How is my (insane) quest to see every film illustrated in Denis Gifford’s A Pictorial History of Horror Moviesgoing, you ask? Well, most likely you don’t ask, but safe in my cyber-cocoon I can imagine you asking any damn thing I want. My quest, codenamed “See Reptilicus and Die,” is going swimmingly.
EXTRAORDINARY UNDRESSING (1901) by R.W. Paul is a frabjous trick film in which a theatrically drunk fellow attempts to remove his clothes (strange how many Paul films centre on male denudings, from HIS ONLY PAIR to A WAYFARER COMPELLED TO DISROBE PARTIALLY, which gets my vote for most syntactically contorted title prior to I AM CURIOUS, YELLOW) but is thwarted by a series of jump cuts which see him instantly re-clad in a wide variety of different costumes. Then a cardboard skeleton appears and scares the crap out of him. I’d give it a 5 on my Earlyfilmometer — which means it’s not as good as THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY, but still better than FOR YOUR EYES ONLY.
FIEND WITHOUT A FACE is two-thirds thick-eared sci-fi turgidity, with chipboard actors flailing their shoddly hinged limbs in a script the consistency of porridge, but that last third is a doozy. From the moment a suspiciously-accented “Canadian” (the film is a British production in its entirety) turns up as a drooling loon, having had half his brain sucked out — by “mental vampires” — through the back of his neck (his demented yodelling is both authentically terrifying and very, very funny), things start piling on the oomph.
Stick with it. Amusingly boring at first and then — enter the Famous Eccles!
A crusty scientist (an expert in “sibonetics”) makes a page turn by the power of his mind; an invisible force rips a hole in a screen door; and then killer crawling brains, with wiggling antennae and waggling spinal cord tails are crawling up trees and flying through the air and sucking people’s nervous systems out through the backs of their necks, just as if they owned the place. It’s all down to an experiment in telekinesis that misguidedly leached energy from an atomic reactor being used to power an experimental radar system (WTF?) and if that doesn’t make sense, never mind, because the animated special effects by Ruppel & Nordhoff (who sound like trapeze artists but presumably aren’t) are Lynchian and very gory. Poor Kim Parker, as the busty heroine, who is quite the pluckiest and smartest character, and most alive performer, gets brain leeches on her head TWICE, which is twice more then the average B-movie starlet would merit, but survives the experience and ends the film happily embracing the timber protagonist. Watch out for splinters.
And then I watched the full ten minutes or whatever of the Edison FRANKENSTEIN (viewable here), a lovely experience. Charles Ogle’s monster actually reminds me of both Dave Prowse’s shaggy beast in FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL, and a character from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats. the film is also striking for the way it is rendered redundant by its own intertitles, which fully explain the entire plot, including many plot developments that we haven’t yet seen. But the mirrorplay is excellent, and the creation scene (a puppet burning, shown in reverse) is eerily creative.