Category Archives: American International Pictures
You know even the greatest of filmmakers have to start somewhere – and multi-award-winning Oliver Stone is no exception. The director, screenwriter, film producer and author is best known for such cinematic highs as Platoon, Wall Street, Natural Born Killer, JFK and Nixon, but he actually cut his directorial teeth on the 1974 Canadian horror, Seizure.
It’s a film I’ve only ever heard about – until now! While attending Dark Fest IV in London recently, I stumbled across a copy of the 2014 Scorpion Releasing Blu-ray. Now, what sold me was that one of the film’s stars, Martine Beswick was also in attendance and she happily signed it for me. So what’s it like? Well, I thought it might be as cheesy and OTT as Stone’s other attempt at horror – the 1981 misfire The Hand starring Michael Caine – but you know what? It is very peculiar, but not that bad.
Jonathan Frid (AKA Dark Shadows‘ Barnabas Collins) plays horror writer Edmund Blackstone, who is experiencing a nightmarish Groundhog Day in which three murderous intruders target Blackstone’s family and friends who have gathered for a weekend at a lakeside retreat.
But these are no ordinary psychos: there’s the beautiful but deadly Queen of Evil (Beswick), a dwarf called Spider (played by a pre-Fantasy Island’s Hervé Villechaize) and their scarred executioner Jackal (Henry Judd Baker). Dressed in medieval attire, the trio all seem from some other time and place. Are they real or figments of Edmund’s imagination?
Yes, it’s got some rather clunky editing going on, and the performances are of the ‘chewing the scenery’ type, but Stone’s home invasion thriller has a weird adult fairy tale vibe going on that makes it so unique.
Along for the wild ride is Warhol superstar Mary Woronov (just before she joined Roger Corman’s indie gang) – who shows off her athletic body during a rather bizarre knife fight, fading sex symbol Troy Donahue, soap star Christina Pickles, voice-over king Joseph Sirola, and (making his first feature) Richard Cox, who would find fame as the gay serial killer in William Friedkin’s Cruising. What a cast!
The Blu-ray features a new HD master from the original vault elements, so it looks as good as it will ever be and I must say that Beswick steals the show in her Morticia Addams-styled black attire and luscious red lipstick. Although Sirola’s obnoxious Trump-like Charlie does come in a close second. Given that, for years, Stone has tried to erase this film from his credits, it’s certainly one to seek out. The Scorpion release also has a great interview with Woronov (whose description of Stone had me howling) and Cox (who has some fun memories of working on the movie).
Troll: The Complete Collection | The 1980s fantasy franchise gets a Eureka Classics Limited Edition Blu-ray release
Long before a certain young wizard called Harry Potter waged a magical war against the dreaded Lord Voldemort, another youngster, also called Harry Potter, found himself battling a pint-sized dark wizard in the 1986 fantasy comedy Troll.
While critically-panned at the time, Troll has become something of a cult curiosity ever since it scored big on the home video business, where it even overtook The Goonies in rentals. Noah Hathaway from Never Ending Story fame plays the spunky hero, Harry Potter Jr, who comes under the tutelage of a white witch called Eunice St. Clair (June Lockhart of Lost in Space fame) when his sister Wendy is possessed by Torok (Phil Fondacaro) – a powerful fairy (and Eunice’s former lover) who was turned into a troll after starting a war between fairies and humans.
Small, smart, dripping with saliva, and with teeth that would keep a dentist in bridgework for life, Torok wants to transform the human world back into the grand, magical kingdom that existed many centuries ago… With just 72 hours to complete his mission, Torok creates his fairy world inside a San Francisco apartment block and starts turning its tenants, including Sonny Bono, a pre-Seinfield Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Phil Fondacaro (who also plays a friendly neighbour), into goblins, nymphs and elves. Armed with Eunice’s magical staff, Harry then heads into the alternate world to save the day…
Troll was the brainchild of two protégés from Roger Corman’s New World quickies, screenwriter and former Fangoria-editor Ed Naha and director/sfx artist John Carl Buechler. It was originally planned to be a blood-drenched R-rated horror flick set in a sleazy motel called Goblin for Corman, but got transformed into a PG-13 fantasy in the Ghoulies and Gremlins mold when it was greenlit by Charles Band’s Empire Pictures.
While it has its faults, Troll boasts some neat practical effects, but is also packed with some delightfully odd moments, including a bizarre elfin-led musical number, June Lockhart turning into her real-life daughter Anne – not to mention Moriarty’s hyperactive turn as Harry’s 1960’s music-jiving dad (also called Harry Potter) and the film within the film called Pod People from the Planet Mars which plays on a TV set during all the mischief and mayhem.
In the unrelated 1990 sequel, Troll 2, produced by prolific Italian film-maker Joe D’Amato, young Joshua (Michael Stephenson) makes a connection between the local residents of a town called Nilbog (try writing it backwards?) and a fairytale he was told by his grandfather (Robert Ormsby). Realising that the townsfolk are all goblins, he tries to prevent his family from eating any food before they are turned into vegetable matter…
My word, this is really bad – and not in a good way! In fact, its downright painful to sit through such bad acting, dialogue and makeup effects. This is only for cult film masochists or Joe D’Amato completists. In 2009, Stephenson, directed a documentary about the film’s production and subsequent popularity, humorously titled Best Worst Movie, which is also included in the Blu-ray box-set, as part of the Eureka Classics series, along with the following special features…
• The Making of Troll: featuring director John Carl Buechler, producer Charles Band, Writer Ed Naha, composer Richard Band and more
• Audio commentary on Troll 2 with actors George Hardy and Deborah Reed
• Best Worst Movie: deleted scenes and interview footage
• Interview with Deborah Reed
• Screenwriting Q&A with Jeff Goldsmith, Michael Stephenson and George Hardy
• Fan contributions
• Monstrous – Music Video by ECOMOG
• Booklet featuring rare archival material
• Limited Edition O Card slipcase featuring artwork by Devon Whitehead
Based on an allegedly real-life paranormal encounter experienced by George and Kathleen Lutz in the mid-1970s, AIP’s The Amityville Horror scared the willies out of me when I saw it on the big screen back in 1979. And after all these years, the seminal shocker remains a thrilling exercise in suspense thanks to Stuart Rosenberg’s masterful direction, the top production values, a chilling Lalo Schifrin score, and some great performances.
James Brolin and Margot Kidder play the fraught couple who, along with Kathy’s three kids, buy a beautiful Long Island home, but they know nothing about the murders that took place there several years earlier.
And it’s not long before some inexplicable events start happening: Rod Steiger’s visiting priest turns into a sweaty nervous wreck when he’s bugged by a swarm of flies; the babysitter gets locked in a cupboard; and the Lutz’s little daughter gets herself an imaginary friend who turns malevolent.
Plus, there’s those spooky windows glowering like devil eyes, a vomiting nun, and James Brolin getting more mad-eyed, weird and sweaty while out chopping wood… Oh! and then there’s bubbling goo… Add some lightning and thunder and the family fleeing for their lives and you’ve got yourself the perfect scarefest.
Along with Burnt Offerings, Poltergeist and The Shining, The Amityville Horror is haunted house horror at its chilling best. So this new Blu-ray release from Second Sight is welcome addition to my cult film collection; while the bonus features are just the icing on the cake.
Check them out here:
• Brolin Thunder: Interview with actor James Brolin (his comments on The Car made me roar with laughter)
• Child’s Play: Interview with actor Meeno Peluce
• Amityville Scribe: Interview with screenwriter Sandor Stern
• The Devil’s Music: Interview with composer Lalo Schifrin
• My Amityville Horror: Feature-length documentary with Daniel Lutz
• For God’s Sake, Get Out: Featuring James Brolin and Margot Kidder
• Intro by Dr. Hans Holzer, PhD. in parapsychology (author of ‘Murder in Amityville’)
• Audio commentary by Dr. Hans Holzer
• Original trailer, TV spot, radio spots
• Four reproduction lobby card postcards (SteelBook Exclusive)
• New optional English subtitles
Blood Bath (1966) | Roger Corman’s Operation: Vampire Psycho Killer Thriller Murder Mystery gets the Arrow treatment
If you have ever wondered why the 1966 American International Pictures’ drive-in horror Blood Bath looks like it was shot by Orson Welles in an exotic European locale, then this latest Arrow release was made just for you. Containing four separate films, Operation Titian (1963), Portrait in Terror (1965), Blood Bath (1966) and Track of the Vampire (1967) and an insightful visual essay, this limited edition box-set is must-have for fans of 1960s schlock and the cinema of the king of the B’s Roger Corman.
When it hit the drives in 1966, Blood Bath put a surreal psycho sexual vampiric spin on Roger Corman’s Bucket of Blood, and weaved into its oddball tale of a tortured Californian artist (William Campbell) haunted by an ancestor’s sorceress mistress, were four-minutes of moody shots lifted from a Yugoslavian murder mystery called Operation Titian.
Directed by Rados Novakovic, this 1963 Edgar Wallace-styled whodunit followed two homicide detectives in Dubrovnik investigating a murder linked to a long-lost Titian painting that is also being sought by an Italian criminal (Patrick Magee) and being obsessed over by fantasist artist (Campbell).
Making great use of the baroque splendour of the ancient renaissance port city, and shot with an eye to Orson Welles, the atmospheric thriller was re-edited for the US market with a 24-year-old Francis Ford Coppola as its new story editor. But Corman was unhappy with the results and put another assistant, Stephanie Rothman, in charge of adding in some new scenes. Portrait in Terror, which it was then retitled, was later released direct to TV as part of AIP’s 1967 Amazing Adventures collection.
Still wanting to make use of Operation Titan, Corman hired Jack Hill to turn it into a horror film. Adding surreal elements, some Charles Addams visuals and neatly incorporating Wellesian imagery shot around Venice Beach, Hill fashioned his first cut as psycho thriller before he had to move onto a project that would become one of his best known works: Spider Baby. Rothman was then drafted to complete the picture, and decided on turning it into a vampire movie.
But with William Campbell no longer available, a double was used for the new scenes. The 69-minute Blood Bath was the result. And adding to the hodgepodge was a soundtrack of Ronald Stein scores lifted from The Undead and The Haunted Palace. Too short for a TV release, Rothman was back on board to pad the film out with 8-minutes of running about and a 4-minute spontaneous dance scene. This new edit would be re-titled Track of the Vampire.
For many, this is the first time that Operation Titian has been made available, and it’s a revelation (I’ve now started seeking out the other films of its Serbian director). And despite its flaws, seeing a restored version of Blood Bath, is also a real treat. As for Portrait in Terror and Track of the Vampire, well it will certainly please the completists, but they are missable in my book.
What’s not missable, however, is Tim Lucas’ visual essay. Engrossing and illuminating, his feature-length analysis of Blood Bath’s convoluted history makes revisiting the film and its various versions all the more rewarding. It also ends a chapter in the film historian’s life-long quest in connecting the dots to Roger Corman’s horror, which also serves to highlight the maverick producer’s ‘rich engendering of films and film-makers’.
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation of four versions of the film: Operation Titian, Portrait in Terror, Blood Bath and Track of the Vampire
• Brand new 2K restorations of Portrait in Terror, Blood Bath and Track of the Vampire from original film materials
• Brand new reconstruction of Operation Titian using original film materials and standard definition inserts
• Optional English subtitles on all four versions
• The Trouble with Titian Revisited – Tim Lucas examines the convoluted production history of Blood Bath and its multiple versions
• Bathing in Blood with Sid Haig – New interview with the actor
• Archive interview with producer-director Jack Hill
• Stills gallery
• Double-sided fold-out poster featuring original and newly commissioned artworks
• Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Dan Mumford
• Limited edition booklet
The Vampire Lovers (1970) | Hammer’s blood, breasts and blades Gothic horror is a buxom beauty indeed
By the late 1960s, those ghoulish purveyor’s of British Gothic horror, Hammer Films, needed more than Christopher Lee’s blood-shot-eyed Count Dracula to get bums back on the seats at local picture houses. What they needed was a good dose of sex and sadism. And so lesbianism reared its fangs in darkest Styria (just a couple of counties away from Karlsbad and Ingolstadt), where Ingrid Pitt put the vamp in vampire and the bite on some busty beauties, including Madeline Smith, Pippa Steele and Kate O’Hara, in 1970’s The Vampire Lovers.
In the first of two films for Hammer, Polish actress Pitt plays Mircalla Karnstein, the last remaining descendant of a family of vampires who conducted a reign of terror until Baron Hartog (Douglas Wilmer) took his blade to the heads of her undead loved ones. Now she’s back corrupting the daughters of a General (Peter Cushing) and a wealthy family headed up by Minder’s George Cole. But she’d better watch her head because Hartog and the General are hot on her tail…
A somewhat faithful adaptation of Sheridan Le Fanu’s 1871 Gothic novella Carmilla (that had been tackled by Carl Dreyer in 1932’s Vampyr and Roger Vadim in 1960s Et Mourir de Plaisir/Blood and Roses), The Vampire Lovers was Hammer’s first sex vampire film and their only co-production with American International Pictures (who were in Europe at the time making a new slate of Poe/Price films).
It was also a watershed moment for the studio as by taking advantage of the change in the age restriction for X-certificate films, from 16 to 18, they could now include more sex and nudity, something that would dominate their horror output for the remainder of the decade.
Thanks to Ingrid Pitt’s totally uninhibited portrayal of the nipple-sucking vampire, the UK censors got their knickers in a twist over the film’s overt lesbianism, but it earned Pitt cult status, and with English Rose Madeline Smith under spell, Pitt sent the pulses racing of young males everywhere. Meanwhile, the censors also got nervous over decapitation scene, something that the US censors cut out altogether.
Shot at Elstree under the helm of Roy Ward Baker (who was slightly embarrassed by the sex content), but making excellent use of Moor Park Mansion in Hertfordshire, the film also introduced something new to Hammer’s vampire lore: the sexual possession/addiction aspect of vampirism, which Kate O’Mara brings to the fore in her masochist governess, Madame Perrodot.
When it was originally released in the UK in October 1970, The Vampire Lovers was one of the country’s biggest money spinners, which resulted in Hammer continuing the Karnstein legacy in Lust for a Vampire (where Yutte Stensgaard’s Mircalla invades a girl’s finishing school) and Twins of Evil (where Damien Thomas’ Count faces off Peter Cushing’s puritan witch hunter).
THE FINAL CUT ENTERTAINMENT RELEASE
According to Hammer fans, including expert Jonathan Rigby (who co-hosts the audio commentary), Final Cut’s Region B digitally re-restored release (which came out on Blu-ray in November 2014 and gets its DVD debut on 14 March 2016) is regarded as the best home entertainment version available to date (an earlier Australian release had questionable audio, while the Scream Factory release contained an inferior transfer print). It’s also the most complete version as it includes a decapitation sequence that was cut from previous (US) versions. The extras include audio commentary with Rigby and Marcus Hearn (who really know their Hammer), a 25-minute documentary New Blood: Hammer Enters the 70s (which includes a look at the Hammer archives at De Montfort University in Leicester), stills gallery, original trailer, restoration comparisons; and subtitles for the hard of hearing. While Scream’s release may lose points on print quality, it does have, amongst its extras, an archive audio commentary with director Roy Ward Baker, actress Ingrid Pitt and producer Tudor Gates, who – alas – are all no longer with us.
One of my Top Five re-releases of 2015 has to be Arrow’s Blu-ray release of Jack Hill’s 1973 thriller Coffy, one the best Blaxploitation films of the era, and the one that turned Pam Grier into a cinematic icon.
‘This is the end of your life you motherfucking dope pusher’
LA nurse Flower Child Coffin (Pam Grier), aka Coffy, goes on a one-woman mission to take down those responsible for turn her little sister onto heroine and putting her honest cop friend Carter (William Elliott) in hospital. Posing as a junkie hooker and a high-class Jamaican escort, Coffy works her way into the inner circle of drug-dealing pimp King George (Robert DoQui), where she finds the level of corruption is much closer to home than she expected…
Coffy was a godsend part for exploitation actress Pam Grier. Her baddass vigilante was a landmark in 1970s cinema and redefined what it meant to be a powerful black woman on screen. As the street wise and fiercely independent hard-working nurse who isn’t unafraid to put her body and her life on the line to exact her own form of justice, she was the perfect modern, revolutionary heroine. And Grier brilliantly brought her to life.
The American International Pictures actioner was also a career boast for B-movie auteur and director for hire, Jack Hill, who had previously lensed two ‘chicks in chains’ grindhouse movies (both with Grier), as well as the Lon Chaney Jr cult curio, Spider Baby, and also shot the US scenes for Boris Karloff’s infamous Mexican horror quartet.
When Cleopatra Jones, AIP’s female Shaft project, ended up being picked up Warner Bros, AIP put Coffy together in just 18 days in a bid to beat them to the punch. Director Hill certainly delivered the goods, as audiences really dug the film. A follow-up, Foxy Brown, quickly followed, again with Grier in the lead, and Hill directing – and it was just as good.
Despite it’s grindhouse veneer, Coffy‘s sex and violence isn’t done solely for cheap thrills. There’s a strong morale code running under the surface, while the racial issues it touches on reflected what was going on in 1970s America – and still does today, particularly in the light of those events in St Louis and Baltimore. But its Hill’s street smart script and tight direction that sets this Blaxploitation feature apart.
But Coffy is also pure entertainment, with some great ‘guilty pleasure’ moments that stay with you forever, like the call-girl cat fight scene and Coffy hiding razor blades in her Afro. There’s also King George’s wicked fashions (he also gets his own theme tune) and the funky R&B Roy Ayers soundtrack (which peaked at No31 in the US charts in 1973). Oh, and let’s not forget THAT poster, which Tarantino called ‘the epitome of a great exploitation poster’. Grier followed this film with AIP’s Scream Blacula Scream, which also available on Blu-ray (click on the link for my review).
THE BLU-RAY RELEASE
Arrow’s director-approved presentation features a restored HD transfer (which looks fantastic btw) alongside an audio commentary with Jack Hill. Among the new interviews on this release is A Taste of Coffy, featuring Hill on making the film (19min), and The Baddest Chick in Town!, in which Pam Grier discusses the films and her inspiration behind the character (17min). Also included is an academic video essay on the Blaxploitation genre, image gallery, and a collector’s booklet, with new artwork packaging by Gilles Vranckx.
• Foxy Brown, director Jack Hill’s follow up to Coffy, is also out on Blu-ray from Arrow, along with the director’s Spider Baby and Pit Stop, which are also on Dual Format (DVD and Blu-ray). Click on the links for my reviews.
If you’ve seen the 2014 remake, well here’s your chance to see the original 1976 drive-in crime thriller which shocked audiences on it’s release, preceded the slasher phenomenon, and included a castaway from Gilligan’s Island amongst its victims, as Eureka! Entertainment has released a brand new HD transfer of the legendary film on Blu-ray and DVD.
Starring Andrew Prine and Ben Johnson, and directed by Charles B Pierce, The Town That Dreaded Sundown is based on one of America’s most baffling murder cases. In the spring of 1946, the small town of Texarkana is terrorised by a mysterious assailant targeting young lovers in parked cars. Baffled local deputy Norman Ramsey (Andrew Prine) then calls in Texas Ranger JD Morales (Ben Johnson) to help him track down what the press call, The Phantom Killer, before he can strike again…
This American International Pictures (AIP) release has garnered quite a cult reputation over the years. Director Pierce was a former set decorator (he worked on AIP’s Coffy) before directing his first feature, the seminal faux Bigfoot documentary The Legend of Boggy Creek.
On the back of the success of Boggy Creek, Pierce again used documentary elements (and the same narrator) for his fictionalised thriller. He also added in some comic elements (including having himself play a bumbling cop), which ended up making the film’s violence all the more shocking: especially the now infamous death by trombone and the terrifying cornfield escape by Dawn Wells (aka Gilligan’s Island’s Mary Ann), who plays real-life victim Helen Reed.
The Eureka! Entertainment Dual Format UK release includes a brand new 1080p high-definition transfer and progressive DVD encode, presented in the film’s original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, and this is a huge improvement on the prints that crop up on The Horror Channel in the UK, and also serve to really highlight the colourful Panavision cinematography.
The special features include trailers for the original and the 2014 remake; interviews with Andrew Prine, Dawn Wells, and director of photography James Roberson; a fascinating featurette Small Town Lawman about Prine; and an audio commentary with historians Justin Beaham and Jim Presley. In the US, the film is released through Shout! Factory with the same extras, but also includes Pierce’s follow-up, The Evictors (1979).
Blood of Dracula screens today on The Horror Channel (Sky 319/320, Virgin 149/202, Freeview 70, Freesat 138/139) at 3.50pm
Sherwood School for Girls should have the inspectors called in, what with its batty chemistry teacher Ms Branding (Louise Lewis) hypnotising one of the pupils, Nancy (Sandra Harrison), with a Carpathian vampire amulet as part of some bizarre scientific experiment…
This low-budget black and white AIP offering, released on a double bill with I Was a Teenage Frankenstein, is worth checking out just for Harrison’s hilarious Nosferatu-styled make-up of fangs, bushy eyebrows and peaked hairstyle. There’s also singer Jerry Blaine (Tab) wooing the girls with the dire musical number Puppy Love and Lewis’ idiotic explanation, ‘No one can calculate the hazards of radiation…’, on just why she’s experimenting on her pupils.
The film, which has nothing to do with Dracula by the way, was retitled Blood is My Heritage in the UK (presumably so not to clash with the superior Blood of the Vampire, released the same year). Director Herbert L Strock followed this with How to Make a Monster, while producer Herman Cohen went on to make a handful of British Bs, including my favourite, Konga.
JERRY BLAINE SINGS PUPPY LOVE
To mark the 16 February UK Blu-ray/DVD release of The Comedy of Terrors from Arrow Video (reviewed at the bottom of the post), here’s a look back at the vintage horror farce.
‘You’re invited to a funeral’
Welcome to the Hinchley & Trumbull funeral parlour, the only establishment of its kind that has found the secret of increasing business – by furnishing its own corpses! From Jacques Tourneur, director of the horror classics, Cat People, I Walked with a Zombie and Night of the Demon, comes the 1963 horror spoof, The Comedy of Terrors, starring four masters of the macabre – Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Basil Rathbone and Boris Karloff.
‘What place is this?’
Inebriate undertaker Waldo Trumbull (Price) is running a New England funeral home business owned by his ageing father-in-law (Karloff)… straight into the ground. Hounded by his penny-pinching landlord Mr Black (Rathbone) for non-payment of rent, Trumbull and his put upon assistant Felix Gillie (Lorre) hatch a plan to boost business. But murder is not their forté, especially when their latest ‘client’ refuses to stay dead…
‘Every shroud has a silver lining when old friends get together for a real swinging blast of grave robbery… poisoning, and multiple mayhem!’
So declared the promo poster for American International Pictures‘ The Comedy of Terrors, which famously brought together four great names from the horror hall of fame. In the early-1960s, AIP were riding high with their winning formula of director Roger Corman, star Vincent Price, screenwriter Richard Matheson, composer Les Baxter, et all. Following their full-on Colorscope Gothic horrors, The Fall of the House of Usher and The Pit and the Pendulum, AIP added some comic relief in 1962’s Tales of Terror, in a segment called The Black Cat, whose highlight was an improvised wine tasting scene between Price and Lorre.
Because the two spooks gelled so well, director Corman gave Price and Lorre the chance to do it all over again in his 1963 fantasy spoof, The Raven. Out of that was born a gruesome twosome comedy duo that were like an Abbott & Costello for the drive-in generation. Wanting to tap those funny bones again, AIP gave Matheson free reign to conjure up another vehicle for them. The result was The Comedy of Terrors (originally called Graveside Story), which was shot over 15 days, starting 4 September 1963, and released in US cinemas on 22 January 1964.
‘Comedy and terror are closely allied. My job as an actor is to try and make the unbelievable believable and the despicable delectable’ Vincent Price
As the roguish Waldo Trumbull, Price is at his ‘delicious boozy hammiest’ – according to the New York Herald Tribune – and has a whale of a time making the most of Matheson’s venomous dialogue – in particular his sardonic put-downs on Lorre’s wanted fugitive Felix (who is a terrible coffin-maker, I might add), while their slapstick misadventures evoke Laurel and Hardy – Price even gets to reappropriate their famous catchphrase: ‘A fine mess you’ve made of things again!’
Sadly, this would be the last time that the two pals got to act together, as the 59-year-old Lorre was in poor health during the shoot (his regular stunt double Harvey Parry did all of his action scenes wearing a mask), and died just two months after the film’s release. Fittingly, it was Price who delivered the eulogy.
Interestingly in this film, Price and Lorre reverse the roles they played in Tales of Terror, and again there’s Joyce Jameson playing a buxom mistreated wife with a drunk for a hubby. As Amaryllis, an unfulfilled opera star with the ‘vocal emissions of a laryngitic cow’, Jameson hits a real high with her ‘off-key’ singing during a funeral service, while her verbal sparring with Price is eminently quotable. David Del Valle’s audio commentary in the Arrow release is dedicated to Jameson, a great friend to the film historian who tragically took her life in 1987, aged 59.
Veterans Rathbone and Karloff are also game for a laugh in this Arsenic and Old Lace-styled affair (and shares a similar structure as that classic 1941 play which famously sent up Karloff’s horror screen persona). Rathbone is exceptional as the Shakespearean-spouting cataleptic who refuses to ‘shuffle off his mortal coil’, while he also gets to play up his thespian image and swashbuckling days (the sword play being an homage to 1938’s The Adventures of Robin Hood.)
At 76, and suffering from arthritis, Karloff was not up to playing Mr Black, a role which was originally offered to him. But as the endearingly senile Amos, who somehow manages to avoid the poison that Waldo offers him at every turn, Karloff is only one who keeps the farce from taking full flight.
The downside to Tourneur’s film, however (it was the director’s second-to-last feature before some TV work and then retiring), is that it’s rather stagey and old-fashioned (especially for the 1960s teen crowd that it was aimed at). It remains, however, a firm favourite of mine – a gleefully ghoulish slapstick affair with a classy never-to-be-repeated cast of old Hollywood greats.
DID YOU KNOW?
Richard Matheson scripted a follow-up called Sweethearts and Horrors, that was to feature the fearsome four once again, but it was shelved due to Lorre’s death and the film’s poor box-office takings. The unfilmed screenplay ended up being released in 2009 as part of Matheson’s collected works, entitled Visions Deferred.
The music is by celebrated composer Les Baxter (who also did the US scores for Mario Bava’s Black Sabbath and The Evil Eye in 1963, as well as Corman’s The Raven). The complete mono session which was recorded in November 1963 at Goldwyn Studios was uncovered from the MGM vaults last year and released on a now sold out CD.
RHUBARB | THE CAT IN THE HOUSE OF UNHOLY HORROR
Cleopatra is played by one of Hollywood’s most celebrated animal stars, Rhubarb (aka Orangey) – a 12-pound marmalade tabby who won two American Humane Association’s PATSY awards for 1951’s Rhubarb and 1961’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s (in which he has almost seven minutes of screen time), and who also appeared in The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957). In The Comedy of Terrors, Rhubarb gets an inspired scene in the closing credits.
THE ARROW UK BLU-RAY/DVD RELEASE
The Comedy of Terrors is presented its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 with mono 2.0 audio (uncompressed PCM on Blu-ray). The HD master was made available by MGM via Hollywood Classics, and includes optional English subtitles. The extras include:
• Audio commentary with David Del Valle and Rapid Heart TV’s David DeCocteau
• Vincent Price: My Life and Crimes: This is the unseen alternate cut of the 1987 David Del Valle interview that was previously released on DVD in 2002 as The Sinister Image
• Whispering in Distant Chambers: informative 17-min video essay by David Cairns, exploring Tourneur’s work.
• Richard Matheson Storyteller – Comedy of Terrors; this featurette on late screenwriter also appears on the Shout! Blu-ray and on the older MGM Midnite Movies DVD.
• Unrestored original US theatrical trailer (this makes the film look more racy and scary than it actually was).
• Collector’s booklet featuring a critical analysis of the film by Chris Fujiwara, author of Jacques Tourneur: The Cinema of Nightfall, plus archive stills and posters.
• Artwork by Paul Shipper.
OTHER BLU-RAY RELEASES
Also available on Blu-ray from Scream Factory (from October 2014), an imprint of Shout! Factory, with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 2.35:1 and lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track, as part of their Vincent Price Collection II bundle, and includes a Iowa Public Television introduction with Price, but no audio commentary. Blu-ray reviewers have also praised Arrow’s transfer over this one, both for its excellent print and audio transfer. A German Blu-ray was also released in May 2013.
If you want a further reason to add Arrow’s Vincent Price in Six Gothic Tales limited edition Blu-ray box-set to your collection, then here’s a look inside the collector’s booklet…
The House is the Monster
Video Watchdog editor Tim Lucas, who also supplies the commentary on The Fall of the House of Usher (1960), looks back at why Roger Corman chose to adapt Edgar Allan Poe’s tale of ‘corrupted lives and imminent doom’ for the big screen. This essay was originally published in Arrow’s booklet accompanying their stand-alone Blu-ray release (read my review here).
The Waiting Pit of Hell
Gothic Horror author Jonathan Rigby waxes lyrical over The Pit and the Pendulum (1961), Corman’s second Poe adaptation, paying particular attention to star Vincent Price’s barnstorming performance. This essay also appeared in Arrow’s booklet that went out with the stand-alone Blu-ray release (reviewed here).
Three Down, Five to Go
A Natural History of Ghosts author Roger Clarke traces the history of Tales of Terror (1962), the third Corman/Poe film in which star Vincent Price gives a trio of ‘lip-smacking turns’: as a Byronic necrophiliac (Morella); an adulterous wine connoisseur (The Black Cat); and a man suspended in a mesmeric trance (in The Case of Mr Valdemar).
• The title of this article includes Corman’s The Premature Burial, which starred Ray Milland instead of Price, in the series. As such, it should have been called Four Down, Five to Go, as that film went out three months before Tales of Terror. 1964’s Masque of the Red Death is not included in this release as it’s owned by StudioCanal (but that’s another story).
• Best bit of trivia: Voice-over artist Lennie Weinrib, who plays a policeman in the Black Cat segment, was the original voice of Scrappy-Doo in 1979 (still hate that character), and also voiced HR Pufnstuf (one of my favourites).
Comedy and Karloff
BFI National Archive curator Vic Pratt reveals how Roger Corman’s ‘Mad Magazine parody of a Corman horror’, The Raven (1963) was a showcase for veteran star Boris Karloff’s skill and versatility as an actor, and introduced the old-timer to a new generation, the college crowd.
Strange Echoes and Fevered Reptitions
Birbeck College professor Roger Luckhurst traces the history of Corman’s fifth Poe adaptation, the underrated The Haunted Palace (1963), which was actually based on the 1927 HP Lovecraft novella, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward.
The Last of the Corman-Poes: Excavating The Tomb of Ligeia
Julian Upton provides a witty and incisive essay on the making of The Tomb of Ligeia (1964), Corman’s lush final Poe entry, that gave the director the best reviews of his entire career and remains the finest interpretation of a Poe tale on the big screen.
Vincent Price: His Movies, His Plays, His Life
An excerpt from the 1978 biography that was ghost written for the legendary actor. This made me want to dig my copy out again.
Better to be On the Set than in the Office
Film historian David Del Valle interviews Roger Corman about his Poe screen adaptations. This is a reprint of an article that originally appeared in Films & Filming in November 1984. For those not familiar with Corman’s cycle, this is an informative inclusion.
The Black Cat/The Trick
Director Rob Green (The Bunker) discusses the making of his two 1990s shorts. Having never heard of the director before, I would have preferred the inclusion of Curtis Harrington’s first and final shorts (both adaptations of Poe’s Usher story) as that ‘cult’ director had a direct connection to Corman.
The Dell Comic Tie-Ins
Included are full reproductions of the Dell Comic adaptations of Tales of Terror (originally published in February 1963), The Raven (1963) and Tomb of Ligeia (1965). This is real treat (and something I will be elaborating on in an article for a book to be published in 2015).