Film Review: Trilogy of Terror (1975)

Also known as: Tales of Terror, Terror of the Doll (alternate titles)
Release Date: March 4th, 1975
Directed by: Dan Curtis
Written by: Richard Matheson, William F. Nolan
Music by: Robert Cobert
Cast: Karen Black, Robert Burton, John Karlen, George Gaynes

Dan Curtis Productions, ABC Cirlc Films, ABC, 72 Minutes

Review:

“This can’t be happening! This can’t be happening!” – Amelia

Trilogy of Terror was originally made to be a television movie. It is an anthology horror film with three different stories, all of which star Karen Black. In fact, it is this movie that may have truly cemented her as one of the top scream queens of the ’70s.

The first story is about a timid college professor becoming the obsession of a student, who drugs her, rapes her and takes pornographic pictures of her to blackmail her into doing his bidding. It’s a pretty good story with a nice twist.

The second chapter is my least favorite of the three. It deals with two twin sisters, one of whom is like a puritan nun type of character, the other is a slutty wild child. The nun-like sister believes the other to be the embodiment of evil and decides to use voodoo to destroy her and vanquish the evil once and for all. Like the previous story, this one has a big twist. The reason why this one didn’t work for me, is that I predicted the big twist almost immediately. It may have worked well in 1975 but it’s a story horror fans have seen a dozen times.

The third and final episode in this anthology takes place in just an apartment. Karen Black’s character buys this cursed tribal doll for a guy she likes. While taking a bath, the doll comes to life. The rest of the story is about the woman trying to survive being trapped in her apartment with this insane and relentless killing machine. It sounds cheesy and strange, which it is, but the doll is so incredibly nuts that it just works. Where Chucky from the Child’s Play films could be like a great white shark, this doll is more like a school of piranhas.

Trilogy of Terror isn’t great but it is entertaining, very short and goes to show the range that Karen Black had. She could play a sweet character, a killer and really, anything in-between.

Plus, that killer doll is one of the best horror monsters of the 1970s.

This TV movie was pretty popular, developed a cult following and was one of the most traded VHS tapes that I used to see at conventions when I was a kid. These days you can stream it in HD.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: Trilogy of Terror II, other horror anthologies: CreepshowTwilight Zone: The MovieTales From the Darkside: The Movie.

Film Review: Duel (1971)

Release Date: November 10th, 1971 (Canada)
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Written by: Richard Matheson
Based on: Duel by Richard Matheson
Music by: Billy Goldenberg
Cast: Dennis Weaver

ABC, Universal Pictures, 90 Minutes (theatrical cut), 74 Minutes (original television cut)

Review:

“The Killer’s Weapon – A 40 Ton Truck” – tagline

I have seen Duel in some form or in increments at least two dozen times. When I was a kid it was on TBS almost weekly. I always caught it in the middle, so I never really knew how the beef started in the film between the psycho in a truck and the wimpy salesman in a car, played by Dennis Weaver. However, the set up never really seemed to matter to me because this tapped into some sort of primal fear and eventually, into survival mode taking over. It wasn’t until now, in 2018, that I actually sat down and saw this thing in its entirety from start to finish.

The one thing that is the most amazing to me, is that this was originally a television movie. It has the production value of something much larger and it felt authentic to the trucker and car heavy movies of the time. This was shot incredibly well and the action was intense and real. They certainly couldn’t rely on CGI back then so the destruction you see is real destruction. The big final crash was incredible, as was the scene where the truck is doing doughnuts, bulldozing the reptile exhibit in an effort to prevent Dennis Weaver’s David Mann from calling the cops.

Spielberg showed great promise with this film, which was instrumental in him having the opportunity to make Jaws a few years later. While the film is action heavy, Spielberg showed incredible skill in story telling and employed a “less is more” strategy when building tension and suspense. This is a horror film and a thriller at its core but it is also a mystery film where the mystery actually goes unanswered. Who is this killer driver? Why is he so pissed off? But I guess it’s the not knowing why that makes this so impactful.

The part in the middle of the film where David is in the diner, analyzing all the men inside, trying to determine which one is the maniac trucker is slow, methodical and really drawn out. But it is done so to great effect and it is really the strongest and most important moment in the film. It’s the turning point where David gives in to his overwhelming paranoia and goes a bit nuts. And as intense as things were before the diner scene, that scene amplifies everything moving forward and the second half is a giant, uncomfortable ball of tension and terror.

On paper, you would think that a movie about a driver in a car being chased down by a killer truck is pretty one dimensional and stupid. While it is one dimensional, that is where the film finds its strength. It also addresses the fact that the truck is unusually fast. For whatever reason, David can’t outrun the hunter and that taps into a primal fear all living things have. The film really works well as metaphor and the ridiculous premise doesn’t really matter when things get going and you find yourself glued to this picture.

Duel is not a masterpiece or even a great film but it is a pivotal moment in the early career of Steven Spielberg and his imprint is all over the picture. Dennis Weaver had the tough task of carrying the entire film on his back but he was able to conquer that task with his superb performance and ability to feel like a genuine everyman, trapped in a mortal game of cat and mouse with a vicious and unrelenting predator.

I love this film. It’s badass, still kicks ass and was the real genesis of one of the greatest filmmakers of all-time, who would go on to shape an entire era of not just filmmaking but pop culture itself.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Another early Spielberg film, The Sugarland Express. Also pairs well with a myriad of car and trucker films from the ’70s and early ’80s, as well as the Stephen King film adaptations of Maximum Overdrive and Christine.

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 Devil Rides Out (1968)

Also known as: The Devil’s Bride
Release Date: July 20th, 1968 (UK)
Directed by: Terence Fisher
Written by: Richard Matheson
Based on: The Devil Rides Out by Dennis Wheatley
Music by: James Bernard
Cast: Christopher Lee, Charles Gray, Niké Arrighi, Leon Greene, Patrick Mower, Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies, Sarah Lawson, Paul Eddington, Rosalyn Landor, Russell Waters, Eddie Powell (uncredited)

Hammer Film Productions, Associated British-Pathé, Seven Arts Productions, 20th Century Fox, 95 Minutes

Review:

“The Angel of Death was summoned. He cannot return empty-handed.” – Duc de Richleau

The Devil Rides Out is not a film that is widely recognized today but it is one of my favorite Christopher Lee pictures. It is also in the upper echelon of Hammer Studios gigantic horror catalog.

Lee’s Duc de Richleau is actually one of the coolest characters that he has ever played, which is pretty big considering that he generally played cool characters. For a guy that was Dracula, The Man With the Golden Gun, Count Dooku and Saruman, none of those characters felt as authentically Christopher Lee as this one.

The film also boasts a pretty amazing cast with Charles Gray, a man who has been in several classic James Bond pictures, as the sinister villain of the story. Gray is stellar as the evil Devil worshiping madman hellbent on shaping the world into the Devil’s playground.

Another really cool thing about this movie is that the Devil shows up in physical form. While he simply sits on an altar and disappears at the first sign of trouble, it is still a mesmerizing scene today.

This picture does have its share of hokey effects, like the giant spider and the evil knight on the winged horse but its coolness offsets its flaws. And that is what this is, a cool motion picture.

The film is dark, brooding but still lighthearted and adventurous. It has some good action, fun monsters and the sets are fantastic.

It was also directed by Terence Fisher, who was Hammer’s premier director and a longtime Lee collaborator. His films are considered to be some of Hammer’s greatest and with good reason. The Devil Rides Out isn’t as well known as Fisher’s movies featuring famous monsters like Dracula, Frankenstein or the Mummy but it is one of his absolute best.

Also, the script was written by Richard Matheson, the accomplished novelist who wrote I Am LegendHell House and a slew of old school horror pictures.

The Devil Rides Out is truly the most quintessential Hammer Studios films that doesn’t feature a famous monster. It has a strong and powerful atmosphere, really good cinematography, top notch acting for its genre at its time and is also a lot of fun.

Film Review: Jaws 3-D (1983)

Also known as: Jaws 3, Jaws III
Release Date: July 22nd, 1983
Directed by: Joe Alves
Written by: Carl Gottlieb, Richard Matheson
Based on: characters by Peter Benchley
Music by: Alan Parker
Cast: Dennis Quaid, Bess Armstrong, Simon MacCorkindale, Louis Gossett Jr., Lea Thompson

Alan Landsburg Productions, MCA Theatricals, Universal Pictures, 99 Minutes

Review:

“Overman was killed inside the park. The baby was caught inside the park. Its mother is inside the park.” – Kathryn Morgan

With the success of Jaws and Jaws 2, it was probably just a matter of time before Universal decided to milk the shark once again. Unfortunately, they gave us this awful and dreadful picture that really has no redeeming qualities about it whatsoever other than finding enjoyment in just how bad the special effects are.

Noticeably gone is the amazing music of John Williams. The score to this movie is pretty atrocious. But that’s not even the worst thing about it.

Now I like Dennis Quaid, Lea Thompson and Louis Gossett Jr. but they are about the only positive things in this train wreck. Even then, this is far from their best performances and they really just dialed it in anyway.

This is also the shark’s worst performance out of four movies. The mother shark in this is twice the size of the previous versions and she moves so slow, she isn’t even threatening. It’s as if someone is behind her, pushing her at infant crawling speed. Somehow she is still quick enough to chomp the bejesus out of human meatbags that either have to be frozen in suspended animation or high on angeldust to the point where they don’t even realize that a shark the size of a city bus is slowly ambushing them.

Jaws 3-D, as the title implies, relies heavily on the 3D gimmick. That being said, the movie is littered with a ton of shots that were made specifically for that purpose. The shots look hokey and plain stupid when seen in a 2D format, which is how the vast majority of people have seen this picture, after its initial release over thirty years ago. Also, for 1983 standards, the special effects are absolutely horrible. Compare this to some of the bigger budget films of the day and this looks dated when put next to them. In fact, I’ve seen better visual effects in films that predate this by two decades. If you turned this film into a drinking game where you take a shot every time there is an awful visual effect, you’d just find yourself chugging from the bottle and might actually need a whole case of liquor just for yourself.

This movie is stupid, its horrible and it is an embarrassment to Universal Studios. It is a slap in the face of the masterpiece that Steven Spielberg created. It doesn’t even look like a sequel, it looks like one of the many Jaws ripoffs that came out in the late 70s and into the early 80s. Hell, this makes Piranha (which I love, by the way) look like a Kubrickian masterpiece.

And how in the friggin’ hell was Richard Matheson involved in this?

Does this deserve to be run through the Cinespiria Shitometer? Oh, you bet your dandy ass it does! So what we have here is a “Type 6 Stool: Fluffy pieces with ragged edges, a mushy stool.”

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.