Shock (1946)

Shock (1946) movie poster

director Alfred L. Werker
viewed: 4/20/2017

Shock is a film noir starring Vincent Price and Lynn Bari, set supposedly in San Francisco and the Bay Area, though not a frame of the film looks to have been shot on location.

The “Shock” of the title befalls a young woman (Anabel Shaw) who has come to the city to meet her husband returning from WWII. Her husband, though, is running late, and in a distressed state of mind, she witnesses a murder (by candlestick) in a neighboring room and is later found catatonic. Conveniently enough, the murderer is also a crack psychiatrist and is also Vincent Price, who takes her to his sanatorium for treatment. Only his conniving nurse/lover (Bari), a true femme fatale, thinks they should brainwash or kill her or just call her crazy.

On the edgier side of the style and genre is an early dream sequence of Shaw’s that involves some surreal imagery and is kind of interesting. Outside of that, it’s neither the richest or the poorest noir you’ll ever see, though it remains consistently interesting throughout its concise 70 minutes.

Films in the public domain aren’t always in the best shape, but Shock is certainly worthwhile. And the poster is pretty sweet.

The Tomb of Ligeia (1964)

The Tomb of Ligeia (1964) movie poster

director Roger Corman
viewed: 03/10/2017

Poe-Corman-Price.

The Tomb of Ligeia is Roger Corman possibly sparing less expense than normal. The result is a very aesthetically pleasing film, nicely shot by cinematographer Arthur Grant, and using the English locations of Castle Acre Priory as well as Stonehenge and others to maximum advantage. Even the studio-based scenes are good-looking.

Vincent Price plays Verden Fell, a man hung up on his dead wife Ligeia so much that he really believes she could still be alive. When he falls for Rowena (a lovely and game Elizabeth Shepherd) who is also Ligeia as well, obsession, hypnotism, madness, and necrophilia are teased out.

For all that going for it, it’s not as compelling as some other Poe-Corman-Price pictures.

I was also struck by how many times that poor cat was obviously tossed at someone.

Witchfinder General (1968)

Witchfinder General (1968) movie poster

director Michael Reeves
viewed: 10/27/2014

Michael Reeves’ Witchfinder General, a.k.a. The Conqueror Worm is another of that tight list of Britain’s best horror films.  Interestingly, it’s not so much a horror film really in the least, but rather a pretty gory historical tale with some basis in fact and some in fiction.

The “Witchfinder General” was a real man, a Matthew Hopkins, who during the English Civil war (1642-1651), was  “believed to have been responsible for the deaths of 300 women”, in the name of purging the country of witchcraft. Reeves’ Witchfinder General was based on Roland Bassett’s novel of the same title from 1966.  While it’s a fiction, there is aspects of fact beneath the story.

The film stars Vincent Price, who was in his late 50’s at the time, playing a role of a much younger man.  Apparently Reeves wasn’t happy with the studio selection, originally planning to have Donald Pleasance in the role.  Who knows how that would have turned out.  Who knows as well about Reeves, who died the following year from an accidental overdose at the age of 27.

Price plays the corrupt and powerful Hopkins, who with his sidekick John Stearne (Robert Russell), traipses around the eastern part of England, collecting money from villages with accused witches, testing them by various brutal tortures, and then hanging them or burning them alive.  He’s dirty from his hair to his toenails and Stearne is just the man for the doling out of sadistic cruelty.

It’s horror, but real life horror, not a thing supernatural about it.

Much has been made of Reeves’ approach to the English countryside, shooting the bucolic scenes rather lovingly in stark contrast to the tortures being exercised against the innocent.  And it is a fine film, very dark and pessimistic, but apt to its subject matter.

I’d never really “enjoyed” the movie when I’d seen it as a kid.  It’s kind of a downer.  And while Price does play murderous brutes and monsters in other films, Hopkins is such a callow and beastly character without any charms or redemptions (probably accurately enough).  But it’s not a “monster” movie, and in some ways, like I said, it’s not really a horror film either.

I’d seen it again back about 20 years ago, but it’s been a while.  It’s another of those “quick, it’s about to be dropped from Netflix streaming!” movies, but it dovetailed with my Halloween Horror Fest too.  And it’s Vincent Price.

Madhouse (1974)

Madhouse (1974) movie poster

director Jim Clark
viewed: 08/30/2014

My son Felix has taken a particular interest in Vincent Price, I think in response to my story about how I was surprised by two young co-workers who hadn’t heard of him and vowed that I would make sure that my kids knew him.  He’s been saying since last year that he wanted to go as Vincent Price for Halloween and I was telling him that I’m not sure exactly how that would play out.

I have had a couple of Vincent Price movies queued up on Netflix streaming and though Madhouse (1974) wasn’t considered one of his better films, it did have that appealingly odd skull-face make-up that you see there on the poster.

It’s a semi-meta-movie about a one-time big horror film star whose fiancee was beheaded after an argument and the seeming similarity of the murder to crimes from his films.  What makes this even more meta than that is that this film was produced by Amicus Productions and AIP, so the film clips of Price’s character’s movies are film clips of Price’s films like ” The Haunted Palace (1963), The Pit and the Pendulum (1961), Tales of Terror (1962), The Raven (1963), Scream and Scream Again (1970), and House of Usher (1960)” per Wikipedia.

It’s neither dire nor great.  Apparently it was not terribly successful and ended up being the final nail in the coffin of the horror series from that company.  Indeed, the horror genre was a-changing around that time, leading way for the slasher film and blood and gore effects.  The old guard of great horror film legends was slowly on its wane.

Felix agreed that it wasn’t a masterpiece but I think he enjoyed it too.  It also features Peter Cushing and has a number of little things to its credit.  Pretty good poster, too.

Tales of Terror (1962)

Tales of Terror (1962) movie poster

director Roger Corman
viewed: 05/18/2014

Roger Corman’s Tales of Terror may not be the highlight of his “Poe cycle” but it has its charms.  It’s got Vincent Price in every segment and Peter Lorre in the second and Basil Rathbone in the third.  The episodes are “Morella”,  a”The Black Cat” mash-up “The Cask of Amontillado”, and finally “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar”.

The Peter Lorre one is amusing, played for comedy in contrast to the more serious and spooky other segments.  Lorre is quite good.  He is both the caricature of Lorre that showed up in cartoons and also much more than that, the real, talented actor that he was.  Quite the classic.

It has charms, certainly.  I think I recall finding it kind of dull as a kid.  And surely, that is understandable.  Nothing too exciting happens until the end, the last segment when Price comes back from the dead and then decomposes rapidly all over his tormentor Rathbone.

Edward Scissorhands (1990)

Edward Scissorhands (1990) movie poster

director Tim Burton
viewed: 11/08/2013

It’s kind of funny but I think I hit the nail rather squarely on the head in my last writing about Edward Scissorhands.  The only thing I would add really on this viewing, which was with the kids, is that it’s a bit more disappointing on further review.  The kids weren’t terribly excited about it either.

Striving for movie magic, the ice-sculpting scene is highly contrived and non-magical.  And thus, the ending, playing up this snow in Suburbia eternal fairy tale also is flat.

The biggest problems are that the social critique is both so harsh and so shallow that it doesn’t really impact one the way that it’s intended.  As cartoonish as the suburbanites are in their pastel painted homes, cars, and clothes, their fascination with the strange and unusual that quickly turns to disdain and hatred is all as hollow as it is trite.

Diane Wiest and Alan Arkin add some bland humanity and charm, but I see the film as almost as misguided as the idea of putting a blond wig on Winona Ryder.

It would have been interesting to have toned the story a la the television show Freaks and Geeks, with more retro sentimentality than modern fairy tale.  Oh well.

The Tingler (1959)

The Tingler (1959) movie poster

director William Castle
viewed: 10/25/2013

Our Halloween horror fest got a shot in the arm from TCM’s available On Demand movies.  So many great ones, too many to choose from.  But when one of my all-time favorites was sitting there, just waiting to be watched, I convinced the kids to sit through a second feature. (I had just managed to terrify them with Night of the Living Dead (1968)), I wasn’t too sure how they would feel about another movie that I said was totally awesome.

As I’ve noted before, The Tingler was a personal favorite from childhood.  Exactly the kind of thing I really wanted to share with the kids.

William Castle’s strange and silly approach to horror makes for good fun.  And this film sucked the kids in pretty quickly.

Felix aptly noted that the shot of the red blood coming out of the tap in the bathroom (in an otherwise black-and-white film) was particularly effective.  And afterwards Felix said that he wanted to go as Vincent Price for Halloween.  Though I’m pretty sure he’s not going to pull that off, I do have do note the success that I’ve had in making sure that my kids know who Vincent Price is (something I made a conscious decision to work on a couple of years back.)  Even the idea that Felix would want to go as Vincent Price for Halloween is a particular coup on that front.

I did explain to them about Castle’s employment of electric buzzers in seats at theaters so that the blackout scenes made a bit more sense to them.  They were most amused by this.

It’s a most amusing movie.

Dr. Phibes Rises Again (1972)

Dr. Phibes Rises Again (1972) movie poster

director Robert Fuest
viewed: 10/26/2012

The flipside of the disc of The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971) was its 1972 sequel, Dr. Phibes Rises Again.  It’s odd enough that the first film had enough steam to produce a sequel, and it’s even more odd that there were any number of Dr. Phibes films plotted and planned to various degrees over the years.

Dr. Phibes Rises Again is not nearly as good or clever as The Abominable Dr. Phibes, like a typical sequel, rushed into production, corners cut, ideas more half-baked.  The sequel does bring back Vincent Price and a number of the comic cast of officers pursuing the criminal.  Phibes now isn’t seeking revenge anymore, but instead is planning to resurrect his dead wife via some Egyptian mythos.  People wind up getting killed in a variety of unusual ways, mainly because they are getting in the way.  Particularly Darrus Biederbeck (Robert Quarry), who is also pursuing the same solution for extending to eternal life.

It’s amusing.  Probably the best thing one could say about it.  The camp and comedy carry on, but just to a lesser degree of success.  Still, if you’re going to watch one Dr. Phibes movie, you might as well watch them both, right?

The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971)

The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971) movie poster

director Robert Fuest
viewed: 10/26/2012

Earlier this year, I decided that it was important for my kids to know who Vincent Price was.  And as October/Halloween is always our annual horror film fest (of sorts), what better time than now to explore some more of the great Mr. Price’s films?

The Abominable Dr. Phibes is an odd film and perhaps an odd film to choose to watch with the kids but when I was a kid, I had a board game called “Creature Features” which was like Monopoly but you bought “classic” monster movies and instead of houses and hotels, you got the stars of those films.  And while most of the films were true classics, like Frankenstein (1931), Dracula (1931), or The Wolf-Man (1941), The Abominable Dr. Phibes was on there too.  And it took a long time for me to finally see it.

It’s odd because it isn’t part of any “classic” pantheon, and it’s odd because it’s just plain odd.  It’s a revenge film.  Dr. Phibes cleverly murders his wife’s 9 (or 10) doctors who failed to save her life.  What’s “clever” about these murders is that they play out via the 10 plagues of Egypt: boils, bats, frogs, blood, hail, rats, beasts, locusts, the death of the first born, and ultimately darkness.  And Rube Goldberg or even MacGyver would be impressed with his lugubrious means to his end.

Phibes himself is odd.  Vincent Price appears in an odd wig, and is only able to speak by plugging a cord into the side of his neck, booming out on a Victrola.  He has a beautiful mute assistant and a bizarrely Art Deco home fitted with life-sized automatons who perform music.  It’s only revealed in the very end that his human face hides a mucky skeletal head, the result of an automobile accident (in which he was thought to have died).

There is a very camp sensibility in the film.  Not just the absurdities, but even Scotland Yard officers on the case are portrayed as comically bumbling buffoons. Joseph Cotton is the other big name in the cast, the main doctor on Mrs. Phibes’ case.  He’s the only one who plays the whole thing “straight”.

And the other funny thing is that Phibes isn’t entirely justified in his scheme.  It’s not clear that the doctors did anything wrong, that they had any power to keep her alive.  But it’s with Phibes that the audience is set to identify.  And while some of his schemes are gruesome, they are also clever and kind of fun.

The film was a minor success in its day and led to a sequel, Dr. Phibes Rises Again (1972), which we watched right after. It also, I believe, inspired another Vincent Price film that I remember liking called Theater of Blood (1973) in which Price plays an actor who kills his critics according to the seven deadly sins.

The kids enjoyed the film.  As did I.  It’s not really scary.  More funny.  And fun.

House on Haunted Hill (1959)

House on Haunted Hill (1959) movie poster

director William Castle

viewed: 04/13/2012

A brief conversation with some 20-something co-workers brought shock to my ears.  I mentioned how another (older) co-worker had met Vincent Price and was commenting that I thought that was a very cool person to be able to say that one had met.  The crickets and the tumbleweeds and the blank expressions told me that these two women had never heard of Vincent Price.  I vowed that my children shall know Vincent Price.  They shall not be ignorant of the classic, classy Hollywood star/horror film icon.

We of course have watched a couple of other Vincent Price films together, mostly in the context of watching a lot of classic horror films.  We’d watched The Fly (1958) a couple of years back, and more recently had watched House of Wax (1953) (which Clara was really into), but I hadn’t harped upon the point of who the actors are.  I usually don’t, except in certain instances.  But after my little conversation with those two young women, I decided concertedly that we will know our Vincent Price.

Actually, I’d been considering starting with The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971), inspired in part from the recent passing of its director Robert Fuest, but I thought better to go back to the 1950’s again, early Price.  And I’ve had the film House on Haunted Hill in my queue for ages anyway.  It has the double pleasure of not just being a Vincent Price film but a William Castle film, though I have to say that I’m still much more a fan of the pair’s The Tingler (1959), so maybe we’ll have to watch that together at some point too.

House on Haunted Hill is a lesser effort.  Price plays millionaire Frederick Loren, who invites an odd cast of characters, that he claims to have never met, to spend the night in a supposedly haunted house, offering $10,000 to anyone who survives the night.  The story is really about his own weird relationship with his wife, played by the very alluring Carol Ohlmert, with whom he has a rather openly hateful relationship.  As the story starts to unfold, it’s unclear if it’s the supernatural at work or what, and it’s a little unclear which way the film will go.

Clara found it pretty scary.  I talked to her about how we’ve seen some of these haunted house tropes played out in other things we’ve seen, suggesting that there is usually some twist to the plot.  Still, she found it freaky.  Not to say that she didn’t like it, but she said it was very scary.  Felix was away so it was just Clara and I. In the original release of the film, Castle mounted skeletons in the theaters that he ran out over the audiences’ heads at an appropriate time.  The film had a level of camp to it for me that made it pretty funny without being brilliantly so.

There are a few MacGuffins in the film that are sort of inexplicable if you spend too much time thinking about it.  A couple of gory heads that appear for moments of shock value.  They don’t really make sense if you think about it too much.  Best not do that then.  It’s fun stuff.  If Clara found it frightening, I’m sure that The Tingler would be much, much more scary.  It’s also much better.  I’ll have to navigate their appreciation for horror versus their actual level of fear.  I don’t recall finding it all that scary myself as a kid.