Monday, October 18, 2010

The Haunted Curiosity Shop (1901)


By 1901, director-illusionist W.R. Booth and producer-inventor R.W. Paul had so much confidence in the special effects techniques they had demonstrated in such earlier films as Upside Down, or The Human Flies (1899) and Railway Collision (1900) - each of which revolves around a single trick effect - that they started making films featuring more elaborate and ambitious techniques, of which The Haunted Curiosity Shop is a good example.
Despite the increased sophistication (since the film gives the appearance of a single shot, it clearly required a great deal of planning to put together), it is otherwise not much of an advance. Its story of a curiosity shop owner discovering that the various pieces of bric-a-brac on his shelves have a life of their own is primitive, and was clearly devised purely as a showcase for Booth and Paul's bag of tricks.
With these limitations in mind, though, it's an effective and engrossing experience, as the poor shop owner is beset by all manner of apparitions: floating heads, disembodied women, Egyptian mummies and an animated skeleton that predates Ray Harryhausen's rather more famous efforts in such films as The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad (US, d. Nathan Juran, 1958) and Jason and the Argonauts (d. Don Chaffey, 1963) by some six decades. The effects where, respectively, a woman's two halves rejoin themselves and a man in armour is systematically dismembered, are particularly impressive.
The same year, Booth and Paul would make The Magic Sword, a similarly elaborate special effects showcase but which also had a rather more involving multiple-shot narrative.
Michael Brooke

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