Film Review: The House of the Devil (1896)

Also known as: The Haunted Castle (US), The Devil’s Castle (UK)
Release Date: Winter, 1896
Directed by: Georges Méliès
Cast: Jehanne D’Alcy, Jules-Eugene Legris

Star Film Company, 3 Minutes

Review:

Is this the first horror movie ever made? Well, it’s probably the oldest one still in existence.

The film is important in the earliest days of motion picture history for it being what’s considered the earliest form of cinematic horror but even more than that, it’s use of special effects and editing are quite impressive for the time.

The House of the Devil came out when film was still a new, barely unexplored medium and those who were experimenting with it still found themselves inventing the techniques that would go on to expand the art form into the most popular artistic medium on the planet.

Beyond simple horror, this also bleeds into the fantasy and comedy genres. It features pantomimed sketches with a bat, a devil, a couple of cavaliers, a skeleton, spectres and other goodies.

It uses clever editing techniques to show the transformation of magical creatures and other monsters appearing like magic to confront the heroes.

The film is only three minutes, which is pretty normal for pictures from this era but it packs a lot into that short time and it’s a much more entertaining film that what was the norm.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other very early and experimental films.

Film Review: Trail Mix-Up (1993)

Also known as: Roger Rabbit: Trail Mix-Up (alternative title)
Release Date: March 12th, 1993
Directed by: Barry Cook
Written by: Rob Minkoff, Barry Cook, Mark Kausler, Patrick A. Ventura
Music by: Bruce Broughton
Cast: Charles Fleischer, Kathleen Turner, Lou Hirsch, April Winchell, Corey Burton, Frank Welker

Amblin Entertainment, Walt Disney Pictures, Buena Vista Pictures, 8 Minutes

Review:

“Jeepers Baby Herman, you had me worried. I almost dropped a log back there.” – Roger Rabbit

Like the two Roger Rabbit shorts before this one, Trail Mix-Up was paired with a theatrically released Disney film. In the case of this short, it played before 1993’s A Far Off Place, which was a safari movie starring a young Reese Witherspoon and Maximilian Schell, who I know best from his role as the villainous Dr. Hans Reinhardt from 1979’s The Black Hole.

This short feels like a step up from the previous one, as the art looks better with more emphasis on shadows and shading and it felt a bit more fluid.

Additionally, I liked the setting and the gags in this one better, as it sees Roger chasing Baby Herman through the woods and ultimately ends up in a dangerous lumber mill.

However, this one was probably cheaper to produce as it doesn’t feature live-action elements like the previous two and the 1988 feature film. They try to play that off with some art trickery at the end, where it sort of breaks the fourth wall but it does so without actual human actors.

Overall, this was more of the same but when “the same” is a good formula, why change it too much?

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other Roger Rabbit shorts, as well as the fill-length Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

Film Review: Saludos Amigos (1942)

Also known as: Hello Friends (literal English title)
Release Date: August 24th, 1942 (Rio de Janeiro premiere)
Directed by: Norman Ferguson, Wilfred Jackson, Jack Kinney, Hamilton Luske, Bill Roberts, 
Written by: Homer Brightman, William Cottrell, Richard Huemer, Joe Grant, Harold Reeves, Ted Sears, Webb Smith, Roy Williams, Ralph Wright
Music by: Paul Smith, Edward H. Plumb
Cast: Lee Blair, Mary Blair, Pinto Colvig, Walt Disney, Norman Ferguson, Frank Graham, Clarence Nash, Jose Oliveira, Frank Thomas

Walt Disney Productions, RKO Radio Pictures, 42 Minutes

Review:

“Here’s an unusual expedition: artists, musicians and writers setting out for a trip through Latin America to find new personalities, music and dances for their cartoon films. So, adios, Hollywood, and saludos, amigos.” – Narrator

Following five fantastic animated feature films, Disney, for some reason, decided to switch to a new playbook and started making package/anthology movies. This is the first one of those.

Saludos Amigos is pretty entertaining and kind of serves as Walt Disney’s way of promoting tourism in South America. I’m not sure why but maybe Walt just loved it down there.

This is both an educational film and a fictional one with fantastical elements and cool stories used to teach the audience about South American culture, geography and well, just about everything else.

It’s a mix of animation and live-action footage and is comprised of a few short pieces sewn together in an anthology format.

What’s cool about this is that it features some of Disney’s core animated characters like Donald Duck and Goofy and it also introduces a new one, who was really popular at the time, José Carioca, an anthropomorphic Brazilian parrot known for his dapper style.

This is the shortest of the Disney package films but it still packs in a lot for its running time.

Overall, the animation is good, the stories are quick and enjoyable and it’s a pretty lighthearted short film.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: Disney’s other 1940s package/anthology films.

Film Review: Roller Coaster Rabbit (1990)

Also known as: Roger Rabbit: Roller Coaster Rabbit (alternative title)
Release Date: June 15th, 1990
Directed by: Rob Minkoff, Frank Marshall (live-action part)
Written by: Bill Kopp, Kevin Harkey, Lynne Naylor, Patrick A. Ventura
Music by: Bruce Broughton
Cast: Charles Fleischer, Kathleen Turner, Lou Hirsch, April Winchell, Corey Burton, Frank Welker, Charlie Adler (uncredited)

Amblin Entertainment, Silver Screen Partners IV, Walt Disney Pictures, Buena Vista Pictures, 8 Minutes

Review:

“Save me. Save me.” – Jessica Rabbit

Like Tummy Trouble, this Roger Rabbit animated short was released theatrically and paired with a big live-action Disney movie. In the case of this film, it was originally released in 1990 with Dick Tracy.

I don’t like this one as much as its predecessor but it’s still a quick, amusing animated short that does a pretty good job of using Roger Rabbit, Baby Herman and Jessica Rabbit.

The plot follows Roger, as he once again has to babysit Baby Herman. Except in this cartoon, they find themselves at a theme park with dangerous carnival games, an angry bull, a roller coaster and other obstacles. We also get another Droopy Dog cameo.

Overall, the plot and the gags aren’t as good as Tummy Trouble but it’s still effective and hits the right notes.

From a production standpoint, the animation looks like it’s a bit of a step down. The colors and shadowing look muted and more simplistic but that could also be due to where this takes place. Regardless, I can’t look at this after Tummy Trouble and not feel like this one was rushed out.

It’s still fine for what it is and honestly, I wish Disney would have made more of these than just three.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other Roger Rabbit shorts, as well as the fill-length Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

Film Review: Siren Head (2020)

Release Date: June 18th, 2020
Directed by: Shutter Authority
Written by: Shutter Authority
Based on: creature created by Trevor Henderson

Shutter Authority, 4 Minutes

Review:

Siren Head is a very short, experimental film created by the Indian YouTube account Shutter Authority.

This was mainly created to test out some cool motion capture technology but it’s pretty well done for the filmmakers just tinkering around with the technology. Additionally, the CGI model of the creature is pretty cool and convincing despite the limitations of the production.

Now this also has over 17 million views in just about two weeks, which is damn impressive.

I came across this accidentally while researching something else on YouTube but I’m glad I checked it out and the main reason I’m reviewing it is to bring attention to it and it’s creators, as they experiment with CGI models and have made some neat little films. Many of those films feature Godzilla, one of my all-time favorite characters.

This also sent me down a rabbit hole, trying to learn more about this monster and its creator, artist Trevor Henderson. He’s made a lot of cool art pieces featuring many monsters that all feel like they’re heavily inspired by the Silent Hill and Siren video game series: two franchises that have terrified and captivated me over the years. You can check his work out here.

With as many mainstream and indie films that I review, I should probably spend a little more time shining a light on the cool things I find online by budding filmmakers just trying to get good at their craft while making things that are outside the box.

Rating: 6/10

 

Film Review: Tummy Trouble (1989)

Also known as: Roger Rabbit: Tummy Trouble (alternative title)
Release Date: June 23rd, 1989
Directed by: Rob Minkoff, Frank Marshall (live-action part)
Written by: Kevin Harkey, Bill Kopp, Rob Minkoff, Mark Kausler, Patrick A. Ventura
Music by: James Horner
Cast: Charles Fleischer, Kathleen Turner, Lou Hirsch, April Winchell, Corey Burton, Richard Williams

Amblin Entertainment, Silver Screen Partners IV, Walt Disney Pictures, Buena Vista Pictures, 7 Minutes

Review:

“Don’t worry about a thing. I’ve learned my lesson! I’m a reformed rabbit, a better bunny, a happy hare.” – Roger Rabbit

After the immense success that was 1988’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Disney didn’t waste any time in producing their first Roger Rabbit theatrical short. This one, Tummy Trouble, originally played before Honey, I Shrunk the Kids in the summer of 1989.

While Roger Rabbit didn’t exist before 1988, the character was an homage to the animated shorts of yesteryear, as it channeled the work of other golden age animated shorts by studios like Warner Bros., Disney and Paramount.

With this, Disney took the instantly beloved and bankable character and gave him a legitimate short of his own.

The story sees Roger babysitting Baby Herman, who ends up swallowing his rattle. This prompts Roger to take Herman to the ER only to find himself in a zany, slapstick adventure akin to the work it’s an homage to.

Honestly, this is fantastic. For what it is, it’s damn solid and even if it didn’t bring theatrical animated shorts back to the level of prominence they once had, it did temporarily reinvigorate and re-popularize the medium and concept.

The animation is incredibly good and it’s quality can really be seen in the motion of the action, as well as the colors and how dynamic they are.

I wish Disney had really stuck to their guns and gave us more than three of these in the theater. Every Disney film could have had one of these shorts but they only saved them for just a few films.

Now I know that producing just this short took nine months but Disney could’ve had multiple teams working on putting out a few per year. I think this would’ve really helped their live-action films in that era perform better and it would’ve only grown Roger Rabbit’s popularity. Hell, it could’ve led to a second feature film.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other Roger Rabbit shorts, as well as the full-length Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

Film Review: The Blacksmith (1922)

Release Date: July 21st, 1922
Directed by: Buster Keaton, Malcolm St. Clair
Written by: Buster Keaton, Malcolm St. Clair
Cast: Buster Keaton, Joe Roberts, Virginia Fox

First National Pictures, 25 Minutes

Review:

The IMDb description of this film is, “Buster Keaton shoes horses and repairs cars, with mixed results.”

That pretty much sums the whole thing up.

However, this is Buster Keaton and the gags and physical humor are great, even if this is still pretty early into his career where he was pumping out silent short films left and right.

While I don’t enjoy this one as much as One Week or Cops, it still showcases the man’s great talent and how he could make magic with just about any prop or situation.

This is only 25 minutes but a lot happens and Keaton doesn’t really stop moving, except to fill in a few narrative points between the physical scenes. But even then, he finds a way to put his physical energy to use.

In the end, I’ve never seen a Buster Keaton film I haven’t enjoyed and The Blacksmith is no different.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other Buster Keaton films of the silent era, as well as the movies of Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd.

Film Review: Cops (1922)

Release Date: March 11th, 1922
Directed by: Edward F. Cline, Buster Keaton
Written by: Edward F. Cline, Buster Keaton
Cast: Buster Keaton, Virginia Fox, Joe Roberts, Edward F. Cline, Steve Murphy

Joseph M. Schenck Productions, 18 Minutes

Review:

“I won’t marry you until you become a big business man.” – Mayor’s Daughter

Cops is a Buster Keaton movie I hadn’t seen until now. Like a lot of his pictures, you can actually find a good copy of it on YouTube for free.

Overall, this was energetic and fun but I probably wouldn’t put this near his upper echelon of stuff, even his shorts. I enjoyed One Week a lot more and found it to be pretty damn hilarious from top to bottom.

Cops does have some good gags and sequences but it’s a lot more grounded than Keaton’s best work, which often times gets surreal and over the top (in a good way).

This also feels like a much smaller picture than many of his others, even One Week, which was mostly filmed in a large dirt covered area near train tracks. The only thing in this that felt somewhat grandiose was the finale that saw Keaton running away from what looked like a hundred or more cops.

This was definitely charming in that typical Buster Keaton sort of way but everything, other than the closing minutes, felt pretty subdued and light.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other Buster Keaton films, as well as Charlie Chaplin’s and Harold Lloyd’s.

Film Review: One Week (1920)

Release Date: August 29th, 1920
Directed by: Edward F. Cline, Buster Keaton
Written by: Edward F. Cline, Buster Keaton
Cast: Buster Keaton, Sybil Seely, Joe Roberts

Joseph M. Schenck Productions, 25 Minutes (TCM print), 19 Minutes (1995 Film Preservation print)

Review:

“Now look at the darned thing!” – The Bride

One Week is a fairly early movie in Buster Keaton’s career but I wanted to revisit it, as it is one of my favorites.

It’s actually the first film where he is the star and it also has Sybil Seely playing his wife. She would be featured in other early Keaton films.

As a kid, this was one of my top Keaton films because it’s just really damn good and the physical comedy here is just on another level. Plus, it’s a short film, so it used to pop up on TV early in the morning quite a bit.

The story revolves around two newlyweds that are gifted a “build-it-yourself” portable house. Keaton, as the Groom, does his damnedest at trying to build their new home but he’s terrible at it, which leads to a great series of gags and still, some of the comedian’s best.

Looking at it through a modern lens, it’s impressive for the time. I’m not sure how they were able to pull off some sequences and there are really big things that happen in this that exceed the scope of a typical movie for the time.

For instance, there is a bit where the entire home is spinning as people tumble in and out of it. There is then the big finale, which sees the house get decimated by a real life train. I’m guessing it wasn’t hard to get permits back then.

At the end of the day, this isn’t Keaton’s best film but it is a good example of how far ahead of the competition he was in his first starring role.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other Buster Keaton films, as well as Charlie Chaplin’s and Harold Lloyd’s.

Film Review: Vincent (1982)

Release Date: October 1st, 1982
Directed by: Tim Burton
Written by: Tim Burton
Music by: Ken Hilton
Cast: Vincent Price (narrator)

Walt Disney Productions, Buena Vista Distribution, 6 Minutes

Review:

As far as I know, this is the earliest thing that Tim Burton directed that’s been officially released. I never got to see this as a kid but I eventually saw it in the ’90s when a friend showed it to me.

Burton had some other shorts he did before this and he also worked in animation at Disney but this was the creation that got his career moving forward at a pretty rapid speed, as he got to make the original Frankenweenie short just after this.

This is a stop motion animated short but the techniques Burton employed here would go on to serve him well in The Nightmare Before Christmas and The Corpse Bride.

This short film is also significant in that it opened the door for Burton to work with his childhood idol, Vincent Price. They would work together again in one of Burton’s most iconic films, Edward Scissorhands.

Vincent is just a hair under six minutes but it is simple, sweet and effective.

The story is about a seven year-old boy named Vincent Malloy. He obsesses over trying to be like Vincent Price to his mother’s dismay. His mind runs wild and the short film gives us a lot of great vivid visions of Vincent doing heinous acts to those he cares about. The whole thing is narrated by the real Vincent Price, who delivers his words in the form of a poem written by Burton.

The animation is fabulous, especially for the time and for what I’m sure was a scant budget and limited resources despite being made while Burton was employed by Disney.

Vincent is a great homage to the man who narrates it and from a stylistic standpoint, it shows us that Tim Burton already had a clearly defined vision of what he wanted his work to be, specifically in regards to tone, atmosphere and overall visual design.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other Tim Burton animated works: The Nightmare Before Christmas, Corpse Bride, Frankenweenie, etc.