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Thursday 29 November 2018

The Limejuice Mystery (1930)

Director: Jack Harrison

Here's a real curiosity for fans of Sherlockiana: a nine minute British Holmes spoof told entirely through the use of marionettes. It must be absolutely unique, right? Well, I'd have to add that there actually appear to be two separate but almost identical films from the same year of 1930 that were even made by the same company, Associated Sound Film Industries. There's this film, The Limejuice Mystery, starring Herlock Sholmes—a spoonerism, of course, for Sherlock Holmes—and Anna Went Wrong—a parody of the Chinese American actress Anna May Wong. Then there's Herlock Sholmes in Be-a-Live Crook, starring the title character, of course, and, well, Anna Went Wrong too! What are the odds? I'd suggest that they aren't good and these two films are surely one and the same, even if they happen to have different IMDb pages which list different two directors who went on to two different careers. The more I dig into the records, the more the two seem to become one, part of a set of short novelties featuring the Gorno Italian Marionettes.

But let's delve into that history later; let's delve into some other history first, because context is particularly important here; there are user reviews at IMDb that ably demonstrate that a lack of that context renders this film incomprehensibly strange. For a start, don't expect to find any lime juice anywhere; that's a reference to Limehouse, a district of London that's particularly known for its Chinese population and, a hundred years ago, was seen as a particularly dangerous place to go. This film unfolds, for instance, in an opium den, complete with drugged marionettes reclining in bays from which their opium smoke drifts. It's populated, of course, by orientals wearing the queue hairstyle which you'll probably recognise from period martial arts movies; the hair on top of the head is grown long and usually braided, while the front part of the head is shaved. Historically, it was imposed upon the Han population of China by the Qing dynasty as cultural imperialism, also allowing them to easily tell at a glance who was resisting their rule.

Thursday 22 November 2018

Home Sweet Home (1981)

Director: Nettie Peña
Writer: Thomas Bush
Stars: Jake Steinfeld and Vinessa Shaw

Index: Horror Movie Calendar.

Ah, Thanksgiving, that bizarre American holiday in which people are so thankful for everything they have that they feel the need to murder people the very next day just to get more of it. I've never quite understood Thanksgiving, but then I'm not American. I didn't grow up learning all the little rituals: not just eating turkey but watching Snoopy in the Macy's Day Parade on the television and listening to all eighteen and a half minutes of Arlo Guthrie's Alice's Restaurant on the radio. Being English, I always found it odd that the descendants of immigrants would take a day to thank the Native Americans for saving the lives of their ancestors without apologising for everything that followed, especially when it remembers a specific event that nobody can actually place in history. I was surprised to discover that it didn't even have a firm date until the early 19th century, varying from state to state until settling on the final Thursday in November to replace a prior holiday, Evacuation Day, which remembered finally leaving the country.

Nowadays, I live in Arizona and I celebrate Thanksgiving with my American family on the fourth Thursday in November, to which Congress moved it as late as 1941. We stuff ourselves with food, misbehave with the grandkids and come home early because some family members work retail so have to go to work to prepare for the onslaught of Black Friday, the year's busiest shopping day. As a holiday that didn't even exist on a national level until Abraham Lincoln decreed it in 1863, it imposed itself quickly on the calendar and almost the entire country celebrates, regardless of colour, creed or religion. Given such blanket adherence, I'm rather shocked that more horror movies, or more movies of any genre, come to think of it, haven't been set on Thanksgiving. There isn't even an unofficial Thanksgiving movie, in the way that Die Hard has become an unofficial Christmas movie. If it isn't Christmas until Hans Gruber falls off the Nakatomi Plaza, then what has to happen on screen for it to be truly Thanksgiving? I have no idea.