The Ghost of Slumber Mountain (1918)
Director: Willis H. O’Brien
Cast: Herbert M. Dawley, Willis H. O’Brien
Synopsis: In a dream Uncle Jack looks through a magic telescope owned by the ghost of a hermit and sees what life was like millions of years ago, including a battle between prehistoric monsters.
Willis O’Brien, the man who would fifteen years later introduce King Kong to the world, here lays claim to be the first filmmaker to deal with the subject of time travel – although it’s a debatable point as the hero of this creaky old short merely gazes through a mysterious instrument into a hidden valley in which prehistoric dinosaurs roam. Anyway, it’s not a particularly good film, even for its era, although things do become marginally more interesting once the dinosaurs finally make their appearance.
The film is book-ended by scenes of a writer telling a story to his two nephews in which he and a friend take a trip by canoe to Slumber Mountain, an idyllic landscape filled with rolling hills and dense forest. Nothing much happens for an age, the men row up to a clearing and unload their luggage, all of which seems to take forever. Then Uncle attempts to persuade his mate to strip off and pose as a faun for him to capture with his paint brush and easel, which is all extremely worrying – but thankfully O’Brien decides against following this particular strand of the tale.
That night, Uncle is awoken by the voice of the ghost of Mad Dick, an old hermit who used to live on the mountain. He follows the voice to Dick’s old cabin where he finds a mysterious instrument. Following Mad Dick’s ghost to a vantage point high on the mountain, he peers through the instrument at the aforementioned dinosaurs.
The model dinosaurs are pretty good – certainly as good as anything Ray Harryhausen was creating nearly half a century later – but they don’t really get up to much to speak of. A T Rex chases our hero and gets a bullet in the brain for his troubles, just before O’Brien pulls off a twist in the tale that will truly knock your socks off. Or probably not.
(Reviewed 23rd May 2012)