Now Hear This (1962)

Now Hear This (1962)
Article 5949 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 3-15-2021
Directed by Chuck Jones
Featuring the voice of Mel Blanc
Country: USA
What it is: An exercise in oddness

A hard-of-hearing Briton finds a new red hearing horn in the street, and throws his old horn away. However, this is no ordinary horn; it’s a horn missing from the head of the devil.

By the early sixties, the quality of the Warner Brothers cartoon was in rapid decline, but there is still the occasional gem to be found. This is one of them. This one is an exercise in surreal abstraction, with distorted and bizarre sounds leading the man into a series of indescribable encounters. It’s one of those cartoons that works fine in the lower-budget style of the studio in that time, and makes good use of the spareness of that style. Treg Brown gets prominent credit in the cartoon for his sound effects, and it is well earned; this cartoon uses sound as decisively as its visual quality. It was an Oscar nominee for its year, and it well-deserved the nomination. It’s one of Jones’ strangest works.

1941 (1941)

1941 (1941)
Article 5948 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 3-10-2021
Directed by Francis Lee
No cast
Country: USA
What it is: Historical abstraction

An egg and light bulbs are destroyed in a wash of colors and to the music of Igor Stravinsky.

Here’s another short that is listed in the Walt Lee guide by dint of its being decidedly unrealistic. It was meant as a reaction to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, which is the only thing it has in common with the Spielberg movie of the same name. Unlike many abstract shorts, it’s not animated; it is filmed footage which mostly consists of various colors of liquid running through each other with the destruction of the egg and the light bulbs as added touches. In its own abstract way, it is rather effective, with the scenes capturing a bit of the feeling of having been dirtily violated. It’s only four minutes long and the Walt Lee guide lists it as an amateur film, but it’s rather interesting.

Night Train to Terror (1985)

Night Train to Terror (1985)
Article 5947 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 3-8-2021
Directed by John Carr, Phillip Marshak, Tom McGowan, Jay Schlossberg-Cohen, Gregg C. Tallas
Featuring John Philip Law, Richard Moll, Cameron Mitchell
Country: USA
What it is: Anthology of recycling

While a rock band plays in another car of a train, God and Satan discuss the fates of three women.

I was about half-way through watching the first of the three stories in this anthology film when the light bulb clicked on in my head. What I was watching was not, in fact, footage made specifically for this movie, but rather, an entirely different movie which had been sliced to ribbons and re-edited to maximize the number of exploitable scenes; all the violence, nudity and gore, as little of the plot as possible. It’s an incoherent mess that you only begin to sort out when the narrator shows up and clues you in. The second story is more of the same only with bigger chunks of film and no real ending. The third fares a bit better because it only seems to be missing half its footage than the three-quarters the other two sections are missing; still, the special effects are subpar, especially during the stop-motion animated segments. The movie’s own footage consists of dull conversations between God and Satan along with scenes of a rock band doing a song called “Everybody but You”. According to the credits the band does three songs; I wonder where the other two went. At any rate, the song has a subtext; it can be taken to mean that everybody else is out there watching a movie somewhere, so why don’t you sit down and watch this one? Sure, it says it’s about dancing, but I know a subtext when I hear one. For all that, this movie isn’t quite as godawful as it could have been. That’s still no recommendation as to why you should watch this one.

Night of the Creeps (1986)

Night of the Creeps (1986)
Article 5946 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-25-2021
Directed by Fred Dekker
Featuring Jason Lively, Tom Atkins, Steve Marshall
Country: USA
What it is: Not bad hodgepodge

The attempted theft of a frozen corpse for a fraternity gag unleashes a horror that began 27 years earlier when a alien capsule crash-landed on Earth.

This horror comedy borrows and references any number of other horror / sci-fi films. It’s a variant of the zombie movie genre with touches of ALIEN (among others) surrounded by a teen comedy. In description it sounds pretty bad, but its touches are actually rather fun. I like the fact that many of the characters have last names of famous horror directors. I also like the references to PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE and the fact that Dick Miller shows up playing a character named Walter (you supply the last name). There’s even one borderline annoying character whose final speech is unexpectedly and effectively poignant. It’s quite bloody, but it manages to have a decent heart at its center, so I give this one a pass.

Near Dark (1987)

Near Dark (1987)
Article 5944 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-17-2021
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow
Featuring Adrian Pasdar, Jenny Wright, Lance Henriksen
Country: USA
What it is: Vampire variant

A young man picks up a girl who turns out to be a vampire. After being bitten by her, he is kidnapped by a gang of vampires who are traveling around the country on a murder spree. If the new member wants to survive in their midst, he must learn to kill…

Here’s an interesting variant on the vampire theme. Outside of being killed by the rays of the sun, traditional vampire mythology is set aside, and the movie plays more like a moody rural action thriller than a horror film. There’s an interesting assortment of characters among the gang, with Bill Paxton memorable as the craziest and most violent of the vampires. Still, taken as a whole, the movie doesn’t quite work for me; certain plot elements seem a bit too convenient, and there’s something about the ways the characters interact that feels a little unconvincing. Nevertheless, it has some truly memorable images, my favorite being that of the hero’s smoky body stumbling through a field.

Naughty But Mice (1947)

Naughty But Mice (1947)
Article 5943 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-16-2021
Directed by Seymour Kneitel and Dave Tendlar
Featuring the voices of Jack Mercer, Carl Meyer, Sid Raymond
Country: USA
What it is: Herman the Mouse cartoon

Herman the Mouse comes from the city to visit his country friends only to discover they’re being terrorized by a champion mousing cat. Herman sets out to solve their problem.

I almost walked away from this cartoon without giving it a review when it suddenly struck me; the final gag involves several ghosts appearing. I might still have skipped it (after all, they only appear in the final gag), but actually decided I wanted to write a review anyway. I’ve seen several Herman the Mouse cartoons already and haven’t been impressed by them, but I actually thought this one was pretty good; the story makes good use of Herman’s cockiness by giving him a foe who somehow seems to survive all of Herman’s schemes. Sure, the post-Fleischer Paramount cartoons are a let-down, but they still hold up better than the work of some of the other cartoon studios of the era; this one comes up to the level of the lesser Looney Tunes. It’s always nice to cover a cartoon that works fairly well.

The Naked Monster (2005)

The Naked Monster (2005)
Article 5942 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-15-2021
Directed by Wayne Berwick and Ted Newsom
Featuring Kenneth Tobey, Brinke Stevens, R.G. Wilson
Country: USA
What it is: A hoot for the right audience

A giant monster is on the loose. Can authorities destroy it? If so, how?

Ted Newsom passed away last year. He was a film historian who specialized in the types of movies I review for my series, and he was one of the first figures of fandom I encountered when I began prowling around message boards about twenty years ago. I wish I had taken the time to review this movie earlier; I would have liked to chat with him about the making of this movie, which appears to have been started in the late eighties but only completed after the turn of the century.

The title seems to indicate one of two things; it’s either going to be an update of an old giant monster movie for a more permissive age (read: more nudity), or it was going to be a parody along the lines of the NAKED GUN movies. Yes, there is some (intentionally) gratuitous nudity in the movie, but not so much that it loses track of its fifties roots. I’m not surprised that some people think little of the movie (at this writing it has a 5.4 on IMDB), but I also believe it was targeted to a specialized audience – to those of us who love and studied the movies it parodied. If you’re part of that group, it’s an incredibly fun movie, and a lot of the enjoyment is going to be trying to identify the plethora of genre actors who pop up in cameos as well as the references to the movies being parodied. There’s lot so stock footage, clips from any number of genre films, cheap special effects, inside jokes (my favorite is the “mat lines” joke), etc. Quite frankly, this movie was a treat for me. Thanks, Mr. Newsom. I only wish you were still here to read this.

The New Lord of the Town (1908)

The New Lord of the Town (1908)
aka Le nouveau seigneur du village
Article 5652 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 3-19-2019
Directed by Georges Melies
Featuring Fernande Albany, Mlle. Bodson, Georges Melies
Country: France
What it is: Melies fantasy

A lord visits a cave with strange creatures.

When the special effects are on show, this short is entertaining enough; after all, it’s from Melies. However, when the movie is focused on its plot, it’s a bore, at least partially because Melies doesn’t do much of a job of making his story clear. In the opening scene, for example, we see the lord talk with several people in the town square, but to what end remains obscure; all it accomplishes is to get things to a very slow start. At least one plot point involves the lord being magically reduced to a beggar while two of his fellow townspersons become wealthy, but the reasons for this never become clear. As such, this is far from Melies’s best, with only the middle section being much fun.

Nursery Scandal (1932)

Nursery Scandal (1932)
Article 5617 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-30-2018
Directed by Harry Bailey and John Foster
Voice cast unknown
Country: USA
What it is: Another Van Beuren cartoon

When elves find a book of nursery rhymes, Mother Goose emerges and has an affair with a scarecrow, much to the consternation of her goose.

This should end the run of cartoons for a bit, as it was the last one on the DVD I was watching. This is Van Beuren at its least interesting; despite an initial premise that makes you think it might go somewhere storywise, about all that really happens here as that fairy tale characters come out of a book and sing and dance. You’d think they would at least grab some low-hanging comic fruit when Humpty Dumpty starts to dance (what gag would YOU have happen here?), but no, he just dances and nothing happens. About the closest thing to a good gag here is having the characters jump and hover during a long gap in the music, and that’s pretty far from being a good gag. This is one of those cartoons that’s no meat, all filler.

Noch pered Rozhdestvom (1913)

Noch pered Rozhdestvom (1913)
aka Christmas Eve
Article 5550 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 6-5-2018
Directed by Wladyslaw Starewicz
Featuring Ivan Mozzhukhin, Olga Obolenskaya, Lidiya Tridenskaya
Country: Russia
What it is: Literary adaptation

On Christmas Eve, a blacksmith woos the daughter of a Cossack, who will only marry him if he brings her the shoes of the tsaritsa.

This short is based on a short story by Gogol; the title translates directly as “The Night Before Christmas”, but since that title conjures up an association with a poem that has nothing to do with this story, I’ve opted for the “Christmas Eve” translation. Unlike most of Starewicz’s work, this is not animated; outside of a short segment where a tiny devil jumps into the blacksmith’s pocket, it’s all live action. As such, it’s not quite successful; in this form, the story is a bit confusing , which is apparently not an issue with the original story (which I’ve not read), and though the make-up and costume for the devil are fun, overall it lacks the magic of Starewicz’s other work. It may have assumed a certain familiarity with the short story, which was probably much better known in Russia at that time than it is here today. Actually, I’ve reviewed a number of movies that have been based on Gogol’s works; he might be an author worth exploring further.