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 Leech Woman (1960) | Staying young forever comes at a deadly price in the Universal B-movie classic
Old women always give me the creeps!
When US endocrinologist Dr Paul Talbot (Phillip Terry) encounters 152-year-old Malla (Estelle Hemsley), he discovers she may hold the key to eternal youth. Accompanied by his alcoholic wife June (Nightmare Alley‘s Coleen Gray), Talbot takes Malla back to her African tribe, the Nandos, where she transforms back into her youthful self (To Kill A Mockingbird‘s Kim Hamilton) with the help of a ring filled with a miraculous elixir. However, there’s a deadly price to be paid: as the ring’s secret ingredient is secretion of the male pineal gland that can only be obtained by killing its host.
On learning that she is to be the next test subject, June kills her husband, steals the ring and heads back to the US under the guise of her own niece Terry Hart. But settling into her double life, June/Terry discovers she must kill and kill again to retain her beauty. But one of her victims proves her undoing when tries to win the affections of her lawyer Neil (Grant Williams aka The Incredible Shrinking Man)…
‘She drained men of their loves and lives’
Produced as a second feature to the US release of Hammer’s The Brides of Dracula, 1960s The Leech Woman is curious entry in Universal’s classic horror cycle. Helmed by screenwriter Edward Dein (who worked on the 1940s Tom Conway Falcon movies) it’s a strange brew of jungle adventure (cue stock footage of African wildlife and tribal dances), marriage meltdown soap drama and sci-fi fantasy.
While not exactly a spoof, the film doesn’t play it entirely straight, and this is evident from the outset as Coleen Gray and Phillip Terry trade acidic insults as bitter couple June and Paul Talbot in the film’s first act, which contains all of the film’s best dialogue, including: ‘I can’t reach you without crawling into a bottle’ and ‘As I doctor I resent the word butchering as much as I resent looking at you!’ Of course, being the first husband of Joan Crawford, Terry probably had a lot of material to use for these hilarious scenes.
And as a pertinent reminder of Universal’s horror pedigree, there’s some in-joke references to 1941’s The Wolf Man and 1942’s The Mummy’s Tomb that will tickle the fancy of classic horror fans, while 1950s scream queen Gloria Talbott is super fiery as Gray’s love rival, Sally.
‘I’ll show you! I’ll becoming beautiful again!’
With vanity, Gerascophobia (the fear of growing old), and modern society’s obsession with halting the aging process at the heart of the thriller, the most revealing line of the film: ‘There’s only one trouble with running away – you always meet yourself when you get there’. Which is what eventually happens to June when, cornered by the police after killing Sally, decides to leap to her death rather than face the horror of seeing herself age and shrivel up (courtesy of make-up legend Bud Westmore’s box of tricks). However, she does get to take her swan dive in a chic silver lamé culottes-styled evening dress creation by Bill Thomas (the same costume designer who also did all the fab gowns in Douglas Sirk’s big-budget soapy 1950s melodramas).
This is campy B-movie fun with an acid tongue and one important lesson: never try to steal Nandos’ secret recipe for their delicious chicken marinade.
The Screenbound Pictures DVD release features a pristine print of the black and white horror, with Dolby Digital mono sound.
Vincent Price in Six Gothic Tales | Everything you want to know about Arrow’s Special Edition Contents
Arrow’s limited edition box-set, Vincent Price in Six Gothic Tales, not only contains HD Blu-ray presentations of all six features directed by King of the B’s Roger Corman, but also a wealth of new and archives commentaries, interviews and featurettes for each film. Plus, some of the best newly commissioned illustrations I have ever seen. Here’s a break down of what’s inside the box-set, with my comments attached.
THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER
(these supplements are a re-issue, click here for my original review)
• Audio commentary with Roger Corman. This is the same one that you get on the 2001 MGM Midnight Movies DVD release and was also included on Scream Factory’s Vincent Price Collection I Blu-ray.
• Legend to Legend (27min): Joe Dante talks low-budget movie making and provides some neat anecdotes.
• The House is the Monster (30min): Gothic Horror author Jonathan Rigby re-examines the film. This featurette comes with a spoiler warning.
• Vincent Price – Malibu – Julliet 86 (12min): Interview subtitled in French by Claude Ventura, which was broadcast on French TV on 18 November 1986. This is well known amongst Price fans and was done while Price was doing Basil, The Great Mouse Detective.
• Fragments of the House of Usher (11min): Critic and filmmaker David Cairns examines Corman’s film in relation to Poe’s story.
• US trailer (unrestored)
• Artwork by Graham Humphreys
KK: The Scream Factory Vol 1 Blu-ray have the added bonus of Price’s intros, but this is a must-have. It also boasts a superior transfer.
THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM
(This is also a re-issue, click here for my original release)
• Audio commentary with the always charismatic Roger Corman. This was first included on the 2001 MGM DVD release, and is also on the Scream Factory Vol 1 Blu-ray.
• Audio commentary courtesy of the always informative Tim Lucas.
• The Story Behind the Swinging Blade (43min): Documentary on the making of the film.
• An Evening of Edgar Allan Poe (1970, 52min): Four classic Poe tales dramatised by Vincent Price unplugged, including The Tell-Tale Heart, The Sphinx, The Cask of Amontillado and The Pit and the Pendulum. (Unfortunately the 1080p transfer doesn’t improve on the original video source).
• Added TV Sequence (5min): Shot in 1968 to pad out the film for the longer TV time slot, this scene features star Luana Anders.
• US trailer (unrestored and pan and scan)
• Artwork by Gilles Vranckx
KK: This is also a must-have, with Tim Lucas’ audio commentary and the inclusion of the Poe TV dramatisation being the highlights.
TALES OF TERROR
• The Directors – Roger Corman (90min): This 1990 documentary explores Corman’s career.
• NEW Kim Newman on Edgar Allan Poe (30min): the novelist and critic, who’d make a darn fine lecturer in film studies, looks back at Poe’s influence on the big screen.
• NEW Cats in Horror Films (10min): Anne Billson, a novelist, critic, photographer and blogger (catsonfilm.net), discusses the contributions of our feline friends to genre cinema.
• NEW The Black Cat (1993, 18min): Short film directed by Rob Green. Though it abridges Poe’s original verse, the visuals are very Cormanesque.
• US theatrical Trailer (unrestored, but in the correct ratio)
• Artwork by Dan Mumford
KK: This is a coup for Arrow as it is not on either of Scream Factory’s Blu-ray box sets.
• NEW Peter Lorre: The Double Face (1984, 60min): Documentary about the German actor, from his early days in the theatre with Bertolt Brecht to his death in 1964. Subtitled. (unrestored).
• Richard Matheson: Storyteller (1993, 62min): This interview with the novelist and screenwriter also appeared on the 2001 MGM DVD release and on the Scream Factory Vincent Price Collection II Blu-ray.
• Corman’s Comedy of Poe (2003, 8min): Roger Corman (in cool, calm and collected mode) on the making of the spoof comedy. This is also included on the Scream Factory Vol 2 Blu-ray.
• NEW The Trick (1997, 12min): Director Rob Green’s short film about rival magicians. This has shades of The League of Gentlemen meets Buston Keaton.
• Gallery: Fantastic stuff. Can we have a pdf please Arrow? BTW: Check out Lorre smoking what looks like joint.
• NEW Promotional Record (6min): OMG! Paul Frees introduces Peter Lorre reciting Poe’s poem with Boris Karloff telling us its ‘the most blood curling thing you’ll ever see’! Also included on the Scream Factory Vol 2 Blu-ray.
• US trailer (unrestored)
• Artwork by Vladimir Zimakov
KK: The promo record is a real bonus here.
THE HAUNTED PALACE
• NEW Audio commentary by David Del Valle and Derek Botelho (author of The Argento Syndrome). Dedicated to the late Cathie Merchant, who appears as Hester Tillinghast in the horror, this commentary is fascinating stuff from David Del Valle, who shares my love for this underrated film. He has some great anecdotes (like Price becoming a millionaire after taking a profit percentage instead of a salary for House on Haunted Hill), while Derek makes a great sidekick – when he finally gets a word in. Best bit of trivia: the Aztec symbol painted on the dungeon wall also appears in Die, Monster, Die and The Dunwich Horror (which were also designed by Daniel Haller).
• NEW Kim Newman on HP Lovecraft (30min): The novelist looks at the challenges of adapting Lovecraft’s stories to the screen. You can tell this was filmed on the same day as his Tales of Terror segment by the bits of dust (or are they crumbs of food) on his jacket.
• A Change of Poe (2003, 10min): Roger Corman looks at the making of the film. This was also on the 2001 MGM DVD release and is included in the Scream Factory Vol 1 Blu-ray.
• Gallery (silent, with a couple of newbies)
• US trailer (unrestored)
• Artwork by Matthew Griffin
KK: The audio commentary is the highlight here.
THE TOMB OF LIGEIA
• Audio commentaries by Roger Corman and Elizabeth Shepherd. These originally appeared on the 2001 MGM DVD release, and are also on the Scream Factory Vol 2 Blu-ray. (The Shepherd one also has poor sound).
• NEW Interview with Paul Mayersberg, who worked as Corman’s everyman assistant, doing everything from finding the location and hiring the cats (they kept running away), script rewrites and filming the holiday sequence at Stonehenge. Recorded 30 September 2014. (25min).
• NEW Interview with 1st AD David Tringham, who talks about working with the fast-working Corman and his fears of the studio set catching fire. Recorded 26 September 2014 (8min).
• NEW Interview with clapper loader Bob Jordan about shooting in widescreen on a low budget and of filming on location. Recorded 7 October 2014 (8min).
• NEW Interview with composer Kenneth V Jones, who talks about the challenges of creating a score without Corman’s input. Recorded 11 March 2014. (6min). Now this is one soundtrack that so needs an official release. Anyone?
• US trailer (unrestored)
• Artwork by the Twins of Evil (aka Luke Insect and Kenn Goodall)
KK: Those interviews are priceless. Thank you Arrow.
Each feature is presented in the original 2.35:1 aspect ratio and offer uncompressed linear PCM 2.0 mono tracks. I found them all to be a richly colourful, pristine-looking upgrade on my MGM DVD releases. And while I already have the Usher and Pit SteelBooks, this Blu-ray box-set makes for a great companion piece. Now, what do I do with those DVDs?
Vincent Price in Six Gothic Tales is available on Blu-ray from Arrow from Monday 8 December 2014
The Pit and the Pendulum (1961) | Roger Corman’s ghoulish Gothic horror starring Vincent Price swings again onto Blu-ray
‘…the agony of my soul found vent in one loud, long, and final scream of despair’
This has been a great week for Vincent Price fans. Hot on the heels of the Arrow Video Blu-ray release of Theatre of Blood and ahead of The Complete Dr Phibes release on 9 June comes the Blu-ray release of The Pit and the Pendulum, director Roger Corman’s 1961 follow-up to The Fall of the House of Usher.
The Greatest Terror Tale Ever Told!
16th-century Spanish nobleman Nicholas Medina (Vincent Price) is a haunted man: he fears his late wife Elizabeth (Barbara Steele) was prematurely interred and now stalks his gloomy seaside castle as a vengeful spirit. But he’s mistaken. Elizabeth is very much alive and is using a childhood trauma – Nicholas witnessed his mother being entombed alive by his inquisitor father as a child – to drive him insane. But her sick plan works only too well – Nicholas goes over the edge and becomes his own raving mad father, which puts the lives of Elizabeth’s brother Francis (John Kerr) and the rest Medina household in mortal peril…
Bring me my pendulum, kiddies!
Roger Corman’s second stab at Edgar Allan Poe, 1961’s Pit and the Pendulum, is a wilder, darker, more violent ride than the previous year’s The Fall of the House of Usher. Aiming to repeat that film’s success, Corman used the same team and stylistic design, even the same story. But he ended up crafting a Gothic masterpiece that’s definitely its own beast and another commercial success in his Poe/Price cycle of films.
Again Richard Matheson was called on to flesh out Poe’s original 1842 tale, which essentially was a monologue about the torments suffered by a prisoner at the hands of the Spanish Inquisition. While not pure Poe (you have to watch the great extra on this release for that), the film certainly has a Poe-esque atmosphere about it: all dread and madness draped in mauve cobwebs and rococo furnishings.
Floyd Crosby captures this with some wildly fluid camerawork and rich colour cinematography, while Daniel Haller’s art direction comes to satanic fore in the scenes involving the titular rat-infested pit and blood stained pendulum (which was 18ft-long and weighed over a ton). Les Baxter’s minimal electronic score, meanwhile, lends the film a schizophrenic air – beginning with the film’s lurid liquid sky opening titles, which makes you think you are entering a terrifying acid trip.
While Crosby’s camera has full reign of Haller’s superb castle interiors, Vincent Price really lets loose with a performance that’s become as iconic as the film’s nightmarish set-pieces. Watching him go from morbidly depressed to murderously deranged while spewing Matheson’s fruity dialogue is a hoot. It’s also what made audiences want to come back year after year. If 1960’s House of Usher officially launched Price’s Master of Menace persona, Pit and the Pendulum most certainly crowned him the new king of Horror. This was what seeing ‘a Vincent Price’ movie was all about.
Price, whose first appearance in the film is ‘like a ghost in an amusement park funhouse’ according to Tim Lucas in his audio commentary, certainly outshines the likes of the stiff John Kerr (who later ditched acting to become a doctor), Luana Anders (who looks lovely, but that’s all) and Antony Carbone (who looks too much like Kerr to bother with), while Barbara Steele shows her mettle as the new horror queen with her sleek feline-like performance as Price’s scheming ‘dead’ wife. While some critics felt Price overdid it, director Corman thought his star was on the mark: ‘He was able to convey the intensity and the madness of the character, bringing it to its fullest extent without going over the top’.
[SPOILER’S AHEAD] The sequences which follow Price being lured down into the crypt to the grisly, heart-stopping finale (Steele gets locked up in an iron maiden, Kerr is almost cut in half by the razor-sharp pendulum, and Price tumbles into the pit) are the film’s visual highlights. And the final shots of Price glaring up out of the pit with his dead eyes open and Steele’s eyes peering helplessly from within the iron maiden have stayed with me for years. They also had a huge impact on other fans, including director John Landis, who said: ‘It scared the shit out of me! The ending is amazing… I’ve deliberately never seen that movie again. Not so much because it scared me, but because I know it couldn’t possibly be that good, you know?’
On its original release, the film, which was made in just 15 days on a budget of US$300,000, earned close to US$2million and became a hit with both critics and audiences alike, with the plaudits ranging from ‘a physically stylish, imaginatively photographed horror film’ (Variety) to ‘a thoroughly creepy sequence of horrors’ (New Yorker) and – my favourite – ‘Engagingly cornball insanity-in-the-castle hokum, with Vincent Price in fine eyeball-rolling, scenery-chomping form.’ (Joe Dante, Castle of Frankenstein). Even American International Pictures chief, Sam Arkoff praised it, saying: ‘I thought it was really good – the best of the Poes’.
THE ARROW BLU-RAY RELEASE
Arrow Video‘s high definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation is transferred from original film elements by MGM, featuring original uncompressed PCM mono audio, optional isolated music and effects track and optional English SDH subtitles. According to the experts over at DVD Beaver, its a robust transfer with a much higher bitrate than the US Shout! Factory edition, smoother and superior, supporting an excellent 1080P image despite some frame-specific damage, while the replication of the original production audio has noticeable depth.
• In Roger Corman’s audio commentary (which is also on the Shout! Factory Blu-ray release), the maverick producer/director looks back at the making of the film, revealing the visual tricks he employed in his ‘Freudian-inspired’ horror. Who knew that doors represent the vagina and the dark corridors are an initiation into sexuality? You’ll certainly read the film differently after listening to this.
• The other audio commentary, by Video Watchdog’s Tim Lucas (*), is packed with juicy nuggets (I always wondered why those castle matt shots ended up in The Monkees). And when it comes to the film’s technical minutia, Lucas really knows his stuff. Film buffs will lap this up.
• Behind the Swinging Blade – This new documentary on the making of The Pit and the Pendulum features interviews with Roger Corman, Barbara Steele and Victoria Price, while director Brian Yunza, who is a big fan of the film, also pops up. (43-min)
• Added TV Sequence – Shot in 1968 for the longer TV cut, this scene features star Luana Anders and is set in an asylum. Its a real curio, but for the life of me, I couldn’t work out where it would have been placed in the storyline. If you know, please enlighten me. (5-min)
• An Evening of Edgar Allan Poe – This terrific 1970 TV special, shot on video, gave Vincent Price the chance to do Poe unplugged, reciting The Tell-Tale Heart, The Sphinx, The Cask of Amontillado and The Pit and the Pendulum as he always wanted to do. The transfer quality here is on par the 2003 MGM DVD release. But did you know the period costumes were all designed by Price’s second wife, Mary? (53-min. With optional English SDH)
• Original Trailer
• Limited Edition SteelBook packaging featuring original artwork (SteelBook only)
• Reversible sleeve featuring artwork by Gilles Vranckx (Amaray release only)
• Collector’s booklet featuring new writing by author Jonathan Rigby, illustrated with original archive stills