The Night Before Christmas (1946)

The Night Before Christmas (1946)
Article 5945 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-20-2021
Director unknown
Cast unknown
Country: USA
What it is: the poem brought to life

A narrator recites the poem “The Night Before Christmas”, and we see a reenactment of the events in the poem.

Here’s another short from Castle Films, and I suspect this may be a repackaging of a short from somewhere else, but I can’t say for sure. Despite the fact that I have this one on a cartoon collection, only about three scenes are animated; these are scenes of Santa flying through the air with his reindeer and of visions of sugarplums dancing in children’s heads. The rest is live-action. There’s not really much to say about this one; there’s really not much here to augment the poem and there are no surprises. It unfolds much like it probably plays in your head when you hear the poem. Nowadays, the verse about the pipe would be cut.

Certuv mlyn (1949)

Certuv mlyn (1949)
aka The Devil’s Mill
Article 5521 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 11-25-2017
Directed by Jiri Trnka
No cast
Country: Czechoslovakia
What it is: Animated fairy tale

A beggar wanders the countryside, trying to entertain the animals with his out-of-tune music box, but he only drives them away. One little boy takes pity on him and offers him a crust of bread, which the hungry wanderer nevertheless gives away to another beggar who magically disappears. When a storm breaks out, the wanderer takes refuge in an old mill, which is inexplicably full of amenities. However, the mill is the abode of a devilā€¦

Here’s another gem from the oeuvre of Jiri Trnka. One of the joys of Trnka is that he eschewed dialogue in favor of visual story-telling, thus rendering them enjoyable in any language. As usual, there is a great deal of wit to the story, and Trnka’s ability to instill his puppet stop-motion animation with a real cinematic sense; they don’t feel like animated puppet movies. I’m really enjoying my forays into his work.

Scotland Yard (1930)

Article 5265 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-7-2016
Directed by William K. Howard
Featuring Edmund Lowe, Joan Bennett, Donald Crisp
Country: USA
What it is: Crime drama

During World War I, a criminal joins the army to evade the police, but has his face destroyed in an enemy barrage. A French plastic surgeon restores his face under the assumption that the photograph in a locket the criminal was carrying was his own face; in fact, he had stolen it from a banker. The criminal decides to use his resemblance to the banker for his own purposes.

The fantastic content of this movie, as explained by the Don Willis guide, was that plastic surgery in the movie was beyond the capabilities of plastic surgery in real life, and I can see where he’s coming from; it’s similar to the exaggerations movies applied to hypnotism and lifelike face masks, just to name a couple. However, I can also see putting this phenomenon into the realm of movie convention rather than in outright science fiction; I don’t recall within the movie there being any mention of the surgeon having developed any new techniques, so I’d have to say the fantastic content is extremely marginal. The movie is very much an early talkie, which is to say it creaks and paces itself so deliberately that you could visit the refrigerator in the spaces between the lines. It’s based on a stage play, but it least it does some interesting things with the framing, occasionally focusing on close-ups of objects, and this helps it fight the “photographed stage play” feeling. Still, the script itself is rather creaky, especially when it attempts to be subtle about meanings that are blatantly obvious. Still, it does have some points of interest, but it requires a certain amount of patience and a little forgiveness.

The Gold Rush (1925)

Article 5224 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-7-2016
Directed by Charles Chaplin
Featuring Charles Chaplin, Mack Swain, Tom Murray
Country: USA
What it is: Chaplin comedy

The little tramp goes prospecting for gold in the Klondike, and ends up encountering a fellow prospector who had discovered a mountain of gold as well as a dance hall girl with whom he falls in love.

You know, if I had to do this whole movie-watching project over again, I would institute a rating system. This would not be to gauge the quality of the movie, but rather to gauge the degree to which the movie belongs to the fantastic genres which I’m covering. When I began, almost every movie I saw fully belonged to the given genres, but now I find myself frequently encountering movies where the fantastic content is slight or confined to a single scene of the movie. A rating system would have served as a quick, easy indicator of the movie’s status in this regard. In the case of the movie, it’s clearly not a fantasy when taken in its entirety; it’s just for a single scene of the movie, it takes a turn into the fantastic when two starving prospectors are trapped in a cabin during a raging storm, and one begins to hallucinate that the other is a giant chicken; the hallucination is displayed visually. Again, it’s a single scene, but you have a giant animal as well as flirtations with madness and cannibalism.

That being said, I’ve ended up encountering a lot more of Chaplin’s work than I expected I would have (and I have yet to cover the one that most prominently qualifies, which would be MODERN TIMES). However, this one is near and dear to my heart. It is not only the first Chaplin movie I ever saw, but the first silent film as well. Chaplin is in fine form here, and the movie contains several famous sequences. There is the scene where Chaplin is forced to eat his own shoe, the dance performed with potatoes and forks, and the scene where a cabin teeters over the edge of a cliff. I love his work here; I’m especially impressed with how he shows such a grasp of human nature to get us to feel the elation and disappointment when an attractive person of the opposite sex seems to be trying to catch your attention only to discover they’re intending the attention for someone behind you. I think that this still rates as my favorite Chaplin movie.

Bad Bill Bunion (1945)

aka Mighty Mouse Meets Bad Bill Bunion
Article 5134 By Dave Sindelar
Date: 4-19-2016
Directed by Mannie Davis
Voice cast unknown
Country: USA
What it is: Mighty Mouse cartoon

Mighty Mouse goes out west to take on the desperado, Bad Bill Bunion, whose latest scheme is to kidnap a saloon singer named Belle.

As far as quality goes, I found this one to be a little below average for the series; most of the gags are pretty lame. The best one has the saloon singer warbling “Belle of the Golden West”, and then making bell sounds with her hoop skirt while swinging from a tree limb. That being said, I do have a few observations about this one. The first is that there doesn’t seem to be a consistent mythology for Mighty Mouse; here he lives in a skyscraper penthouse, is informed of his tasks through a TV set, and spends the entire cartoon interacting with human beings where he usually interacts with anthropomorphized cats and mice. This is also one of the non-operetta cartoons. Second, there seems to be some inconsistency with how his size is portrayed. When he enters the skyscraper, he looks roughly the size of an average human being, and when he first shares the frame with Big Bill Bunion, they look roughly the same size. However, when they get to one-on-one battling, he’s much smaller. One last detail is that there’s the possibility that I have the wrong cartoon; there’s a user comment on IMDB which describes a totally different cartoon, but since Bad Bill Bunion starts that one in prison, I suspect there was a sequel made. It is a bit of a shame I didn’t see that one, though; it has cameos of both Dracula and the Frankenstein monster.

NOTE I have since discovered that I did have the correct cartoon here.

Wolfen (1981)

WOLFEN (1981)
Article 5093 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-28-2016
Directed by Michael Wadleigh
Featuring Albert Finney, Diane Venora, Edward James Olmos
Country: USA
What it is: Creature feature

A series of murders seem to be the result of a creature with wolf-like features. What are they, and do they have a connection with a group of native American terrorists?

This is one of those movies that is based on a novel. It’s also one of those movies that feels like it’s based on a novel. Finally, it’s one of those movies that feels as if the novel is better; I’ve not read Whitley Strieber novel, but I feel that the various characters in the story have a more complex involvement in the story than I see in the movie, especially Albert Finney’s detective character. In its present form, the movie feels like the scenes would work a little better if I were reading them than watching them. The main exception are the various tracking POV shots of the title creatures, which are very effective; in fact, they’re so effective that it’s more than a little anticlimactic when you actually see them for the first time. There are things I like about the movie, but my overall impression is that the movie falls short of what it could have been.

Splatter University (1984)

Article 5070 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-4-2016
Directed by Richard W. Haines
Featuring Forbes Riley, Ric Randig, Dick Biel
Country: USA
What it is: Slasher film

A paranoid schizophrenic escapes from a mental hospital. Three years later, students and teachers at a university are being knocked off by a serial killer. Who could it be?

Sometimes a title will tell you all you need to know. Just looking at the title of this one, I figured it would be a not-very-good slasher movie. And, sure enough, that’s what I got – a not-very-good slasher movie. I had the killer picked out ten seconds into the character’s first scene, and that was before the movie began bending over backwards to try to convince me it was someone else. To give you an idea of the sloppiness of the production, there’s a scene where two women are having a conversation on a park bench, and it keeps cutting back and forth between two camera angles, one of which has a purple filter and the other of which does not. The movie is loaded with tiresome, uninteresting characters, especially when it comes to the students. I’ll give the movie credit for having one surprise up its sleeve; unfortunately, it’s so late in the game that it can’t compensate for the dullness and predictability of the rest of it. Don’t enroll.

Iceman (1984)

ICEMAN (1984)
Article 4997 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 11-23-2015
Directed by Fred Schepisi
Featuring Timothy Hutton, Lindsay Crouse, John Lone
Country: USA
What it is: Science fiction drama

When a frozen Neanderthal found in the arctic regions turns out to still be alive, an anthropologist seeks to make contact with him. However, other scientists want to use him as a research specimen to discover how he was able to keep from dying in his frozen state, and the two aims aren’t compatibleā€¦

If there’s any one single reason to see this movie, it is for John Lone’s performance as the revived Neanderthal. In his hands, the Neanderthal becomes such a fascinating, alive character that I’m amazed he didn’t even get an Oscar nomination for his work. His performance compensates somewhat for the flaws in the script itself. To my mind, the script is unfocused; it has several good ideas, but it doesn’t really settle in on which direction it wants to go until late in the movie, and then it makes the disappointing but audacious choice to plunge into the mystical. As moving as this might be for some, I find myself wishing it had pursued some of the other paths that the movie considers. I have a few other problems with the movie, such as the fact that the Neanderthal manages to escape his controlled environment with an unrealistic ease; certainly, someone would have been thoughtful enough to put up more safeguards. Nevertheless, there is always Lone’s performance to buoy the movie up, and the movie is worth watching for that alone.

Back to the Future (1985)

Article 4927 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-13-2015
Directed by Robert Zemeckis
Featuring Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson
Country: USA
What it is: Comic time travel story

A teenager accidentally travels back in time thirty years, and interferes in an event that caused his parents to meet for the first time. He now not only has to find a way to get back to his own time, but also has to bring about events to cause his parents to marry or else he will fade from existence.

As far as this movie-watching project of mine goes, the times when I feel the most uncomfortable with it is when I’m forced to revisit a movie I’ve seen before and for which the outlook I had from that viewing differs sharply from the current critical outlook of the movie. At this point of time, this movie has a very high reputation and is considered one of the great science fiction classics, whereas I came away from my first viewing with some disappointments. There’s a certain high-tech and slick cuteness to the proceedings that I didn’t care for, I didn’t find the performances of Lea Thompson and Crispin Glover in the 1985 incarnations of their characters convincing (though I had no problem with their 1955 incarnations, the ones in the present looked and felt too much like young people trying to pretend to be old people), and I was especially annoyed at the double climax; after resolving the issue involving his parents (which had both personal and existential impacts), I was ready for the movie to end, but the whole action sequence of him returning to the present felt to me like it was just jerking us around with the movie’s fairy dust.

However, watching the movie again does amend my feelings somewhat. My objections to the cuteness and the portrayal of the parents still stands, but I realize that I misunderstood the purpose of the second climax. Rather than being a mere diversion to extend the length of the movie, I realized that the real center of the second climax is the survival of the Christopher Lloyd character, and that added the extra level of dimension that I missed the first time. Actually, I’m surprised I missed this; for both viewings, my favorite thing about the movie was Christopher Lloyd and his performance as Dr. Emmett Brown. I’ve never been a big fan of Michael J. Fox, though I have no issues with his solid performance here. However, I did find it interesting to realize this; the movie initially takes place in 1985 and then shifts to 1955, thirty years earlier. This year is 2015, so I’m watching it thirty years later. That means that the present of this movie is just as distant in the past as the past of this movie is from this movie’s present. This being said, I couldn’t help but notice some of the elements in this movie that make it seem quaint; the Delorean time machine itself, the reference to Pepsi Free (the product placement here certainly didn’t help that drink), and the Fotomat at the mall; it immediately occurred to me that you don’t see any of those around anymore.

Swamp Thing (1982)

Article 4892 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-6-2015
Directed by Wes Craven
Featuring Louis Jourdan, Adrienne Barbeau, Ray Wise
Country: USA
What it is: Comic book thriller

A brilliant scientist develops a formula for an aggressive form of plant life. When an evil genius tries to get the formula, the scientist becomes doused with the formula and turns into a powerful half man/half plant that roams the swamp.

This movie doesn’t have much of a reputation, but in terms of low-budget spectacle, it’s watchable; it managed to hold my attention throughout its running time. The swamp locations are the best thing about the movie; they’re colorful, atmospheric, and wonderful to look at. The Swamp Thing’s rubber suit looks like a rubber suit, but I can forgive that. The worst thing about the movie is the lazy and uninspired script; it’s full of bad pieces of dialogue, clumsy pieces of business and plot holes, and the story is a bit thin for its running time. As a result, we spend most of the middle of the movie having Adrienne Barbeau running around the swamp pursued by bad guys and being rescued by the Swamp Thing, with the occasional long-winded speech given by Louis Jourdan, who fancies himself a genius while not proving himself one. The climax of the movie is particularly weak, with Swamp Thing having an unmemorable battle with another monster. Ultimately, it’s the scenery that steals the movie (which includes Barbeau’s own natural assets). A sequel popped up several years later. I hope it had a better story.