Saturday, June 14, 2008

GROTESQUERIES! The most fun you're liable to have with a DVD in some time. This is the brand new DVD of rare material from the dawn of motion pictures up through the 1930's. All of them are of a fantastical or horror nature and most I've never had the opportunity to see before. GROTESQUERIES was produced by Blue Mouse Studio - Reel Curiosities and is the brainchild of Rex Schneider, Chris Buchman and Steve Stanchfield. It is also the most fun use of the DVD medium since Something Weird's phenomenal MONSTERS CRASH THE PAJAMA PARTY; a DVD which single-handedly prompted me to buy my first DVD player. Accomplished graphic artists in their own right, the creators of this DVD has made wonderfully whimsical cartoon menus and the DVD itself is split up into three acts (not including a generous side of special features).
Highlights of the disc include the 1907 LE SPECTRE ROUGE (literally "The Red Ghost") which features music hall magician Bretteau dressed as a devilish skeleton performing magic tricks that would appear right at home in any Georges Melies production. The truly wonderful part of this 101 year old film is that it is tinted in multi-colours all the way through.
Two 1928 Felix the Cat cartoons are included: FELIX WOOS WHOOPEE and the superior SURE-LOCKED HOMES which features many spooky going-on just right for Halloween. A really nice animated Felix introduction to both cartoons appears almost certainly to have been newly created by the team who made this DVD -- and it works BEAUTIFULLY. In fact, there are many instances where the DVD's creative team seems to have added newly animated introductions to these films and the work does not go unappreciated.
The expressionistic FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER from 1928 was not new to me but was a welcome adddition to the DVD. The short film by Melville Webber and James Watson owes a lot of it's delirious hallucinogenic imagery to THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI from nearly a decade earlier.
1930's THE WIZARD'S APPRENTICE was part of the "Visual Tone Poem" series designed by the great William Cameron Menzies and features a literally depiction of the famous Dukas classical music piece "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" familiar to all those who've seen Disney's FANTASIA. Right down to the animated brooms. The short includes live action, stop-motion animation and normal animation in a whimsical flight of fantasy. In fact, the Disney film owes quite a LOT to this short subject -- even down to the duplication of a couple of shots. The same can be said of ANOTHER short subject which found a place in FANTASIA...
UNE NUIT SUR LE MONT CHAUVE from 1933 is another literally adaptation of Mussorgsky's "Night on Bald Mountain" which also featured prominently in the Disney film. This musical piece shows the congregation of the forces of darkness on the top of Bald Mountain complete with ghosts and demons. The Disney creators also must have assuredly seen this short film before mounting their own animated production. Groundbreaking use of "gravures animees" or "pin-screen animation" highlights this short subject; a complex system involving a vertical frame through which thousands of tiny white pins are inserted and withdrawn and, through lighting, animation occurs. You have to see it to believe it. Another hallucinogenic early-30's short subject that befuddles the eye. Quite a few shots even have a three-dimensional look owing to the strange "pin" animation.

In the dvd's Act Two (entitled "Banshee Bijou") we find a condensed version of the classic Lon Chaney film "THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA" -- only this time it features a live orchestral performance created by the same creators of this DVD (Chris Buchman & Rex Schneider) for a 1979 screening at Johns Hopkins University. The musical accompaniment is quite good and fitting. A nice moment comes at the film's conclusion when you hear the rapturous, appreciative applause of the theater audience before the sound fades out. As a prologue to "The Banshee Bijou", the DVD's creators have made many fake, funny "frequent our advertisers" screen cards to up the Halloween fun quotient. Then we are treated to some actual REAL prevues of coming attractions including an old "Spook Show" trailer as well as a lengthy trailer for one of the worst movies ever made: Dwain Esper's fleapit extravaganza MANIAC!
THE FRESH LOBSTER is a 1928 (there is some discrepancy with the film's date although it is CERTAINLY earlier than imdb's guess of 1948!!!) "Billy Bletcher Hilarity" in which slightly unspectacular comic Billy Bletcher awakes in the middle of the night, raids the refrigerator for a pickle and a whole lobster, then has subsequent nightmares brought on by this questionable feast. Bram Stoker blamed the conception of DRACULA on a meal of dressed lobster so we really can't be surprised when Bletcher is relentlessly hounded by a huge lobster; in some scenes a man in a strangely effective lobster suit and in other scenes animation neatly inserted into the live action a la Roger Rabbit.
Two Tom & Jerry cartoons from the early 30's (no not THAT Tom & Jerry but two earlier human characters) entitled "WOT A NIGHT" and "THE MAGIC MUMMY" add to the Halloweeny fun. Of the two, I enjoyed "THE MAGIC MUMMY" more as the pair of dimwit cops are harassed by skeletons and ghosts of all description. Bizarrely, this cartoon featured the debut of the song "The Cop On the Beat, The Man in the Moon and Me". As one of the DVD's special features, a recording of the song is included along with an art gallery of images.
THE GHOSTS' HIGH NOON is in fact a 2006 "music video" animated by the DVD's creators to the music from Gilbert & Sullivan's operetta "RUDDIGORE or The Witches' Curse". The music is taken from the HMV 1931 recording featuring the D'Oyly Carte Opera Chorus and Orchestra which is readily available on cd and such places as itunes. I know. I already own it. The animation is limited but very effective and quite beautiful in a Halloween way. It's probably one of my favourite parts of the dvd.
A trick or treat bag of special features also graces the DVD including an art gallery of antique Halloween decorations and postcards (not as many of the latter as I would have liked), a feature entitled "Crypt Tickles" which animates actually humourous tombstone inscriptions, "Haunted Melodies" which features several songs (including many favourites obviously taken from the Jass Records cd "HALLOWEEN STOMP" which I love) including Rudy Vallee's "With Her Head Tucked Underneath Her Arm", the aforementioned "Cop on the Beat..." song, Ray Noble's "The Haunted House", Gilbert & Sullivan's "The Sorceror's Song" (kindly including on screen lyrics) as well as one of my personal favourite songs of all time: Harry Reser's "Mysterious Mose". All these songs are illustrated by on screen animations and movie posters, etc.
I can't tell you what a barrel of fun I had watching this truly delightful DVD; one tailor-made for the Halloween season. Next October, while awaiting the little creeps knock on your door, you couldn't do better than pop this DVD into your player -- as well as the classic Something Weird DVD "MONSTERS CRASH THE PAJAMA PARTY". I'll have to get around to discussing THAT one ... one of these days...

GROTESQUERIES can be had at the marvelous CREEPY CLASSICS website.


Weaverman said...

This I've got to see!

Cheekies said...

Alright I need the disc to make screen caps boddy!

Cerpts said...

How's it feel to want?!?