Disney Cartoons’ “The Haunted House,” 1929

I think I said this last year around Halloween — I’m a sucker for antique animated shorts.  They’re sometimes darker and trippier than you’d expect, and they’re a weird glimpse into the past.  This was released on December 2, 1929, at the very start of the Great Depression; it was just over a month after the stock market crash.

 

“Fantasia” double-feature today!

I just finished watching Disney’s “Fantasia” (1940) this snowy afternoon with my girlfriend — she gave me the boxed set with “Fantasia 2000” (1999) this Christmas.  This is the first time I’ve seen the entire film in … 26 years?  If memory serves, I last saw it at Mary Washington College’s Dodd Auditorium when I was a freshman in 1990.

I loved it just now even more than I loved it then.  My favorite segment will always be the final one — Modest Mussorgsky’s “Night on Bald Mountain,” with a coda of Franz Schubert’s “Ave Maria.”  (The accompanying animation is Gothic horror; I’ve posted about it here at the blog before.)

I felt for sure that my second favorite would be Igor Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring.”  Pictures of those animated dinosaurs startled and thrilled me as a tot after Christopher Finch’s “The Art of Walt Disney” (1975) somehow appeared magically among my baby books in Queens, New York.  As an adult, however, I liked the segment mostly because of its cool depiction of lower life-forms.  The dinosaurs were stylized and interesting to see, but I don’t think the quality of the animation has held up very well — especially considering what we know about the dinosaurs has changed so much in 80 years or so.

Instead, my second favorite was Ludwig von Beethoven’s “The Pastoral Symphony,” and its whimsical, beautiful depiction of centaurs, gods, and other figures from Greek mythology.

My girlfriend’s favorite segment was Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker Suite,” with its dancing fairies.  “Fantasia” was actually a favorite movie of hers growing up; she’s seen it several dozen times in her childhood.

There is some bizarre trivia about “Fantasia” from Wikipedia, which has a lengthy entry for the movie: “In the late 1960s, four shots from The Pastoral Symphony were removed that depicted two characters in a racially stereotyped manner. A black centaurette called Sunflower was depicted polishing the hooves of a white centaurette, and a second named Otika appeared briefly during the procession scenes with Bacchus and his followers.”  That’s so nuts.

 

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Throwback Thursday: the Randotti Skulls!

So you guys saw my embarrassingly failed DIY glow-in-the-dark skull project for Halloween … this is the kind of thing I would have loved to create.  Behold the glow-in-the-dark “Randotti Skull,” a bizarre knickknack that would be treasured by any little boy who loved spooky things.

I vaguely remember that I snatched mine up at a yardsale in the early 1980’s.  It was some kind of very heavy molded plaster, and it shined brightly in the dark.  God, how I loved this thing.

A little cursory Internet research surprised me — this is actually a reasonably well known collector’s item.  It was one of several “Randotti Skulls” (three, I think) that were available for purchase only at … Disneyland.  They are currently selling for for $50 on eBay, and other bloggers remember theirs as fondly as I do.  And the name of the skulls is evidently a gag running back to when these products were first licensed to Disney back in 1956.  There is no Italian sculptor named “Randotti;” that’s just an amalgamation of the names of the skulls’ stateside creators, Randy and Dotti Smith.

When other men dream of getting rich one day, they visualize boats and sports cars.  I increasingly imagine a room full of novelty monster toys that I had either had or wanted to have when I was growing up.

 

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Nolanferatu’s tip for a trippy vintage horror double feature!

Well there’s one thing I can cross off my bucket list.  (There’s a lot on there, and some of it’s weird.)  I finally saw F.W. Murnau’s “Nosferatu: ein Symphonie des Grauens” (1922).

And am I damn glad I did!  I actually enjoyed it more than I thought I would.  I love plenty of classic movies; “The 39 Steps” (1939) and “To Have and Have Not” (1944) are among my all-time favorites.  But I’m accustomed to modern horror — my tastes generally extend only as far back as “The Birds” (1963) and “Night of the Living Dead” (1968).

I waited until I was in just the right mood.  (This is the first silent film I’ve ever seen from start to finish — the only exception being Mel Brooks’ 1976 parody, “Silent Movie.”)  Then I began it shortly before midnight.

The movie just worked for me. It was sublimely creepy.

I think it helped that the grainy, flickering, black-and-white period footage made this expressionist movie utterly atmospheric for a modern viewer.  These, combined with the shots of Max Schreck superbly made up as “Count Orlok,” were damned unsettling.  Schreck also appeared to be a great physical actor, with his gaunt stance and stilted, inhuman movements.  (Was he unusually tall too?)

The vintage footage also enhanced my enjoyment of the movie in a way that Murnau probably couldn’t have expected.  I know this is strange, but … nearly a century later, the thought that occurred to me several times during this movie was this: “Everyone involved in this production is long dead by now.”  Yes, I know that is a morbid thought — I’ve never done that before!  I think it was just the film itself that did that to me — it’s about undeath and immortality, after all.

It also helped that I’d read Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” (1897), of which this film is an unauthorized adaptation.  The resulting lawsuit by Stoker’s estate is interesting reading: supposedly all copies of the movie were ordered by the courts to be destroyed, bankrupting Prana, the production company.  But a permanent cult following developed for the few surviving prints.

Anyway, I followed this up with the palate-cleansing “Night on Bald Mountain,” the final segment of Disney’s “Fantasia” (1944).  That combination, too, totally worked for me — I followed up the black-and-white nightmare-fuel of the seminal vampire film with some vivid, incongruously hellish Disney nightmare-fuel.

“Nosferatu” is in the public domain.  You can view the entire film on Youtube at the link below.

 

 

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