P-Bog’s first (official) feature is a doozy, following two stories and expertly building tension until they collide at the end. I’d seen P-Bog’s latest movies, She’s Funny That Way and the Tom Petty doc and The Cat’s Meow, but none of his most famous work, so I checked this one out for Shocktober.

Cranking out a cheapie thriller with Boris Karloff, P-Bog himself plays film director Sam who cranks out cheapie thrillers with Byron Orlok (Boris Karloff) – although the Orlok pictures look like more generic costume/castle/monster flicks (Corman’s The Terror, specifically), while Targets is up to something else entirely. After his latest screening, Sam is plotting something new, a more self-reflexive movie which will use Orlok’s star power in a different way, but Orlok is sick of it all and decides to retire immediately (Sam: “I’m gonna go offer it to Vincent Price”). Orlok will go back and forth over the next day, finally agreeing to read the new script and un-canceling his speaking appearance at the local drive-in.

Meanwhile, Bobby (a clean-cut Matt Damon-type) has a bland life with his mom, gun-nut dad (James Brown of Objective, Burma!) and inattentive wife (he tries to tell her he “gets funny ideas”, but she fatally doesn’t listen). After calmly scouting locations, he shoots his wife and mom, leaves a note for the police then heads out on a murder rampage, first targeting highway drivers then positioning himself behind the drive-in screen. He starts shooting spectators – real violence erupting from behind/inside a horror film – until Orlok marches over and slaps him down.

Long takes, unusually naturalistic movie, complete with stumbled lines and people talking over each other. Orlok/Karloff watches himself in Howard Hawks’s The Criminal Code and Sam comments “all the good movies have been made.” Fascinating blend of P-Bog’s cinephilia and realistic violence (based on a California sniper attack a couple years prior). Uncredited script work by Sam Fuller, apparently, and shot by the great Laszlo Kovacs.

K. Uhlich:

Struck this time by how mercilessly this Corman-produced quickie portrays the banality of evil. One of the finest treatises on the subject, in addition to how viewing movies as an escape is an outright denial of their much more ambiguous function in society.

Part one, featuring Richard Kiel, a Scooby-Doo mystery, a rooster-beast, Ida Lupino, BarrĂ© Lyndon (not Barry Lyndon), a mannequin museum, John Ireland and a voodoo cult can be found here. I watched those four years ago, so at this rate I’ll be through season one in the year 2054. Thriller paired well with Black Sabbath, which also had three episodes hosted by Boris Karloff.

The Twisted Image

First episode of the show started off with a bang. Leslie Nielsen (post-Forbidden Planet and Tammy and the Bachelor) plays bland but successful executive and family man Alan, and not one but two people are insanely obsessed with him. Secretary Lily (Natalie Trundy of the Planet of the Apes series) wants to marry him and Mailroom Merle (George Grizzard of Happy Birthday, Wanda June) wants to be him. Lily stalks Alan and writes letters to his wife (Dianne Foster of Drive a Crooked Road). Merle is more dangerous, steals Alan’s watch, wallet, car and daughter, and murders Lily when she says he’s no Alan.

Typical plot-contrivance follows. Alan goes to Lily’s apartment (because if your wife suspects you’re having an affair, you should definitely go to the girl’s apartment alone at night), finds her dead, is spotted at the scene, then goes looking for Merle alone.

Wife: “Why can’t you call the police?”
Alan: “Judy, you don’t understand. I can’t go into details now, just take it easy.”

Happy ending, family values are upheld, etc. Lot of good close-ups of Lily with confident, creepy eyes. Also featuring Constance Ford (the 1962 The Cabinet of Caligari) as Merle’s abusive sister and Virginia Christine (Becky’s cousin in Invasion of the Body Snatchers) as his annoyed boss. Arthur Hiller later made See No Evil, Hear No Evil, which is not a horror movie, though quite horrible in its own way.

Pigeons From Hell

“Those were no ordinary pigeons – they were the pigeons from hell” says Karloff without even smiling. Maybe Thriller was trying to distance itself from the smartass introductions on Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Too bad the intro proved to be the most amusing part of this talky, boring episode.

Two doofus college-age brothers get stuck in a swamp, immediately blame it on the South, then camp out in an abandoned house, where one brother appears from upstairs all bloody attempting to axe-murder the other. Survivor Tim (Brandon De Wilde of Hud and Shane) flees, interrupts a redneck sheriff (Crahan Denton, a huge racist in Bunuel’s The Young One) who was drinking with his buddies, tells the crazy story and is accused of killing his brother, the end.

But wait, it’s not the end! The most fantastic part of this episode isn’t the house full of haunted pigeons or the zombie remnants of the family that owned it, but the rural cop deciding to investigate this city kid’s story, consider the evidence and finally believe him and try to discover what really happened. From a story by Robert Howard, creator of Conan the Barbarian.

Rose’s Last Summer

Drunken nuisance ex-movie star Rose French (played by actual movie star Mary Astor, princess in The Palm Beach Story) goes on a trip, is found dead in a random suburb. Her friend Frank and ex-husband Haley (Jack “brother of Roger” Livesey) are more suspicious than the cops were, investigate the family whose yard Rose died in.

Mary!

Turns out Rose has been hired by the family to be their dying mother, who needs to stay alive a few more weeks to claim inheritance from eccentric relative (a genius doll inventor!), after which they’d planned to dispose of Rose to protect their secret before Frank rescued her.

Real mom, fake mom:

Lots of afraid-looking ladies standing in finely arranged rooms with mysterious glowing green light sources, speaking with absolutely appalling lipsync, the worst I’ve seen. This was made a few years after Black Sunday, which is somehow a different movie. Their original Italian titles are something like Mask of Satan and Three Faces of Fear, which are far more descriptive, since Black Sunday is about a mask of satan, and this one is an anthology of three fear-based short stories introduced by Boris Karloff.

The Telephone

Pretty good suspense story, with your usual black-gloved Italian knife murderer. Rosy (Michele Mercier, friendly prostitute in Shoot The Piano Player) is being harassed by telephone, thinks her just-escaped-from-prison ex Frank is returning for revenge, so calls over her former friend Mary. But Mary was making the calls as a fun prank in order to get invited over. As she writes a letter explaining this, Rosy’s just-escaped-from-prison ex Frank arrives and strangles Mary, then he’s killed by a knife-wielding Rosy, who now has no more friends. Fun fact: if you speak into the phone through a folded handkerchief your voice sounds just like Frank’s.

Dead by dawn! Dead by dawn!

Old friends hangin’ out:

The Wurdulak

Count Vladimir arrives at an inn where the locals are holed up in fear of wurdulaks: zombies who “yearn for the blood of those they loved most when they were alive.” When Father returns from hunting wurdulaks, it’s clear to the viewer that he has become one, because he’s Boris Karloff and looks insane. Yup, Boris kills his son Massimo Righi (of Danger!! Death Ray and Planet of the Vampires), steals his grandson and rides into the night. Vlad hangs out through all this because he thinks some girl is pretty (“my lips are dead without your kisses”), so he’s as doomed as they are.

The Drop of Water

Helen (Jacqueline Pierreux, Jean-Pierre Leaud’s mom) is a nurse, I guess. She’s called to the house of a dead recluse by Milly the maid, interrupting Helen’s plans to sit alone and get drunk, so understandably she is annoyed. While dressing the dead woman in funeral clothes, she steals the woman’s ring. This ring was apparently the source of the old woman’s fatal ghostly torment, because when Helen goes home and resumes drinking, after being harassed by flies and not-at-all-scary drops of water, she becomes possessed and strangles herself. Her landlady steals the ring, etc. This would have easily been the worst chapter if not for the dead old lady’s amazing death mask.

After all this, Karloff reappears and Bava reveals the studio artifice, Taste of Cherry-style. Karloff, a few years after Corridors of Blood, looks like he’s having fun.

Segments were written by Tolstoy and Chekhov (really). IMDB says Polanski choking himself in The Tenant was a reference to this, and apparently the mom in The Babadook is seen watching it.

“Strange about the cat – Joan seemed so curiously affected when you killed it.”
“That was coincidence, I think.”

Another in the great tradition of Hollywood movies starting with great actors playing interesting characters in cool locations, then throwing a bland romantic couple into the middle of it. They’re not as bad as your usual bland romantic couple, these two. David Manners was Harker in Dracula and a main dude in The Mummy with Karloff, and Jacqueline Wells had just costarred in a Tarzan movie.

Lugosi is a Hungarian psychiatrist, a prisoner of war for 15 years, free again and visiting his old friend Karloff, a great Austrian architect. Lugosi plans to confront Karloff and demand back his wife and daughter, whom he suspects Karloff has stolen from him – but he brings along the couple, having just survived a car crash. Jacqueline stumbles in all dazed and woozy, and they give her a narcotic and tell her to sleep (“SLEEEEEP”), excellent medical advice.

“Are we not both the living dead?” Lugosi (whose character name sounds too much like Fetus) has “an intense and all-consuming horror of cats,” which I suspect will come up again later in the movie. Lugosi’s daughter turns out to be alive, 18 years old and sleeping with Karloff. Karloff is also a satanist, keeping Lugosi’s wife’s body suspended in his basement. So they sit down for a game of chess – winner gets to keep the body. It’s a ludicrous movie, and closes with a meta-joke about its own melodramatic craziness.

The beginning and end of Ulmer’s major-studio Hollywood career – he had a major hit but fell in love with the wrong girl and spent the rest of his life on the specialty and b-movie circuits. Before this, he’d done set design for Fritz Lang (Die Nibelungen, M, Metropolis, Spies) and production and art design for Murnau (Tabu, Last Laugh, Sunrise, 4 Devils) – so the expressionist look to The Black Cat wasn’t just Hollywood ripping off a hot trend, but a 20-year vet of great German cinema importing his own style.

Found a good article by “The Nitrate Diva” about the WWI references and emotional resonance within the film. The story was “suggested” by the Edgar Allen Poe story which was more faithfully adapted by Stuart Gordon recently.

Holy crap, what an odd movie. Three travelers caught in a storm arrive at a spooky house, where they’re met by a mumbly deformed butler (Boris Karloff). The masters of the house, two hateful siblings – jittery doomsayer Ernest Thesiger (the mad doctor in Bride of Frankenstein who creates tiny people) and half-deaf grump Eva Moore – say they can stay the night (“but no beds!”), and also welcome another couple that arrives soon after, but act strange and nervous. As the night goes on, Karloff gets drunk and releases the third sibling, pyromaniac madman Saul, who threatens to destroy them all.

At your service: Melvyn, Gloria, Raymond

Meanwhile someone from the first carload falls in love with someone from the second. Some of the dialogue is hilarious, but the movie never comes out and announces its intention to be a comedy or parody. Well, maybe it does when one of the men sneaks upstairs and discovers the siblings’ 100-year-old grandfather in bed, clearly played by a woman with fake whiskers.

“Grandpa”

Travelers: Gloria Stuart of Titanic, who didn’t look anything like Kate Winslet when she was young, is married to Raymond Massey, who’d later play Karloff in Arsenic and Old Lace. They arrive with their sardonic layabout friend Melvyn Douglas (also a sarcastic romantic in I Met Him in Paris), who falls for Lilian Bond (Double Harness) who arrived with Charles Laughton (same year as Island of Lost Souls), a loud, brash rich fellow. It’s alright with Laughton that Melvyn runs off with his girl – Laughton wasn’t all that attached to her.

Boris vs. Gloria:

Lilian Bond looks more like Kate Winslet than Gloria does:

Very nice looking, shadowy picture, with kinda rough editing. Remade by William Castle in the 60’s. Gloria Stuart provides an audio commentary with good insight and recall. I didn’t listen to the whole thing, but James Cameron did.

Watched a few episodes of this Boris Karloff-hosted series.

Well of Doom
It’s the night before the wedding of rich property owner Penrose to his bride Laura. He drives towards the bachelor party with old family friend/employee Teal (Torin Thatcher of Blackbeard the Pirate) when they’re stopped by an evil wizard (Henry Daniell who appeared with Karloff in The Body Snatcher, also in The Great Dictator) and his minion (Richard Kiel in one of his first screen roles). The wizard kills Teal and their chauffeur and locks bride and groom in a dungeon with the titular well, demanding Penrose sign over his estate. Penrose complies, fakes his death (having tied a rope inside the well to escape) and learns that there’s no magic – all trickery perpetrated by the long-suffering Teal who plans to take over the estate, claiming the couple had eloped. A shootout ensues between power-hungry plotters, Kiel stumbles into a fatal fall and love and money are preserved. Pretty decent. John Brahm also directed The Locket and a remake of The Lodger. Written by Donald Sanford (Midway).

Kiel hulking over Henry Daniell:

Trio for Terror
Three shorts from various stories, all adapted by Barré Lyndon (The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse) and directed by Ida Lupino (The Hitch-Hiker).

Simon (cousin Richard Lupino) has thought of the perfect crime (or at least the perfect alibi), murdering his rich uncle by slipping unseen out of his train car while the ticket-taker thinks he’s napping. Unfortunately, his murdered uncle (Terence de Marney, who’d appear with Karloff in Die Monster Die) was into voodoo, appears as a rooster-beast in Simon’s train car for revenge.

Richard Lupino, who should’ve known not to murder anyone who keeps a rooster tied to a circular astrology table:

Terence de Marney, who should’ve been able to see his murderous nephew coming through that glass bulb:

Collins (Robin Hughes, the talking head in The Thing That Couldn’t Die) goes to a gambling hall, breaks the bank winning at roulette, then escapes from a potentially murderous trap-bed. No way to make this one too exciting.

Eyepatch man (didn’t catch his name) with silent-talking eerie conquistador headed Robin Hughes:

Manhunt for a strangler, who escapes into a mannequin museum run by Milo (John Abbott of Slapstick), a serial killer who preys on serial killers, turning them to stone with the head of Medusa.

L-R: dummy, strangler, Milo:

Papa Benjamin
Wilson (John Ireland, Monty Clift’s buddy/rival in Red River) comes to the police station, says he just killed a man named Papa Benjamin. It seems Wilson followed his band’s drummer into a private voodoo club looking for “that new sound,” then promptly ripped off that sound with his all-white orchestra. A year later Wilson has been suffering from pain, cursed for betraying the voodoo secrets, so he “kills” the voodoo leader, but when he leads the cops there, no evidence. Dummy goes out with his band and performs the “voodoo rhapsody” once again, is struck dead at the end of it. Directed by Ted Post (Dirty Harry 2, Planet of the Apes 2) based on a story by popular mystery writer Cornell Woolrich.

John Ireland getting forcibly inducted into a voodoo cult:

“Some day you’ll wiggle that bottom of yours just once too often”

Aw, this wasn’t much of a horror movie. I guess the idea of surgery without anesthesia is pretty horrific, and the local innkeeper is killing homeless people for fun and profit, and it costars two Frankensteins (Boris Karloff and Christopher Lee), so you could definitely call it a horror movie, but it didn’t much feel like one – more of a dark medical drama. Preston Sturges’ The Great Moment comes to mind. I’ve never seen it, but I thought it was also an invention-of-anesthesia drama. IMDB’s summary makes it sound like more of a patent-infringement thriller, so maybe it’s Corridors of Blood meets Flash of Genius (that intermittent-windshield-wiper-invention drama). Of all the horror movies in the world, why did Criterion pick this one?

A tale of two Frankensteins:

Anyway, it wasn’t bad, for what it was. Lee, in only his third horror movie after Hammer’s earliest Frankenstein and Dracula movies, was deliciously sinister, and Karloff is a surprisingly great actor (guess I’d only seen him as Frankenstein before). Greatly enjoyed the scene where he invents laughing gas and goes on a rampage of hilarity, smashing up his lab. So he overdid it there, but usually he’s quite good.

Karloff is powerless before Black Ben:

While Karloff spends the whole movie experimenting on himself, being mocked by his peers and ultimately becoming a useless opium addict tricked into signing false death certificates for the evil innkeeper, the movie blows some time on our romantic young couple (every movie needs one!): his son Jonathan (Francis Matthews of Terence Fisher’s Revenge of Frankenstein and Dracula: Prince of Darkness) and the housekeeper Susan (Betta St. John of The Robe and Horror Hotel). A haughty white-haired fellow at the hospital (Finlay Currie, who played a man with unpronounceable name in I Know Where I’m Going!) mocks Karloff at every opportunity, with a pinched-mouth arched-eyebrow movie-villain expression on his face.

Finlay Currie to young Jonathan: “your tie is ridiculous.”

Karloff dies in the end (Lee might die also – someone threw “vitriol” in his face) but his son picks up his papers and proves him right, demonstrating the importance of anesthesia in a scene which was probably funnier in the Preston Sturges version. Additional players: the evil innkeeper Black Ben is Francis De Wolff (Hound of the Baskervilles, Under Capricorn) and his even-more-evil wife is Adrienne Corri, who went from playing the neighbor girl in Renoir’s The River to a gang-rape victim (not the one killed with a giant phallus) in A Clockwork Orange. As far as anyone knows the director is still alive. His last theatrical feature was 1980’s The Man With Bogart’s Face, which has a hilarious VHS cover.