This has a decent reputation, and is based on an acclaimed novel, so maybe I was just in a mood – I found it weak, clunky, unconvincing in every way. Fun in theory to watch a tormented Vincent Price (same year as Masque of the Red Death) as the sole survivor in a world overrun by zombies, searching for other uninfected humans by day, trying to ignore the monsters yelling his name outside the house all night. I’m gonna blame Addams Family director Salkow and his mysterious Italian codirector for the clunkiness.

Price narrates, and shows us his lost family in flashback, eventually locates “survivor” Ruth, who turns out to be a zombie spy sent to flush him out. This is four years before Living Dead, so I shouldn’t call them zombies, but they’re ex-humans who only need to dispose of Price in order to form a completely ex-human society. This was remade with Charlton Heston (The Omega Man), then Will Smith (I Am Legend) – maybe fourth time’s the charm.

Oh dear, it’s almost Christmas and I’m still catching up with SHOCKtober movies…

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:

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 café 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.

This year’s SHOCKtober screenings are dedicated to a late acquaintance, a huge fan of Vincent Price. In his honor, I’m catching up with some of the actor’s more famous horror movies.

Fun horror premise turned into a corny movie, partly because it was shot in 3D so we’ve got a carnival barker playing paddleball in our faces, and partly because the 1950’s hadn’t quite figured out horror yet. Price is a wax artist running a museum focusing on historical beauty, not cheap thrills, which is not drawing customers from the competing wax museums (it was the 1890’s), so his chief investor burns the place down for insurance money. This is actually the craziest scene in the movie, this normal-seeming guy (Roy Roberts, James Mason’s crook boss in The Reckless Moment) suddenly starting fires and trying to murder his business partner.

After some months, the creepy partner has just received his insurance money when he’s murdered by a stalking Price in heavy burn makeup. For good measure Price also murders the girl his partner was dating (Morticia Addams!), later steals both of them from the morgue with his criminal assistants Leon (Nedrick Young, later an oscar-winning writer) and Igor (Charles Bronson!) and turns their bodies into wax sculptures, a shortcut to lifelike creations. But when killing the girl, Price left a witness: Sue Allen (Phyllis Kirk, Nora in The Thin Man TV series), who visits the new museum and notices Joan of Arc looking suspiciously like her murdered roommate.

“It’s the embalming fluid makes them jump,” says a coroner after a corpse sits upright in a dimly-lit morgue. We’ve also got Sue being spooked by a skeleton, Charles Bronson trying to guillotine Sue’s sculptor friend (everyone in the 1890’s was a sculptor), and naturally the monster falls to his death into a vat of boiling wax at the end.

Years later when Roger Corman made A Bucket of Blood, which seems to be mocking House of Wax‘s storyline, Corman was just a year away from his run of Poe-and-Price films. Price himself had just appeared in a couple of William Castle movies, so perhaps he was comfortable with camp/parody, but it’s curious that when he teamed with Corman, that’s not the sort of thing they made together at all. Besides A Bucket of Blood, Darkman came to mind – another serious actor in a campy role, his character badly burned in a fire and wearing “masks” of his own face.

Mouseover to envision meddling Sue Allen as your lovely Marie Antoinette:
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First movie I’ve seen by De Toth, one of the classic eyepatch-wearing film directors. From the look of this one, he’s not going to be confused with Ford or Ray anytime soon. This cheapie 3D movie somehow had three oscar-winning cinematographers – Peverell Marley (Swamp Water, Hound of the Baskervilles) and Robert Burks (Vertigo, North by Northwest) and Bert Glennon (Stagecoach, The Scarlet Empress, Underworld). There’s some nice shadowplay and low-light chase scenes (wonder if those were any good in 3D). The story was first filmed in 1933 with Fay Wray, and in 2005 it was remade with… no, scratch that. It has only been filmed twice, ever.

Happy SHOCKtober!

In early September I assembled a list of SHOCKtober contenders. So many promising horror films! Since it looks like my Mets might be in the postseason threatening SHOCKtober screen time, and since I’m usually a month behind on the blog anyway, I went ahead and started watching them, beginning with this sorry sequel to one of my faves from last year.

Phibes with raptor:

Opens with a full recap of the first movie, in case you missed it. And even though Vincent Price is embalmed and buried at recap’s end, sure enough he’s waking up right afterwards. This one’s got an interesting concept at least, as Phibes has taken his revenge for the death of his wife, but she’s still dead, so now he’s going after a fabled fountain of life beneath some ancient Egyptian tomb. Better, Phibes has a rival – an archaeologist named Beiderbeck (Robert Quarry, star of Count Yorga, Vampire, with a silly voice but okay sideburns) who has survived for centuries with a small vial of eternal-life water and now seeks the source.

Phibes jacked-in:

That all sounds promising, and Phibes 1 was heaps of fun, but I wasn’t feeling it this time. Less well shot (DP Alex Thomson later worked with David Fincher and Nic Roeg), less well written (Fuest cowrote with Robert Blees: Frogs, High School Confidential), and less interestingly designed (lot of people talking in front of plain white walls). Slower-paced scenes and a vaguely shabby feeling. I do enjoy when Price “speaks” by plugging a guitar cable into the jack in his neck, but the characters who move their mouths might as well have done the same, with all the dialogue-editing blunders I caught. The hapless cops from the first movie are even more hapless here, Terry-Thomas reappears as a new character, and minor characters are dispatched regularly via scorpion, snake, raptor (unconvincingly), sandblasting, crushing, telephone, etc.

Mouseover to see how one gets killed by telephone:
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IMDB trivia reveals arguments, power struggles, rivalries, changes “for budget reasons” and a final script composed of two separate scripts “sort of stuck together”. So the movie’s disappointing but I guess it’s surprising it turned out as well as it did. Nice ending: Phibes floats away with his wife’s coffin on the enchanted river singing “Over the Rainbow” as time catches up with Beiderbecke outside, suddenly aging him to death faster than Bowie in The Hunger.

Phibes with Vulnavia with sousaphone:

There’s a new Vulnavia (Valli Kemp) since women are interchangeable. First dead archaeologist who attracts police attention is Hugh Griffith (Polanski’s What? and Fuest’s The Final Programme), dead guy’s cousin is Beryl Reid (The Killing of Sister George) and Beiderbeck’s woman is Fiona Lewis (Liszt’s neglected wife in Lisztomania).

“What goes up must come down.”
“Brilliant!”

No dialogue for the first ten minutes, stylish use of camera, Vincent Price, and a mechanical band called Dr. Phibes Clockwork Wizards – this is already a favorite movie. Huge step up from the Freddie Francis anthology horrors I’ve watched in Shocktobers past. But British horror just can’t help itself from being campy.

Vulnavia and dog:

Hopefully this was an influence on Se7en, as Phibes (Price, a few years after Witchfinder General and The Oblong Box) takes revenge on the doctors present during the hospital death of his beloved wife via the ten curses of the pharaohs, killing doctors with bats, frogs, rats, locusts, etc. It also may be an influence on the Saw movies, as Chief Surgeon Joseph Cotton has to cut a key from inside his son’s chest before he’s killed by a slow acid drip.

Inspector Trout (Lindsay Anderson regular Peter Jeffrey) figures out the curses thing but doesn’t do much else besides attract unfunny fish-name jokes. Dr. Cotton actually knocks him out to go face Phibes alone. Phibes has an unexplained female assistant named Vulnavia (Virginia North of a James Bond movie and a James Bond knockoff movie). A guy who describes himself as a head-shrinker gets his head crushed by a Halloween III frog mask. Terry-Thomas has a cute role as a doctor who secretly watches snake-charmer films when the housekeeper is away; he bleeds to death but still returned for the sequel.

T-T:

Quality cinematography by Norman Warwick (Tales from the Crypt). Who is Fuest? He went straight from making acclaimed horror films to ABC after-school specials. Gotta check out his Phibes sequel and The Final Programme.

Amazing locust death (LOL at the full-body smiling-woman sketch):

Katy’s first time watching this, and of course she liked it (though she complains that Edward ends up alone, the tearjerker snow-story somehow not enough to compensate for a romantically unhappy ending).

I thought I knew Kathy Baker, the housewife who tries to seduce Edward, but I guess it’s just her resemblance to Katey Sagal. 1980’s mainstay (and director-substitute in Synecdoche, New York) Dianne Wiest is excellent as Edward’s host mother. Anthony Michael Hall is strangely cast as Ryder’s miscreant boyfriend.

The movie lost its only oscar nomination, for best makeup, to Dick Tracy – a movie I don’t remember having an Avon lady trying to make a scissor-scarred artificially-pale boy look normal, so I call bullshit on that.

Based on the true story of James Reavis – however his wikipedia article sounds like the true story would make for a far less interesting movie than Fuller’s script. It’s got the pen-and-ink technicality (his forgery is discovered because he uses the wrong kind of ink), the marrying a trumped-up land heir, and the prison time, but it lacks the monastery, the gypsy camp and Reavis-Price’s completely solitary audacity of it all (the real Reavis had financial backers, co-conspirators and hired thugs). Also the guy who exposed the fraud was named Royal Johnson, not John Griff.

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Vincent Price hadn’t found horror fame yet, but he acts up a storm in this – convincing as a showman, a lover, a silent conspirator and an enraged victim of mob violence (see below). His plan involves the U.S. government honoring Spanish land grants – he trumps up his young ward (later his wife, ew) as the sole living heiress of a previously unclaimed grant for the whole territory of Arizona, planting her fictional parents’ gravestones, engraving a proclamation into a giant stone, posing as a monk for three years to inscribe the false grant into the ancient records and getting some gypsies to help him break in where the copy of the records is kept.

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For all that work he is very nearly killed by the angry villagers, but the government saves him in order to imprison him. His wife (Ellen Drew of Christmas In July, who again fails to make much of an impression) apparently forgives him for giving her a false identity and roping her into his land-grab scheme, picks him up from prison at the end.

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Fictional-historical adventure-romance-dramas aren’t exactly what Sam Fuller is known for, but he pulls it off. I guess he was one of the few writer/directors out there at this time, and The Steel Helmet wasn’t far behind. The only bit that doesn’t work for me is the silly framing device of old men smoking cigars and reminiscing about the Baron’s crazy scheme. At least Sam worked cigars into the story somehow.

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That’s Reed Hadley as Griff, the government’s expert fraud analyst who manages to debunk Price and help him escape the angry crowd. Within a couple years of this, Hadley played both Jesse James (for Fuller) and Jesse’s brother Frank, and appeared in two MST3K-bait films.

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