Thursday, October 31, 2013


Robert Fuest, 1972
Starring: Vincent Price, Robert Quarry, Valli Kemp, Peter Jeffrey

It seems impossible to believe, but this sequel to The Abominable Dr. Phibes is almost as good as the original. Not quite, but still worth your time and certainly worthy as a double feature with the original.

Dr. Phibes awakens three years after the events of the original film, due to something or other happening with the moon. Though this was part of the plan, all is not right. His house has been destroyed and a set of precious Egyptian scrolls has been stolen. He needs these scrolls to track down the Pharaoh's Tomb in Egypt, which houses the River of Life. He needs access to these waters to re-awaken his precious wife. He packs up his assistant Vulnavia and sets sail for Egypt. He unfortunately crosses paths with Darrus Biederbeck, who is an archaeologist also in pursuit of the River of Life and willing to stop at nothing to get there first. Throwing more obstacles in his path, Inspectors Trout and Waverly have returned to pursue Phibes and finally bring him to justice.

The murders this time are all Egyptian themed, which is fitting, because of their location, but also sad because they don't have the eccentric, unified theme that the murders in the first film shared. And let's face it - Egypt is not all that original as a setting or theme, especially not after it was used repeatedly by Hammer in their Mummy series around the same time. That aside, there are a number of gaping plot holes and lapses in logic, which didn't really matter in the first film, but are a bit more glaring in this sequel. For instance, why the hell is Inspector Trout allowed to travel that far out of his jurisdiction? Ultimately it doesn’t matter, because the film wouldn’t be nearly as enjoyable if he and Waverly were missing.

There are a number of small disappointments. This time around Vulnavia is played by the inferior Valli Kemp (Australian model and actress), because the lovely Virginia North was apparently too pregnant to pull it off. Though Robert Quarry (Count Yorga, Vampire) is entertaining as Biederbeck, his character is absolutely not likable. Quarry is at his best in Count Yorga, Vampire, its sequel, and Madhouse (also with Vincent Price) but simply cannot compete with Price in Dr. Phibes Rises Again. Despite his reputation as gracious and friendly with all his co-stars, Vincent Price allegedly did not get along with Quarry. There's a famous anecdote about the two of them on set together where Quarry was required to sing for some reason. He passed Price and said "I bet you didn't know I could also sing." Price replied, "I didn't know you could act."

On the bright side, there's a great cameo from Peter Cushing as the Captain of the cruise ship and I wish he had a bigger role. He and Price had great chemistry together. Dr. Phibes has the same lovely production values as the first film. Overall, it's entertaining and is particularly great if you like Price, Quarry, or Egyptian-themed horror films. It is certainly more absurd than the first film, partly because it has to go out on a limb to top the violence and comic excess of the original. It was made less than a year after the original film and feels a bit rushed. 

Many horror fans seem to dislike this film, so my enthusiasm might be a bit remiss, but I enjoy watching Price as Phibes so much that I don't really care. Definitely recommended. The film is available in a number of MGM DVDs: in a single disc by itself, a single disc with The Abominable Dr. Phibes, or in the MGM Vincent Price Scream Legends box set

Wednesday, October 30, 2013


Robert Fuest, 1971
Starring: Vincent Price, Joseph Cotton, Peter Jeffrey, Virginia North

A truly bizarre and whimsical feature, The Abominable Dr. Phibes is one of those films that has to be seen in order to be believed. It is certainly on the list of my favorite Vincent Price films - favorite films in general actually - and comes highly, highly recommended.

Price stars as Dr. Anton Phibes, a famous organist and doctor of musicology and theology who died in a car accident after rushing to the side of his beautiful wife, who died soon after on the operating table. Several years pass and the team of doctors who operated on Mrs. Phibes begin to die off in strange, gruesome ways. Hebrew amulets are left at the scene of each crime. The police department, headed by accident prone Inspector Trout, finds the supposedly dead Phibes as the only connection between the murders. Can he still be alive enacting his revenge?

Yes. Yes, he can. He is actually murdering each member of the medical team with the ten plagues of Egypt found in the Old Testament: boils, bats, frogs, blood, hail, rats, beasts, locusts, death of the first born, and darkness. What the ten plagues have to do with his wife's murder/accidental death is completely unclear. His lovely assistant, Vulnavia, is his only connection to the outside world and helps him plan and commit these atrocities. When he isn't murdering off doctors, he sits at home, dons lots of make up to cover his burn scars, plays the organ, and gets his mechanical brass band to play waltzes for he and Vulnavia to dance to.

The script of The Abominable Dr. Phibes, written by James Whiton and William Goldstein, feels kind of like the writers jotted down a bunch of ideas, mixed them all up in a hat, drew out a handful and connected them in anyway possible. The screenplay makes absolutely no sense, but it doesn't matter, because this is an incredibly entertaining film regardless. Fuest manages to blend horror, black comedy, some eccentric themes, and an art deco set together to create one of the most memorable B-films of the '70s and of Price's career. And though Phibes is a crazed, murderous villain, it is impossible not to like him and root for him throughout the film. Price plays him as hammy, charming, tragic, and sympathetic.

Despite an incredibly grumpy Joseph Cotton, who plays head surgeon Vesalius, all the actors seem to be having a lot of fun, particularly Price. His enthusiasm for the role and the film is infectious. Vesalius was originally supposed to be played by Peter Cushing, who turned the role down because of his wife’s poor health. It’s a shame the two weren’t able to pair up, as it could only have made a great film even better. The two police inspectors, played by Peter Jeffrey and Norman Jones, also seem to have a great time and they manage to hold their own against Price. Though they are absolute blunderers, or maybe because of it, their scenes provide some of the most effortless comedy in the film. 

There are also appearances from famed British actor Terry-Thomas (How to Murder Your Wife), Aubrey Woods (Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory), and Virginia North (Deadlier Than the Male) as Phibes’ assistant Vulnavia. His beautiful wife is the uncredited Caroline Munro, who later made her naming appearing in a number of Hammer films. Director Fuest did a wonderful job here and would go on to direct Brit horror And Soon the Darkness as well as satanic William Shatner vehicle, The Devil’s Rain. His films always had such a distinctive sense of personality and style that he’s a shame he wasn’t given the chance to do more. 

I dare you to watch The Abominable Dr. Phibes and not like it. Impossible. You can get the single disc DVD or the MGM Vincent Price Scream Legends box set, which I'm reviewing. It contains five discs and splits The Abominable Dr. Phibes on a double-sided disc with the almost equally wonderful Dr. Phibes Rises Again.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013


Kenneth Johnson, 1970
Starring: Vincent Price

An unusual experiment, An Evening of Edgar Allan Poe is likely not at all what you’re expecting. Though it is often lumped in with Vincent Price's anthology films, this is actually a made-for-TV, 52-minute teleplay. Though most online descriptions say it was narrated by Price, he acts (apparently in front of a live studio audience) in four, short one-man plays, reciting some of Poe’s stories as they were meant to be heard. Appearing in period costume with some very lovely sets on a confined stage -- each set is a single room -- Price brings to life Poe’s actual words, rather than the spirit of the stories as he did in several adaptations with director Roger Corman. 

First up is “The Tell-Tale Heart” (1843), one of Poe’s famous stories. It concerns a paranoid man who tries to justify the fact that he murdered an old man with a creepy “vulture eye” (a cataract). After killing the man, he dismembers his body and hides it under the floor boards, finally cracking when he can no longer shut out the sound of the old man’s heart, still beating somewhere under the floor. Price does not act out the murder, but merely recites the story from the confines of the old man’s bedroom. 

The next story is the lesser known tale “The Sphinx” (1846), set during a cholera outbreak in New York City. The city -- and the narrator -- are in the grip of fear, terrified they will be the next victims and mourning their lost loved ones. One day, on the bank of the Hudson, the narrator sees an enormous, terrible creature, elephantine, with horrible black husks, wings, and metallic scales. It is intimated that this creature is a sort of manifestation of the Grim Reaper and the narrator has become insane from fear. 

The last two stories, “The Cask of Amontillado” (1846) and “The Pit and the Pendulum” (1842), are both very well known. Pit and the Pendulum was adapted by Corman and Price -- with a great many embellishments to flush out the story time -- as a full length film. “The Cask of Amontillado” was adapted as part of Corman and Price’s Poe-themed anthology film, Tales of Terror, and co-starred Peter Lorre. “The Cask of Amontillado” concerns a man who gets revenge on another nobleman for some unknown slight. He convinces the man that he has a bottle of rare wine they can share, but walls the man up in the dungeon-like wine cellar of his castle, conveniently located in the catacombs. 

In “The Pit and the Pendulum,” a disturbing meditation on death and morality, a man relates his experience of being tortured during the Spanish Inquisition. He is held in a dark cell and sees many symbolic reminders of death. Eventually he is tied down and must watch a razor sharp pendulum swing closer and closer to his vulnerable chest. He manages to escape, but faces an even worse fate: red hot walls that push him inexorably towards a terrifying pit. 

As with the other Poe films starring Price, this was produced by American International Pictures through their television branch. It is certainly a low budget affair and the surviving print can’t really boast a lot of quality -- it is grainy and fuzzy and looks exactly like you’d assume a TV production from 1970 would look. This is reminiscent of the touring one man show, Diversions and Delights, where Price starred as Oscar Wilde in his later years. Though not quite as wonderful as Diversions and Delights, it would certainly have been interesting for Price to do a touring versions of An Evening with Edgar Allen Poe, or perhaps additional TV specials involving more Poe stories. 

Though this is fun, captivating, and entertaining, it is primarily recommended for die-hard Price and Poe fans, and it is certainly proof of Price’s wonderful talent that expanded far beyond playing hammy horror villains. Theater buffs will also enjoy it, but the format may seem strange to anyone who is expecting this to be a standard film anthology. An Evening with Edgar Allen Poe is available on a double feature DVD from MGM’s Midnite Movies series with the wonderful The Tomb of Ligeia, another Poe adaptation starring Price. You can also check it out on YouTube.

Monday, October 28, 2013


Gordon Hessler, 1969
Starring: Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, Alister Williamson, Rupert Davies, Uta Levka

In 1865 England, Julian Markham guiltily keeps his brother locked up at home. His brother, Sir Edward, was disfigured while in Africa as punishment for crimes against the locals. Desperate to escape captivity, Edward and the family lawyer hire a witchdoctor to help fake Edward’s death. N’Galo, the witchdoctor, gives him a strange drug and puts him in a trance. Discovering his brother apparently dead, Julian prepares for his funeral. Julian asks the family lawyer to acquire a more attractive looking body, as no one has seen Edward in years and Julian is embarrassed by his ruined face. The lawyer and N’Galo murder a local man and dump his body in the river after Edward’s funeral. Relieved it is all over, Julian marries. 

Through a series of odd events, grave robbers dig up Edward and sell him to Dr. Neuhartt, who is performing illegal experiments. Edward wakes up and blackmails Neuhartt into concealing him. Unfortunately for Neuhartt, Edward begins murdering those who wronged him. With the police on his trail, Julian learns that Edward is not dead and begins searching for his brother on his own. Edward, meanwhile, is trying to find N’Galo with the hope that the man can fix his hideous face, but he doesn’t realize that it will have fatal results...

Vincent Price and Rupert Davies (Dracula Has Risen from the Grave) had previously worked with director Michael Reeves on Witchfinder General. The Oblong Box began as Reeves’ next project, but he passed away of an accidental barbiturate overdose at the young age of 25 before filming began. Gordon Hessler was given the project instead and changed a number of plot elements. This feels like somewhat of a rip off of Roger Corman and Vincent Price’s Edgar Allen Poe themed series. It seems like director Gordon Hessler tried to cash in on that with a few films, such as Scream and Scream Again, which would reunite Vincent Price and Christopher Lee with even less screen time, and Murders in the Rue Morgue. He also helmed Cry of the Banshee, which was obviously influenced by Witchfinder General.

As with Witchfinder General and some of Reeves’ other films, The Oblong Box leaves a lingering taste of something distasteful and mean-spirited. None of the characters are really likable and everyone seemingly has a motive for why they hate the other characters. It is openly misogynistic and fairly racist, despite the fact that the overall plot is about the evils of colonialism. During this period there were a number of British horror films that look at the terror, exploitation, and immoralism of colonialism, such as Hammer’s The Reptile (1966) and this fits neatly into that small subgenre. 

This is the first collaboration between Price and Lee, though they only really share one scene together. They are both entertaining, as always, though it’s a shame they didn’t have more time together. Hammer regular Alister Williamson (The Gorgon, The Evil of Frankenstein) has his first leading role and actually has more screen time than Price or Lee. Unfortunately for Williamson, he wears a mask for most of the film and his voice was dubbed over by someone else.

The killer’s red velvet mask with slits for eyes is effective, unfortunately far more so than his make up. He only has some mild deformities and sores, created by Jimmy Evans of Captain Cronos: Vampire Hunter, but nothing actually horrifying. Edward remains masked for so long that it’s easy to assume he’s going to be an evil or deformed twin, which was actually Michael Reeves’ original plan. Without that intended twist, his unmasking is absurdly late in the film and doesn’t pack quite the punch it was leading towards.

Other than the borrowed title, this is not really a Poe adaptation, though it does have some wonderful elements seemingly plucked from Gothic fiction. In addition to the numerous teams of grave robbers, murder, a gentlemanly and masked killer, there is also the insane family member in the attic. 

The plot is a bit ridiculous and complicated, but this is an enjoyable, if lesser seen effort for Price and Lee. Overall the mystery is more compelling than the horror or violence, but fans of ‘60s horror will definitely want to check it out. The Oblong Box is available on DVD from MGM’s Midnite Movies series as a double feature with Hessler’s Scream and Scream Again

Friday, October 25, 2013


Norman Taurog, 1965
Starring: Vincent Price, Frankie Avalon, Dwayne Hickman, Susan Hart

In his funeral parlor lair, the diabolical Dr. Goldfoot has created a dozen sexy, gold-bikini-clad female robots to help him fulfill his plan of world domination. He will start by having the robots each marry the world’s richest men and steal their money. It begins with #11, known as Diane, who accidentally goes after Craig Gamble, an ineffectual secret agent. Goldfoot remotely puts Diane back on the right path towards millionaire Dwayne Hickman, who gleefully marries her and hands over much of his estate. 

But Gamble is still obsessed with finding Diane and stumbles across Goldfoot’s scheme, though no one will believe him. He eventually convinces Hickman, who tricks Diane and refuses to sign over the rest of his wealth. Both still in love with Diane, Gamble and Hickman travel to Goldfoot’s lair to confront him and hopefully get Hickman’s money and Diane back. Little do they know what Goldfoot has in store for them...

A spoof on Goldfinger, Dr. Goldfoot is a mix of spy spoof, slapstick, beach party movie, and horror comedy. This is a definite precursor to films like Casino Royale (1967) and Austin Powers (1997). If you like spy spoofs, there is a lot to love, but if you dislike or just don’t understand the subgenre, Dr. Goldfoot is not for you. Vincent Price has a lot of fun here and particularly shines during the big scene in his lair and attached dungeon, which is complete with trap doors, cells, a torture chamber, and a razor pendulum right out of Pit and the Pendulum (1961). 

The script was written by produced Louis M. Heyward, who worked with Vincent Price on a number of films including War Gods of the Deep, Witchfinder General, and The Abominable Dr. Phibes. It was originally intended to be a musical, though these scenes were cut and some were included in The Weird Wild World of Dr. Goldfoot, a TV special meant to promote the film. Comedy director Norman Taurog does an average job here and is best known for his Elvis films, such as G.I. Blues (1960). 

Part of what makes Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine flawed is that instead of being a stand alone spy spoof, it is an attempt to continue the Pajama Party and Bikini films, which include Operation Bikini, Bikini Beach, How to Stuff a Wild Bikini, and more. Frankie Avalon appeared in nearly all of those films, so his starring role here is not surprising. Todd Armstrong (How to Stuff a Wild Bikini) costars as Hickman in a similar role he had in the Bikini films. There are also cameos from cast members of the Roger Corman Edgar Allen Poe films with Vincent Price, as well as members of the Beach Party films, including Annette Funicello and Harvey Lembeck. 

Susan Hart was previously in War Gods of the Deep with Price, though she soon retired from acting after Dr. Goldfoot, as American International Pictures producer James H. Nicholson fell in love with her, divorced his wife, and married Hart. Goldfoot’s idiotic assistant was played by Jack Mullaney (My Living Doll with Julie Newmar) and Gamble’s Uncle Fred, head of the spy agency, was played by Fred Clark (Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb). 

The excellent opening credits are from Art Cokey, the claymation artist who created Gumby, with a song from the Supremes. This is basically the height of ‘60s camp with floating gold shoes and bikinis, claymation, gold letters, and Vincent Price’s head in a gold shoe. Though the same level of outrageousness doesn’t really sustain itself through the film, there are plenty of sex jokes, robot gags, and a funny drinking/hang over scene. 

The film’s major flaw is that it simply tried to be too many things at once. There are also a number of boring filler moments and the chase sequence at the end of the film throughout San Francisco is very, very long. It involves a motorcycle, car, cable car, boat, and more. It certainly overstays its welcome, but there is a nice twist ending to leave things on a fun, memorable note.

This was followed by a musical TV special, The Weird Wild World of Dr. Goldfoot, and a very disappointing sequel, Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs. Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine is available on single disc DVD as a stand alone film or with Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs. Recommended for fans of spy spoofs and some of Price’s campier ‘60s films. 

Thursday, October 24, 2013


Jacques Tourneur, 1965
Starring: Vincent Price, Tab Hunter, Susan Hart, David Tomlinson

Ben Harris discovers the body of a dead lawyer washed up on the English coast late at night. He informs the young, lovely Jill of the tragedy, as the lawyer was working for her family, though she is entertaining an eccentric artist, Harold Tufnell-Jones, and his pet chicken Herbert. They hear something strange coming from the lawyer’s study and a monstrous, gill-covered being tries to attack Ben before fleeing into the dark, stormy night. Jill is soon kidnapped and Ben and Harold follow a secret passageway from her family mansion into a strange cave. This leads them down through a whirlpool into a strange city hidden under the ocean. 

They learn that the aquatic city is full of 100 year old smugglers and is led by the men’s megalomaniacal captain, Sir Hugh. The smugglers have discovered that the air quality in the underwater city has slowly prevented them from aging or dying, though they are now unable to walk around on land in the daylight, because of the changing ozone. It will make them rapidly age and die. Unfortunately for them, a volcano close to their city is near erupting and will kill them all. Sir Hugh will let Ben and Harold live if they can find a way to keep the volcano from exploding, but he is strangely obsessed with Jill and has an old portrait of a woman who looks just like her...

War Gods of the Deep begins as somewhat of a Gothic murder mystery, clearly borrowing from Roger Corman’s Edgar Allen Poe films with Vincent Price, but quickly transitions into a slow, low budget version of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea or Journey to the Center of the Earth. This is also known as The City in the Sea or The City Under the Sea, again to cash in on Price and Corman’s Poe series, as “The City in the Sea” is a Poe poem. There are no other connections to the great horror author other than the titular poem, which is read aloud by Price during the opening of the film.

Yet another of Price’s films set and filmed in England, there is a breathtaking set off the coast of Cornwall. The film had a somewhat complicated production history. The original script was written by Charles Bennett, a Hitchcock regular responsible for The 39 Steps, Sabotage, and The Man Who Knew Too Much. It was later reworked by Louis M. Heyward, a producer of many of Vincent Price’s films, including The Abominable Dr. Phibes and Witchfinder General. He added some of the comedic elements, including the ridiculous artist Harold Tufnell-Jones and his pet chicken. Producers Daniel Haller (director of Die, Monster, Die and designer for some of Corman’s Poe films including House of Usher) clashed with British producer George Willoughby, who wound up leaving the production after Heyward’s rewrites to the script. Willoughby, Price, and director Tourneur were all unhappy with these changes and argued against them. 

It’s fair to admit that the script is a complete disaster and there are a lot of troubling plot holes. But as with most ‘50s and ‘60s action-adventure films, there is really no reason to waste your time thinking about how the Gill-men came to be, the technological discrepancies, or the issue of an active volcano right up against the English coast, among many, many other things. As far as the comedy is concerned, it isn’t nearly as unfortunate as some of the comedy shoehorned into earlier Universal horror films. To be honest, the chicken is not really around that much and though David Tomlinson (Mary Poppins, Bedknobs and Broomsticks) is supposed to be the comic relief, he has a fair number of serious scenes. 

Price is great, if underused, though there are a few nice moments where he gets to recite Poe in voice over. Though this happens for no particular reason, it is a nice, atmospheric touch. A young Tab Hunter (Polyester) is entertaining, but doesn’t do a whole to save the film. He simply isn’t as charismatic as either Price or Tomlinson. Susan Hart doesn’t do much other than stand around and look pretty. She would work with Price again soon after on the ridiculous Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine.

This is director Jacques Tourneur’s (Cat People) final film and though it seems like an odd choice for a director known for his atmospheric, solemn horror films, it is lovely and stylish despite its structural flaws. The effects, cinematography, and underwater sets still hold up in a fun, ‘60s sort of way, and the film manages to look more lavish than the budget actually allowed. The volcano is a little silly and it’s occasionally hard to get past the Gill-man rip offs who are obviously wearing rubber suits, but there is a lot to enjoy. 

I can really only recommend War Gods of the Deep to fans of campy ‘60s cinema, as there are some dull talkie moments, nonsensical plot elements, and probably the longest underwater chase scene in film history. With that said, there are plenty of fun moments and there are certainly worse ways to pass the time. Price fans will definitely want to check this out. It is available on a single disc DVD from MGM’s excellent Midnite Movies series, as well as on a great, two disc quadruple feature from MGM. It also includes The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues, The Beast with 1,000,000 Eyes!, and At the Earth’s Core

Wednesday, October 23, 2013


Roger Corman, 1965
Starring: Vincent Price, Elizabeth Shepherd, John Westbrook

At the funeral of his wife, Ligeia, Verden Fell notices that her eyes flutter open, but assumes it is just a final death spasm. He isolates himself in their abbey home and sees no one, except a servant and Ligeia’s vicious black cat. Soon after he meets Rowena, a lovely young woman who comes across Ligeia’s tomb while she is out fox hunting with her father and is thrown from her horse. She is strangely attracted to Verden and soon after they marry. Unfortunately their relationship is haunted, either literally or figuratively, by Ligeia and her malicious cat. They try to sell the mansion, but come to find it is in Ligeia’s name and no death certificate can be found. While under a hypnotic trance, Rowena is briefly possessed by Ligeia and has horrible dreams. It becomes clear that Verden must confront Ligeia’s spirit or he and Rowena will live a life of torment... or worse.

This is the final film in American International Pictures and Roger Corman’s series of Edgar Allen Poe-themed films. Unlike most of Corman’s other Poe adaptations, this is fairly faithful to Poe’s “Ligeia.” It is also notably visually different than the other films in the Poe series, with numerous daytime shots and less of the vibrant, staged sets full of rich colors and dark, Gothic visuals. As with Masque of the Red Death, this was shot in England for financial reasons, though unlike that film, which was shot on a soundstage, much of Ligeia takes place in the ruins at Swaffham Priory in East Anglia. 

This is the fifth Poe-themed film from Corman and Price that deals with the fear of being buried alive. The first two films, House of Usher and Pit and the Pendulum center their narratives around the horror of a sick wife being entombed while alive and the terrible aftermath. In the later Tales of Terror, an adulterer is walled up while alive, a scene taken from Poe’s “Cask of Amontillado.” In Comedy of Terrors, it is dealt with humorously as Price and Peter Lorre’s characters attempt to kill their landlord, played by Basil Rathbone, but he has a rare case of catalepsy and refuses to really die, though he is given a funeral and entombed in the family crypt. 

Robert Towne (Chinatown) wrote the thoughtful, melancholic script that carries the same themes of repressed sexuality and madness as the best of the other films in Corman’s Poe series. There is also some implied necrophilia and a general air of death and decay, and like many of Corman and Price’s other Poe films, the issue of a difficult or miserable marriage is at the center of the narrative. The real horror is not being buried alive, but that not even death can separate or end an unhappy marriage.

There is some wonderful cinematography from Hammer regular Arthur Grant (Curse of the Werewolf). Despite the inclusion of one of Corman’s dream sequences and the familiar mouldering mansion and conclusion by fire, this looks strikingly like a Hammer film, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. This is a beautiful film with some great sets and costumes. It’s main flaw is that pales slightly when compared to the two best of the series, House of Usher and Masque of the Red Death, and has some laughable moments involving Ligeia’s cat.  

As always, Price is excellent and his Verden, with period dress and dark sunglasses, is not too far from Jane Eyre’s Mr. Rochester. Without giving away too many plot elements, it seems like much of Verden’s character was lifted directly from Jane Eyre, though I assume that is coincidental. Overall, The Tomb of Ligeia has much in common with women-centric Gothic novels like Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and others, as well as with female based paranoia thrillers like Hitchcock’s Rebecca, The Spiral Staircase, and Gaslight

Elizabeth Shepherd (The Corridor People) is good here in a dual role as Rowena and Ligeia. Rowena is sympathetic and likable, though I can’t help but feel that Shepherd’s portrayal of Ligeia is somewhat of a lesser Barbara Steele. The lovely and unusual looking Steele solidified her scream queen status by appearing in Mario Bava’s Black Sunday, as Price’s “undead” wife in Pit and the Pendulum, and as star of a number of Italian and British horror films. John Westbrook (the 1978 animated version of Lord of the Rings) is good as Rowena’s friend and secondary love interest. Derek Francis (A Christmas Carol) puts in a memorable role as her boisterous father.

The Tomb of Ligeia comes highly recommended and is a high ending point for the Poe series. It is available on a split DVD with An Evening with Edgar Allen Poe, a lesser seen anthology film of Poe adaptations narrated by Vincent Price. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013


Roger Corman, 1964
Starring: Vincent Price, Hazel Court, Jane Asher, David Weston, Nigel Green

"Each man creates his own God for himself, his own Heaven, his own Hell."

Based on one of my favorite Poe stories, "The Masque of the Red Death," along with dashes of another great story, "Hop Frog," this American International Pictures film directed by Roger Corman and starring Vincent Price is the second to last in their series of Poe-themed films. Masque of the Red Death tells the wicked tale of Prince Prospero, Satan worshipper and libertine extraordinaire. During his reign of terror falls the Red Death, a plague that causes those infected to bleed from their skin. Instead of helping the peasants, Prospero shuts himself, a few victims, and a number of his favorite courtiers up in his castle to party the hours away while villagers outside die tormented deaths. Prospero is convinced that the plague can't touch him because of his allegiance with Satan, who he worships fervently. Prospero is also trying to convert and seduce a young peasant girl, Francesca, who is a devout Christian.

Masque of the Red Death is one of my favorite '60s horror films and should be seen by every horror fan, particularly anyone who loves the great Vincent Price. Like most of the other movies he starred in, the film truly belongs to him. His Prospero is charming, debonair, smarmy, selfish, and just a touch evil. Co-star Hazel Court (The Raven) is able to hold her own with Price in a role as his satanically inclined mistress and it’s really a shame she wasn’t in more of the Poe series. Jane Asher (The Quatermass Xperiment) is somewhat memorable as the virginal Francesca and there are notable appearances from the wonderful Patrick Magee (Tales from the Crypt, Marat/Sade), Nigel Green (Corridors of Blood), David Weston (Witchcraft), and Skip Martin (Vampire Circus).

There's also an excellent screenplay by regular Twilight Zone scribe Charles Beaumont, who contributed regularly to Price and Corman’s Poe series. Though Beaumont plays a bit fast and loose with Poe, the script perfectly brings together the most horrifying elements of Poe's story and keeps our attention for the entire running time. The face off between Prospero and Francesca, the innocent Christian girl he is trying to seduce away from her true love and religious belief, highlights the film’s more philosophical elements. As with the first Poe film, House of Usher, Masque is more than just a flashy ‘60s horror film and the plot occasionally slows down to contemplate the inevitability of death. Thanks to these art house elements, Beaumont is able to weave a compelling tale about cruelty, passion, and faith that will probably interest most film fans, not only genre aficionados.

Incredibly stylish from start to finish, Masque is a gothic spectacle and a truly beautiful film. Surprisingly, cinematography is from a young Nicholas Roeg (Performance, Don’t Look Now, The Man Who Fell to Earth). Between Corman, Roeg, and production designer Daniel Haller, Masque looks sumptuous and expensive, certainly more than the meager budget would have allowed under less talented hands. Unlike most of the earlier films in the Corman-Poe cycle, this was a U.S. and U.K. coproduction shot in the U.K. at Elstreet Studios. Allegedly Corman decided to shoot in the U.K. because of their more advantageous tax laws and more affordable filmmaking opportunities. 

Masque is certainly one of Corman's best and is a contender for finest film in the eight film Corman-Price-Poe cycle. There are some moments, namely the grisly conclusion, that will still manage to raise a few hairs on the back of your neck. There are also some thoroughly satanic visuals, as well as one of Corman’s token hallucinogenic sequences. 

There are a couple of different versions released by MGM on DVD, though I recommend the double feature with Premature Burial. The latter stars Ray Milland and is one of the few Poe-themed films not to involve Vincent Price. Masque of the Red Death comes highly recommended. 


Ubaldo Ragona, Sidney Salkow
Starring: Vincent Price, Franca Bettoia, Emma Danieli, Giacomo Rossi-Stuart

Dr. Robert Morgan lives a life of quiet monotony. He wakes, feeds himself, repairs his home, puts gas in his car, and drags the corpses of vampires to a pit on the edge of town, where he burns them. Then he hunts for more vampires and stakes them through the heart. We soon learn that an aggressive plague has swept across the country, turning the living into the sick and then into the undead. Morgan seems to be the only survivor in his area and protects himself with garlic, mirrors, and a heavily barricaded house. During the night, the vampires try to get into the house and kill him. 

Desperate for company, he runs after a frightened dog. Later, he finds the dog recovering from wounds. He tries to nurse it back to health, but realizes it is infected with vampirism. When he goes to bury the dog, he sees a woman out in the daylight. He pursues her and learns her name is Ruth. She agrees to come back to his house, where he figures out that she is infected. He learns she has been managing the disease by regularly injecting herself with a vaccine and that there are others like her. Her group knows about Morgan and they hate him, because he has been killing others like them - sick, but not completely transformed. Morgan gives Ruth a blood transfusion and cures her, but it is too late. Her people attack Morgan and, as he dies, he laments that he is really the last man on earth. 

Based on Richard Matheson’s groundbreaking horror novel I Am Legend, this first and most faithful adaptation may not be perfect, but it is worlds beyond subsequent remakes like The Omega Man (1971) with Charlton Heston or the incredibly awful I Am Legend (2007). Matheson is one of the most important figures of ‘60s horror and penned a number of classic films, such as House of Usher (1960) and other films in Roger Corman and Vincent Price’s Poe cycle, The Devil Rides Out (1968) for Hammer, Legend of Hell House (1973), and episodes of the Twilight Zone, among many more. 

The Last Man On Earth has a somewhat complicated development history. A U.S.-Italian coproduction filmed in Rome, rights to I Am Legend were originally purchased by Hammer, who planned to adapt the novel in the U.K. When censors refused, Hammer sold the rights and there was a plan for German auteur Fritz Lang to direct the film in the U.S. Matheson wrote the first version of the script, but disliked it so much that he refused to attach his name to it. 

Vincent Price may have a reputation for hamming it up as often as possible, but here he is deadly serious and this is one of his finest roles. That seriousness is part of what makes this film hold up over time despite its flaws. Everything from the script to the set are practically stripped bare, relying almost entirely on Price’s performance and the horror of Matheson’s story to carry us to the bleak conclusion. 

Unfortunately there isn’t a whole lot going on with the film aside from Price’s performance. The script ignores a lot of the more interesting elements of Matheson’s novel, including key explanations of why the vampires are the way they are and how the plague spread. Here they are more like zombies than vampires and this is an obvious source for George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (Romero admitted to ripping it off). In Matheson’s book, the vampires are athletic and fast moving, but in the film they are slow and shuffling, lumbering after Morgan, and they don’t often feel like a serious threat. 

The beginning of the film is the most effective, where Morgan goes through his daily ritual and carries corpses to a pit at the edge of town where they are burned. Then he finds hiding vampires and stakes them. After the flashback things begin to unravel. Why does the vampire leader stand outside Morgan’s house and call his name all night? The sequence with the dog has a somewhat pathetic feel to it and the second half of the film has far more moments of accidental comedy than the first. 

Though Price is largely onscreen alone for most of the film, there are some other decent performances, primarily from Giacomo Rossi-Stuart (The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave, Kill Baby, Kill) as Ben. It’s a shame he wasn’t given more screen time.

Last Man on Earth is available on DVD in a number of cheap editions. Though it isn’t a perfect film, it is an interesting entry in ‘60s American horror that helped revitalized vampire cinema and added elements of sci-fi and the survival film. It is also an important precursor to the emerging zombie subgenre and comes recommended for that reason alone. 

Monday, October 21, 2013


Sidney Salkow, 1963
Starring: Vincent Price, Joyce Taylor, Sebastian Cabot, Brett Halsey

Based on the writings of Nathaniel Hawthorne, this film was a somewhat cheap attempt by United Artists to cash in on the Roger Corman and Vincent Price anthology film, Tales of Terror, which came out the year before for American International Pictures and was based on the worked by Edgar Allen Poe. Twice-Told Tales, named after a Hawthorne collection, is made up of three of his most famous stories: “Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment,” “Rappachini’s Daughter,” and “House of the Seven Gables.” Twenty years prior, a very young Vincent Price starred in a feature length adaptation of House of Seven Gables (1940) alongside George Sanders.

Directed by Sidney Salkow, who soon after worked with Price again on the superior Last Man on Earth, Twice Told Tales is an average film that is best viewed only by Price aficionados or anthology fanatics. The first story, "Dr. Heidegger's Experiment," tells of two men, Carl and Alex (Price), who discover a liquid that has the ability to restore life. They revive Carl's wife, who died years before on their wedding night due to a sudden illness. She is successfully awakened, but Carl comes to discover that Alex and his fiancee were involved in an affair. They fight and Alex accidentally kills Carl. The liquid, as it turns out, is not permanent. Can Alex reverse the damage?

The best or at least most beautiful segment, "Rappaccini's Daughter," is also one of my favorite Hawthorne tales. Rappaccini is a talented scientist with a beautiful daughter that he keeps hidden away from the rest of the world. A young man sees her over his garden wall and falls in love. He becomes determined for them to be together, but then discovers Rappaccini's horrible secret. His daughter is contaminated with a toxin and must regularly be given a potion to keep her alive and from harming anyone accidentally.

"House of the Seven Gables" is probably the most famous Hawthorne story, but worst segment of this anthology, as the plot is far too sprawling for a short film version. Pyncheon (Price) is suffering from a generations-old family curse that involves ghosts, revenge, and buried treasure. When he returns to his ancestral home, the titular House of the Seven Gables, his wife begins having dreams and memories that are not her own and Pyncheon thinks he finally holds the key to the treasure.

Though there are some entertaining and worthwhile moments, it’s difficult to recommend Twice-Told Tales. "Dr Heidegger's Experiment" is kind of slow and silly. "Rappaccini's Daughter" fails to capture the true tragedy or horror of the story and I would love to see a well made feature length version rather than this short. "House of the Seven Gables" was sadly outright boring. It is a dramatically cropped version of Hawthorne’s story and included bits and pieces from the novel. As a result, the plot suffers and doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. 

Though Hawthorne is great at New England Gothic, he isn't a horror writer, which this anthology expresses in spades. There is a lot of creepy atmosphere, but very little actual chills or scares. Twice-Told Tales is worth watching if you love Price, but his various performances are certainly the main attraction. He introduces each segment via narration and also stars in each. There are also performances from Sebastian Cabot (The Sword and the Stone, The Jungle Book), Brett Halsey (Return of the Fly), Beverly Garland (It Conquered the World, The Alligator People), and Richard Denning (Some Like It Hot). It does also boast some lovely and colorful cinematography from Ellis W. Carter (The Incredible Shrinking Man).

Twice-Told Tales is available as a single disc DVD or as part of the MGM Vincent Price Scream Legends DVD box set, where it is included as part of a double-sided disc with the superior Tales of Terror.

Thursday, October 17, 2013


Roger Corman, 1963
Starring: Vincent Price, Debra Paget, Lon Chaney Jr, Frank Maxwell, Leo Gordon

While The Haunted Palace is technically part of the Roger Corman and Vincent Price series of Edgar Allen Poe-themed horror films for American International Pictures, it is actually based on a story by H.P. Lovecraft. This represents some increasingly dazzling attempts by AIP to shoe horn any horror film starring Vincent Price into the Poe cycle. Based on “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward,” this is one of the finest collaborations between Corman and Price and remains one of the best Lovecraft adaptations ever made. (“The Haunted Palace” refers to a poem by Poe.)

Price is great, as always, in a double role here as Charles Dexter Ward and his sinister ancestor, Joseph Curwen. In the opening of the film, we are introduced to Curwen, who has been sacrificing local girls and doing strange things to them in the middle of the night. He is burned at the stake for witchcraft by the angry townsfolk. Over a hundred years later, his ancestor Charles Dexter Ward and Ward’s wife Anne inherit a crumbling mansion in the town of Arkham. They are met with open hostility from much of the townsfolk and come across other that are disturbingly deformed. The locals blame their genetic problems on the curse laid on them by Curwen, Ward's ancestor. They are unfriendly to Ward because of his direct physical resemblance to Curwen and they assume the worst. 

With the help of a sinister groundskeeper, Ward quickly becomes possessed by Curwen for increasingly longer amounts of time in order to exact his final plan: awakening the creature in the pit. Because they are shut up in the titular haunted mansion, his wife is the only one to witness this dramatic change. In her despair, she contacts the town doctor for help, assuming Ward is ill. She is unaware that his sickness could change Arkham - and the world - permanently. 

The Haunted Palace is actually one of Vincent Price's most sinister and mean-spirited films. Like the British witch-hunting film Witchfinder General (released in the U.S. as The Conqueror Worm, another desperate attempt from AIP to make it seem like a Poe film), Price's character is diabolically evil and devoid of the charm and humor that usually graces his horror efforts from this period. 

Surprisingly Lovecraftian and terrifying for an early '60s film, it comes highly recommended. There are some great performances and even Lon Chaney, Jr. manages to look foreboding while chewing the scenery as Curwen's servant. Debra Paget (Love Me Tender) is great as Ward’s wife. The make up and monsters look good and the score is wonderful. Scriptwriter Charles Beaumont (The Mask of the Red Death) has crafted some particularly great dialogue and there are some highly quotable lines that have to be heard to be believed. Even though I'm a seasoned Lovecraft fan, some fittingly insane things come out of Vincent Price's mouth.

Granted Beaumont’s script is not totally faithful to Lovecraft’s story and will disappoint some die hard fans, but keep in mind that this is the first official Lovecraft film adaptation. There are still a number of over the top references. There is necrophilia, other kinds of sexual aggression and perversion, namely breeding women with inhuman creatures, references to said beasties, as well as the Necronomicon, and much more. The ending is bleak and hopeless and in many ways, this represents some very fine early body horror.

The set is certainly the co-star of the film, creating the threatening New England town right out of Lovecraft's story with a healthy dose of Gothic horror for good measure. Thunder, mist, skeletal trees, the decrepit mansion, and the crumbling town of Arkham help make this film worth watching and the cinematography from Corman’s regular collaborate Floyd Crosby looks wonderful. The art director, Daniel Haller, actually went on to direct two more early Lovecraft adaptations for AIP: Die, Monster, Die and The Dunwich Horror

The Haunted Palace is available on a split DVD with Corman’s 1962 adaptation of The Tower of London, which makes no sense, as that is a mildly horror flavored historical drama. Regardless, the split is part of MGM's great Midnite Movies series. Certainly one of Corman's best films and is a treat for any horror fan.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

THE RAVEN (1963)

Roger Corman, 1963
Starring: Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff, Hazel Court, Jack Nicholson

One evening a raven pays a visit to sorcerer Erasmus Craven, but it turns out to be another wizard, Bedlo, who has been transformed by their common enemy, Dr. Scarabus. Craven helps Bedlo resume human form. He has been mourning his wife Lenore, but Bedlo reveals that he saw her at Scarabus’s castle. They decide to set out for the castle to put Scarabus in his place, but Craven’s servant is temporarily possessed and tries to attack them. Bedlo’s son Rexford arrives on the scene and agrees to serve as their coach driver. Craven’s daughter Estelle also accompanies them. During the trip, Rexford is also possessed, presumably by Scarabus, making their drive quite dangerous.

When they finally reach the castle, he gives them a false promise of friendship, but seemingly kills Bedlo when they duel. Meanwhile, Lenore is at the castle and torments Craven. She did not die two years ago, but merely left him for Scarabus. Bedlo is revealed to be alive and the four of them are tied up by Scarabus. Bedlo manages to escape in bird form and helps to save the day, setting the stage for a final battle between Craven and Scarabus. 

Horror legends Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, and Boris Karloff are all great fun as the three warring sorcerers. Price and Lorre have particularly good comic chemistry together and appeared in two other loosely Poe-themed films, anthology film Tales of Terror and horror comedy The Comedy of Terrors along with Boris Karloff. Hazel Court (The Curse of Frankenstein) puts in a good performance as Lenore, Price’s unfaithful and treacherous wife. She would return to work on more Corman-Price-Poe films, such as The Masque of the Red Death. Olive Sturgess (Requiem for a Gunfighter) is likable as Price’s daughter and a very young Jack Nicholson puts in a surprise appearance as Lorre’s son. He also previously worked with director Roger Corman on another early, low budget horror film, Little Shop of Horrors (1960). 

The script from sci-fi and horror legend Richard Matheson based on Poe’s poem “The Raven” is quite funny and includes a lot of silly Poe references. Matheson worked on a number of Corman’s Poe-themed films, but I think his finest horror comedy with Corman was the hilarious The Comedy of Terrors, which he wrote not long after The Raven. Many of Roger Corman’s regular collaborators worked on this Poe film, the fifth in a series of eight, such as composer Lex Baxter, who wrote the score, and accomplished cinematographer Floyd Crosby. 

This really is a ridiculous story and you should only seek out The Raven if you’re a horror-comedy devotee. The “magic” effects are completely absurd and feel incredibly dated, but only add to the comic appeal, if unintentionally. There are a lot of fake lasers, finger wiggling, and camera tricks, though Karloff, Price, and Lorre take things as seriously as they are able. The film’s strongest point is undoubtedly the charisma of its three lead actors and their obvious delight about working together. 

The Raven is available on a split DVD from MGM’s Midnite Movies alongside the similar, but superior The Comedy of Terrors. They make an excellent double bill if you’re in the mood for a night of ‘60s horror comedy and all Vincent Price fans will probably want to pick up this DVD before it goes out of print forever (like much of the Midnite Movies series). Also keep in mind that this has nothing to do with the previous version of The Raven (1935) costarring Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, though the earlier version is also loosely inspired by the Poe poem.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013


Reginald Le Borg, 1963
Starring: Vincent Price, Nancy Kovack, Lewis Martin, Ian Wolfe

"The vulture has eaten the pigeon; the wolf has eaten the lamb; the lion has devoured the sharp-tongued buffalo; man has killed the lion with an arrow, with spear, with gun-powder; but the Horla will make of man what man has made of the horse and of the ox; His chattel, His slave, and His food, but the mere power of His will. Woe to us!"
-Guy de Maupassant, “The Horla”

After the funeral of Magistrate Simon Cordier, a group of people read his diary and learn about the horrific events of the past few weeks. It seems that after Cordier condemned a murderer to death, the man died in prison from some sort of fit while trying to attack Cordier. Soon after this, Cordier meets what was really plaguing the man: an invisible, evil entity known as the Horla. It begins to psychologically torture and occasionally possess him, and he grows afraid that he’s going mad. For awhile, Cordier focuses on his hobby, sculpting, and meets a beautiful model named Odette that he gradually falls in love with. The time he spends with Odette brings him peace and he learns that she returns his feelings, despite the fact that she is married to a poor artist. 

The Horla convinces him that Odette is evil and manipulative. He struggles not to believe it, but is eventually possessed and kills Odette. Her husband, Paul, is the only obvious suspect and he is quickly arrested. His friend, Jeanne, pleads to Cordier to come forward and vouch for Paul’s innocence. Can he break free from the Horla’s influence long enough to do what’s right? 

Diary of a Madman was one of Price’s two films for Admiral Pictures along with Roger Corman’s remake of Tower of London. Based on a story by Guy de Maupassant, this is an obvious attempt to cash in on Price’s successful films for American International Pictures, most of which were based on the short fiction of Edgar Allen Poe. This is by no means Price’s best film and suffers from a dull, lackluster script and some awful dialogue. The Horla would have been more terrifying as a more subdued, subtle presence; instead it is represented by a booming voice that only haunts Cordier when he is alone.

There are some things to recommend, such as Price’s performance as Magistrate Cordier and Nancy Kovack (Jason and the Argonauts) as Odette. Though her character is portrayed as being money grubbing -- she is ready to leave her husband for Cordier seemingly just because he is richer -- there is still something likable and vulnerable about her. There are also decent supporting roles from Ian Wolfe (Mad Love, The Return of Dr. X) as Cordier’s suspicious servant, Chris Warfield (Teenage Seductress) as Odette’s downtrodden husband, Elaine Devry (The Boy Who Cried Werewolf) as the husband’s new love interest, and Stephen Roberts (At War With the Army), who is quite good as a police inspector and Cordier’s friend.

With art direction from Daniel Haller (The Dunwich Horror), the film does look beautiful, but director Reginald Le Borg (The Mummy’s Ghost, The Black Sheep) doesn’t do it a whole lot of favors. There are some nice horror moments, including a scene where Cordier discovers, to his horror, that he has murdered Odette by stabbing and decapitating her. The Horla has hidden her head under the clay bust of her that he’s been working on for weeks. 

Though this film bears relatively little in common with the source story, “The Horla,” horror fans may want to check it out. French writer Guy de Maupassant (1850-1893) is known as one of the creators of the short story and had a fascinating life. Though a lot of his fiction is concerned with the horrors of war, he occasionally delved into fantasy and the supernatural. His fiction also took a weirder turn towards the later years of his life, when syphilis began to overtake his brain and he became increasingly paranoid. Read “The Horla” here along with a few of his other stories.

Diary of a Madman is really only recommended for die-hard Price fans, but it is entertaining enough that anyone interested in ‘60s literary horror might also want to check it out. It is not available on DVD as far as I can tell, but there is a DVD-R on sale on Amazon and it’s floating around online. 

Monday, October 14, 2013


Roger Corman, 1962
Starring: Vincent Price, Michael Pate, Robert Brown, Charles Macaulay

Just before dying, King Edward IV names his brother, the Duke of Clarence, as Protector of the realm until his son, Price Edward, is old enough to claim the throne. But his brother Richard, Duke of Gloucester, has other ideas and quickly dispatches with Clarence by drowning him in a vat of wine and claims the protectorate for himself. His wife Anne encourages his behavior, which results in a reign of terror, torture, and murder. He tortures the Queen’s lady-in-waiting, Mistress Shore, so that she will say the two young princes are illegitimate. She refuses and he tortures her to death. The ghosts of his growing number of victims begin to haunt him and he fears he is going mad. He accidentally kills his wife and the duplicitous court physician helps him perform a magic ritual to banish the ghosts. 

Meanwhile, there is a plot to send the young princes to safety, but Richard gets wind of it and sends the boys to the Tower under the guise of protecting them. One conspirator, the Lady Margaret, is imprisoned and Richard has the young princes killed. He has a ceremony to crown himself King of England, but is increasingly disturbed by the ghosts. His enemies, Lord Stanley and the Earl of Richmond, raise an army against him, but the now completely mad Richard is convinced that he cannot be beaten in battle. 

Tower of London was one of two films that Vincent Price did for Admiral Pictures (the other was Diary of a Madman, based on a Guy de Maupassant story). On one hand, it is a break from his colorful horror films with American International Pictures, but it is also not able to live up to the superior Edgar Allen Poe series. This is a remake of the 1939 version of Tower of London, which starred Basil Rathbone as Richard III and Boris Karloff as his fictional executioner, and featured Price in a small role as the Duke of Clarence. That film was loosely based on historical documents and Shakespeare’s Richard III

The remake, however, is a far cry from both Shakespeare and English history. There is a focus on Richard’s growing madness and paranoia and there are many elements of Macbeth blended into the plot. Probably thanks to Price and director Roger Corman, the film has a strong horror focus. In addition to all the murder and torture, which includes killing a woman on the rack and murdering two children, Richard is constantly haunted by ghosts. There is a lot of Gothic imagery, namely a lovely scene with some real scares where Richard searches for his dead wife and either witnesses or images her rising from a coffin. And, of course, there is a scene where he and Tyrus, the court physician/magician perform a ritual to summon the ghosts and query about Richard’s future.

Sadly, these elements are not quite enough to make this an interesting film. The blend of Richard III and Macbeth is jarring and the more clever, charismatic elements of Richard’s personality are replaced with paranoia. He feels almost pathetic at times. Regardless, Vincent Price is likable as Richard, particularly during the conclusion where he is nearly frothing at the mouth as he wanders the battlefield alone, still convinced he is untouchable though he entire army has been slaughtered. The other actors are competent and professional, but not very memorable next to Price. Some notable exceptions are Michael Pate (Curse of the Undead), who is fittingly slimy as Richard’s deadly sidekick Ratcliffe and Richard Hale (A Thousand and One Nights) as the court physician, who lives long enough to get his revenge.

Tower of London also suffers from a very low budget. It was supposed to be shot in color, but was switched to black and white at the last minute due to budgetary constraints, much to Roger Corman’s surprise. The black and white actually does the cheap set a lot of favors and there is some lovely, gloomy cinematography. 

Overall I can only recommend this to die hard Price fans or anyone obsessed with Richard III. Oddly, Tower of London can be found on DVD from MGM’s Midnite Movies as part of a double feature with The Haunted Palace, one of Price and Corman’s horror films for AIP. 

Friday, October 11, 2013


Curtis Harrington, 1961
Starring: Dennis Hopper, Linda Lawson, Marjorie Cameron, Luana Anders

Though underrated director Curtis Harrington is not a particularly well known figure, he was associated with Roger Corman and made a number of horror and cult films, including Voyage to the Prehistorical Planet (1965), Queen of Blood (1966), What’s the Matter With Helen? (1971), Who Slew Auntie Roo? (1971), and others. Night Tide (1961) was his first feature and blends horror, fantasy, and noir in a subtle, tragic story about the doomed love between a sailor and a woman who may or may not be mermaid. This October Kino Lorber presents it for the first time on Blu-ray, where it has been lovingly restored. 

While on leave, a young sailor named Johnny (Dennis Hopper) meets a lovely woman, Mora (Linda Lawson), and is determined to get close to her. Though cold at first, she warms to his naive advances and they begin dating. He learns that she is obsessed with the sea and for her day job, she acts as a mermaid in the local carnival. Johnny also meets her employer, Captain Murdock (Gavin Muir), and learns other strange things about Mora: her last boyfriends suddenly died and she believes she is a mermaid, meant to return to the sea. 

A strange woman (Marjorie Cameron) occasionally appears and frightens Mora, speaking to her in a strange language. Johnny later follows this woman, though she disappears and he is led to Murdock’s home. He tells Johnny Mora’s story, about how he discovered her as a child on a small island and raised her. Murdock insists that Mora is dangerous and will kill by the light of the full moon. Mora has a strange episode in the middle of the night where she tries to return to the sea, but insists she is alright the next day. They go on a scuba diving trip far out into the ocean and she cuts Johnny’s breathing tube. He survives, but finds Mora’s lifeless body mysteriously back in the mermaid tank. After a confrontation with Murdock, he learns that Murdock was responsible for the previous murders, though things might be more mysterious than they seem. 

To many genre fans, Night Tide will not initially seem like a horror film with its numerous daytime shots, seaside, carnival setting full of jazz music, amusement rides, and ‘60s California vibe. Based on a story by director Curtis Harrington, this is essentially an oceanside reworking of Val Lewton and Jacques Tourneur’s subtle horror classic Cat People and the horror is mostly psychological, located in the symbols, shadows, sexual anxiety, and occult implications rather than in gore or scares. There is also a mythic, fairytale quality about Night Tide and a sense that though we don’t really know where the meandering plot is headed, things will not end well. 

Harrington met artist Marjorie Cameron, who plays the mysterious woman, back when he worked with the great Kenneth Anger on Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome (1954). He made a documentary about her, The Wormwood Star, which relates part of the strange story of her life. She was married to scientist and occult figure Jack Parsons and both were devoted followers of Aleister Crowley. (To learn more about their bizarre and fascinating lives together, check out Sex and Rockets: The Occult World of Jack Parsons by John Carter.) The occult themes here are subtle, but effective, relying on a dreamlike, mythic quality rather than open displays of magic, though the film boasts what is possibly the only realistic Tarot card reading scene in horror cinema. 

Dennis Hopper fans will definitely want to check this out, as he plays against type in one of his first starring roles as the naive, nervous, and earnest Johnny. Though Hooper (R.I.P.) became known for his strange, violent, and often villainous roles, there is something innocent and almost fumbling in his performance as Johnny and he is perfect for the role. The lovely Linda Lawson (Apache Rifles and a lot of television) has perhaps her biggest film role here, but is very memorable as the tragic, nymph-like Mora. As with Simone Simon in Cat People, she is often framed partially in the shadows or in symbolically suggestive shots, looking beautiful, but mysterious and somewhat threatening. 

Roger Corman regular Luana Anders (Pit and the Pendulum, Hopper’s Easy Rider) is likable as Johnny’s secondary love interest and almost manages not to be overshadowed by Lawson. Gavin Muir (The House of Fear) is somewhat forgettable as Captain Murdock and it’s a shame he wasn’t given a more substantial role. Though the ending (where he admits to at least emotionally abusing Mora) features Muir significantly, it would have had a bigger impact if we had been able to witness more of this behavior throughout the film.

Night Tide was newly remastered in 1080p HD with an aspect ratio of 1.66:1 from original 35mm elements by the Academy Film Archive, supervised by Curtis Harrington, and with support from The Film Foundation. While Vilis Lapenieks (Little Shop of Horrors, Queen of Blood) is credited as the cinematographer, Harrington later revealed that Roger Corman regular Floyd Crosby also did some work on the film. In addition to many of Corman’s horror films like House of Usher and X: The Man With the X-Ray Eyes, Crosby also shot classics like High Noon, From Here to Eternity, and many more. Regardless of who is responsible, the cinematography is fantastic and looks wonderful on Blu-ray. The inky blanks from many of the noir-like, shadowy nighttime shots have excellent contrast and the daytime shots are well-balanced and not washed out. There is no obvious age damage or blemishes.

The 2.0 Mono track sounds clear and sharp and there is no distracting hissing or popping. Dialogue, sound effects, and the score are all well mixed. The jazzy score from accomplished conductor and composer David Raksin (Laura) is one of the film’s finest points and adds something to the mood that again resists Night Tide’s classification as a horror film. The score also helps solidify that we are watching a film shot smack in the middle of the Beat movement in California. 

There aren’t a lot of extras included with this release, though there is a wonderful commentary from Curtis Harrington and Dennis Hopper that was taken from the original DVD release. There is a also a two part interview with Harrington from 1987, as well as the original theatrical trailer. Night Tide is not for everyone, but is a criminally forgotten, magical little film. Fans of Dennis Hopper and of more subtle, symbolic horror will definitely want to check it out. As always, Kino has done an admirable job with this Blu-ray release and here’s hoping that they give the same attention to some of Curtis Harrington’s other neglected horror films. 

Thursday, October 10, 2013


Jacques Tourneur, 1964
Starring: Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Basil Rathbone, Boris Karloff

“Well, it’s better in the dark.”
“What is? Decapitation?”

A penny pinching, alcoholic undertaker, Waldo Trumbull, has been scamming his clients for years by reusing coffins. He verbally abuses his opera singing wife and has married her only to take over her father’s business. Her father is senile and doddering and Trumbull regularly tries to poison him. He is also abusive to his assistant, Felix Gillie, and is unaware that Gillie is secretly in love with his wife. The building’s landlord, Mr. Black, demands the long overdue rent from Trumbull and he and Gillie kill a client and later happen to show up on scene to get some business. After the widow absconds to Europe without paying a dime, Trumbull decides they only have one option left: to kill Mr. Black. Unfortunately for them, Mr. Black won’t stay dead. 

The Comedy of Terrors was filmed at the same time that Roger Corman and Vincent Price were making a series of Edgar Allen Poe themed films for American International Pictures. Many of those personalities returned for this horror comedy, including Price, Peter Lorre (Tales of Terror, The Raven), Basil Rathbone (Tales of Terror), Boris Karloff (The Raven), screenwriter Richard Matheson, composer Les Baxter, and cinematographer Floyd Crosby.

Price is at his best here as Trumbull, basically anti-hero, delivering some truly amazing dialogue and insulting every other person in the cast at seemingly every opportunity. He and Lorre first appeared together in Tales of Terror, where they played similar, but opposite roles. In the “Black Cat” segment of that film, Lorre was the drunkard who neglected and abused his wife and Price wound up seducing her, but here they swap roles to great effect. Their comedic chemistry is excellent, particularly when paired with Rathbone (in a different segment of Tales of Terror with Price) and Karloff (who worked with both Price and Lorre on The Raven). Their height disparity is also regularly played up for comedic effect - Price was 6’4” and Lorre was a diminutive 5’3”. 

In addition to the title, which is a play on Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors, in case you were unfamiliar, the film’s numerous references to Shakespeare are particularly delightful considering that most of them surround Shakespearean actor Basil Rathbone. He is absolutely delightful, running about the set in a scarlet dressing gown, quoting Macbeth with gusto, and maniacally wielding a rapier (among other things), and easily holds his own alongside Price and Lorre. He nearly steals the film from Price and Lorre even though he isn’t given half as much screen time and is bizarrely billed lower than the cat. 

Though Karloff is somewhat neglected, he’s a nice addition as Price’s ancient and senile father in law and has a few memorable scenes and definitely gets the last laugh. He was originally supposed to play Mr. Black, but due to his ill health and the physical nature of the role, had to switch with Rathbone. Joyce Jameson (The Apartment, Death Race 2000) manages to hold her own as the screeching Amaryllis Trumbull, though her sole gag is her awful singing, which gets a little tiresome. 

While Jacques Tourneur didn’t make many comic films, he does an excellent job here, particularly with the series of scenes where Black is supposed to be dead but keeps waking up. In the hands of a less capable director or actors, this would get old fast, but instead just becomes more and more hilarious. Another example is a scene where Price and Lorre break into a home to claim their first victim. You can see the comic coming miles away (they knock over a series of busts on a staircase when they are trying to be quiet), but that doesn’t prevent it from being funny. Tourneur made some beautiful black and white films for RKO with producer Val Lewton (Cat People being the prime example) and surprisingly The Comedy of Terrors also looks wonderful, full of lush colors, elaborate sets, and some deft cinematography. He and Price would work together again on another film for AIP, City in the Sea aka War Gods of the Deep

I honestly can’t say enough good things about The Comedy of Terrors and it is one of my favorite Vincent Price films and one of my favorite horror comedies. With a script from the wonderful Richard Matheson, a combination of physical gags, black comedy, Shakespeare, rapid fire dialogue, and a little horror, the result is one of the most enjoyable AIP films of the ‘60s. It is available on DVD alongside The Raven as part of MGM’s wonderful Midnite Movies series. 


Roger Corman, 1962
Starring: Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Basil Rathbone, Maggie Pierce, Debra Paget

Following on the heels of House of Usher and Pit and the Pendulum, Tales of Terror is director Roger Corman and star Vincent Price’s third Edgar Allen Poe themed film in an ongoing series. Eschewing the serious, almost tragic tone, well-paced horror, and atmospheric style of the first two films, Tales of Terror is an anthology film made up of three stories that horrific, but with a dash of comedy and more than a little campiness. 

In typical Corman fashion, all three shorts are based on the Poe stories, "Morella," "The Black Cat," and "The Facts in the Case of M. Vandemar." In "Morella" the young Lenora returns home to visit her father (Price), who is drunk and depressed in his decaying mansion. He is crazed and blames Lenora for her mother's death. She discovers, to her horror, that he has kept her mother's corpse in the bedroom the entire time. Her father becomes more sympathetic when he realizes she has returned home because of a terminal illness, but before they can properly reunite, her mother's ghost, the titular Morella, comes back to claim her revenge.

"The Black Cat" is obviously a more famous story and is the center piece of the anthology. M. Herringbone (the wonderful Peter Lorre) loves alcohol, but hates his wife and her cat. He begins a competitive friendships with wine aficionado Fortunado (Price), who becomes smitten with Herringbone's wife. They begin a secret affair, which doesn't sit well with Herringbone, who walls them up in his wine cellar (which is actually taken from Poe’s beloved story "The Casque of Amontillado"). Suspicion falls on Herringbone when a strange screaming emerges from the cellar.

In "The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar," Price’s character is dying of an agonizing illness. A hypnotist (Rathbone) puts him under to lessen his suffering, but then he gets stuck in the world between the living and the dead. The hypnotist refuses to put things right and keeps Valdemar's decaying body completely under his control. However, he goes too far when he tries to steal Valdemar's faithful wife.

Though Tales of Terror received mixed reviews and there are some dull moments, overall it is very enjoyable and it’s nice that Corman took a break from the similar tone in House of Usher and Pit and the Pendulum. Price and Lorre are obviously having a great time here - the whole film is worth watching for their drinking contest - though be prepared for some very mean spirited moments. Poe frequently wrote about the sheer nastiness of humanity and it is certainly on display in this film. Corman should be given some credit, because I imagine it’s quite difficult to translate Poe to the screen. His fiction is full of nasty, unsympathetic characters whose selfish actions have tragic consequences in this world and the next. If you enjoy this kind of moral blackness, you will be more than entertained. 

"The Black Cat" is easily the best in the anthology and Lorre and Price are very funny in it. Their obvious enthusiasm working together is infectious, though Lorre was supposedly at a low point in his life during production. After years of success in pre-war Germany, he was basically forced to play caricatures of himself after emigrating to the U.S. to escape Nazi Germany. Similarly, Basil Rathbone, who had worked with Price on Tower of London (1939), was allegedly very bitter by this point. He had gotten his start on the stage as a well known Shakespearean actor, but made his fame starring in dozens of films as Sherlock Holmes. If you're a Holmes fan, check some of them out. While Rathbone may have resented being pigeonholed, he is an excellent Holmes, certainly one of the best in cinema. 

Tales of Terror is well shot and has good production values. By this point Corman obviously knew how to make the best of what he had to work with and it really shows throughout the entire Poe series he did for American International Pictures. Of course, I am a little biased, because I’m a sucked for horror anthology films. A lot of them are certified crap, but I will watch basically any of them. Tales of Terror is one of Roger Corman's few attempts at this subgenre and he does it quite well. It might be a little slow and sensational for modern horror film fans, but is still a pleasant delight. Of course, it's hard to say no to a script by the great Richard Matheson and with lots of murder and ghostly mayhem and what more could you want from an early '60s horror anthology?

Overall Tales of Terror is a fun ride, but is not the best Corman-Price collaboration. It’s is available as a single disc DVD or as part of the MGM Vincent Price Scream Legends box set, where it is on a double-sided disc with the Nathaniel Hawthorne themed anthology Twice Told Tales.