Off-Brand Spaghetti: MORE DEAD THAN ALIVE (United Artists 1969)

It’s hanging day at a remote Arizona prison outpost, and four men are scheduled to swing from the gallows. After they’re executed, the four pine boxes pop open, and outlaw Luke Santee and his gang commence firing, their six-guns blazing, as they try to free Luke’s baby brother. The escape attempt is an epic fail as ‘Killer’ Cain, a prisoner for 18 years now up for parole, stops the brother from leaving his cell and getting slaughtered, with Luke vowing revenge…

That opening scene, a violent, gory bloodbath, makes one think MORE DEAD THAN ALIVE is going to be a Sergio Leone-inspired American Spaghetti Western. It even stars a former TV Western hero named Clint – big Clint (CHEYENNE) Walker ! But the episodic nature of George Schenck’s script kills that idea, as the film doesn’t quite know what it wants to be. Spaghetti or Traditional Western? Character study, comedy, drama? It plays more like an extended pilot episode for a new TV series, thanks to director Robert Sparr, who worked with Clint on CHEYENNE and whose credits include episodes of VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA, THE RAT PATROL, STAR TREK, and THE WILD WILD WEST.

Clint does get to encounter some colorful characters along the way. Chief among them is Vincent Price , taking a break from his AIP horrors, as carny spieler Dan Ruffalo, who goads Clint into picking up his gun once again and traveling through the Southwest as part of a Wild West sideshow. Price is worth the price (sorry) of admission, though he can’t help looking somewhat demonic after spending all those years with Roger Corman. Anne Francis plays a pretty artist from back East who meets and falls in love with Clint. Another brawny actor, former NFL star and movie Tarzan (and the future Junior Justice of SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT!) Mike Henry is the vengeful Santee. But Paul Hampton, whose claim to fame is as cowriter of the early rock hit “Sea of Heartbreak”, overacts as young psycho sharpshooter Billy, who’s jealous when Clint joins the carny. Some Familiar Faces on the trail include Frank Baxter, Robert Foulk, Emile Meyer , and William Woodson, whose face may not be all that familiar, but you’ll immediately recognize his voice as the narrator of TV’s SUPER FRIENDS and THE ODD COUPLE.

So the question remains, is MORE DEAD THAN ALIVE worth your time? Well, I guess if you’re a Western buff, Clint Walker die-hard, or Vincent Price completist, then you’ll want to view it. I stuck with it til the end (which was quite bizarre and unexpected), but I can’t wholeheartedly recommend it. It’s one of those kinda, sorta in-the-middle movies that are okay for a late-night-can’t-sleep or rainy-day-let’s-clean-out-the-DVR watch. Don’t run away from it, but don’t go out of your way to see it, either.

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10 Horror Stars Who Never Won An Oscar

It’s Oscar night in Hollywood! We all may have our gripes with the Academy over things like the nominating process (see my posts on THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND STAN & OLLIE and THEY SHALL NOT GROW OLD ), but in the end, we’ll all still be watching – I know I will!

One of my gripes over the years has always been how the horror genre has gotten little to no attention from Oscar over the years. Sure, Fredric March won for DR. JEKYLL & MR. HYDE , but there were plenty of other horror performances who’ve been snubbed. The following ten actors should have (at least in my opinion) received consideration for their dignified work in that most neglected of genres, the horror film:

(and I’ll do this alphabetically in the interest of fairness)

LIONEL ATWILL

 Atwill’s Ivan Igor in MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM goes from cultured sophisticate to raving lunatic in the course of 77 minutes, and was worthy of a nomination. His Inspector Krough in 1939’s SON OF FRANKENSTEIN has become an iconic portrayal over the years (just ask Mel Brooks !). But the real crime is Atwill being passed over for his villainous Colonel Bishop in CAPTAIN BLOOD (though the film did receive a Best Picture nomination).

LON CHANEY JR. 

Many consider Chaney a one-note actor of limited range, but his performances as the simple-minded Lenny in OF MICE AND MEN and retired lawman Mart Howe in HIGH NOON prove Chaney could act when given the right material. And as Lawrence Talbot in THE WOLF MAN , Chaney gives an Oscar-worthy performance as the glib young man who becomes a tortured soul after getting bit by a werewolf. The low-budget SPIDER BABY found Lon shut out of Oscar consideration again as Bruno, chauffeur/caretaker to the bizarre Merrie Family.

PETER CUSHING 

Cushing could probably read the phone book and make it more dramatic than any ten actors working today. He never gave a bad performance in whatever he did, but Academy bias against horror never gave him the recognition he deserved. Of all his roles, I’d cite his Baron Frankenstein in Hammer’s first in the series, THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN , and Sir John Rowan in the (admittedly) out-there cult classic CORRUPTION as Oscar caliber. Then there’s his Gran Moff Tarkin in a little thing called STAR WARS

BORIS KARLOFF

When Boris Karloff first appeared on the screen as The Monster of FRANKENSTEIN , audiences across the country screamed at the sight of this hideous, inhuman thing, but thanks to Karloff’s acting skills, he imbued The Monster with a spark of humanity, and definitely deserved at least a nomination for his breakout performance. Equally deserving was his Ardeth Bey (aka Imhotep) in THE MUMMY , a romantic terror tale of love and death across the centuries. Boris’s work as twin brothers in THE BLACK ROOM is among his best, and his films with Val Lewton feature two distinctly different but fine portrayals: the murderous John Grey in THE BODY SNATCHER and the decadent Master Sims in BEDLAM . King Karloff was also denied a nomination for his turn as faded horror star Byron Orlok in Peter Bogdanovich’s brilliant TARGETS.

CHRISTOPHER LEE 

Oscar never recognized Lee for any of his outstanding roles, and the fact that his Lord Summerisle in THE WICKER MAN was ignored is truly an Oscar crime! Lee also should have got some Oscar love for playing against type as Duc de Richleau in THE DEVIL’S BRIDE , and his part as grave robber Resurrection Joe in CORRIDORS OF BLOOD, though a smaller role, should have  warranted some Supporting Actor attention.

PETER LORRE

Although not primarily a horror star, Lorre gave the genre two of it’s best performances, both Oscar worthy: the creepy child killer Hans Beckert in Fritz Lang’s M and the deranged, obsessed Dr. Gogol in MAD LOVE . And I think his role as the humble immigrant turned crime boss Janos Szabo in the horror-tinged noir THE FACE BEHIND THE MASK was worth a nomination. As for his non-horror roles, there’s CRIME AND PUNISHMENT, THE MALTESE FALCON, THREE STRANGERS, BEAT THE DEVIL….

BELA LUGOSI

Lugosi’s iconic Count DRACULA , still as death and evil as anyone in movie history, didn’t get past Oscar’s garlic-laced gates, and neither did Bela during his career. Granted, the Hungarian star made some poor choices over his movie days, but I’d say his Poe-obsessed Dr. Richard Vollin in THE RAVEN and broken-necked Ygor in SON OF FRANKENSTEIN deserved at least a look by the Academy. I could cite his Dr. Carruthers in THE DEVIL BAT and Dr. Vornoff in BRIDE OF THE MONSTER as examples of how a bad film can be elevated by a good performance, but I’d be stretching if I said they should have got Oscar consideration. One can dream, though, can’t one?

VINCENT PRICE

Price was known to ham it up on occasion (and parodies that notion in HIS KIND OF WOMAN ), but take a look at his work in film noir and discover Vinnie when he tones it down – he’s a great actor. Of his horror films, Price does fine work in the Roger Corman Poe series: Roderick Usher in HOUSE OF USHER, Prince Prospero in MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH, and Verden Fell in TOMB OF LIGEIA all find Price giving subtle, nuanced performances; and his witch hunter Matthew Hopkins in Michael Reeves’ THE CONQUEROR WORM is as finely etched a portrait of evil as you’ll ever see. Even when he cranks it up to 11, as in THEATER OF BLOOD , he’s more than watchable, and his Edward Lionheart in that film is an unforgivable Oscar snub! Price also should have been considered for his short but pivotal role as The Inventor in Tim Burton’s EDWARD SCISSORHANDS.

CLAUDE RAINS

Like Peter Lorre, Rains wasn’t primarily a horror star, but his dazzling performance as Dr. Jack Griffin in James Whale’s THE INVISIBLE MAN is a tour de force of both physical and vocal acting, and the fact that Oscar didn’t see it is (wait for it) Another Oscar Crime! However, of all the great actors on this list, he’s the only one recognized by the Academy for his work – Rains received Supporting Actor nominations for MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON, CASABLANCA , MR. SKEFFINGTON, and NOTORIOUS . He didn’t win for any of them (but should have for CASABLANCA!)

ERNEST THESIGER

“And the winner is… Ernest Thesiger for BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN !” That phrase was never uttered during Oscar’s banquet honoring the films of 1935, as the Supporting Actor category wasn’t initiated until a year later, but if it had been in effect, I’d place my money on Thesiger’s Dr. Pretorious to win it all!

Honorable mentions go to Colin Clive’s mad Henry FRANKENSTEIN and John Carradine’s strangler Gaston Morrell in Edgar G. Ulmer’s BLUEBEARD, and I’m sure you Dear Readers can think of many other Oscar-worthy performances in the horror field, so have some fun while we all wait for tonight’s Academy Awards ceremony… and I’ll have more on that little shindig later tomorrow!

Halloween Havoc!: TOWER OF LONDON (Universal 1939)

Rowland V. Lee followed up his successful SON OF FRANKENSTEIN with TOWER OF LONDON, reuniting with stars Basil Rathbone and Boris Karloff in a take on the story of Richard III that mixes historical drama with horror. This “Game of Thrones” is filled with political machinations, royal court intrigue, and murder most foul as the crook backed Richard kills his way to the top of England’s heap, aided by his chief executioner Mord.

You won’t find any Shakespeare here or historical accuracy, but Lee and his screenwriter brother Richard N. Lee craft a tale of bad intentions to capitalize on the renewed interest in the horror genre. Rathbone exudes evil from every pore as Richard, the Duke of Gloucester, who along with his brother King Edward VI, has seized power by imprisoning the feeble-minded Henry IV. But there are six heirs standing in Richard’s way to succession, and he keeps figurines of his enemies in a little dollhouse, tossing them into the flames as they fall one by one. Basil plays Richard as a coldly calculating killer, using his power and influence to reap the bounty of his murderous objective. One of the screen’s greatest villains, Rathbone’s chillingly sinister portrayal makes him a human monster who’ll stop at nothing, including ordering the murders of his young nephews, to quench his thirst for power.

Karloff is equally as frightening as Mord, the bald, club footed executioner who worships Richard as a God, and delights in torture and killing. We first lay eyes on him in his torture chamber sharpening his axe, a raven perched on his shoulder, cruelly denying a chained prisoner water. Mord lives only to serve and kill, and Karloff plays him unsympathetically, unlike some of his horror characterizations. He crushes a young chimney sweep under his clubbed foot, thrusts a dagger into the back of the pathetic Henry IV, and carries out the murders of the child princes without remorse. Karloff, under Jack Pierce’s makeup, added another brutish portrait to his growing Rogue’s Gallery with Mord.

My favorite scene involves another horror star, young Vincent Price in his third film, playing the effeminate Duke of Clarence. Price, who made his film debut in Lee’s 1938 comedy SERVICE DE LUXE, gets a tutorial in terror sharing a scene with Boris and Basil when, after Clarence is charged with treason and sent to the tower, he engages in a drinking duel with Richard. Seeming to win, the drunken Duke is overtaken by Richard who, along with Mord, drowns him in a vat of wine (“He asked for malmsey”, Richard coolly states). Price, Karloff, and Rathbone would be reunited a quarter century later (along with Peter Lorre) for a horror of another kind, THE COMEDY OF TERRORS .

The large cast includes Ian Hunter as the equally despicable Edward VI, Barbara O’Neil as his wife Elyzabeth, John Sutton and Nan Grey as the young lovers John Wyatt and Lady Alice, and Leo G. Carroll as Lord Hastings. Familiar Faces involved are Lionel Belmore, Stanley Blystone, Ernest Cossart, Rose Hobart , Miles Mander, Michael Mark, John Roister (Rathbone’s son), and Walter Tetley. Horror buffs carp that TOWER OF LONDON falls more on the historical drama side than horror, but the performances of Rathbone and Karloff (and Price, to a certain extent) make it a worthy entry in the Universal Horror canon. They may not be Count Dracula and Frankenstein’s Monster , but Richard III and Mord certainly belong alongside them.

Outrageous Fortune: Vincent Price in THEATER OF BLOOD (United Artists 1973)

Vincent Price  traded in Edgar Allan Poe for William Shakespeare (and American-International for United Artists) in THEATER OF BLOOD, playing an actor’s dream role: Price not only gets to perform the Bard of Avon’s works onscreen, he gets to kill off all his critics! As you would imagine, Price has a field day with the part, serving up deliciously thick slices of ham with relish as he murders an all-star cast of British thespians in this fiendishly ingenious screenplay concocted  by Anthony Greville-Bell and directed with style by Douglas Hickox.

Edward Lionheart felt so slighted by both scathing criticism and once again being stiffed at the prestigious Critics’ Circle award, he broke up their little soiree by doing a swan dive into London’s mighty Thames. His body was never found, and everyone assumed they had seen Lionheart’s final performance, but unbeknownst to all he was fished out of the river by a band of drunken derelicts. Two years later, a series of gruesome murders based on Shakespeare’s plays begin to strike down the critics one by one, baffling Scotland Yard, until critic Peregrine Devlin puts two and two together and comes to the realization Edward Lionheart is alive and well and hell-bent on sweet revenge…

The murders get more and more ghastly as the film moves forward, as Lionheart rewrites Shakespeare to fit his bloody agenda and pick off some of England’s finest actors as the critics. His ragged followers descend on Michael Hordern ala JULIUS CAESAR, Dennis Price is speared and dragged behind a horse (TROILIUS AND CRESSIDA), Arthur Lowe is decapitated in a scene from CYMBELINE that’s reminiscent of Price’s Dr. Phibes films, Harry Andrews has a pound of flesh extracted (THE MERCHANT OF VENICE), Robert Coote’s  drowned in a vat of wine like the Duke of Clarence in RICHARD III (a part Price played in Universal’s 1939 TOWER OF LONDON, later graduating to essay Richard in Corman’s 1962 version), a neat twist on OTHELLO features Jack Hawkins and Diana Dors , Price’s future wife Coral Brown is burned to a crisp under a hairdryer in a campy take on HENRY VI, and flamboyant Robert Morley gets served his just desserts in a terrifying retelling of TITUS ANDRONICUS. Ian Hendry as Devlin is spared during a swashbuckling scene from ROMEO AND JULIET, only to have to be rescued at the finale in a nod to KING LEAR.

Price claimed THEATER OF BLOOD was one of his favorite roles, and it’s easy to understand why. Not only does he get to recite Shakespeare, he has the pleasure of offing his critics with gleeful delight! His contract with AIP had expired (though they would release the similar Amicus production MADHOUSE with Price the next year), horror films were beginning to go in a new direction, and Vincent Price was the last man standing of the classic horror era. He gives the part of Edward Lionheart his all, as he always did, playing to the balcony to deliver the gory goods his fans paid to see. THEATER OF BLOOD is the last of what horror fans consider the “Vincent Price Movie” subgenre, begun with his late 50’s William Castle shockers and continued with Roger Corman’s Poe films. It’s a fitting coda, though Price would keep making movie and TV appearances right up until his death twenty years later.

Diana Rigg gets a fun, showy role as Lionheart’s daughter/accomplice Edwina, a special effects person who aids and abets dear old dad on his murder spree. Rigg matches Price in the ham-slicing department, no small feat, and the Shakespearian trained GAME OF THRONES actress is a delight. Milo O’Shea and Eric Sykes represent the law, and Hammer veteran Madeline Smith is on hand as Devlin’s secretary. Yet everyone takes a backseat to Vincent Price at his bombastic best, making mincemeat out of his critics and making THEATER OF BLOOD a whole lot of fun for horror fans in general, and Price fans in particular.

(And don’t forget… the 4th annual “Halloween Havoc!” Horrorthon begins Tuesday, Octobrrr 1st here at Cracked Rear Viewer! 31 horror classics in 31 days!)

Drive-In Saturday Night: DR. GOLDFOOT AND THE BIKINI MACHINE (AIP 1965) & DR. GOLDFOOT AND THE GIRL BOMBS (AIP 1966)

American-International Pictures, never ones to shy away from jumping on a trend, released a pair of secret agent spoofs starring the one and only Vincent Price as the evil supervillain Dr. Goldfoot. AIP president James H. Nicholson himself allegedly came up with the story, wanting to use the film as a showcase for wife Susan Hart, a beautiful woman of limited talent. The first was DR. GOLDFOOT AND THE BIKINI MACHINE, an endearingly goofy little movie co-starring SKI PARTY’s Frankie Avalon and Dwayne Hickman. The two even use the same character names from that previous film, Tod Armstrong and Craig Gamble – only reversed, with Frankie as Craig and Dwayne as Tod!

Mad scientist Goldfoot, an obvious cross between James Bond nemeses Dr. No and Goldfinger, is Price at his campy best, carving up large slices of ham as the malevolent meanie. His fiendish plot is creating an army of indestructible female robots in gold bikinis to entice the world’s richest men, then having the alluring  androids steal all their money. Into this scenario comes Craig (Avalon), an inept secret agent working for SIC (Secret Intelligence Command), who is accidentally targeted by Hart’s sexy cyborg Diane. Craig goes ga-ga over Diane, and when Goldfoot recalls her to get at filthy rich Tod (Hickman), he desperately searches for his artificial object of desire.

The movie’s so corny, full of wheezy jokes and slapstick sight gags you can see coming a mile away,  you can’t help but laugh. That’s because the screenplay’s courtesy of Three Stooges/Bowery Boys veteran Elwood Ullman, who did a rewrite of Robert Kaufman’s original script. Besides the spy spoof angle, the film lampoons Price’s Edgar Allen Poe films with portraits of Goldfoot’s ancestors resembling Price’s characters (Roderick Usher, Verdon Fell) and a scene with Hickman strapped under a swinging blade that uses stock footage from THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM!

Fred Clark plays the SIC chief, who is also Craig’s uncle, which explains how the nebbish got the job. TV actor Jack Mullaney (THE ANN SOUTHERN SHOW, IT’S ABOUT TIME) is Goldfoot’s bumbling assistant Igor, and among the fembots you’ll find 60’s starlets Marianne Gaba, Luree Holmes, Deanna Lund (LAND OF THE GIANTS), Pamela Rodgers (LAUGH-IN), and Salli Sachse. There are cameos from ‘Beach Party’ vets Aron Kincaid, Harvey Lembeck (as Eric Von Zipper!), Alberta Nelson, Deborah Walley, and a certain ex-Mousketeer pictured above. Norman Taurog, who won an Oscar for 1930’s SKIPPY and became a comedy specialist, handles the direction, such as it is.

 

The next entry, 1966’s DR. GOLDFOOT AND THE GIRL BOMBS, was directed by… Mario Bava ?!? That’s right, the Italian horror/giallo maestro took over the reigns on this Italian coproduction, mainly because he was under contract to producer Fulvio Lucisano at the time. Bava reportedly hated the film, and I for one don’t blame him… although the first was a good-natured romp, GIRL BOMBS is, well, a bomb!

Price is back as the dastardly doctor, this time churning out killer robots who explode when kissing. He looses them on the generals of NATO gathered for war maneuvers, with the evil intent of dropping the H-Bomb on Moscow, pitting the Ruskies against the good ol’ USA in hopes the two superpowers with destroy each other, then he can split the world with his allies Red China! Price constantly breaks the Forth Wall, giving the audience plot exposition, and some silly asides. Reportedly, Vinnie didn’t like the sequel either, but at least he got a nice Italian vacation for his troubles!

SIC is still out to stop Goldfoot, only instead of Frankie Avalon we get another ex-teen idol, Fabian, who’s just as inept and a real “Hound Dog Man” with SIC secretary Laura Antonelli (VENUS IN FURS, A MAN CALLED SLEDGE). We also get the unfunny Franco and Ciccio, the world’s worst comedy team, who annoy the crap out of me. These two paisans don’t translate well into American humor (the bad dubbing doesn’t help), though they were hugely popular in Italy. To me, they just suck.     

The “hilarious” ending consists of a chase through a kiddie amusement park, a runaway hot air balloon, and… *sigh* why am I wasting words? Sorry, folks, but it’s just not worth it. The first Dr. Goldfoot movie has a silly if sophomoric vibe, spoofing the James Bond craze, teen flicks, and pretty much American-International itself. The sequel is only for masochists and/or Price completists; otherwise avoid it at all costs!

 

The Horror Stars of THE TEN COMMANDMENTS (Paramount 1956)

Last night, as I usually do during the Easter/Passover season, I watched Cecil B. DeMille’s Biblical epic THE TEN COMMANDMENTS. It’s a movie buffs delight, an All-Star spectacle featuring three Oscar winners ( Charlton Heston , Yul Brynner , Anne Baxter ), one who should’ve been (Edward G. Robinson ), and a literal cast of thousands! Something that’s always stood out to me is the number of horror movie stars that appear in various parts, a plethora of Hollywood practitioners from my favorite genre:

John Carradine as Aaron

Carradine’s  credentials in horror films are well documented, and he deserves his spot in the pantheon of Monster Movie Greats. As Moses’s brother Aaron, Carradine has his best “straight” role since THE GRAPES OF WRATH.

Vincent Price as Baka

Our Man Vinnie plays the evil slave master Baka, who gets his just rewards at the hands of John Derek’s Joshua. Price was a few short years away from his work with William Castle, Roger Corman, and horror immortality.

Yvonne DeCarlo as Zipporah

Yvonne DeCarlo  was already an old hand at these costume epics, and would soon find herself wrapped in the shroud of Lily Munster on TV’s THE MUNSTERS!

Sir Cedric Hardwicke as Sethi

The distinguished Sir Cedric was well-known for his horror work at Universal in THE INVISIBLE MAN RETURNS , THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN, INVISIBLE AGENT, and the 1933 British film THE GHOUL, starring Boris Karloff.

Debra Paget as Lilia

 Miss Paget was also no stranger to costume dramas. Her last films before retirement were Corman’s TALES OF TERROR and THE HAUNTED PALACE, both alongside Price.

Nina Foch as Bithiah

Nina Foch  was a legendary acting coach, but in the 40’s as a Columbia contract player headlined the horror movies RETURN OF THE VAMPIRE (opposite Bela Lugosi) and CRY OF THE WEREWOLF.

Eduard Franz as Jethro

Franz plays Jethro, father of Zipporah, and was featured in such fare as THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD , THE FOUR SKULLS OF JONATHAN DRAKE, CYBORG 2087, and TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE.

     Ian Keith as Ramses I

Keith has an interesting connection to horror: he was actually considered for the part of Count Dracula in 1931 over Bela Lugosi , and again for 1948’s ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN ! Thank Cthulhu that didn’t work out!

Eagle eyed fans will spot other horror notables in lesser roles, some uncredited: Dame Judith Anderson (REBECCA’s spooky Mrs. Danvers), Terence de Marney (DIE, MONSTER, DIE!), Patricia Hitchcock (PSYCHO), Michael Mark (FRANKENSTEIN), Gordon Mitchell (FRANKENSTEIN’S CASTLE OF FREAKS), Dorothy Neumann (GHOST OF DRAGSTRIP HOLLOW , THE TERROR ), and Onslow Stevens (HOUSE OF DRACULA). Happy hunting, and Happy Easter and Passover from Cracked Rear Viewer!

Bela Lugosi as Jesus in 1909!

Creature Double Feature 5: THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH (AIP 1964) and THE TOMB OF LIGEIA (AIP 1965)

Boston’s WLVI-TV 56 ran it’s ‘Creature Double Feature’ series from 1972 to 1983. Though fans remember it mostly for those fabulous giant monster movies starring Godzilla and friends, CDF occasionally featured some monsters of a different kind… 

Roger Corman and Vincent Price had teamed to make five successful Edgar Allan Poe adaptations for American-International Pictures, beginning with 1960’s HOUSE OF USHER (there was a sixth, THE PREMATURE BURIAL, that starred Ray Milland rather than Price). Studio execs James Nicholson and Sam Arkoff, always on the lookout for ways to cut costs, joined forces with Britain’s Anglo-Amalgamated Productions (makers of the CARRY ON comedies) and shipped Corman and company to jolly ol’ England for the final two, THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH and THE TOMB OF LIGEIA. Both turned out to be high points in the Corman/Price/Poe series.

1964’s MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH is a sadistic, psychedelic nightmare of a film, with Corman ably assisted by ace cinematographer and future director Nicholas Roeg. Price plays Italian nobleman Prince Prospero, a Satan worshipper and dabbler in the black arts, who locks the lords and ladies of his decadent court in his castle while the plague of the Red Death ravages the villagers. He’s kidnapped local beauty Francesca, her lover Gino, and her father to amuse himself and his guests, trying to force the two men to battle to the death while also attempting to seduce the innocent Francesca. Prospero’s lady Julianna is scheming to make herself the bride of Satan, while guest Alfredo humiliates the diminutive paramour of dwarf Hop-Toad.

Julianna, jealous of Prospero’s fondness for Francesca, gives her the key to the dungeon to free Gino and her dad, only to be stopped by Prospero. This ends badly, as the men are made to slice their arms with daggers, one of which is poisoned, then Father is killed by Prospero’s hand, sending Gino out to face the Red Death. Julianna pays for her treachery against Prospero (following a weird sequence of her in a dreamlike state, surrounded by dancing demons and giving herself to Satan) by being pecked to death by a raven. Hop-Toad gets revenge of his own by giving Alfredo an ape costume to wear to the Masquerade, then tying him to a chandelier, hoisting him up, and burning him alive! The Masquerade itself is a bacchanalian orgy of decadence, interrupted by an uninvited guest… the Red Death personified!

Price is a malevolent force of evil, a sadist who degrades the members of his court and delights in his devilish cruelty. He also gives a powerful soliloquy  on the nature of terror: “Terror? What do you know of Terror, Alfredo?… (a clock ticks in the background) Listen. Is it to awaken and hear the passing of time? Or the footsteps of someone who, just a moment before, was in your room? But let us not dwell on terror. The knowledge of terror is vouchsafed only to the precious few”. Jane Asher (then-girlfriend of Beatle Paul McCartney ) is good as the peasant Francesca, as are horror vets Hazel Court as Julianna and Patrick Magee as Alfredo. The wildly vivid color scheme, shocking debauchery, and pervasive aura of death and decay make THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH a horror classic, and a fan favorite.

THE TOMB OF LIGEIA was the last in the Corman/Price/Poe cycle, and in my opinion the best in the series. It’s a melancholy mood piece with supernatural and psychological overtones, and an overwhelmingly gloomy sense of dread. Beautiful Rowena Trevanian (Elizabeth Shepherd), out on a fox hunt, is thrown off her horse, landing at the gravesite of Ligeia Fell. She’s startled by Ligeia’s widowed husband Verden (Price), a sinister sort decked out in dark glasses (“I live at night, my vision is painfully acute”). He takes her to his neglected, cobwebbed abbey home to nurse her wounds, where his only companion is ancient servant Kendrick (Oliver Johnston) and a mysterious black cat.

Rowena’s boyfriend Christopher (John Westbrook) and father Lord Trevanian (Derek Francis) come calling to retrieve her, but Rowena feels strangely attracted to the sorrowful Fell. The attraction is mutual… Rowena is a dead ringer for the deceased Ligeia. Soon the two are married, the abbey is spruced up, and the happy (?) couple give a dinner party, at which Fell gives a demonstration in hypnotism. The results are terrifying, as Ligeia’s spirit temporarily possesses the body of Rowena. The wedded bliss is short-lived, as Rowena is locked away in her room, and Verden is prone to taking long midnight walks. Rowena confides to Christopher she believes Ligeia is still alive, and he unearths her body, only to discover a wax effigy….

Price is appropriately moody, and his slow descent into madness is glorious to behold.  The ending features a battle between Price and that darn black cat ending in one of Corman’s patented frightening, flaming finales. The Vaseline-lensed, slow-motion nightmare sequence with Rowena chased through the abbey by her feline foe is Roger at his trippiest! The whole production looks more expensive than it was, and takes Poe’s story outdoors for the first time in the series. The screenplay by (all in one breath) future-Oscar-winner-for-CHINATOWN-Robert-Towne is dead on point (no pun intended!), and the movie’s score by Kenneth V. Jones is what I consider the best in the series. After THE TOMB OF LIGEIA, Corman grew tired of the horror genre in general, and the Poe pictures in particular, and moved on to more contemporary films. AIP wasn’t quite ready to give up on their cash cow however, and produced a handful of other, lesser Price/Poe outings. With the exception of THE CONQUEROR WORM (which really has nothing to do with Poe), none of them matched the dark, disturbing tales of terror concocted by Roger Corman from 1960 to 1965. Edgar Allan Poe may not have recognized some of them, but I’m sure America’s original Master of the Macabre would approve.

More “Creature Double Feature” posts –

THE BLACK SCORPION and THE KILLER SHREWS

IT CAME FROM BENEATHE THE SEA and 20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH

THE MONSTER THAT CHALLENGED THE WORLD and THE GIANT CLAW

RODAN and MOTHRA