The Ghost of Slumber Mountain (1918) – Willis O’Brien

It’s more dinosaurs as I journey through the Dragons & Dinosaurs in DK Canada’s Monsters in the Movies. This time I have a look at the early silent short, The Ghost of Slumber Mountain.

Clocking in at eighteen minutes, this little title must have been made to show off the special effects of the time, as there isn’t really much else to distinguish it. The story, such as it is, sees Uncle Jack (Herbert M. Dawley) sharing a story with his nephews from his diary.

They come asking for an adventure tale with animals, and Jack doles out a tale of a mountain adventure featuring ghosts and dinosaurs!

Jack, his friend Joe, and dog Soxie, head out by canoe to reach the base of Slumber Mountain (the short’s reveal is right there in the title) and as they settle in for the night, Jack recalls stories of a haunted cabin, its inhabitant, Mad Dick (Willis H. O’Brien), and a strange instrument the old hermit would use to survey the land.

Jack, woken from his night’s sleep, stumbles back to the cabin (shot day for night, so you really can’t tell that it’s supposed to be night), and recovers the instrument, with the assistance of the ghost of Mad Dick – something Jack is fine with.

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Using the instrument, which looks like a pair of binoculars, Jack looks out over the land, and is stunned to be able to gaze back over the aeons and see dinosaurs wandering the valley.

Created through stop-motion, we see a strange bird, a brachiosaurus, a pair of triceratops, and a somewhat menacing t-rex. The animation bringing in the creations to life is fairly solid, although I’m sure palaeontologists would take exception with how the creatures are portrayed and move.

Jack is fine with all of this, but as soon as the ghost disappears he freaks out, and is subsequently chased by the t-rex. Which all seems rather silly.

His nephews react accordingly, especially with their uncle’s reveal at the end of the tale.

Still, for what it is, it’s fairly enjoyable, and just puts you in mind of how much the magic, science and creation of special effects has changed over the decades. Of all the creations in the film, I’d say the t-rex is the best realised, but it’s just cool to think of how the audiences watching the short would have reacted to seeing these creatures move across the screen.

And that sense of wonder and excitement continues through to this day when I see dinosaurs brought to life for films, which is why I think I am going to truly enjoy this chapter.

Why don’t you join me and pick up a copy of DK Books’ Monsters in the Movies and find something monstrous to watch tonight?

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