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The Haunted Curiosity Shop (1901)

An old proprietor is startled by the sudden appearance of a skull. Just as he draws back from the uncanny object, the doors of a mediaeval wardrobe fly back and a hand prods him with a ... See full summary »

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An old proprietor is startled by the sudden appearance of a skull. Just as he draws back from the uncanny object, the doors of a mediaeval wardrobe fly back and a hand prods him with a sword. He turns to confront his assailant when it vanishes, and at the same instant the skull flies to the other end of the room. He clutches at the skull, when it turns into the half form of a girl from the waist up, suspended in mid-air. As he gazes in amusement, the other half of the girl, fully dressed from her waist down, walks across the room, and the two halves of the figure join, making a girl complete. In an amorous fashion the old man folds his arms around the girl's waist with the intention of stealing a kiss, but the girl immediately changes into an old woman, who grins in evident delight at the old man's discomfort. In great anger he throws her into the wardrobe and locks the door. Unseen by him, the woman has again become a girl. A great effect is here produced. Through the doors, which ... Written by Edison Catalog

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May 1902 (USA)  »

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Лавка с привидениями  »

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Has her lower half got a sister?

I viewed the British Film Institute print of this early 'trick' film. This brief and enjoyable comedy is purely a vehicle for some conjuring tricks, all of which are achieved in the camera rather than through stagecraft. The tricks are well done, with the jump cuts and other fakery being rather more difficult to spot here than in many other 'trick' films of this same era.

The Edison Company's synopsis, included on IMDb's web page for this film, is accurate enough. I was intrigued by the business featuring a beautiful woman divided into upper and lower halves. This impressed me for two different reasons. Firstly, the earliest example (to my knowledge) of a stage conjuror sawing a woman in half was P.T. Selbit, about 20 years AFTER this movie was made: is it possible that the well-known stage illusion was actually inspired by this movie?

Secondly, I was intrigued that this movie was imaginative enough to introduce the top half of the woman without the bottom half, and then show her bottom half walking into the scene. This is much more clever (and unexpected) than the more obvious lurk of showing a normal woman, then making her divide into halves. Compare this with the awful scene in 'Follow the Boys' when Orson Welles supposedly saws Marlene Dietrich in half, in front of a live audience of servicemen. Marlene's lower half gets up and walks away, while the soldiers hoot with delight ... but this is blatantly a camera trick, so we know that the 'audience' aren't seeing what we're seeing, and we know they're giving a scripted reaction.

The magic tricks in 'The Haunted Curiosity Shop' are actually more convincing than the make-up job on the actor playing the antiques dealer. My rating: 9 out of 10.


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