Tag Archives: Robert Fuest

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)

CAPSULE: THE FINAL PROGRAMME (1973)

AKA The Last Days of Man on Earth

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Jon Finch, Jenny Runacre, Sterling Hayden

Still from The Final Programme (1973)

PLOT: Scientific genius, billionaire playboy, rock star, and international man of mystery Jerry Cornelius (no relation whatsoever to Buckaroo Banzai, though it’s probably not coincidental that he has the same initials as Jesus Christ) searches for a computer programme written by his recently deceased father which will somehow create the new Messiah: a self-replicating hermaphrodite destined to breed the superior race which will replace mankind. A lot of confusing, post-psychedelic, very 1973 stuff happens, but of course in the end he finds it. And then he turns into a gorilla.

WHY IT WONT MAKE THE LIST: It’s dull!

COMMENTS: This movie is very difficult to see. It doesn’t seem to be available on DVD anywhere for less than $100, and since I have no intention of paying that much (or indeed anything) to watch this clunker again, I’ll have to review it from memory. However, since I did catch it on the big screen at my local arthouse cinema a couple of years ago, I’ve probably seen it much more recently than most of the people reading this.

Here’s the thing. Most difficult-to-see films are difficult to see for legal reasons; usually they’re banned, or at least highly controversial. The Final Programme is difficult to see because so few people care about it that it’s not worth releasing on DVD. But its very unavailability has given it a totally undeserved cult status, which is why the few copies on the market sell for insane prices to people who think they want them. Ladies and gents, a word in your ear. Don’t get too excited about this movie, because when you finally do get to see it, you’ll wonder what all the fuss was about. And if you paid $100 for the privilege, you will not be a happy bunny!

The first problem with this movie is its leading man. Jon Finch is famous for starring in Alfred Hitchcock’s last (and most definitely not his best) film, Frenzy, and for appearing in a couple of Hammer horrors. He also would have been the guy whose chest exploded in Alien, if he hadn’t had to drop out due to health problems. So, a perfectly decent actor, but not exactly A-list (and by the way, he died on 28 December 2012, so RIP Jon). Jerry Cornelius is supposed to be an amoral anti-hero who combines the more interesting elements of Oscar Wilde and James Bond (and Buckaroo Banzai, who hadn’t even been invented yet), and for that, you need a lot more screen presence than Jon Finch could muster. Rumor has it that  turned down the role on the grounds that it was “too weird.” Given his performance in Performance, I can only assume that what he really meant was: ”This script sucks, and I can’t be bothered to argue.”

Michael Moorcock also thought the script sucked, and since he wrote the 1969 novel on which the film was based, he presumably knew what he was talking about. His outrageously decadent protagonist’s screen incarnation comes across as being a bit naughty and cheeky: there’s absolutely no sense that this man is either genuinely dissipated or the slightest bit dangerous. Which is especially unfortunate, given that it was only two years since A Clockwork Orange had shown us exactly what an amoral yet strangely charismatic anti-hero is supposed to be like (curiously, Patrick Magee is in both films).

Many elements of the film now considered “weird” were actually standard for any fairly expensive fantasy or sci-fi film made at that time. Yes, Continue reading CAPSULE: THE FINAL PROGRAMME (1973)

CAPSULE: DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN (1972)

DIRECTED BY: Robert Fuest

FEATURING: Vincent Price, Robert Quarry, Peter Jeffrey, , Valli Kemp, Hugh Griffith

PLOT: Dr. Phibes rises from suspended animation and travels to Egypt seeking waters of immortality to resurrect his beloved wife; but another man seeks the waters as well, and Scotland Yard is once again on Phibes’ trail.

Still from Dr. Phibes Rises Again (1972)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The original was just weird enough to make it a candidate for the List, but this nearly redundant sequel adds nothing new that would justify considering giving it its own separate spot.

COMMENTS: If you liked the original The Abominable Dr. Phibes, Rises Again tries hard to give you more of the same—campy black comedy mixed with bizarre characters, sets and (now gorier) murders—except this time there’s no logic or sense in the script whatsoever.  All the beloved characters are back, including all the ones that died in the first movie.  Mysterious silent assistant Vulnavia (played by a new actress, Australian beauty queen Valli Kemp) returns from the original, as do the clockwork musicians (Phibes packs them up in a steamer and ships them to Egypt with him). The sets and art design echo the original, with an Egyptian slant replacing the Art Deco look; there are some fun new sights like Price dressed as a sheik and an octagonal mirrored hallway. The half-serious campy tone from the first effort carries over, as does the black humor (watch as Phibes drinks champagne and eats fish through a hole in the back of his neck at a picnic with Vulnavia). A very few things have changed.  Whereas Phibes was nearly silent in the first film, speaking rarely and painfully through audio cables that ran from his neck to a gramophone horn, once he Rises Again you can’t shut him up.  For this outing he brought along an extra-long audio cable so he can wander about the sets, cursing all who would dare oppose them and plotting their fiendish demise without being limited to a five-foot radius around the phonograph.  (He often speaks without a hookup at all; maybe we’re just privy to his inner monologues).  And three years in suspended animation has sharpened his supervillain abilities: whereas in the first film, the Abominable doctor spent years plotting elaborate fetishistic schemes to kill his enemies based around Biblical plagues, now whenever he needs to he can simply whip up a spiked scorpion chair filled with creepy crawlies out of spit, bailing wire and whatever odds and ends he has lying around his pyramid.  In the sequel, Phibes is pitted against another villain (a megalomaniac Robert Quarry, who makes it clear he doesn’t appreciate the inconvenience when the doctor keeps killing off his henchmen) rather than against the forces of law and order: Inspector Trout and his Scotland Yard superintendent are relegated to comic relief (they hesitate searching Phibes’ pyramid because they don’t have a warrant). So this time out we’re explicitly encouraged to root for Vincent Price (not that we wouldn’t anyway, but the lack of noble opponent makes it easier to get on his side).  As mentioned before, the deaths are more gruesome in this sequel; the scene where Phibes’ pet falcon eats an interloper, pulling wads of flesh off his bloody corpse and swallowing them, pushes the limits of the movie’s PG rating.  Lack of a sensible script aside, Fuest does a good job of giving Phibes fans more of what they loved about Abominable, but the one thing he can’t reproduce is the original’s originality.

Due to bungled rights issues, TV broadcasts and the original home video releases of Dr. Phibes Rises Again did not include Price’s rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” replacing the sound in that key scene with generic instrumental film cues. MGM’s latest DVD releases (sold in a single disc edition, as a double feature with Abominable, and as part of a seven-movie Vincent Price box set) restore the soundtrack of the original.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Vincent Price usually came across as barking mad at the best of times, but add a daft wig, the inability to talk and some truly weird costumes, and you are taken into Salvador Dali territory by this performance…  If you saw it a while ago and tend to think of it as a gaudy example of psychedelic kitsch, it’s time for a major re-evaluation.”–Chris Wood, BritishHorrorFilms.com (DVD)

BORDERLINE WEIRD: THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES (1971)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Robert Fuest

FEATURING: Vincent Price, Peter Jeffrey, Virginia North, , , photographs of Caroline Munro

PLOT:  Dr. Phibes, a mysterious, organ playing supervillain, kills off doctors in bizarre and ritualistic ways as Scotland Yard races to find the pattern to the crimes and the identity of the killer.

The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971)

WHY IT’S ON THE BORDERLINE:  Dr. Phibes, the supervillain, is pretty damn weird, from his obsession with acting out 1920s torch songs to the audio jack in his neck that he connects to a phonograph when he wants to speak.  Dr. Phibes, the movie, is somewhat weird, though less so than its central character. Doubtlessly, the proper but incompetent Brits who are perpetually one step behind the bad doctor would term the goings-on here “decidedly odd.”  We’re not sold that Dr. Phibes is weird enough to make the List on a first pass, but we’re not comfortable writing it off, either, so it will sit in the Borderline category.

COMMENTS: The first scene of Dr. Phibes wisely spotlights the film’s keynote set and admirably sets a tone of ghoulish whimsy.  Organ music swells as the camera travels up a marble staircase until it reaches an odd atrium.  In the center sits an organ with a fan of pipes glowing with subtly garish yellows, pinks and reds.  Flanking this centerpiece are trees with stuffed birds of prey perched on their dead limbs.  At the organ sits the hunched, hooded figure of a man, who sways as if possessed and theatrically throws up his arms during  random passages as he plays.  After the opening credits fade a longshot reveals there is more to this room: there’s a clockwork band of automatons in tuxedos.  The hooded figure finishes his dirge, steps away, winds a crank and begins conducting the stiff figures as they belt out an impossibly lush big band ballad.  On a balcony above a door opens and out steps a beautiful brunette, Continue reading BORDERLINE WEIRD: THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES (1971)