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.

Film Review: Master of the World (1961)

Release Date: May, 1961 (USA)
Directed by: William Witney
Written by: Richard Matheson
Based on: Robur the Conqueror and Master of the World by Jules Verne
Music by: Les Baxter
Cast: Vincent Price, Charles Bronson, Henry Hull, Mary Webster, Richard Harrison

American International Pictures, 102 Minutes (including prologue)

master_of_the_worldReview:

What happens when you mix the master of terror Vincent Price with the works of the amazing Jules Verne and a screenplay by the great Richard Matheson? Well, you get Master of the World!

This film is like Verne’s more famous 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea except for being underwater in a giant menacing ship, it is in the air. Unfortunately it doesn’t do battle with a giant squid but it does do battle with the nations of the world.

I always loved the movie versions of Verne’s classic works, especially from this era. While Master of the World doesn’t quite measure up to 20,000 Leagues or Around the World In 80 Days, it is still an enjoyable picture and feels like a true extension of those films. Even with its much smaller budget and scale, Master of the World still feels like a big movie. Sure, the special effects don’t hold up tremendously but some of the shots and effects were still well executed for their day and for the limited resources American International Pictures had versus Disney.

Casting Vincent Price as Robur the Conqueror was genius. Known mostly for being the leading man in several iconic horror films, Price was able to be sinister, where the role called for it, while also being commanding and intense as the captain of his airship, the Albatross. The film also reunited him with Charles Bronson, as they worked together on the classic House of Wax, eight years earlier. That was the film that really started Bronson’s career.

The character of Robur is a dynamic one. He is the villain of the story but depending upon your point-of-view, could be the hero. Considered a “mad man”, similar to Captain Nemo from 20,000 Leagues, Robur has created his magnificent airship in an effort to go to war with war. The ship’s purpose is to bully the war-mongering nations of the world into changing their ways. While Robur announces his intention on these nations, he is quick to destroy their warships and their weapons to make his message clear. Robur feels that the loss of thousands is worth it to protect the lives of millions who didn’t ask for war.

The Albatross is one of my favorite vessels in film history. It was steampunk before steampunk was even a thing. It also has the feel of the world from the video game Bioshock: Infinite, which may have borrowed from this movie or the works of Verne in general. The sets that are the ship are very well put together. The colors are nice and welcoming, the use of colored glass enhances the vision of world peace, which is Robur’s goal – even if his means to achieve it are a bit twisted. The Albatross is a menacing warship that doesn’t look anything like a warship. It looks like a nice, cozy place to live. I’m also pretty sure it inspired the airship from Final Fantasy VII.

Master of the World is one of my favorite Vincent Price films, even if it isn’t a horror picture. He owned the role of Robur and gave it a real sense of legitimacy. Charles Bronson was perfect as his foil and the rest of the cast was pretty good too. I especially liked the dichotomy between Price’s Robur and Henry Hull’s Prudent, an arms manufacturer that finds himself captive on the Albatross.

If you like Jules Verne tales in the form of a motion picture, there really isn’t any reason why you shouldn’t enjoy Master of the World. It isn’t a masterpiece but it is a solid film that deserves to be in the same company as the Disney-made Verne movies that had much larger budgets and better resources at their disposal.