak direction is a major problem; Chris Bearde seems to have been best known as a producer of variety shows, and this is his sole directorial effort. He shows little ability in establishing a coherent mood or keeping things focused. There’s quite a few of name actors popping up here, most of whom are wasted, though I will admit a little fondness at seeing Dracula played by Charlie Callas and Richard Kiel as the resurrected corpse named Captain Howdy. For me, the biggest surprise is that this movie actually has a rating on IMDB above 5.0, and I had to scan through a few of the user reviews to realize that the movie has garnered a bit of a cult following over the years. The most impressive moment here is the big musical number featuring dancing zombies (probably inspired by MICHAEL JACKSON’S THRILLER), and even that is a mess around the edges. If you’re part of the cult following for the movie, you already know how you feel about it; for the rest of us, it is a confused mess.

NOTE Someone pointed out that this movie actually came before MICHAEL JACKSON’S THRILLER; therefore, if there was an influence, it must have gone in the opposite direction. Now THAT is mind-blowing.

Halloween with the New Addams Family (1977)

aka Halloween with the Addams Family
Article 4594 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 7-31-2014
Directed by David Steinmetz
Featuring John Astin, Jackie Coogan, Carolyn Jones
Country: USA
What it is: Revival of a sixties sitcom

The Addams family plans to celebrate Halloween with a “family members only” party, unaware that certain unscrupulous individuals intend to rob them of their fortune.

You know, there’s something depressing about the attempts made during the late seventies to revive TV shows from the sixties as TV-movies; even by TV-Movie standards, they come off as singularly lame. Maybe it was that some of these shows worked much better in a half-hour format than they did when stretched to three times that length. Maybe there was something about the writing from that period of time that had been lost during the seventies; the attempts to emulate the goofiness of that period seem forced and desperate. Still, I think the primary culprit was the fact that when you revive a successful TV series from the past, it’s already been somewhat pre-sold, and it’s therefore perceived as not really necessary to do a good job or put your best foot forward; people will watch it anyway. In this one, I know a great deal of the atmosphere is lost simply due to the fact that the original series was in black-and-white, and this revival was in color. The real problem, though, is it seems amateurish and clumsy, it too often relies on running gags from the original series (especially the “Trish, you spoke French” gag which is here run into the ground mercilessly), and it’s not very funny. The best thing about it is that most of the original cast is back, and sometimes they bend over backwards to accomplish this; of course they had to replace the actor and actress playing Wednesday and Pugsley, but they also bring back to original actor and actress playing older versions of those characters. Ted Cassidy steals what there is to steal here as Lurch, who gets the best gag here when he falls for one of the (male) criminals who comes to the party dressed as Little Bo-Peep. Apparently, this was supposed to be a pilot for the revival of the series, but I’m not surprised it didn’t accomplish that purpose.