Dino December #15: The Ghost Of Slumber Mountain (1918)

Let’s do something a bit different, and fitting, not only because this is one of the older movies i’ve ever spotlighted, it’s a silent film and it’s in the public domain (at least for the US), but it’s also a partially lost film as well.

As in we know the original runtime was 40 minutes, but for years the only surviving version clocked at 12 minutes, until a print of the film running 19 minutes was found. As for why half of the movie’s is still missing, Christopher Workman (citing a scene in the restored footage where Joe tries to convince Jack to take off his clothers and pose as a faun) suggested it was due to the homosexual subtext. Probably naming the hermit’s ghost “Mad Dick” didn’t help.

The movie itself it’s referred to as a “prototype” of sorts for the 1925 movie The Lost World, since stop-motion animation pioneer, the legendary Willis O’ Brien, also worked on the dinosaur effects for this movie, which he also wrote and directed.

And in retrospect, that’s one hell of a ticket.

Obviously, since half of the footage is missing, it’s hard to have a full understanding of the plot, which is framed as “storytime with uncle Jack”, as in it’s exacly that, an uncle telling his nephews of an adventure he had with his friend while camping in the woods of Dream Valley, near Slumber Mountain. A ghost appears, leading him to the top of the mountain, where he finds a strange instruments (looking like a 1910’s VR binocular headset of sorts) that makes his look into the past, and see dinosaurs fight. But then he sees the T-Rex running towards him, and right before he’s gonna get eaten… he wakes up near his friend Joe.

It was just a dream. We’ll never know if Joe thought of Mad Dick as well, pity.

I’m not gonna complain about the plot, since this was clearly made to showcase the dinosaurs fighting first and foremost, the story is vestigial by design. And the effects are impressive, not as impressive as King Kong, but it was just a matter of time, and i mean, this is from 1918, don’t expect the dinosaurs to move THAT much, as stop-motion animation – while not new even then – was still in its infancy for movies. And this involved not only people, but fictional creatures sculpted out of clay and made to look life-like and realistic as possible. Also, remember, this was a 40 minute feature, quite long given its production values and expensive techniques.

While you may argue that were other prior examples of also amazing work done with objects, toys and even dead insects, for the time the effects are still amazing. While it has been restored, most of the versions of the movie you can find online (it’s on Youtube) aren’t of the best quality, so it’s even harder to see the giant bird eating a snake, but you can still clearly see the brontosaurus, the triceratops, and of course the T-Rex. There’s a 2K restoration of the film included as an extra for a 2016’s Blu-Ray release of The Lost World (1925), but i don’t have it and i’m pretty sure i didn’t saw the movie in such video quality anywhere online.

That aside, The Ghost Of Slumber Mountain it’s still entertaining and well made, even in this truncated form, the plot is kinda interesting, with this mystical elements, an unfortunately named hermit’s ghost, and the dinosaur fighting is quite a thing to behold, given this movie is 102 years old and all. An interesting piece of special effects history, and a nice silent flick about dinosaurs and ghosts, not too shabby for a movie that’s technically half lost to the ages.

I do hope that someday, maybe, a full print will resurface somehow, but in meantime i’d say it’s worth checking out what we have of it, for dinosaurs and silent films fans alike.

We’ll get back to crappier and less ancient dinosaurs movies, worry not.

You know we will.

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