My third Poe/Corman/Price movie of the month, and not counting the ending of Pit and the Pendulum when he psychotically turns into his Inquisition-torturer father, it’s the first time Price has gotten to be truly evil. He is all kinds of evil here, a Satanist who lets almost everyone in the nearby village die of plague then has the survivors shot, who cheers when his party guests are murdered, and entertains himself by letting a girl choose whether her father or her lover will be killed.

So much death in this one that it’s hard to keep track of whether the young lovers survive – maybe they don’t? Eventually the Red Death (Price vs. himself) creeps into the castle, bathing all the revelers in blood, then joins a rainbow of other Deaths outside. Kind of a celebration of sadism (complete with another Inquisition-torturer ancestor) in widescreen with colorful costumes and sets (and a giant clock with a battle axe pendulum), stabbings and swordfights and a murderous falcon. And a dwarf setting a man in a gorilla suit on fire.

Jane Asher is appalled by Price’s murderous falcon:

Jane Asher is appalled by Satan-loving Hazel Court:

The peasant girl Price keeps by his side is Jane Asher (Deep End) – she’s our audience surrogate whose main job is to look appalled. The attention paid to Jane pisses off Price’s main girl Hazel Court (Lenore in The Raven), who tries to hold onto him through satanic ritual. The firestarting dwarf’s wife is upsettingly played by a seven-year-old dubbed by a grown woman. And Price’s horrible friend Alfredo is Patrick Magee (the victim-turned-torturer in A Clockwork Orange).

Magee, foreshadowing that he’s soon gonna be set on fire:

I was going to watch this right after Southbound then realized they were both anthology horrors, so spaced it out by a few days. My second Corman / Poe / Price movie this month after Pit and the Pendulum


Morella

“It’s Lenora, father.” Maggie Pierce (The Fastest Guitar Alive) hasn’t seen her dad Vincent Price in 26 years, and is visiting now because her marriage has failed and she has a mild cough (and therefore, since this is a movie, only a few months to live). Price still blames her for the death of his beloved wife Morella, is wasting away in his Miss Havisham house. Poor Lenora doesn’t even know how her mom died since she was an infant at the time, so Price explains that she collapsed at a party while yelling “it was the baby.” Hardly seems fair, but apparently Morella (Leona Gage of Scream of the Butterfly) still blames the baby, rises in the night to murder Lenora and burn the place to the ground.


The Black Cat

Montresor Herringbone is a hopeless drunk who steals from his working wife Annabel (Joyce Jameson, who’d costar with Lorre and Price again the following year in Comedy of Terrors) to get enough wine to stop the hallucinations. He’d be a hateful fellow if he wasn’t being played by Peter Lorre in comic mode… and speaking of comic mode, Price plays Fortunato Luchresi, a foppish wine expert whom Lorre challenges to a tasting competition in order to get free wine. Surprised by Lorre’s knowledge and (lack of) technique, Price follows him home and falls for Annabel. When Lorre finds out he chains them in his cellar and walls them in – the perfect crime if not for the black cat he accidentally bricks up, whose howls alert the police.

Loved the acting, the reptile hallucinations and dreams (Fortunato and Annabel playing catch with Lorre’s severed head, the picture smeared and distorted). Each scene ends with a 400 Blows zoom. Price calls the wife “my treasure,” but isn’t that what Lorre’s name “Montresor” means?


The Case of M. Valdemar

Valdemar (Price) is dying of an incurable disease, and mesmerist Carmichael (Basil Rathbone, Sherlock Holmes of the 1930’s and 40’s) agrees to relieve his pain for free in exchange for participation in an experiment – to mesmerise Price at the moment of death to see if they can extend it. Medical Doctor James (David Frankham, who worked with Price in Return of The Fly) is against all this, of course, but Price insists, and also wishes his devoted wife Debra Paget (the dancer in Fritz Lang’s Indian Epic) to marry Dr. James when he dies. But the hypnotist has other plans, and when he successfully has the dead Price’s soul trapped in mesmeric limbo, he holds it hostage until Paget will marry him instead. Price solves this problem himself, rising from his death bed and melting all over the amoral Carmichael.

The Good Doctor and Good Wife:

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.

Third version of this story I’ve watched, after the Svankmajer short and the Stuart Gordon version, with which this has almost nothing in common. This was the second full-color Corman/Price Poe adaptation after House of Usher, and everyone was in top form.

In the mid-1500’s, Mr. Barnard (John Kerr of The Cobweb) shows up at reclusive Price’s spooky old castle wanting to know how his sister has died, is taking no shit from anybody. Price gets to be his haunted, tormented self for the bulk of the movie, explaining that his young wife died tragically of illness (but later changing his story), and later while bemoaning his dreadful family legacy he gets to be an evil maniac in flashback portraying his own father, an enthusiastic Inquisition torturer.

Also in the castle is Price’s sister Catherine (Luana Anders of Dementia 13 & Night Tide) and doctor Antony Carbone (art cafĂ© boss in A Bucket of Blood). The place is being haunted by strange noises and Price has a phobia that his wife wasn’t dead when she was buried, so finally they dig her up and sure enough:

Of course I’d seen Barbara Steele’s name in the credits and recognized her face in paintings of the “dead” woman so was fully expecting her to show up. She’d fallen for the doctor and this is all a plot to drive Price mad so they can run off together. Unfortunately for them, Price’s madness takes the form of reverting to his family’s torture legacy, and he locks up Steele then puts poor Barnard under the razor pendulum while fighting off the others, eventually falling to his death in the pit (the only detail unchanged in the Stuart Gordon movie).

Screenplay by Richard “I Am Legend” Matheson, in lovely widescreen with some fun color-filtered anamorphic Raimi-effects and crazy oil-color swirls over the credits. I hope the other 1960’s Corman movies are this good.

A stupid, jittery, high-energy action remake by Anderson, one of Cinema Scope’s 50 Under 50, highlighting what is for me the biggest problem with auteurism these days. In the 1960’s, movies were made on a factory line, some better than others, mostly credited to studios and producers, until observant critics realized that certain directors put out work of consistently high quality – no huge surprise there – but that they also had thematic and structural consistencies throughout a body of films from varied writers and studios. Heroes were belatedly made of Hawks, Ford and Hitchcock, and their films from critically-unloved genres (comedy, western, thriller) were reassessed. Today the studio system is totally different and every director thinks of himself as an auteur. Since the hardcore auteurists have nothing to discover, instead of enjoying the new world of supposedly personal cinema, they stare at the studio genre movies that still get made, searching for new names they can take credit for discovering. My pick was Hong Kong-turned-Hollywood Ronny Yu (Bride of Chucky, Freddy vs. Jason), but I lost interest after Fearless. Mubi latched onto the late Tony Scott, and Cinema Scope loves Paul W.S. Anderson, responsible for three of the worst video-game adaptations I’ve seen in theaters (Mortal Kombat, Resident Evil, Alien vs. Predator) and the underrated Event Horizon.

In a dystopian future, racing legend Jason Statham is set up for killing his perfect wife, and sent to a post-reality-TV prison, where he can earn his freedom by winning a few weapon-equipped car races which are, of course, rigged by the authorities (Joan Allen). He takes the place of a masked driver called Frankenstein (role reprised from the original by David Carradine), gets a mechanic (Ian McShane), a saboteur-spy sidekick (Natalie Martinez) and a rival (Tyrese Gibson, in the Sylvester Stallone role). After some ‘splosiony car races, Statham avenges his wife by killing mohawked driver Max Ryan and Pryzbylewski-looking guard Jason Clarke, then secretly teams up with Tyrese, easily breaking out of prison by shooting the walls with their missile-equipped cars, driving away to a Shawshank-esque incognito freedom.

Also, Ian McShane blows up Joan Allen:

Set in the dystopian future world of 2012. Will someone tell me again why future-movies always take place in the extremely near future? Followed by two sequels starring Ving Rhames and Danny Trejo. Produced by the great Roger Corman, in between Supergator and Sharktopus.

C. Huber in Cinema Scope calls him “the elder, least pretentious, and most consistently amusing Anderson of the current director trifecta: its termite artisan.”

A Bucket of Blood (1959)

“You’re just a simple little farmboy and the rest of us are all sophisticated beatniks.”

I’m always afraid of Roger Corman movies because I figure they’ll be awful, Ed Wood-style catastrophes. But after I reminded myself that he made the great X: The Man With X-Ray Eyes, I rented these two. Both were great, quick and cheap, but very fun and full of weird humor, not the dull, cardboardy type of cheap movies MST3K always mocked (though the show did feature four Corman movies, all from ’57 and earlier). It was only Corman’s sixth year in the movie business, and the twenty-third movie he directed. Shot in five days, and entirely not bad.

Alice and Walter:

Joe Dante fave Dick Miller, in his only starring role, is slightly creepy and socially inept but eager waiter Walter at a super-hip cafe populated by some hammy characters. I was glad to learn that the songs and clothes and beat poetry were intended as exaggerated parodies of the fashions of the time, since I found it all hilarious. Especially good were cafe boss Leonard, who does a nice horrified stagger when he first discovers Walter’s secret, and Maxwell (Bruno VeSota, vet of sixteen Corman pictures) the beardy ultra-pretentious king poet.

Walter accidentally kills his cat (while trying to save it), then an undercover cop trying to bust oblivious Walter for heroin possession (in crazed self-defense), then covers them in clay and is celebrated by the locals for his lifelike “sculptures.”

Walter vs. the undercover cop:

Walter wins:

Determined to stay famous, he starts killing people on purpose – starting with Alice (Judy Bamber of The Atomic Brain), a Marilyn-looking hottie who’s a total bitch to Walter, yet eagerly agrees to pose nude for his next sculpture. Then he murders a random dude with a table saw (“What’s that you got in the box?,” says Leonard to Walter, who is carrying a man’s head in a box – an early influence on Se7en?). Finally he’s given an art show by Leonard – I’m not clear how his plan to keep Walter from killing more people was supposed to work out – and discovered, he chases his crush Carla (Barboura Morris of Wasp Woman and The Trip) into the night until the voices in his head drive him to suicide.

Leonard finds out what’s in the box:

“I suppose he would have called it ‘hanging man’… his greatest work.”


Little Shop of Horrors (1960)

“Please don’t damage the horticulturalist.”

Opens with a pan across a comic strip drawing and a skid-row detective voiceover. The main flaw with this version versus the musical is that Seymour (Jonathan Haze of Gunslinger and Swamp Women) and Audrey (Mrs. Futterman in the Gremlins movies) are less cute and more annoying. Audrey II’s voice is good but the plant prop and puppeteering are pathetic. But the script is good, and as with Bucket of Blood it’s nice that it’s a comedy instead of a sadly self-serious horror about a man-eating plant.

I did like Mr. Mushnick, New Yorker Mel Welles playing a bearded eastern-europe type. Also good to see Dick Miller again – he’s a regular customer who eats flowers (nicely contrasted with the flower who eats people). The dentist (who is not dating Audrey) is a disappointingly regular looking guy. As the VHS box used to proudly proclaim (“Starring Jack Nicholson”), Jack plays the Bill Murray role, a masochistic patient with two minutes’ worth of groan-worthy dialogue.

As in Bucket of Blood, the first person killed is undercover police (dressed as a railway bum for reasons unknown), so a pair of Dragnet-parody cops keep hanging out at the flower shop, along with two giddy girls who want flowers for a parade float and a woman who wants to award Seymour with a prize for Audrey II. Similar ending to the other movie, really – wimpy guy who’s gained celebrity by killing people in secret gets found out, nighttime chase outdoors leads back to a familiar location where he dies (in this case, eaten by plant).

I didn’t get any Little Shop screenshots, so here’s the cast of Bucket of Blood one more time:

Both movies were written by Charles B. Griffith, later director of the Ron Howard-starring clutch-popping classic Eat My Dust. Netflix disc included Rifftrax commentary, which didn’t work too well since the movie was already a comedy, resorting to rude swipes at the low-budget production.

Scenes with kids in town and school, episodic with a couple more-central characters (I’m thinking of the poor boy with abusive parents who gets rescued by social services at the end). Katy’s favorite part was the girl whose parents went out for dinner without her so she yelled “I’m hungry, I’m hungry” through a bullhorn out her window until the neighbors sent a picnic basket to her window using ropes and pulleys. I liked the double date at the movies, where the meek boy loses out and his friend takes both girls. Also wonderful, an Antichrist-recalling scene with a toddler chasing a cat slooowly out a tenth-floor window, finally falling and bouncing harmlessly upon the ground. It’s frightening at first until I realized (and assured Katy) that Truffaut doesn’t kill children, especially not in a comedy. Ebert liked “the painful earnestness that goes into the recitation of a dirty joke that neither the teller nor the listeners quite understand.”

Ebert again: “He correctly remembers that childhood itself is episodic: Each day seems separate from any other, each new experience is sharply etched, and important discoveries and revelations become great events surrounded by a void. It’s the accumulation of all those separate moments that create, at last, a person.”

Of all the kids, how many went on to further acting careers? Only Eva Truffaut, unsurprisingly. More unexpected is that only a few of the adult actors have any other acting credits. Hairdresser Mrs. Riffle (Tania Torrens) was in The Lover, Lydie Richet (Virginie Thevenet) was in Chabrol’s Cry of the Owl, and new father Mr. Richet the schoolteacher (Jean-Francois Stevenin) played Marlon in Out 1 and more recently appeared in The Limits of Control. Same cowriter (Suzanne Schiffman) and cinematographer as Out 1, too.

Oddly, the U.S. poster I found online says “Roger Corman presents…”

Should’ve been called Pocket Money (French is L’argent de poche) but the name was taken by a Lee Marvin/Paul Newman flick a couple years before. The Truffaut movie plus the Tom Waits “Small Change” album released the same year (the two are unrelated; nobody in the film gets rained on with his own thirty-eight) effectively wiped the Lee Marvin film’s title from the English language… now we wouldn’t dream of naming a movie Pocket Money.

Nominated for a Golden Globe (remember those?) but beaten by Bergman. It’s nice to see shouts-out to Bergman and Truffaut in a year when every actress in Freaky Friday was nominated.

I was expecting that this would be very bad, and was hoping to find a few inspired moments or some cool animation to pick out of the wreckage, but then I liked the whole movie so now I don’t know what to write. I don’t get why Brendan Fraser has to be in every single live/animation hybrid flick, but he and Jenna Elfman were just fine in this. Lotta jokes at the expense of movie studios, the Warner Brothers (played by Don & Dan Stanton from Terminator 2 and Gremlins 2), Brendan Fraser, product placement and movie conventions.

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Timothy Dalton plays the star of a suspiciously James-Bond-like franchise, and is just-fired studio security guard Fraser’s father. Fraser heads to Vegas with also-just-fired Daffy Duck while studio exec Elfman in league with Bugs looks for them. Note Dick Miller as Fraser’s security coworker.
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Tim Dalton turns out to be an actual spy, working against the evil Acme corporation (headed by Steve Martin, who is acting strangely Mike Myers-like in this screenshot.
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Good to see Joan Cusack as a secret government scientist (not to mention Robbie the Robot).
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Roger Corman cameos, believably enough, as a film director.
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Kevin McCarthy reprises his Body Snatchers role – in black and white!
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Of course the plot is a thin excuse for a thousand gags and highlight scenes for every major Looney Tunes character. Yosemite Sam and Wile E. Coyote work for Acme, Tweety and Sylvester are Fraser’s neighbors, Marvin Martian is captive in Cusack’s lab, Pepe Le Pew appears in a sidetrack to Paris (where there are Jerry Lewis movie posters all over). Super fun movie… I’m actually so impressed that this was so good, after I’d heard everywhere what a failure it was. Even Dante seems to be making excuses for it in recent interviews (I’m guessing the terrible Scooby/Shaggy cameo is one of the last-minute studio changes he complains about).

Some highlights: a split-screen phone call where the screen effect smashes Daffy:
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And a romp through famous paintings at the Louvre… here’s Elmer as Munch’s The Scream:
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Turns out the movie wasn’t as universally hated as I’d thought. According to Slate, writer and director were fed up with the studio by the time the movie came out, and neither them nor any of the stars participated in the DVD extras. The NY Times and AV Club sure disliked it, but good reviews were posted by J. Rosenbaum (“I had a ball”) and G. Kenny (“comedy of the year”). After reading a couple appreciations I am anxious to rewatch and look for some of the hundreds of gags I missed. I guess it comes down to how much fun you’re willing to have with it. For instance, some reviewers cringed at Steve Martin trying to be funny again, and called him out as a fraud (as if he’s Robert De Niro in Rocky & Bullwinkle), while others bothered to notice that Martin completely succeeded… David Edelstein:

Steve Martin, moreover, is a miracle. Determined not to be upstaged by his flamboyant Warner costars, he has concocted a “supertwit” that is at times at least their equal. His red hair parted in the middle, he staggers around the set in sneakers and an ill-fitting suit, jerking his torso, windmilling his arms—stopping his gyrations only to saunter up to one of several repulsed women, convinced that he is catnip to the ladies. This is the old Steve Martin, the whirligig genius of The Jerk (1979), The Man With Two Brains (1983), and All of Me (1984). To see him this way after at least a decade of domesticated dreck is to love all the more the liberating influence of Warner Bros. cartoons.

A film worth watching even when Pere Ubu is not performing a live score. The movie doesn’t have a lot of incidental music so they were playing most of the time, and they added some other fun stuff (rimshots at the bad jokes, soundtrack-looping to repeat lines of dialogue). Got applause after an intense few minutes of music when Ray is driving away pursued by a helicopter towards the end.

An intense but oh-so-stiff (like he’s in a trance) Ray Milland (Ministry of Fear, Dial M for Murder, Panic in Year Zero) stars as Dr. X. He has an empty shell of a beautiful doctor friend to fall in love with, two male co-stars who both appeared in Kubrick’s Spartacus, and a shifty manager played by Don Rickles. Plot, he invents an eyedrop that lets you see through things, tests it on himself, accidentally kills his friend, escapes to a circus, becomes a mystical healer (well, diagnose-r) under Rickles’ supervision, is finally hunted down by the cops who chase him to a bible revival tent where he claws his eyes out and does not scream “I can still see!!” over the end title.

Corman wastes so little time on character development that he actually has to pad the runtime to make the movie count as a feature. So we get more bubbling lab equipment at the start, and more blurry perspective shots of Las Vegas at the end (apparently gazing at Vegas through x-ray eyes just makes it look skewed and blurry). Among the blurry bits there’s a repeated shot of a half-constructed building pasted skeletally against a flat sky with X’s narration about watching the city become unmade. This bit conveys the horror of X’s condition far better than the hundred shots of Ray Milland looking nervous ever could, and along with the over-the-top ending it gives the movie a real sense of terror peering out from all the camp and sci-fi silliness, elevates it far above its MST3K-worthy contemporaries.

Because of pacing problems and mostly uninteresting writing and acting and sets, I wouldn’t want to watch X more often than I do, once every three or four years. But I wouldn’t want to watch it any less often either. It’s a crap classic, and I enjoy it every time.