Film Review: The Black Cat (1934)

Also known as: The Vanishing Body
Release Date: May 7th, 1934
Directed by: Edgar G. Ulmer
Written by: Peter Ruric, Edgar G. Ulmer
Based on: The Black Cat by Edgar Allan Poe
Music by: Heinz Eric Roemheld
Cast: Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, John Carradine (uncredited)

Universal Pictures, 65 Minutes

Review:

“You must be indulgent of Dr. Verdegast’s weakness. He is the unfortunate victim of one of the commoner phobias, but in an extreme form. He has an intense and all-consuming horror of cats.” – Hjalmar Poelzig

The Black Cat is a film that fits under the Universal Monsters banner, even if it was a one-off and not apart of their bigger series like Dracula and Frankenstein. But it does feature the stars of both those franchises: Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff.

The film was also directed by Edgar G. Ulmer, a guy who wouldn’t reach superstardom in Hollywood but would direct some pretty notable pictures and make a few worthwhile film-noirs.

The best part about this film is it puts Lugosi and Karloff together and not as creatures or men in heavy makeup or prosthetics. They actually get to play off of each other as humans, Karloff being the mad man and Lugosi being a heroic doctor that still exudes his Count Dracula vibe.

The name of the film comes from an Edgar Allan Poe short story. Within the film, it is a reference to Lugosi’s character and his abnormal fear of cats.

Karloff plays Hjalmar Poelzig, a difficult name to pronounce. He is an Austrian architect. Once our heroes, a newlywed couple and Lugosi’s Dr. Werdegast meet on a train, they are stuck together for the rest of the film, most of which takes place at Poelzig’s lavish and futuristic looking home. In fact, the interiors resemble a film-noir set from the late 1940s. The cinematography is also similar and maybe this is what led to Ulmer directing film-noir a decade later.

The Black Cat isn’t a great film but it is a better than decent 1930s horror flick that stars the two biggest horror icons of the time. It is a pretty significant picture for films of the genre and the era.

Film Review: Tales of Terror (1962)

Release Date: July 4th, 1962
Directed by: Roger Corman
Written by: Richard Matheson
Based on: MorellaThe Black CatThe Facts In the Case of M. Valdemar by Edgar Allan Poe
Music by: Les Baxter
Cast: Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Basil Rathbone, Debra Paget, Joyce Jameson

American International Pictures, 89 Minutes 

Review:

“Haven’t I convinced you of my sincerity yet? I’m genuinely dedicated to your destruction.” – Montresor Herringbone

Director Roger Corman and actor Vincent Price collaborated on several motion pictures for American International in the 1960s. Most of their movies were adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe’s literary work. They also dabbled in the works of H.P. Lovecraft and Nathaniel Hawthorne but it was the poems and stories of Poe that drove most of their collaborations.

This film, is a rare one, as it is an anthology piece that covers three Poe inspired tales. Traditionally, Corman picked a Poe title and turned it into one solid feature. Tales of Terror was a bit more experimental and was able to showcase famous Poe stories that wouldn’t have worked as a 90 minute feature, The Cask of Amontillado for instance, which was mixed into this film’s second story, The Black Cat.

Vincent Price is the only actor to star in all three stories. However, Peter Lorre really steals the show as Montresor Herringbone. He is only in The Black Cat, the middle and longest of the three stories, but it is one of the greatest comedic performances in Lorre’s career. Then again, every time Lorre played the comic relief opposite of Price, the results were always fantastic.

Price also works with Basil Rathbone, another horror legend. We also get to see Debra Paget and Joyce Jameson, two women who would work with Price and Corman again.

Tales of Terror is a solid outing by Corman and Price and it has the same tone and vibe as their other Poe adaptations. The anthology format makes it the most unique and different of these pictures. Plus, it has two really good stories, out of the three. The first one, my least favorite, is still entertaining though, and it is also the shortest.

This is definitely a picture worth checking out if you like Price, Corman or Poe. It is one of the best in their series of these pictures.

Film Review: The Torture Chamber of Dr. Sadism (1967)

Also known as: The Blood Demon, The Snake Pit and the Pendulum, Castle of the Walking Dead
Release Date: October 5th, 1967 (West Germany)
Directed by: Harald Reinl
Written by: Manfred R. Kohler
Based on: The Pit and the Pendulum by Edgar Allan Poe
Music by: Peter Thomas
Cast: Christopher Lee, Karin Dor, Lex Barker, Carl Lange

Constantin Film, Hemisphere Pictures, 80 Minutes

Review:

“The blood is the life.” – Count Frederic Regula

I love Christopher Lee, that is not a secret. However, he is only in the opening sequence of this film and then doesn’t appear again until the last twenty minutes. That being said, the film isn’t a complete waste.

All the main actors are pretty decent with their material, although the material isn’t great. The story is based off of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Pit and the Pendulum and we have also had a few adaptations of that story by the time this came out. This version is German and it takes some big liberties, which do set it apart.

For one, the story has a snake pit instead of just some long drop into nothingness. Also, the madman is pretty much a resurrected ghost – played by Lee in chalky white makeup. Plus, there is a whole horse and carriage journey that takes up the bulk of the film, until the people arrive at the haunted castle.

The sets look cheap and resembles a low budget spook house from the 1960s more than a real scary horror filled fortress. But hey, it still looks pretty cool and the wall paintings are neat. Also, the lighting is striking and vibrant and the film has a subtle giallo presentation to it.

Christopher Lee overtakes the scenes that he is in but there aren’t many. The leading lady had a very strong Barbara Steele vibe but wasn’t quite Steele. The main fellow was okay but nothing exciting. The guy who plays the priest/bandit was really fun though.

This was one of the few Christopher Lee films of the 1960s that I had not seen. Being that it was available on Amazon Video for Prime members gave me the opportunity to finally check it out. While I’m glad I did, it really isn’t anything that people who aren’t die hard Lee fans will enjoy.

Film Review: The Haunted Palace (1963)

Release Date: August 28th, 1963 (Cincinnati)
Directed by: Roger Corman
Written by: Charles Beaumont
Based on: The Case of Charles Dexter Ward by H.P. Lovecraft, The Haunted Palace poem by Edgar Allan Poe
Music by: Ronald Stein
Cast: Vincent Price, Debra Paget, Lon Chaney Jr., Elisha Cook Jr.

American International Pictures, 87 Minutes 

Review:

“You do not know the extent of my appetite, Simon. I’ll not have my fill of revenge until this village is a graveyard. Until they have felt, as I did, the kiss of fire on their soft bare flesh. All of them. Have patience my friends. Surely, after all these years, I’m entitled to a few small amusements.” – Charles Dexter Ward

Out of all the Roger Corman and Vincent Price collaborations based on the works of Edgar Allan Poe, my favorite is this film, The Haunted Palace. There are several reasons for this, as it may seem like an unorthodox choice. For one, despite the title being taken from an Edgar Allan Poe work, the story is actually based off of H.P. Lovecraft’s The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. Also, this was the first Vincent Price film I ever saw. Additionally, as much as I love the work of Poe, I am a bigger fan of H.P. Lovecraft, who gave us a rich and exciting mythos all his own along with a touch of insanity.

Roger Corman wanted to try something different after the success of his Poe films and he chose this H.P. Lovecraft tale. Against his wishes however, American International branded it with the name of a Poe poem in order to capitalize off of the success of the earlier films. They also ended the movie with Price narrating an excerpt from Poe.

The Lovecraft story gives this film a slightly different vibe than the other films in the massive Corman-Price-Poe series. Frankly, I think that the cinematography is the best in the series and the music is absolutely stellar. It relies less on some of Corman’s trippy effects, except for when a monster shows up in a pit, and it actually showcases Corman and his team’s talent in making the most out of their limited resources.

For one, the sets of the film, especially the village, were quite small. Corman shot a lot of these scenes using the trick of forced perspective but it comes across pretty flawlessly. Also, the matte paintings were fabulous and set the tone of the film. The haunted palace on the cliff in the background of the village was absolutely spectacular and emitted a feeling of cold dread.

The palace set seemed pretty grandiose. The scene where Debra Pagent and Frank Maxwell walk from the front door, through the hall and into the great living space of the old castle was a brilliantly done tracking shot that also used force perspective to make the set feel massive.

The painting of the sinister necromancer Joseph Curwen, which loomed above the large fireplace, was a beautiful and effective piece of artwork that was mesmerizing and helped to foreshadow his hold on the palace.

Vincent Price was at his very best. He played the evil Curwen and also his decedent, the nice and logical Charles Dexter Ward, a man who would become possessed by his ancestor. The speech that Price gives as Curwen, in the beginning before his first demise, was one of the greatest moments in Price’s storied career. The words, the execution, all of it was chilling and set the stage for what was to come.

Lon Chaney Jr. also appears in this and it is the only time he ever worked with Roger Corman. He had worked on a film with Price once before but the two did not share any scenes and Price only provided voiceover work. That film was Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. This film is the first and only time that horror legends Vincent Price and Lon Chaney Jr. got to share the screen. However, Chaney’s role was originally intended to be for Boris Karloff but he got sick while filming Black Sabbath for Mario Bava in Italy.

The Haunted Palace is perfectly paced and more interesting than the other Corman-Price-Poe films, in my opinion. It builds suspense and is well acted, even by the lesser-known actors who make up the villagers.

The only real weakness in the film is the Lovecraftian monster in the pit. It is literally a slimy looking statue of a beast under vibrant lighting and trippy LSD-like effects. Thankfully, the creature only appears very briefly and the real monster of the picture is Price’s Joseph Curwen.

The film is also full of several villagers with odd mutations. Only one of them is actually dangerous but they are used pretty effectively to frighten Price and Pagent as they walk through the quiet village at night.

The opening credits sequence features a spider spinning a web and catching a butterfly, only to eat it. It is scored by Ronald Stein and paints the perfect tone, as this film starts. The Haunted Palace features the best score of the Corman-Price-Poe pictures.

To me, The Haunted Palace is the perfect Vincent Price film. It employs some of his best acting moments, it showcases his great work with Roger Corman and it has a strong Victorian horror vibe that reflects the horror trends of its era.

While I know that this isn’t most people’s favorite of the Corman-Price-Poe film series but, for me, it just resonates in a way that the others don’t. I love all these pictures but it is The Haunted Palace that takes the cake for me. I only wish we could’ve gotten more Lovecraft movies with Price on screen and Corman behind the camera.

Film Review: Pit and the Pendulum (1961)

Release Date: August 12th, 1961
Directed by: Roger Corman
Written by: Richard Matheson
Based on: The Pit and the Pendulum by Edgar Allan Poe
Music by: Les Baxter
Cast: Vincent Price, Barbara Steele, John Kerr, Luana Anders

American International Pictures, 85 Minutes 

pit_and_the_pendulumReview:

This is the second in the long series of films that teamed up director Roger Corman and actor Vincent Price in their line of Edgar Allan Poe adaptations for American International Pictures. It also brings in horror icon Barbara Steele on the heels of her success in Mario Bava’s Black Sunday.

The cast is rounded out by John Kerr, who plays the other male lead opposite of Price, and Luana Anders, the female co-star who has significantly more screen time than the higher billed Steele.

Pit and the Pendulum is based off of the Poe story of the same name. It takes some creative liberties but does a good job of capturing the Poe feel. The film also borrows some elements from another Poe tale, The Cask of Amontillado.

Everything in the film eventually leads to the actual pit and the pendulum from the title. The pit itself isn’t all that exciting, it’s a pit. The pendulum, however, is the centerpiece of one of the best classic horror sequences ever produced. Even now, fifty-plus years later, it is still a chilling and dreadful sequence in the film.

Vincent Price was his typical self in Pit and the Pendulum and my only wish was that he shared more moments with Barbara Steele, who was as alluring as always.

John Kerr was fairly solid, if a bit boisterous at times. His character, like Mark Damon’s in House of Usher, was supposed to be a bit pushy and demanding, as he needed to know the truth behind the mystery that was the central plot.

Pit and the Pendulum is a really good looking picture but then, so were all of the Corman-Price-Poe collaborations. The sets were damn good for a picture with a small budget and short shooting schedule but that was always Roger Corman’s specialty.

This is one of the must-see films in Vincent Price’s long filmography. It has all of the best aspects of a classic 1960s Poe adaptation with very few flaws, other than things that were unavoidable in 1961 with limited resources.

Pit and the Pendulum is a horror classic that has done a fine job of surviving the test of time.

Film Review: House of Usher (1960)

Release Date: June 18th, 1960
Directed by: Roger Corman
Written by: Richard Matheson
Based on: The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe
Music by: Les Baxter
Cast: Vincent Price, Mark Damon, Myrna Fahey, Harry Ellerbe

American International Pictures, 79 Minutes 

house_of_usher1960Review:

Roger Corman and Vincent Price teamed up for several films in the 1960s based on the stories of Edgar Allan Poe. House of Usher is the first of these films.

It is hard to say which of the Corman-Price-Poe pictures is the best. They are all very good for their own reasons. House of Usher could be the best though. It all takes place in one house and it only has four actors in the entire picture, except for some ghosts in a dream sequence, yet it is still captivating from the first frame to the last.

Vincent Price’s acting in House of Usher is some of his best, ever. He is a tragic figure that feels the need to do some truly evil stuff, in an effort to bring an end to his family’s curse and his sister’s suffering. Despite him seeming quite mad, the film shows you how he got that way and you can’t do anything but sympathize with him.

His sister, played by Myrna Fahey, is even more tragic than Price’s Roderick, as she must battle for her sanity while trying to find balance between her awful condition and embracing true love. Mark Damon plays the only sane character in the movie, as he arrives at the house in an effort to bring Fahey’s Madeline back to Boston with him. Harry Ellerbe plays the family butler and is more or less an accomplice to Roderick, even if he has reservations.

Vincent Price was just on point in this role. Damon was also really good and their scenes together were intense but fantastic. This almost plays like something more Shakespearean than the works of Edgar Allan Poe. Both actors were very capable and their ability to play off of each other was the main strength of the film.

The atmosphere of the picture was dark and dreary but even then, the sinister mansion of the Ushers felt oddly welcoming. It felt like a place that wanted to give you warmth and comfort and then slowly swallow you into its underlying darkness. Corman pulled off magic with next to nothing but this was his modus operandi throughout his entire career.

House of Usher, considering that it had no budget, one set, four actors and a very short shooting schedule, somehow turned out to be one of the best films based off of the works of Poe. It still holds up well today and is my favorite version of the Usher story.

Film Review: The Oblong Box (1969)

Release Date: June 11th, 1969 (USA)
Directed by: Gordon Hessler
Written by: Lawrence Huntington, Christopher Wicking
Based on: The Oblong Box by Edgar Allan Poe
Music by: Harry Robinson
Cast: Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, Rupert Davies, Uta Levka, Sally Geeson, Alister Williamson, Peter Arne, Hilary Dwyer

American International Pictures, 96 Minutes (USA), 91 Minutes (UK)

the-oblong-boxReview:

Horror legends Vincent Price and Christopher Lee worked together several times. But there is always a first time for everything and The Oblong Box is the first time that they got to be in the same picture.

The credits state that this is based on Edgar Allan Poe’s short story of the same name but it really isn’t. The only thing similar between the two is the title and the fact that it refers to a coffin.

The Oblong Box starts with a man being tortured in an African village. Vincent Price’s Sir Julian Markham walks in to discover this. The man being tortured and disfigured by the villagers is his brother Sir Edward. As the plot progresses, the brothers return to England where Julian has Edward locked up in the attic due to his disfigurement and change in temperament. Edward with help from a shady lawyer, fakes his own death, in an effort to be free of his chains. Mistakes happen and Julian accidentally has his brother buried alive. Edward is then unearthed by grave robbers and finds himself in the home of Dr. Newhartt, played by Christopher Lee. Edward blackmails Newhartt into letting him live in his house, as he goes out at night to seek justice for how he was wronged. There are twists and turns and overall, the plot is interesting and engaging.

While fitting the mold of Price’s other Poe-inspired horror films of the 1960s, The Oblong Box is also a slasher film before slasher films were even a thing. Edward covers his face with a crimson mask and uses his knife to slash his way to the justice he seeks.

Both Vincent Price and Christopher Lee are top notch in this movie. Unfortunately, Price and Lee barely share any screen time. This would be rectified in later films, however. Lee does well in the role as the morally questionable Dr. Newhartt, while Price’s Julian is a character you grow to care about. A favorite actor of mine, Rupert Davies was enjoyable as Kemp. I also really loved Harry Baird’s performance as the witch doctor N’Galo.

The theme of the film was controversial, at the time, and it led to it being banned in Texas. It explored the relationship between Europeans and native Africans. More accurately, it showed the exploitation of the African people by white men. All the horror that befalls the European characters in the film is really just the consequences of their mistreatment of the African villagers.

The Oblong Box isn’t as well-known as other Price and Lee films but it is certainly one of the better ones. It feels real and isn’t as over-the-top as some of the other Poe films of the day.

The only negative about the picture is some of the special effects. The reveal of Sir Edward’s face at the end is pretty disappointing. Also, his throat slashing was pretty awful. When he cut people’s necks, it looked like he was just drawing a line with lipstick. Also, the scene where a man gets bashed over the head had some of the worst blood I’ve seen. It literally had the color and consistency of ketchup.

The bad effects don’t really distract from the picture, however. It is a pretty solid film and maybe deserves a bit more recognition than it has.