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Two Stocking Stuffers- RAY HARRYHAUSEN FAIRY TALES/STRANGE & UNUSUAL CHRISTMAS FILMS

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RAY HARRYHAUSEN’S FAIRY TALES
– COLOR http://www.oldies.com/product-view/7875D.html

STRANGE AND UNUSUAL CHRISTMAS FILMS-Color/b&w -http://www.oldies.com/product-view/7871D.html

$7.98 each. Oldies.com

Just in time for the Christmas Season come two fun stocking stuffers from OLDIES.COM.

The first is probably the one that people will feel is the must have . Ray Harryhausen is a god to anyone who grew up watching fantasy films made between 1953 (BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS (WB)) through 1981 (CLASH OF THE TITANS,MGM). You were at some time enthralled and in awe of the stop motion wizardry that this one man special effect auteur brought to the cinema screen. While ILM and others can do the same thing now via computer, recall that Harryhausen for most of his work was creator, camera person, and director ,single handedly doing what now takes teams of CGI experts to try and emulate.

However, unlike Athena born fully grown from the skull of Zeus, Ray Harryhausen’s artistry came from experimenting . Some of these experiments are to be found on RAY HARYHAUSEN’S FAIRY TALES.

After working as an animator on a George Pal Puppetoon (TULIPS WILL GROW,Paramount,1942),Ray continued to refine his talents as both cinematographer and animator on shorts produced for and by the U.S. Army.red-stare

After his service, he returned to his family home, where he got a 16mm camera and some Kodachrome color film to produce a series of shorts. It was a family affair, with his parents helping with costuming and set building. He completed five of his Fairy Tales between 1946 and 1953 ( a final film not on this collection ,TORTOISE & THE HARE, was started in 1952, but never completed when Harryhausen began making features. That is , it remained unfinished until 2002, when Ray and two fans who worked on tv’s ROBOT CHICKEN (Cartoon Network,2005-2015)decided to complete it.).

The films were released to schools as well as television filler but while they probably did not make Ray much money, he was able to learn his trade and improve his technique on each film .

The first film, THE MOTHER GOOSE STORY (1946) consists of very short vignettes, silent save for some public domain classical music. The influence of George Pal’s animated shorts is quite obvious in the style of puppetry design. The faces use a variation of Pal’s system of substitution faces rather than animating the features. A quick dissolve is used to smooth the transition of facial reactions.

The next film ,THE STORY OF LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD (1949) ,showed more confidence ,experimenting with camera movements ,and lighting. It also boasted a voice over narration by actor Hugh Douglas.

hanselTHE STORY OF HANSEL & GRETEL (1951)was once again narrated by Hugh Douglas ,has more reassured camera moves, and even uses some rear projection for a giant oven fire mixed with the stop motion animation figures .

THE STORY OF RAPUNZEL (1951), this time narrated by Del Moore ,seems a bit more stilted than the previous effort ,and the witch figure seems to be just a repainting of the witch from the previous film.

THE STORY OF KING MIDAS (1953),the final of Harryhausen’s short stories on this disc, is the most assured. Once again narrated by Del Moore, the character work on the faces is much more assured, and the villain of the piece is a marvelous piece of villainous design.midas

As a bonus, we get a variation of Little Red Riding Hood, this time via a short 1949 color film of the Wahmann Hand Puppets. The film was released by Encyclopedia Britannica Films, and was produced by Helen Wahmann Lanthop and Lee Wahmann Keel, co-founders of the Children’s Artist Series and the Children’s Theatre of Charlotte, North Carolina (still in existence today). It is a straightforward recording of a well rendered puppet show telling of the familiar tale.

Back in 2005, RAY HARRYHAUSEN: EARLY YEARS (Sparkhill /Global Entertainment) was a two disc Special Edition that included the Harryhausen shorts on this disc, as well as a completed TORTOISE & THE HARE and many other extras. That collection is out of print and selling for over $100 . The Alpha/OLDIES.COM Collection is an affordable alternative to that release, and their prints are quite clean and acceptable.rh-the-early-years-collection-dvd-pal
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Next up is the well named STRANGE & UNUSUAL CHRISTMAS FILMS. The films are an odd mash up of color and black & white shorts made between 1945 through 1961. Many of them have been used and featured in recent Rifftrax Comedy Christmas specials, and once you see them, you will know why .

behind-scens-xmas-dreamThe 1945 Czech made “Vánoční sen” was released in the U.S. to tv and home video by Castle Films in 1948 as A CHRISTMAS DREAM . This was the first film that director Karl Zeman mixed live action and stop motion animation . He later become world famous for fantasy films like THE FABULOUS WORLD OF JULES VERNE (Czech: Vynález zkázy /The Deadly Invention,1958,released by WB in 1961).Consider that this short was made when there was devastating rationing due to Nazi occupation until April,1945, it is astounding that the film has such a magical feel.In effect, a young girl neglects her old toy for a new toy,and the older one comes to life.

The English dubbing, however, makes the film enter into the realm of creepy. The high pitched voice of the doll will make a younger generation think of Mr Hankie from tv’s SOUTH PARK (Comedy Central,1997-still running) .

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Next up is SANTA CLAUS‘ STORY (Board of Education,Buffalo,1945).In this story,Santa appears to two little children and tells them “A story you‘ ll always remember“ – about monkeys. That’s right, lots of footage of monkeys. Did I mention monkeys? These first two films have been satirized by the Rifftrax team during their various Christmas specials .

THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS(Castle Films,1946) is a live action telling of the the classic Clement C Moore tale, with bits of cartoon animation thrown in. The only thing wierd about it is how it haphazardly jumps from cartoon animation to live action, but is probably the most “normal“ film on the disc.

SANTA IN ANIMAL LAND (Art Reels Production/Official Films,1948)- A bunch of big headed animals get together and go to the North Pole to ask Santa Claus for gifts. This is basically a puppet show that was filmed. However, the behind the scenes history is very interesting. Puppeteer Alfred Wallace (1914-1985) was a Native American puppeteer who had a strong career in the nightclubs during the 1930s through the 1950s. His specialty seemed to have been political satire ,using puppets such as FDR as a baby, or a Senator puppet with two faces. This production seems more like a work for hire piece.

 

 

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The 1945 Czech made “Vánoční sen

 

 

SANTA & THE FAIRY SNOW QUEEN(Sid Davis Productions 1951)is probably the longest film in the collection(26 minutes) and the first in color .Sid Davis is a man best known for his public scare films, mostly about not talking to strangers ,running with scissors or you’ll impale yourself ,or the ‘dangers ‘of homosexuality .fairy Here, he seems to be showing you the dangers of community theatre telling a Christmas tale . Using public domain music , several annoying toys come to life(someone stop Jack In The Box,please!),an  female Elf named Snoopy and a drunk sounding Santa encounter a thick accented Snow Queen. This episode too has been spoofed by the Rifftrax team, but here you can experience it in all it’s bizarre glory.sfq100

THE ELF & MR. LITTLE (1953)seems to be a short made for local television (due to the chroma-key titles) Christmas tale shot in Arizona . It features marionettes by Rex Crum,better known as Rex Castle,who while Arizona based,toured and performed all over the world,even on Cruise ships and Las Vegas Night Clubs.In this a toymaker and his wife meet a Christmas elf.

 

SILENT NIGHT: THE STORY OF THE CHRISTMAS CAROL (Coronet ,1953)is a live action telling of how the famous song came into being.Though shot in color, the print appears at times to have faded almost to black and white.

THE LITTLE MATCH GIRL (CASTLE FILMS,1954)- Hans Christian Anderson’s 1845 story was shot as a live action French short in 1952,that Castle Films re-dubbed and sold on 16mm as well as to television syndication. While many of us think of a the Danish story teller as making lively children’s stories, a lot of his tales are damn depressing ! The Brave Tin Soldier has the title character melted with his ballerina love, the Little Mermaid in its original incarnation had the title character wanting to murder the Prince to get his blood , and then there is this ,the most depressing and saddest of all his stories.

A little barefoot Match Girl is forced into the cold by her (unseen) father to sell her wares. Hungry and cold, she lights her matches for warmth to no avail.As she dies, she sees a vision of the Virgin Mary (in the original story, it is her grandmother who greats her )who floats her off to Heaven. Actually, Anderson was ,like his contemporary Charles Dickens ,was pointing out the inequities of the poor and wanted to show how we neglect our fellow humans.

THE LITTLE LAMB: A CHRISTMAS STORY (Castle Films/United World 1955) is a live action film where a mother (Maureen O’Sullivan), after having her brood of five children say their prayers, tells them a story of a lost lamb and the Nativity. Morris Ankum, known mostly for playing generals and judges, here plays Azur The Shepherd. Not so much strange as a straightforward Christian tale.

CHRISTMAS FAIRY TALE (1961), seems to be a Canadian made film about a little girl who looks at a book and suddenly it dissolves to barely moving clockwork mechanisms. In fact, over 6 minutes of its nearly ten-minute running time is footage is of a revolving diorama with non-moving figures that have a narrator filling in the story!hqdefault

If you want another interesting animated stocking stuffer ,check out also the just released                                                                                 LOST COLD-WAR PROPAGANDA CARTOONS-Color –                                                                       http://www.oldies.com/product-view/7874D.html

 

Kevin G Shinnick

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     (Go Home,Santa, you’re drunk !)

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THE ALIEN FACTOR (1978) limited edition Blu Ray 1000 copies only

ALEINTHE ALIEN FACTOR (1978) Blu Ray Limited SIGNED Edition (Retromedia) only 1,000 (signed by actor George Stover) color 1980 80 minutes. Anamorphic, Color, Widescreen $19.99
https://www.amazon.com/ALIEN-FACTOR-Blu-Limited-SIGNED/dp/B01GW7PNRE/ref=sr_1_1?s=movies-tv&ie=UTF8&qid=1467754988&sr=1-1&keywords=the+alien+factor

 

From the 1960’s through the 80s, you could actually go to the theatre and see films that were shot independently by regional moviemakers. Some could be eerie classics like CARNIVAL OF SOULS (Herts-Lion,1962) from Lawrence Kansas, and NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (Image 10/Continental,1968) from Pittsburgh, Pa; and THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (Bryanston ,1974) from Round Rock, Texas. Others were not so impressive like THE GIANT SPIDER INVASION (Group 1,1975) from Merrill Wisconsin or GURU THE MAD MONK (Wm Mishkin ,1970) from New York.

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A film that kind of falls in the middle ground is THE ALIEN FACTOR (Cinemagic Visual Effects 1978) from Perry Hill, Maryland. Quite ambitious (several varied extraterrestrial creatures from space terrorize a small Maryland town), the subject stretches way past it’s tiny budget. It does succeed, however, in being quite entertaining, though sometimes not in the way it expected.

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The acting, to be charitable, is often of the mumble or shout “look at me-acting “school. That is due to the bugaboo of many a low budget films, using non actors in roles. Often crew members stepped before the lens to be vanquished by one of the monsters before stepping safely back behind the camera. Plus, Don Dohler had no experience in directing (save for some Super 8 monster films) and so was unable to tamper or balance the performance. Having written the script as well, he was unable to hear the clumsy dialog often given to his performers (“Jack-stick it out” often is greeted with laughs due to its double entendre nature).

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Where the film does shine is in its special effects. From the opening title on *we are treated to both optical effects as well as stop motion, perspective miniatures, and several monster suits and a victim of progeria (though how they felt the victim, who looks like a werewolf who has gone green, suffered from a disease that causes the appearance of rapid aging is amazing to me).2zf4cqd The creatures work with various degrees of success (a basement reveal of one is an actual effective jump scare), though the longer that they are on camera the easier it is to find flaws, especially as they are often out in snow exteriors during the day.

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The film became a regular on television syndication due to the success of STAR WARS (Fox,1977). Gold Key Entertainment, anxious to cash in on the new sci fi craze, bought distribution rights to anything that might fall into that category. The package included DARK STAR (Bryanston ,1974), FANTASTIC INVASION OF PLANET EARTH (aka THE BUBBLE, Arch Oboler Productions, 1966) and many more. Here is the press video sent out to various markets to sell the package to the local tv stations https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nagBkBZ2a98&feature=youtu.be .

The Alien Factor VHS

Plus, at the same time, the burgeoning video market saw the film become a staple at video stores from VCI and MEDIA (MEDIA having been found in 1978 by filmmaker Charles Band). RETROMEDIA picked up the DVD rights in 2002, and then in 2005 it was released with FIEND as a co bill. The co-bill release had an audio commentary by George Stover, as well as a blooper reel (as well as a FIEND blooper reel) and photo gallery. In 2011, Mill Creek Enertainment somehow added the film to a 50 (!) film 12-disc set called SCI-FI INVASION, with very low quality prints and no extras.alien-fiend-don-dohler-collection-george-stover-dvd-cover-art

For this new BLU RAY release, RETROMEDIA didn’t just reissue their previous release, but went all out and found an original print, cleaned it up and gave it a new 2K HD WIDESCREEN scan from the 16mm negative.

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What results is an amazingly sharp print.

Having only seen the film in boxy and grainy tv and video prints, I was astonished to see how really clean and sharp a lot of the photography is. The film was shot in 16mm and blown up to 35mm, which probably accounted for the grain and poor lab work the muddy colors that were previously the only ones available. However, the sharper images also reveals a few more of the flaws, such as the small openings in the eyes of the Alien Pilot (who resembles a George Pal Morlock in a track suit).alienfact16

Rather than just port over the previous commentary, George Stover recorded comments from the cast and crew who were scattered all over the country and edited them into the appropriate sequences, as well as adding his own insights and bios of those who were involved that are no longer with us.

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Other extras include a
– “Behind The Scenes “Featurette-George Stover showing some of the original props as well as the painting used for the video cover, as well as showing that an acetate of an alien was placed over a screaming woman depicted, as it was felt that she looked too cartoonish.The Alien Factor VHS

alienfactorThe Television Years Featurette (appearances and plugs on Dick Dyzel’s Count Gore De Vol series)

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– ‘Meet The Cast & Crew” Featurette -various clips shot of cast and crew talking about their experience on making the film and showing some of the props today.alienfact23

– ‘Alien Factor Reunion” -home video recording of the cast and crew at a local convention, though director Don Dohler was unable to attend. You get to see how truly funny the late actor Don Liefert was in his recollections.Cinemagic09-1

Ported over from the previous 2005 Retromedia release are

An Alternate Leemoid Sequence with Commentary Trackalienfactor7.jpgorinal lemoid

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-and the Original Retromedia “Drive-In Theatre “introduction featuring Fred Olen Ray and Kymberly Ray. fred kym

This release is limited to only 1000 copies and previous RETROMEDIA releases (like BIOHAZARD ,21st Century ;1985) that have gone out of print are now fetching at least three times the original cost, so definitely grab this title for your collection quickly.

ALIEN FACTOR has been the subject of good natured kidding by CINEMATIC TITANICposter - alien factor-sm (an off shoot of MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATRE 3000), as well as mentioned in various documentaries such as

BLOOD BOOBS AND BEASTS (superbly done by filmmaker
John Paul Kinhart in 2007 and released by Troma)BBBPost

And the recent DVD release NO STOPPING THE STOVER (Alpha New Cinema ,2016, to be reviewed shortly)
http://www.oldies.com/product-view/1100D.htmlno stop

but I suggest that you definitely pick up this labor of love  Blu Ray release of ALIEN FACTOR from Retromedia release.alienfact23

Highly recommended.

Kevin G Shinnick

*- Ernie Farino, who like others who worked with Dohler, went on to careers in major motion pictures. Farino, for example, worked on THE TERMINATOR (Hemdale,1984).alienfact26

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TRICLOPS

TRICLOP0S BIG

TRICLOPS– Alpha New Cinema / Oldies.com – Director Brett Piper– released May 17 ,2016 -80 min- Color DVD Region 0 – $ 7.98

http://www.oldies.com/product-view/1098D.html

Brett Piper is the Bert I. Gordon of the New Millennium. Like Mr. Big, Brett writes, directs, does cinematography, edits, and does the effects in his films. Doing Bert one better, Brett is an accomplished special effects stop motion animator (no enlarged iguanas* or grasshoppers here).

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Even more impressive, his average film budget** is about the same (or even less ) than that spent by Mr. Gordon on his first film in 1954 (that film was KING DINOSAUR, shot for $15,000 in black and white ,released by Lippert Pictures ).

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Brett’s latest effort is perhaps his most loving tribute to Bert ,the king of Do-it-Yourself Filmmakers . The film TRICLOPS is basically an homage/remake of B.I.G.’s THE CYCLOPS (Allied Artist,1957).

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Not to be confused with Brett’s earlier effort, PSYCLOPS (Edgewood Entertainment, MTI ,2002), TRICLOPS concerns Samantha Katzman (Erin Waterhouse) who is searching for her lost fiancé Glenn Edwards. Edwards’ plane supposedly crashed in a mysterious crater, and so she gets a team to help her in the manhunt. Flying over the crater, the plane is swarmed by a strange flock of bat like creatures that forces the plane] down. Landing, they find a lot of other freakish mutated bugs, killer plants and creatures.

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Searching the area, they encounter the Triclops (Kurt Jordan, though producer Mark Polonia donned the outfit on occasion), a gigantic three eyed mutants. Could this be Edwards?

The film is a love letter to the films Brett grew up with, containing visual and verbal references to many effects films from the 1950s and 1960s. Keeping his already tiny budget low, Brett recycles many animation models from previous films to populate the irradiated canyon.

To me, the Triclops is a bit of a disappointment. Since Brett is such a wonderful animator, I had hoped that her would animate the title creature. For time and to save himself the extra work, he put a mask and gloves upon a performer. Supposedly the makeup went through various permutations before the one used was picked.

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The actors in the film have appeared in previous films for Piper, except for Miss Warehouse’s gamely goes through the wringer for director Piper, and will be appearing in his next film, OUTPOST EARTH (currently in post-production).
The film is more entertaining than the majority of the films that I have come across on the SY FY channel, and with often better effects.

The DVD boasts an audio commentary with Piper and the cast (with Miss Waterhouse phoning in literally her comments). Also included is a blooper reel.

If you are one of those who says why can’t they make monster films like they used to, then seek out TRICLOPS.

-Kevin G Shinnick***

ALPHA NEW VIDEO

For any D.I.Y. filmmakers seeking distribution, ALPHA New Cinema is looking for your films.

In the last few years, they have distributed films as varied as DOCTOR MABUSE (2013), AMICUS HOUSE OF HORRORS, SAM Z ARKOFF FANEX FILES, ASTRO ZOMBIES M3 CLONED, COLD HARBOR, THE DEATH OF POE, MAGDALEN, THE SERPENT’S TONGUE, SEX LOVE & FANTASY, TALES OF DRACULA, and many more.

Contact Brian Krey at briank@oldies.com on how to submit your work for review.

*- I know it sounds like a sexual euphemism

**-THEY BITE (1996,MTI) was rumored to have had a budget of $130,000.

***- full disclosure – I appeared in Brett’s film SCREAMING DEAD(EI) in 2003.

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