Up-to-Date Spiritualism (1900)

UP-TO-DATE SPIRITUALISM (1900)
aka Spiritisme abracadabrant
Article 4845 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 6-11-2015
Directed by Georges Melies
Featuring Georges Melies
Country: France
What it is: Comic trick short

A hapless buffoon finds himself tormented by spirits when he tries to remove his hat and coat.

IMDB lists this movie as being from 1903, but my other sources say 1900 (including the Melies boxed set which features the short), and my gut reaction is that this is the correct year. This also has the advantage of placing it slightly before GOING TO BED UNDER DIFFICULTIES, a much funnier short which takes the central premise of a man running into problems removing his clothing (the clothes keep reappearing on his body) and kicks it into the stratosphere. Maybe it’s just because I’d rather like to see this one as the short that came up with an idea he improved upon rather than seeing it as a tepid recycling of a gag he’d done earlier. On its own terms, this is amusing enough, and it manages to hold the interest throughout its two-minute running time, though I’m not sure whether the spiritualism on show here is particularly up-to-date.

Urban Warriors (1987)

URBAN WARRIORS (1987)
Article 4725 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-1-2015
Directed by Giuseppe Vari
Featuring Bruno Bilotta, Alex Vitale, Bjorn Hammer
Country: Italy
What it is: An hour and a half of footage

Three computer technicians escape from their underground bunker to discover that it’s after the apocalypse, and roving gangs are killing people. They seek out other human beings (who are not in roving gangs killing people).

You know, every once in a while you encounter one of those movies whose sole reason for existence is to 1) employ stuntmen and second-unit directors, 2) provide fodder for the grindhouse circuit, and 3) serve as a platform for the use of stock footage. One gets the sense that the least important person in the making of the movie is the writer, and though it might be possible that the script and dialogue might be better in the original Italian version of the movie (rather than in the dubbed English version I saw), I really rather doubt it in this case. About the only plot element that is the least bit novel in this one is that the roving gangs are after spinal cord fluid (apparently as a side effect of the radiation), and that idea feels like it was lifted from an old forties horror movie. Furthermore, that plot element doesn’t make one iota of difference in the way the movie unfolds. So all we really have here is a lazy, bare-bones version of the after-the-apocalypse movie with as little intelligence used or care taken as possible. It’s ninety minutes of footage that has all been done better elsewhere.

UFOs: It Has Begun (1979)

UFOS: IT HAS BEGUN (1979)
Article 4555 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 6-6-2014
Directed by Ray Rivas
Featuring Jose Ferrer, Burgess Meredith, Rod Serling
Country: USA
What it is: UFO documentary

The existence and nature of UFOs are discussed, with particular emphasis on government research and cattle mutilations.

When I first started reviewing UFO documentaries for this series, I decided to keep my own skepticism in check and watch them in regard to their entertainment value, and some of them worked well enough on this level. I’ve seen enough of them by this time that any novelty value has worn off. This one has a fairly high rating on IMDB, which makes me suspect it’s one of the more highly regarded of these types of movies, and though I do find the proceedings less sensationalistic than usual, the movie amounts to mostly lots of people talking about UFO experiences combined with re-enactments involving actors, and overall, it’s a bit on the dull side and doesn’t really contain a lot that is new, though this is the first one I’ve seen that really delves into the cattle mutilations. Most of it is narrated by Serling (with aid during one sequence by Ferrer and Meredith) while the whole cattle mutilation sequence is narrated by someone else and feels somewhat tacked on to the movie. My guess is that the movie will be a lot more interesting for believers than skeptics, though I doubt it will change anyone’s mind on the subject.

The Uncanny (1977)

THE UNCANNY (1977)
Article 4419 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-11-2014
Directed by Denis Heroux
Featuring Peter Cushing, Ray Milland, Joan Greenwood
Country: Canada / UK
What it is: Horror anthology

A writer tries to convince a publisher that his collection of cat horror stories are all true and proof of the evil intent of the animals. In the first, an old woman wills her fortune to her cats, but two prospective heirs hatch a plan to get the money themselves. In the second, a young orphan girl whose only friend is her cat is terrorized by an older girl who is jealous of her cat. In the third, a horror star who has engineered the death of his cat-loving former wife finds himself a target for the revenge of the pet.

Given that cats have often been used as instruments of horror, I supposed I’m not really surprised that a movie anthology exists that consists entirely of horror stories involving cats; I am, however, a bit surprised that there are two of them, the latter being CAT’S EYE from 1985. The first story is probably the most effective; it’s also the most straightforward and the goriest. The second one is a bit off the theme; despite the fact that it mines scares from a cat in the same way that THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN does, the cat is certainly not the primary force of evil here. The third one features Donald Pleasence in a rare comic role as a somewhat foppish horror actor, and though he does a good job, the segment isn’t very funny and there’s some historical inaccuracy here as well; it takes place in Hollywood in 1936, and given that the Hays office was in place at that time, there’s no way the horror movie we see being shot would have approved, and a reference to Tweety Bird is at least a decade too early. Furthermore, there seem to be key scenes missing as well; we never learn how the cat escapes in the second story, for example. The framing story is fairly obvious, but at least it features the talents of Peter Cushing and Ray Milland to spice them up. All in all, it has the feel of a weak Amicus anthology, and though it’s not from Amicus, the presence of producer Milton Subotsky may explain why it feels that way.

Upside Down: or, The Human Flies (1899)

UPSIDE DOWN; OR, THE HUMAN FLIES (1899)
Article 4300 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-30-2013
Directed by Walter R. Booth
Cast unknown
Country: USA / UK
What it is: Trick short

A magician performs for a handful of people, and then does his most amazing trick; he causes his audience to walk on the ceiling.

The main special effect here is simple enough; it looks like we have two rooms with identical decor, except one is upside down. This one he films with the camera upside down, making it look like the people are walking around and dancing on the ceiling. One thing I thought was interesting is that this particular trick doesn’t appear to be copped from Melies; at least, I can’t remember any of his early shorts that tried this particular trick, but then, a lot of his shorts are missing. It’s a minor short, but it is interesting to see an early silent whose trick hasn’t been overused.

The Untamable Whiskers (1904)

THE UNTAMABLE WHISKERS (1904)
aka Le roi du maquillage
Article 4298 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-28-2013
Directed by Georges Melies
Featuring Georges Melies
Country: France
What it is: Trick short

A magician draws caricatures of bearded men on a blackboard, and then magically changes into those characters.

This is Melies demonstrating a single special effect repeated over and over; it basically demonstrates a crossfade being used to change one character into another. It’s one of his more focused trick shorts, and I suspect what he was demonstrating here was the technique of having these things happening against a fully decorated background instead of just a black area. It’s not one of his best works, but it’s mildly amusing.

Undressing Extraordinary (1901)

UNDRESSING EXTRAORDINARY (1901)
Article 4296 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-25-2013
Directed by Walter R. Booth
Cast unknown
Country: UK
What it is: Comic trick short

A man is removing his clothes in preparation for a good night’s sleep, but new clothes keep reappearing on him as he does.

We’ve been here before; this is one of the several imitations of Georges Melies’s GOING TO BED UNDER DIFFICULTIES. That movie is one of Melies’s funniest, partly because it builds up to a frantic breakneck pace. Most of the imitations fail to achieve that pace, and this one is no exception. It tries to offset that by having the unfortunate disrober finding himself in some pretty silly costumes, but that doesn’t quite cover up the fact that this three-and-a-half minute short is running too long on what is basically a one-gag premise. Still, the transitions are smooth and well done.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1903)

UNCLE TOM’S CABIN (1903)
Article 4295 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-24-2013
Director unknown
Cast unknown
Country: USA
What it is: Drama about slavery

The story is told of the fortunes of a black slave who is sold by his owners.

Every once in a while I’m startled to consider what I’m covering for this project, and this is one of the examples; I would have never guessed this one would pop up. Granted, I’ve never read the novel, though it was one of the sensations of the nineteenth century and had a big influence on the abolitionist movement. Probably the reason the novel isn’t read much anymore is that the black characters have become stereotypes that are no longer considered acceptable. The novel is somewhat sprawling, and any attempt to condense it into a thirteen-minute short (as is done here) is bound to lack coherence, and sure enough, it’s pretty difficult to follow this one if you haven’t read a plot summary beforehand; back then, the story was so famous, that wasn’t a problem. According to the plot summary I read, I guessed the fantastic content would involve the vision of heaven one dying character has; in this short, the fantastic content manifests itself by having angels appear a couple of times in the action. I couldn’t help but notice that, even with the time condensation necessary, the plot does come to a halt a few times for some unnecessary dance sequences, at least one of which involves a lot of characters doing the cakewalk, and though I’m not really sure about the history of that dance, I suspect its presence here is anachronistic. Nevertheless, whatever faults this short has, there’s no doubt it was a rather ambitious movie for its time.

Die Unheimlichen Wunsche (1939)

DIE UNHEIMLICHEN WUNSCHE (1939)
aka The Unholy Wish
Article 4175 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 3-8-2013
Directed by Heinz Hilpert
Featuring Hans Holt, Olga Tschechowa, Kathe Gold
Country: Germany
What it is: Wish fantasy

A young man comes by a skin that grants wishes; unfortunately, for each wish that is granted, the skin shrinks and the wisher loses part of his life.

Here’s another one that I’ve just rescued from my “ones that got away” list. It also is in German without English subtitles, and I really couldn’t find a decent plot description of the movie. However, I did discover that it was based on Honore de Balzac’s novel, “La peau de chagrin”, and I was able to find some plot descriptions of the novel. It appears that the movie more or less follows the novel, though I do get the feeling that the tragic ending of the novel was replaced by a somewhat happier ending here. Still, this is another movie that requires familiarity with the language to appreciate it, and I can only give some vague impressions at this time. My overall feel is that the movie was well acted, but pretty ordinary; the special effects are pretty basic, and I didn’t find it visually enticing. Nevertheless, it is nice to be able to mark this one as having been watched.

Up the Ladder (1925)

UP THE LADDER (1925)
Article 4152 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-9-2013
Directed by Edward Sloman
Featuring Virginia Valli, Forrest Stanley, Margaret Livingston
Country: USA
What it is: Romance drama

An heiress sells her estate to raise money so that the man she loves can complete his invention. When he does, he marries the heiress and becomes financially successful. But he is tempted into having an affair with his wife’s best friend…

I read a short plot description of this one before watching the movie, and I was left wondering about the nature of the fantastic content. Not that I doubted that it existed; that was a given. What I wondered was whether the fantastic content (basically, it’s an early version of the video phone) was going to be more than just an incidental detail in the story, or whether it was going to be used in some way to develop the plot. Well, the movie does get some points for incorporating the invention into the story; in some ways, it serves the same function as the similar invention in LOVE AND SCIENCE, albeit with an inversion of the plot of that one. Still, the basic story is pretty obvious here, and for parts of it, the direction and the acting lack the subtlety to make it play effectively. The primary exception is the performance of Virginia Valli as the heiress; she underplays beautifully in all of her scenes, and she becomes as a result the only character we really care about. It’s not a great movie by any means, but it has its moments.