The idea for this blog-like post grew out of Dave Sindelar’s ongoing Essential 300 Movies list (well worth a look, if you haven’t checked it out already: direct link).
I hope the following may be of interest to some of the other ‘completists’ who frequent the CHFB!
Russian and Czechoslovak horror, sci-fi, and fantasy pictures have come to enjoy a solid reputation in the West, with some of their most gifted creators enjoying particular acclaim: Karel Zeman, known especially for JOURNEY TO THE BEGINNING OF TIME (1955), THE FABULOUS WORLD OF JULES VERNE (1958), and THE FABULOUS BARON MUNCHAUSEN (1961); Aleksandr Ptushko, whose SADKO (1953) and SAMPO (1959) became known to U.S. audiences as THE MAGIC VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1962) and THE DAY THE EARTH FROZE (1964); or works by less celebrated directors including PLANETA BUR (1962) and MECHTE NAVSTRECHU (1963), long-familiar through their use in Corman pictures such as VOYAGE TO THE PREHISTORIC PLANET (1965), QUEEN OF BLOOD (1966), or VOYAGE TO THE PLANET OF PREHISTORIC WOMEN (1968).
The fantastic works of another major Eastern European cinema, Romania, meanwhile, remain more or less unknown; partly because they just weren’t seen in the U.S. in the way that the titles mentioned above were, and partly because they’ve remained stubbornly unavailable over the years. Likewise, the major Romanian creator of fantasy films, Ion Popescu Gopo, remains a total unknown, even though two of his major works, STEPS TO THE MOON (1963) and A FANTASTIC COMEDY (1975) are reviewed in Phil Hardy’s seminal 1984 tome The Overlook Film Encyclopedia: Science Fiction.
What follows isn’t a complete or comprehensive list, but just an overview of some of the most interesting Romanian genre movies that I’ve seen to date. Very few of the films are available on DVD, although I’ve noted those which are, and would generally recommend looking for these DVDs on eBay, unless you feel like navigating through a Romanian-language site!
1. THE GHOST TRAIN (TRENUL FANTOMĂ) (1933, dir. Jean Mihail, 1h 14mins.)
Ironically, the earliest surviving Romanian horror-thriller is distinctly un-Romanian in several ways: an adaptation of Arnold Ridley’s play of the same name (best known through its 1941 film version starring Arthur Askey), TRENUL FANTOMĂ was shot in Hungary as an alternate-language version of KÍSÉRTETEK VONATA (1933), with both films using footage taken from the 1931 British movie adaptation. Consequently, we see actors in near-identical costumes to the British version (so as to match in long-shots) and riding aboard Great Western Railway carriages with adverts for the Cornish Riviera (!). Like all other adaptations of the play, this becomes a very stagy piece once the passengers arrive at the train station, enlivened by a few brief expressionistic shots when the ghost train appears actually to be arriving.Trivia note: the female lead of TRENUL FANTOMĂ, singer Lisette Verea, would appear in only one other feature film... starred opposite the Marx Brothers in A NIGHT IN CASABLANCA (1946).