Tag Archives: Michael Reeves

THE VINCENT PRICE COLLECTION (2013 BLU-RAY)

A Vincent Price six pack has made its way to Blu-Ray. The set features some of the actor’s most iconic roles, along with at least one surprise inclusion. It is by no means a complete collection, as it concentrates primarily on the late actor’s work with  and AIP (since most of these movies were adapted from works by they are known as the “Poe cycle”). Even by that criteria, the collection is a mere introduction.

Price cemented his status as horror icon in Andre De Toth’s House of Wax (1953), despite the fact that that this 3D box office hit is a flat and unimaginative remake of Michael Curtiz’ vastly superior Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933). In a way, this parallels Price himself. Although he has been beatified by genre aficionados, and despite doing occasionally fine acting work, Price’ carefully crafted screen persona seems more derivative than innovative. That persona lacks the authenticity of a , , , or . The passage of time makes that even more apparent. Still, the veteran actor could often supply a luster to pedestrian productions, without necessarily redeeming them.

Fortunately, this Blu Ray collection, although somewhat haphazard in concept and packaging, is a marketable compilation in a “Vincent Price’s Greatest Hits Volume One” style. Like most such compilations, the choices deemed “greatest” are not without debate.

With The Fall of the House of Usher (1960) Roger Corman convinced AIP to give him an increased budget of $270,000 (which included color film) along with an extended shooting schedule ( a whole 15 days). Convincing the producers was no simple feat, as the film, with a literary source, lacked a identifiable “monster.” Somehow, Corman won Samuel Z. Arkoff and James H. Nicholson over when he pitched the house itself as the supernatural antagonist. While the film is not a masterpiece, Corman’s enthusiasm, matched by Price, the surreal cinematography by Floyd Crosby (High Noon), Lex Baxter’s score, and screenplay by cult genre favorite Richard Matheson (The Incredible Shrinking Man), makes it possibly the best of the Corman Poe cycle. This assessment is shared by most critics and by Price himself (although, reportedly, the actor’s personal favorite of his own films was MGM’s 1973 black comedy Theater of Blood).

Still from The Fall of the House of Usher (1960)Price’s aristocratic bearing and pronounced theatricality makes the effete, sensitive, and cowardly Roderick Usher utterly convincing. There is more than a hint of an incestuous relationship between Roderick and his sister, Madeline (Myrna Fahey), leading to masochistic decay and fiery finale. Almost singlehandedly, Price carries the film in the acting department, with his co-stars going the distance in convincing us that protagonist family is indeed a bland lot. Remarkably, the film was a box office success. This, along with critical accolades, paved the path for seven additional Poe-inspired films.

With  looking to become the “female Karloff” after Mario Bava’s hit Black Sunday (1960), the Price/Steele pairing in The Pit and Pendulum (1961) should have been a star teaming worthy of the Karloff/Lugosi collaborations of the 1930s. Unfortunately, Steele is wasted (and worse, dubbed) as the doomed (and believed dead) unfaithful wife-in-waiting. The team of Corman, Price, Matheson, Crosby, and Baxter return for this disappointing second entry. Pendulum is an eclectic low budget genre soaper, sloppily utilizing elements from numerous Poe stories. Steele isn’t the only wasted talent. Reliable character actors Luana Anders and John Kerr, poorly directed, come off as surprisingly stiff and mechanical. At the polar opposite is Continue reading THE VINCENT PRICE COLLECTION (2013 BLU-RAY)

MICHAEL REEVES’ THE SORCERERS (1967)

Michael Reeves’ The Sorcerers (1967), starring , became a barely noticeable cult film in a cinematically innovative era. A few prominent, hip critics took note of Reeves, and, in some quarters, predictions were made that he could become a horror director of the caliber of , , , or .

Reeves’ had only made one previous film, the low budget The She Beast (1966) starring horror icon , but it was imitative of ‘s work and received scant notice. In contrast, The Sorcerers was stylish, quirky, and unique, although it was also low budget and barely made a profit. Still, it resulted in Reeves’ being given a larger bankroll to work with in his third film: the critical and box office hit Witchfinder General (1968) starring .

Reeves’ death of a drug overdose at twenty-five, shortly before the release of Witchfinder General, affected that film’s reputation. Reeves was hailed as a tragic auteur in the James Dean mold. Since then, Witchfinder General has long been lauded as one of Price’s finest films. Its was considerably helped by the actor/star himself, who listed it as one of his two personal favorites, along with Theater of Blood (1973). Having a historical subject, Witchfinder General defies its period, is highly esteemed, frequently revived, and has been readily available throughout the video age.

In light of Witchfunder General’ s reputation, The Sorcerers was considered a lesser, obscure effort, partly because it seemed more dated and did not have a vital star to promote it (Karloff died a mere week before Reeves). Nor did the actor’s fans promote it. Instead, of Karloff’s late films, they waxed sentimental about Peter Bogdanovich’s Targets (1968), feeling that film was a truer coda for the “King of Horror.” It was only this year that The Sorcerers was finally made available on DVD as part of the Warner Archive collection.

Still from The Sorcerers (1967)The aged and poverty stricken Professor Marcus Monserrat (Karloff) is a long publicly disgraced hypnotist who invents a machine (cue sci-fi mumbo jumbo) which allows him and his wife Estelle (the delightfully vile Catherine Lacey) to project their consciousness into the minds of others. The Monserrats live in a dilapidated London flat during the swinging 60s (cue sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll), and Estelle is corrupted from bitterness due to her husband’s fall from grace. The couple find a willing guinea pig for their gizmo in stud Michael (Ian Ogilvy). Michael, bored with sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll, agrees to be strapped into the Professor’s mind-altering gizmo (cue psychedelia). Although clearly a product of the 60’s, The Sorcerers is imbued with a stylish, compact, contemporary impudence that transcends mere period novelty.

Once the couple psyche into Mike’s experiences, Estelle begins making up for lost years. She quickly becomes addicted to the experience, which causes her to become increasingly imbalanced. After she forces Mike into hedonism, theft, and murder, a battle of wills between Estelle and her husband leads into Being John Malkovich (1999) and Scanners (1981) territory.

The Sorcerers stands out as a respite from Karloff’s humiliating last years. Although seriously ill, the actor gives an admirably subdued performance that rises to a crescendo in the final showdown with his wife. As good as Karloff and Ogilvy are, it is Lacey who steals the film.

The lower budget trappings actually enhance the grittiness of a film that seems to be saying something about the jaded nihilism of the “I, me, mine” culture (well, at least it noticed it).

OCTOBER 31ST FRINGE VIEWING LIST

Here’s an alternative seasonal viewing list for the weird, that goes beyond the usual vampire/zombie/demon/slasher fare (although some favorite characters make appearances).

1. Matthew Barney’s Cremaster Cycle 3 (2002) . Only the third of Barney’s epic Cremaster Cycle, made over an eight year period, has made it’s way to any type of video release, which is criminally unfortunate. The Guggenheim Museum, who financed it, exhibits the Cycle and describes it as a  “a self-enclosed aesthetic system consisting of five feature-length films that explore the processes of creation.”  Trailers are available on the Cremaster website; www.cremaster.net. The third movie is available via Amazon and other outlets, albeit at expensive prices [Ed. Note: the version of Cremaster 3 that’s commercially available is not actually the full movie, but a 30 minute excerpt that’s still highly collectible as the only Cremaster footage released].  The Cremaster Cycle is complex, challenging, provocative and not for the attention span-challenged.

Still from Dracula: Pages from a Virgin's Diary (2002)2. Guy Maddin‘s Dracula-Pages from a Virgin’s Diary (2002). Guy’s Dracula ballet, choreographed to Mahler.  Just when you though nothing more could be done with this old, old story.  Of course, we are talking Mr. Maddin here.

3. Ingmar Bergman’s Hour of the Wolf (1968). Bergman’s ode to German Expressionism has been labeled his sole horror film. Hour is a further continuation of frequent Bergman themes—the defeated artist, loss of God, nihilism—and stars Bergman regular Max Von Sydow.  Some find this dull and slow, others find it mesmerizing and nightmarish.

4. Roman Polanski‘s The Tenant (1976) returned this consummate craftsman back to the territory of Repulsion and remains one of his best films.  Polanski is now facing extradition charges for having sexual relations with a willing, underage girl thirty years Continue reading OCTOBER 31ST FRINGE VIEWING LIST