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Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: March 11, 1932
Stars: Betty Boop, Bimbo, Cab Calloway
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Minnie the Moocher © Max FleischerThis talkartoon is completely built around the title song, Cab Calloway’s huge 1931 hit ‘Minnie the Moocher’, which is sung by the great jazz singer himself.

In fact, the cartoon opens with a live action shot of Calloway showing some of his extraordinary dance moves in front of his orchestra. We then cut to a home setting with Betty Boop and her parents, which are apparently of German Jewish descent. Her father scorns her, his jabbering head suddenly changing into a cylinder phonograph. Betty flees crying to her room, and decides to leave home, and she rings Bimbo to come along. This sequence is accompanied by the 1929 hit song ‘Mean to Me’.

The couple flees to the countryside, which quickly becomes very scary, so they hide inside a cave, where the theme song starts. Inside the cave they encounter a walrus-shaped ghost (a rotoscoped Cab Calloway) giving an almost complete rendering of ‘Minnie the Moocher’. During the song we watch images of e.g. skeletons drinking and some prisoner ghosts getting the electric chair. In the end, the ghosts chase the couple back home to the tune of ‘Tiger Rag’.

‘Minnie the Moocher’ makes little sense, and is not as good as the later ‘Snow White’, which also stars Calloway. However, Calloway’s performance is so intoxicating, and the Fleischers’ sense of humor so mesmerizing, it remains a joy to watch the cartoon throughout.

‘Minnie the Moocher’ was the first of handful Fleischer cartoons featuring popular jazz stars, the others being ‘Snow-White‘ and ‘The Old Man of the Mountain‘ from 1933, also featuring Calloway, ‘I’ll Be Glad When You’re dead you Rascal You‘ (1932) featuring Louis Armstrong, and ‘I Heard‘ (1933) featuring Don Redman and his Orchestra.

Watch ‘Minnie the Moocher’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Talkartoon No. 33
To the previous Talkartoon: The Robot
To the next Talkartoon: S.O.S.

‘Minnie the Moocher’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Walter Lantz or Bill Nolan
Release Date: February 15, 1932
Stars: Oswald the Rabbit
Rating: ★★
Review:

Mechanical Man © Walter LantzIn 1932 Oswald was redesigned to give him a more boy-like appearance. ‘Mechanical Man’ features this new design and opens with Oswald an his girlfriend playing the piano together.

Meanwhile Peg Leg Pete has built a robot, which needs a human heart. Pete kidnaps Oswald’s girlfriend and takes it to his hideout, followed by Oswald. After a long pursuit Oswald manages to get rid of Pete, and rescuing his sweetheart. But it’s a goat who rescues the two from the robot.

When you read this, the cartoon seems to make some sense, but the real thing is rather different: there’s a lot happening on the screen, and nonsensical gags fill every scene. For example, during the chase scene, various skeletons appear at random, giving the cartoon its typical horror atmosphere, but adding nothing otherwise. This gives the cartoon a rather stream-of-consciousness-like character, and at every point one expects Oswald to wake up from this random nightmare.

Watch ‘Mechanical Man’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Mechanical Man’ is available on the DVD ‘Lantz Studio Treasures Starring Oswald’

Director: unknown
Release Date:
 December 21, 1931
Stars: Flip the Frog
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Spooks © Ub Iwerks‘Spooks’ opens with Flip seeking shelter from a rain storm in an old mansion.

There he encounters a skeleton who invites him to dinner of a skeleton of a roasted chicken. Later Flip dances with a female skeleton, while the deceased owner of the house plans to add flip to his skeleton collection.

‘Spooks’ is one of the best of the Flip the Frog cartoons. Featuring a much more consistent story than the earlier ‘The Cuckoo Murder Case’, the cartoon manages to provide a genuine feeling of horror, only matched by Disney’s ‘The Mad Doctor‘ (1932). When confronted with the homicidal skeleton, Flip is in real peril. Moreover, outside the mansion the nightmare continues, when even Flip’s own horse has turned into some living bones.

The scenes inside the haunted house feature distorted angles, which add to the claustrophobic feel. Strangely enough the curved backgrounds can also be seen in subsequent Flip the Frog cartoons, like ‘The Milkman‘ and ‘What A Life‘, where they don’t contribute to the atmosphere, at all. In fact, they would become a unique style element in the Ub Iwerks cartoons.

The complete cartoon is well-animated, with the opening scene, in which Flip and his horse battle the elements, being particularly outstanding.

Watch ‘Spooks’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Flip the Frog cartoon No. 16
To the previous Flip the Frog cartoon: Africa Squeaks
To the next Flip the Frog cartoon: The Milkman

‘Spooks’ is available on the DVD ‘Cartoons that Time Forgot – The Ub Iwerks Collection Vol. 2’

Directors: John Foster & George Stallings
Release Date:
 August 1, 1931
Stars: Tom and Jerry
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

Wot A Night © Van BeurenIn 1931 the Van Beuren studio was strengthened by two new staff members, both veterans of the New York animation scene: George Stallings (1891-1963) and George Rufle (1901-1974).

The two transformed Waffles and Don into two new characters that became Van Beuren’s first real stars: Tom & Jerry (not to be confused with the later, much more famous cat and mouse duo). Unfortunately, Tom & Jerry are as bland as their models, sharing with the cat and dog their only character traits: in ‘Wot a Night’ Tom clearly has inherited Waffles’s fear, while Jerry remains calm. However, already after ‘Wot a Night’ these basic character traits evaporated. Yet, with their cheerful looks, the duo was more sympathetic than Waffles and Don ever were.

Tom & Jerry lasted until 1933, starring 27 cartoons, but ‘Wot a Night’ remains their finest film. It borrows a good dose of surrealism from the neighboring Max Fleischer studio, and it’s much better animated than any Van Beuren cartoon before the coming of Burt Gillett. Already in the opening scene there’s a lot of flexible animation when we watch a train coming in at a station. Moreover, there’s a great deal of rain and water effect animation not seen before at Van Beuren.

At the station Tom & Jerry are taxi drivers, picking up a couple of strange bearded men, whom they drop at a castle. Because the bearded men didn’t pay the ride, Tom & Jerry follow them inside the castle. Inside the two have a typical horror cartoon experience, similar to  ‘The Haunted House‘ (Mickey Mouse, 1929) and ‘The Haunted Ship‘ (Waffles and Don, 1930).  The story is not any more consistent than other Van Beuren cartoon, but there’s much to marvel at, like a cloud playing organ on the battlements of the castle, a skeleton taking a bath, while whistling, and another skeleton painting piano keys, on which it starts to play. There’s also a shot of four black skeletons singing a gospel song. The ending is extraordinary, when Tom and Jerry discover they’re nothing but skeletons under their clothes, themselves…

‘Wot a Night’ is a marvelous cartoon, one of the best of the surreal movement of the early 1930s. Unfortunately, only a few of Tom & Jerry’s lived up to the premise of their debut cartoon (‘Pencil Mania’ from 1932 arguably is the best contender). Their future cartoons were quaint at best, to downright poorly animated. It is as if ‘Wot a Night’ was given some extra effort that was not put into the subsequent cartoons.

Stallings stayed at Van Beuren until 1935, when he joined Walt Disney to work on the stories of the studio’s animated features. Rufle’s career is more unclear: he seemed to have left Van Beuren in 1933, but only pops up at Famous Studios in 1948. He animated until his death, working on several television series in the 1960’s and 1970’s. But what did he do between 1933 and 1948? I haven’t got a clue…

Watch ‘Wot A Night’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Wot A Night’ is available on the DVD ‘The Complete Animated Adventures of Van Beuren Studio’s Tom and Jerry’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date:
 July 24, 1931
Stars: Bimbo, Betty Boop
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

Bimbo's Initiation © Max Fleischer‘Bimbo’s Initiation’ is probably the most famous Betty Boop cartoon, apart from ‘Snow-White‘ (1933).

Nevertheless, Betty only plays a small part in the cartoon, which is really about Bimbo. In his previous cartoon, ‘The Herring Murder Case’, Bimbo had been redesigned. He’s now more clearly a dog character, with a predominant black coloring instead of the earlier white. This redesigned Bimbo has some character in his rather original looks, but he’s still far from a character, remaining only a foil for the things happening around him.

In no cartoon this is so clear as in ‘Bimbo’s Initiation’. In the first scene we watch him walking on the street, when he suddenly falls into a well and is being caught in a scary underworld beneath the street. There bearded guys repeatedly ask him whether he wants to be a member of their secret order. Bimbo keeps saying no, and he tries to flee, but he cannot escape the nightmarish world, in which every deadly room leads to another one. These scenes are accompanied by a hot jazz version of ‘Tiger Rag’. Luckily, the last room features Betty, and when she asks him whether he wants to be a member, Bimbo gives in. Then all the bearded figures appear to be duplicates of her!

Betty Boop is completely blank in this cartoon and she still has dog ears here. But the nightmarish world is absolutely inspired. It’s both claustrophobic and funny, and we feel with Bimbo, who’s now victim of a world, in which no law, whether human or natural, applies. No other cartoon was so far removed from the happy world of Walt Disney, and arguably no other cartoon before Tex Avery’s ‘Northwest Hounded Police‘ (1946) and Chuck Jones’s ‘Duck Amuck‘ (1953) would be so compelling in portraying the anguish of a trapped cartoon character. Despite its primitive looks, the cartoon hasn’t aged at all, and it’s an undisputed classic within the complete cartoon canon.

‘Bimbo’s initiation’ undoubtedly has been the inspiration of the scary cartoon sequence in which a girl is caught in Joe Dante’s episode in the theatrical version of ‘The Twilight zone’ (1983).

Watch ‘Bimbo’s initiation’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Talkartoon No. 23
To the previous Talkartoon: The Herring Murder Case
To the next Talkartoon: Bimbo’s Express

‘Bimbo’s initiation’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’ and on Betty Boop: Essential Collection 2′

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date:
 September 24, 1930
Stars: Bimbo?
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

Swing You Sinners © Max Fleischer‘Swing You Sinners!’ is an early Talkartoon, and a wildly imaginative one, too.

We watch a thief (probably Bimbo, but his appearance in the early Talkartoons is so inconsistent, one can’t be sure). The thief tries to steal a chicken, but runs into a cop. The thief then flees into a graveyard, where he has a particularly nightmarish experience. First the gate locks itself, then turns into a stone wall, and then the graves start to sing…

Soon all kinds of inanimate objects start to haunt him. And although the soundtrack is very jazzy, ‘Swing You Sinners!’ remains a bad trip throughout. At one time the walls close into him, at another a ghost promises him to give him a ‘permanent shave’.

The animation is extremely rubbery, and even insane. For example, when we watch a chicken do some scatting, both the chicken and the background are very wobbly, to a hallucinating effect. In the end we watch countless ghosts marching, followed by even more ghostly images when the thief starts to descend into hell. The cartoon ends with a giant skull swallowing the thief, a surprisingly grim ending for a cartoon with such swinging music*.

In any case ‘Swing You Sinners!’ is a testimony of the sheer creativity, which was the Max Fleischer Studio in the early 1930s, and should be placed among the greatest cartoons of all time.

Watch ‘Swing You Sinners!’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Talkartoon No. 10
To the previous Talkartoon: Barnacle Bill
To the next Talkartoon: Grand Uproar

‘Swing You Sinners’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

*It may be interesting to note that this is one of the earliest mentions of swing, predating for example Duke Ellington’s song ‘It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)’ by two years, and being miles ahead of the swing craze of the second half of the 1930s.

Directors: Mannie Davis & John Foster
Release Date: November 9, 1930
Stars: Waffles and Don
Rating: ★★
Review:

Gypped in Egypt © Van Beuren‘Gypped in Egypt’ is a cartoon set in Egypt. It predates Disney’s ‘Egyptian Melodies‘, which covers similar grounds, by nine months.

This cartoon was the last of four to feature Waffles and Don. The duo had finally reached distinct personalities in this short: Waffles, the tall cat, is constantly afraid, while Don, the small dog, keeps calm and unimpressed.

In the opening shot we watch the duo traveling through the desert on a camel. When the camel dies, a nightmarish scene starts, featuring a sphinx, pyramids and more camels. This brings our heroes inside an Egyptian tomb, where they encounter dancing skeletons and hieroglyphs. Suddenly, there are skeletons everywhere, and Don plays the piano with one of them. The cartoon ends abruptly with Waffles and Don running from a giant hypnotizing sphinx face.

‘Gypped in Egypt’ features several elements that were reused in Disney’s ‘Egyptian Melodies’: dancing hieroglyphs, nightmarish scenes, and even a corridor scene. However, Van Beuren’s cartoon is much cruder and more disjointed than Disney’s latter cartoon. Its greatest feature is it hallucinating character. Unfortunately, it is not retained throughout the picture, and the whole cartoon suffers from all too sloppy storytelling and ditto timing.

Watch ‘Gypped in Egypt’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Gypped in Egypt’ is available on the DVD ‘Aesop’s Fables – Cartoon Classics from the Van Beuren Studio’

Director: Mannie Davis & John Foster
Release Date:
 April 27, 1930
Stars: Waffles and Don
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

The Haunted Ship © Van Beuren StudioWhen the Van Beuren studio lost their main character, Farmer Al Falfa to Paul Terry, they had to come up with new stars. Their first attempt was the animal duo Waffles and Don, a tall cat and a small dog who are the precursors of Van Beuren’s Tom and Jerry.

In their first film we watch them flying a plane before lightning strikes them down deep into the ocean. Here they meet an opera-singing walrus (probably inspired by Walt Disney’s ‘Wild Waves‘ (1929), which also features one). Then they enter the shipwreck ‘Davy Jones’, which is full of monsters swooping into the camera, and a skeleton. The skeleton orders Waffles and Don to play the piano and xylophone, which starts the song-and-dance-routine-part of this cartoon.

Most interesting are four drunken tortoises singing ‘Sweet Adeline’ (probably inspired by ‘The Karnival Kid‘ (1929) in which two cats sing exactly the same song). The dance routine ends when Davy Jones himself appears and chases Waffles and Don away. However, the last shot is for the singing turtles.

‘The Haunted Ship’ clearly shows Walt Disney’s influence on other studios. It’s obvious that The Van Beuren studio tried its best to copy Walt Disney’s formulas and standards. Indeed, the cartoon is a great improvement on ‘The Iron Man‘ from three months earlier. There’s song and there’s dance, and music and animation now are closely intertwined. The Van Beuren studio would never reach Walt Disney’s sophistication, but in these early years they were at least able to come somewhere near.

Waffles and Don’s career, however, proved to be short-lived. They only starred in three other 1930 cartoons: ‘Jungle Jazz‘, ‘Frozen Frolics‘ and ‘Gypped in Egypt‘.

Watch ‘The Haunted Ship’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Haunted Ship’ is available on the DVDs ‘Aesop’s Fables – Cartoon Classics from the Van Beuren Studio’ and ‘The Complete Animated Adventures of Van Beuren Studio’s Tom and Jerry’

Director: Ub Iwerks
Release Date:
 November 11, 1929
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Hell's Bells © Walt DisneyWith its fourth Silly Symphony, ‘Hells Bells’, the Disney studio returned to the macabre that inspired the series’ very first entry.

Set in hell itself, it starts with a fire, bats and a spider swooping into the camera, and images of the three-headed dog Cerberus and some dragons. The main part however is devoted to a large devil, surrounded by numerous smaller ones playing music and dancing to it.

This section involves endless animation cycles. Luckily, there’s one great shot with a devil casting a huge shadow (looking forward to a similar, if much more elaborate scene in ‘The Goddess of Spring’ (1934). There’s also a great gag involving a crooked devil, and a weird one in which we watch devils milking a dragon-cow(?!). Despite its evil scenery, the whole atmosphere is remarkably merry.

‘Hells Bells’ is most noteworthy for its last part, in which the dance routine makes place for a tiny story, in which the large devil demands a smaller one to offer itself as dog food to Cerberus. The little devil refuses and flees, and finally manages to kick the large one into the fires of hell. Over the coming years, stories like these would overtake the song and dance routines of the Silly Symphonies, finally replacing them altogether.

Watch ‘Hell’s Bells’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Silly Symphony No. 4
To the previous Silly Symphony: Springtime
To the next Silly Symphony: The Merry Dwarfs

Director: Tim Burton
Release Date: October 1, 1982
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Vincent © Walt Disney‘Vincent’ a is short film, which director Tim Burton made while still working at Disney.

The short is as typical for Tim Burton as it is atypical for Disney. First, it’s a stop-motion film, something the studio was not famous for, at all. The only other stop-motion film ever released by the studio was ‘Noah’s Ark’ from 1959. Second, the film is in black and white, and third, it has a genuine horror theme, miles away from the child friendly worlds of contemporary Disney films, like ‘The Fox and the Hound‘ (1981) or ‘Mickey’s Christmas Carol‘ (1983).

The film uses the deep voice of classic horror star Vincent Price to tell the story of Vincent in rather Dr. Seuss-like rhyme. Vincent is a little seven year old boy, who wants to be like, well… Vincent Price. Because his mind has become twisted by reading stories by Edgar Allen Poe, Vincent imagines himself a madman haunted by his deceased wife, and locked in by a cursed house. In the end his imagination runs haywire, taking hold of him.

Burton does an excellent job mixing horror with silliness. The result is a rather twisted version of ‘Gerald McBoingBoing’ – equally weird, equally expressionistic, but much darker. In ‘Vincent’ you find much of the Tim Burton to come. It’s not hard to see the link between this wonderful short and ‘The Nightmare before Christmas’ (1993),  ‘Corpse Bride‘ (2005) or with his live action films like ‘Beetlejuice’ (1988) or ‘Sleepy Hollow’ (1999).

Interestingly, in the same year, Vincent Price would also lend his voice to the Michael Jackson song ‘Thriller’.

Watch ‘Vincent’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Jan Švankmajer
Release Date: 1983
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

The Pendulum, the Pit and Hope © Krátky FilmAfter his not all too successful adaptation of ‘The Fall of the House of Usher‘ (1980), Czech film maker Jan Švankmajer returns to Edgar Allen Poe with ‘The Pendulum, the Pit and Hope’, with much better results.

In ‘The Pendulum, the Pit and Hope’ Švankmajer tries to visualize Edgar Allen Poe’s most sensory and scariest story, ‘The Pit and the Pendulum’. He succeeds masterfully, merging the viewer with the protagonist, and retaining the horror of the discoveries of the torture chamber.

The story is told very straightforward, in black and white, without dialogue, voice over or music, giving it a raw and uncanny sense of realism. Švankmajer rejects Poe’s deus ex machina, however, but takes the story to a better, if more depressing conclusion.

‘The Pendulum, the Pit and Hope’ is essentially a live action movie, and contains little animation. However, in its disturbing take on Poe it is one of Švankmajer’s masterpieces, and definitely deserves to be better known.

Watch ‘The Pendulum, the Pit and Hope’ yourself and tell me what you think:

https://vk.com/video101655_142703210?list=141142ca159bb76093

‘The Pendulum, the Pit and Hope’ is available on the DVD ‘Jan Svankmajer – The Complete Short Films’

Director: Jan Švankmajer
Release Date: 1980
Rating: ★★
Review:

The Fall of the House of Usher © Krátky FilmJan Švankmajer retells this famous story by Edgar Allen Poe using a narrating voice over and black and white images of several different objects.

The images, some of which are animated, are sometimes quite disturbing, and are at points even able to evoke the horror of the story. However, most of the time they seem totally unrelated to the narration, and their visual power in fact often distracts from the voice over, making the story very hard to follow, indeed.

‘The House of Usher’ is a daring experiment in cinematographic storytelling, but not really a successful one, and Švankmajer would not repeat it. Nevertheless, three years later, the Czech film maker would return to Edgar Allen Poe, in ‘The Pendulum, the Pit and Hope‘, with much better results.

Watch ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Fall of the House of Usher’ is available on the DVD ‘Jan Svankmajer – The Complete Short Films’

Director: Robert McKimson
Release Date: April 12, 1947
Stars: Daffy Duck
Rating:  ★★★
Review:

Birth of a Notion © Warner BrothersDaffy Duck tricks a dog called Leopold with a ‘poisoned bone’ to let him stay at his house during the winter.

Unfortunately, the dog’s owner is an evil scientist (a caricature of Peter Lorre) who happens to be looking for a duck’s wishbone. This leads to a wild chase full of pretty weird gags and off-beat dialogue penned by Warren Foster.

‘Birth of a Nation’ is the second of two Warner Bros. cartoons featuring Peter Lorre as a mad scientist, the other being ‘Hair-Raising Hare’ from 1946. New voice artist Stan Freberg does an excellent job in mimicking and parodying Lorre’s typical voice.

Watch ‘Birth of a Notion’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Tim Burton & Mike Johnson
Release Date: September 23, 2005
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Tim Burton's Corpse Bride © Warner BrothersThe shy Victor and Victoria are forced by their unsympathetic parents to marry each other.

Luckily, they actually like each other, but then Victor accidentally marries the deceased Emily who takes him to a world underground, while Victoria is forced to marry the evil lord Barkis…

‘Corpse Bride’ is a typical Tim Burton film, especially in its art direction, in its 19th century, gothic setting, in its dark humor, and in its jolly portrait of death. Because the film is also a Danny Elfman-penned musical, it feels like a successor to ‘The Nightmare before Christmas’ (1993). Nevertheless, it is far more enjoyable than that sometimes tiresome film: ‘Corpse Bride’ features only three songs, two of which help to tell the story. So, even though one could do without the musical element, it doesn’t dominate the complete film.

Also, the art of ‘Corpse Bride’ is a great improvement on ‘Nightmare before Christmas’. The dull greys and blues of the living world contrast greatly with the vivid colors of the underworld, which is clearly more fun to ‘live’ in. The designs of the puppets are extreme, and their almost flawless animation is jawdroppingly rich and expressive. The story is lean, and focuses on the three protagonists, Victor, Victoria and Emily, who all three are very likable characters. The voice cast is impressive, and includes Johnny Depp (Victor), Emily Watson (Victoria), Helena Bonham Carter (Emily) and Christopher Lee (Pastor Gallswells).

All this make ‘Corpse Bride’, together with that other stop-motion film ‘Wallace and Gromit: the Curse of the Were-Rabbit‘, the best animated feature of 2005/2006, surpassing all computer animated films of those years. It proves that traditional animation is still viable and relevant in the computer age.

Watch the tailer for ‘Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Directors: Nick Park & Steve Box
Release Date: September 4, 2005
Stars: Wallace & Gromit
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Wallace & Gromit - The Curse of the Were-Rabbit © AardmanAfter three excellent two-reelers British animation heroes Wallace and Gromit were ready for their first feature film.

‘The Curse of the Were-Rabbit’ elaborates primarily on the themes of ‘A Close Shave’: love and horror. This time Wallace and Gromit are after a giant rabbit threatening the crops breeds for a vegetable contest in the village.

The stop motion animation in this film is practically flawless, elevating the century old technique to the highest standards possible. Indeed, both this film and ‘Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride‘, another stop motion film, were far superior to any computer animated feature film released in 2005 or 2006.

‘The Curse of the Were-Rabbit’ is not only a great animation film, it is great cinema, with excellent camera work, a flawless story, wonderful characterization and lean storytelling that builds to a spectacular climax. Especially the animation of Gromit is stunning, because his acting is completely silent throughout the picture and uses only the eyes to suggest emotion.

Watch ‘Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Alexandre Alexeieff
Release Date: 1933
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Une nuit sur le mont chauve © Alexandre AlexeieffPredating Disney’s film to the same classical piece by seven years, this ‘video clip’ to the music of ‘Night on Bald Mountain’ by Modest Mussorgsky is an impressive mood piece.

The Russian-French artist Alexeieff animated ‘Une nuit sur le mont chauve’ on a so-called pinscreen, a device he invented himself , and which consists of a screen with numerous pins, which can be pushed further in or out, to produce a shadowy image together. This technique is highly original, and the images produced are totally unique.The film’s imagery has more in common with surreal paintings from the era than with any other animation film from the 1930s. ‘Une nuit sur le mont chauve’ was Alexeieff’s first film on the pinscreen. Together with his wife Claire Parker he would animate five more, of which ‘The Nose’ (1963) is arguably the best.

The film does not tell a story, but shows us a string of expressionistic images of animal and human forms, floating through air, and morphing into disturbing creatures. The animation is sometimes excellent (with a human figure circling through the air as a particular standout), but at times primitive, too, and the film suffers a little from the crude montage. Both shortcomings are a direct result of the limitations of the pinscreen. However, Alexeieff’s vision overcomes the film’s drawbacks, and ‘Une nuit sur le mont chauve’ is rightly considered an animation classic.

Watch ‘Une nuit sur le mont chauve’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Une nuit sur le mont chauve’ is available on the DVD ‘Alexeïeff – le cinéma épinglé’

Director: Boris Kossmehl
Release Date: 1993
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

Not Without My Handbag © AardmanWhen she hasn’t paid her washing machine, a girl’s aunt has to go to hell.

However, she soon returns as a zombie to fetch her handbag. The devil has to take her once again, which he tries disguised as the handbag.

Atypical for the Aardman studios, ‘Not Without My Handbag’ features puppet animation and hardly any clay animation. It’s a highly designed film, using stark colors, extreme camera angles and expressionistic decors. Its unique style is somewhat akin to that of Tim Burton, but is even more idiosyncratic. Despite its horror theme, the film is more lighthearted than the earlier Aardman films ‘Adam‘ (1991) or ‘Loves Me, Loves Me Not‘ (1992), because of its zany humor and matter-of-fact dialogue.

‘Not Without My Handbag’ is a modest masterpiece: it’s unpretentious, but it combines originality with virtuosity. The animation of the evil handbag is particularly good. Director-animator Boris Kossmehl later moved to 3D computer animation, performing character animation for Dreamworks’ ‘Antz’ and ‘Shrek’.

Watch ‘Not Without My Handbag’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Not Without My Handbag’ is available on the DVD ‘Aardman Classics’

Director: Chuck Jones
Release Date:
 April 19, 1952
Stars:
 Bugs Bunny
Rating:
 ★★★★
Review:

Water, Water Everyhare © Warner BrothersSix years after ‘Hair-raising Hare’ (1946) Bugs Bunny faces the orange monster in sneakers again.

‘Water, Water Every Hare’ is a horror cartoon featuring almost everything a horror movie should have: an evil scientist, a monster, a mummy and a robot. This story is rather awkwardly framed, however, by a story about the river flooding Bugs’s home and transporting him to and from the castle. Facing the monster Bugs repeats his manicure-tric from the earlier film, although this time he pretends to be a hair dresser. He also makes himself invisible and he makes the monster shrink.

If not as funny as ‘Hair-raising Hare’, ‘Water, Water Every Hare’ is full of clever gags. It moves at a relatively relaxed pace, which only a very confident film maker could use with such effect. In that respect, ‘Water, Water Evey Hare’ shows the mastery director Chuck Jones had achieved. He needn’t be fast and furious to be funny and he knew it.

Watch ‘Water, Water Every Hare’ yourself and tell me what you think:

http://www.metacafe.com/watch/7621186/water_water_every_hare_1952/

‘Water, Water Every Hare’ is available on the DVD set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection, Vol. 1’

This is Bugs Bunny cartoon No. 90
To the previous Bugs Bunny cartoon: Foxy Proxy
To the next Bugs Bunny cartoon: Hasty Hare

Director: Fernando Cortizo
Release Date: October 31, 2012
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

O Apostolo2012 was a good year for stop motion animation fans: no less than four stop motion features were released that year. In March we had Aardman’s ‘The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists!’, followed by Laika’s ‘ParaNorman’ in August and Disney’s ‘Frankenweenie’ in September. Least known among these was the last release, from October: ‘O Apóstolo’ from Spain.

Somehow, stop motion feature film makers seem to favor horror-inspired plots, and ‘O Apóstolo’ is no exception. However, unlike ‘ParaNorman’ or ‘Frankenweenie’, ‘O Apóstolo’ is not a lighthearted family film. Instead, it’s a dark gothic thriller, and it succeeds surprisingly well in maintaining a high level of suspense throughout most of the picture.

Both the film’s theme and setting are typical Spanish: the film is drenched in a catholic atmosphere, and it’s set in a remote village on the road to Santiago de Compostela, famous for its numerous pilgrims. We follow the thief Ramon, who has escaped from prison to turn to this village to collect a treasure his cell mate has hidden there.

We soon discover that there is something terribly wrong with the little village. Its inhabitants seem to lure innocent pilgrims, and try to keep them there. It remains long unknown why, keeping the suspense at a high level. And even when the obligatory explanation of the events comes, the makers present it elegantly: the explanation, despite being long and quite absurd, is beautifully done in 2D animation with quasi-medieval designs, accompanied by a song.

Luckily, the film also has its lighter moments, mostly in a subplot, involving a particularly unsympathetic archbishop, who goes on his way to invest the loss of pilgrims. It’s soon clear that the film makers have plotted a punishment for this haughty, selfish character.

Apart from the gripping plot, ‘O Apóstolo’ excels in gorgeous production values. The little village and its sinister forest surroundings are conceived with stunning detail. They are as rich as any life action background, and contribute highly to the dark and creepy atmosphere. The puppets are designed less originally than the other features mentioned above, but retain a certain realism, which makes it possible to relate to them, especially with the main protagonist, Ramon the thief. The sole exception is the priest, whose appearance is too absurd and too sinister to blend in. It’s a pity, because his dominant presence casts a shadow on the more underplayed (and underdesigned) other village characters, whose threat is much more subtle, and therefore more disturbing.

In all, ‘O Apóstolo’ easily draws you in. It is without doubt one of the most original and best animated films of 2012. It definitely deserves to be more well-known.

Watch the official trailer of ‘O Apóstolo’ and tell me what you think:

Director: Chuck Jones
Release Date:
 December 18, 1948
Stars:
 Porky Pig, Sylvester
Rating:
 ★★★
Review:

Scaredy Cat © Warner BrothersChuck Jones was the only director to pair Porky Pig with Sylvester.

His Sylvester is very different from the one in Freleng’s Tweety cartoons. In Jones’s shorts he’s a cowardly cat that cannot speak. In all Porky-Sylvester cartoons Porky tries to stay asleep unaware of the real dangers around him. Sylvester, on the other hand, sees them all, but fails completely in convincing his master of the dangers.

The aptly titled ‘Sacredy Cat’ was the first of a series of three. In this cartoon Porky and his cat Sylvester enter their new mansion, which has genuine horror allure, scaring Sylvester to death. And for a good reason, because this mansion is inhabited by homocidal Hubie and Bertie-like mice who make several attempts to murder Sylvester and Porky.

Only when Porky discovers the mice, too, who lead him to a certain death, Sylvester rediscovers his courage and chases all the mice out of the house, except for the headsman mouse, who knocks the cat down, and reveals to be a caricature of comedian Lew Lehr (1895-1950), exclaiming a twist on the comedian’s catchphrase: “pussycats is the craziest people!”. An odd ending to a sometimes rather unsettling cartoon.

Porky and Sylvester would reunite six years later in an all too similar cartoon called ‘Claws for Alarm’ (1954), and again in ‘Jumpin’ Jupiter‘ (1955).

Watch ‘Scaredy Cat’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Scaredy Cat’ is available on the DVD set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection, Vol. 1’

This is Porky Pig cartoon no. 120
To the previous Porky Pig cartoon: Riff Raffy Daffy
To the next Porky Pig cartoon: Awful Orphan

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