Posts Tagged ‘Roger Corman’

Masque of the Red Death

The Masque of the Red Death (1964)

Directed By: Roger Corman

Starring: Vincent Price, Hazel Court, Jane Asher, David Weston, Nigel Green, John Westbrook, Patrick Magee, Skip Martin

Synopsis: A tyrannical prince terrorizes the plague-ridden countryside while hiding in his castle, throwing lavish parties for the rich.

Thoughts: Roger Corman and Vincent Price sure made a name for themselves by adapting Edgar Alan Poe stories for American International Pictures in the 1960s and The Masque of the Red Death is one of my favorites.

As he always does, Vincent Price carries this story with his over the top acting and immense screen presence. He absolutely oozes evil as Prince Prospero and seems very comfortable with using everyone around him for his amusement.

Although I really enjoyed The Masque of the Red Death, it was not a successful release for AIP and Corman, which Corman takes full blame for. He’s been quoted as saying, “I was becoming more interested in the Poe films as expressions of the unconscious mind, rather than as pure horror films.” I can totally see that, as this is a bit different than a lot of the previous Poe movies. There is a lot of symbolism and extensive use of color throughout. It is much more artistic than a lot of the previous entries. Corman was also worried that the script for Masque had too many similarities with Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, which it does, but I think Masque stands well on its own.

If you’re a fan of the other Corman Poe movies, this is a no brainer to check out. If you’ve yet to check out some vintage Corman/Price, this is a pretty good place to start, but you can’t really go wrong with any of them that I’ve seen.

Witchfinder General

Witchfinder General / The Conqueror Worm (1968)

Directed By: Michael Reeves

Starring: Vincent Price, Ian Ogilvy, Hilary Dwyer, Rupert Davies, Robert Russell

Synopsis: Matthew Hopkins, a witch hunter, uses his power and influence to spread terror across the countryside.

Thoughts: This is not your typical Vincent Price and AIP collaboration. Roger Corman is nowhere to be found and Vincent Price gives us a different performance than we are used to. Witchfinder General is also a pretty brutal film, packed with scenes of maleficence and torture. It’s a much more somber and mean spirited film than most of the previous AIP productions.

Although Vincent Price is the headliner here, he wasn’t wanted by Director Michael Reeves. In fact, the differences between the two are nearly legendary, as there were many stories of the two of them screaming at each other during filming. It’s not a stretch to say that they truly hated each other during filming. Price was very set in his ways and Reeves knew exactly what he wanted from his lead, and the two were never able to see eye to eye on the set. After the film was released and Price had a chance to see the finished product, he came to the realization of what Reeves wanted, and reached out to him to extend an olive branch. The end result was a much more subdued, and quite frankly, evil performance by Price.

Director Michael Reeves shortly after the release of Witchfinder General. He was suffering greatly from depression and insomnia and died of an overdose of barbiturates (deemed accidental by the coroner), so we never got to see what else he would produce. It’s always a shame when someone is lost at such a young age (he was 25).

Make no mistake, Witchfinder General is a very good movie, but it isn’t a favorite of mine. It is a dark movie, and very brutal for its time. The movie was deemed “overly sadistic” upon its release. The film actually was toned done quite a bit from its early versions of the script. The movie was not a commercial success, but would go on to become cult classic. It’s well worth seeing, but is not a favorite of mine.

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The Haunted Palace

Directed By: Roger Corman

Starring: Vincent Price, Lon Chaney Jr, Debra Paget, Cathie Merchant, Frank Maxwell, Guy Wilkerson

Synopsis: Charles Dexter Ward and his wife find more than they bargained for when they inherit the palatial estate of his great, great grandfather.

Thoughts: The Haunted Palace is one of AIPs and Roger Corman’s Edgar Allan Poe offerings. The only problem is that the only thing Poe contributed to this story is the title. The actual storyline comes from another legendary horror author, H.P. Lovecraft.

If you are a fan of classic horror, it doesn’t take long before you are as happy as a kid in a candy store. Not only is Vincent Price in this movie, but the iconic Lon Chaney Jr also plays a major role. It’s pure heaven for horror fans.

Corman does his thing, providing lavish sets, tight direction and some nifty camera work, all while letting his stars do their thing. As I’ve watched a few of Corman’s early works, you see similarities throughout. He’s never afraid to try a new trick or two, but his direction and camera work is always rock solid. He trusts his actors, something that seems mutual, and that really shines through in their roles.

The combination of Vincent Price, Roger Corman, Lon Chaney and H.P. Lovecraft is just as powerful, if not more powerful than the other Corman/Price offerings. In fact, this has become one of my favorite Vincent Price movies. The performances, story, and set pieces are just fantastic. If you haven’t seen this underrated gem, check it out.

Pit and the Pendulum

Directed By: Roger Corman

Starring: Vincent Price, Barbara Steele, John Kerr, Luana Anders, Anthony Carbone

Synopsis: Francis Bernard travels to his brother-in-law’s Spanish castle to investigate the cause of his sister’s death.

Thoughts: Following the success of The Fall of the House of Usher, the first American International Pictures Poe picture, the studio quickly moved to make another film. The story of The Pit and the Pendulum was chosen, and within a year, production was underway.  Although House of Usher was a success, the budget was still rather modest.  The set had to be piecemealed from around the back lots and even other studios.  The final product is pretty impressive none the less.

AIP knew that the Poe follow-up had to feature Vincent Price, even though his success made him more expensive.  As he always does, Price delivered in spades.  His unhinged performance as Nicholas Medina, as well as his father Sebastian in flashbacks, can be a bit over-the-top at times, but if you love Price, this is fun to watch.  Fresh off her success in Mario Bava’s Black Sunday, Barbara Steele played the ill-fated wife of Price’s character, and the subject of the investigation.  It’s really a shame she didn’t get more screen time, as it would have been fantastic getting to see her presence pair up with Price’s.  Corman felt that her accent was too thick, so the lines she did have ended up being dubbed over for the final version.

Roger Corman was also asked to come back for the follow-up.  Corman has been quoted as saying that filming was enjoyable and that a lot of preplanning led to an uneventful shoot.  Although Corman is rightfully known as a pioneer in low budget movies, he did not believe in filming by the “seat of his pants.”  He was notorious for carefully planning out the entire shoot.  He experimented a lot here with camera movements, especially throughout the climax of the movie.  The flashback scenes were especially masterful, using a blue tint and crazy camera angles.

I’ve only watched three of the Poe adaptations done by Corman, but this remains my favorite.  The combination of the story, the set, Price’s character and Corman’s direction puts it over the top.

Fall of the House of Usher

Directed By: Roger Corman

Starring: Vincent Price, Mark Damon, Myrna Fahey, Harry Elerbe

Synopsis: A man goes to great lengths to save his fiancé from an ancient curse.

Thoughts: The combination of Vincent Price, Roger Corman and Edgar Allen Poe was a potent one in the 1960s and this movie is where it all started.  Vincent Price starred in all but one of Corman’s Poe movies and it’s easy to see why.

Price is very comfortable in period pieces.  So much so that when you see him in a modern movie, it seems to be a bit out of place.  Price absolutely exudes charisma and commands the viewer’s attention whenever he is on the screen.  Here he plays the very insane Roderick Usher.  Price takes the Usher family curse and makes it a part of his character, wincing at every sound and reacting beautifully to his environment.  It’s easy to see why he is an icon of the genre.

Price isn’t the only one here that delivers a great performance, although it is easy to let Price’s performance overshadow the others.  Mark Damon, who plays Philip, actually won a Golden Globe for his performance and would use this role to catapult his career.  While he performed in multiple westerns and had a lengthy career in Italy, genre fans would most likely recognize his name as part of Mario Bava’s Black Sabbath.  Myrna Fahey’s performance is matched by her beauty as she brings the tragic character of Madeline Usher to the screen.

It seems a little silly to recount the career and accomplishments of Director Roger Corman.  The man is responsible for a multitude of great horror movies and was revolutionary in the world of budget filmmaking.  He was relentless, and often shameless, about taking advantage of the latest craze in Hollywood and making a profitable film.  What is truly amazing about Corman, is that he didn’t just make money, he also made entertaining movies. The Fall of the House of Usher was the start of a lengthy relationship with Vincent Price and the tales of Edgar Allan Poe.  Something tells me it wasn’t incredibly difficult to direct Price, but Corman combined him with a great cast, some amazing set pieces and delivered a really great movie.

This movie is essential viewing for fans of Gothic horror. It sits very well with movies from Hammer studios and obviously the other Price movies of the era.  It’s also a great place to start with Vincent Price or the Edgar Allan Poe adaptations.

Piranha

Directed By: Joe Dante

Starring: Bradford Dillman, Heather Menzies, Kevin McCarthy, Dick Miller, Barbara Steele, Bruce Gordon, Keenan Wynn, Belinda Balaski

Subgenre: Creature Feature

Synopsis: A massive school of killer piranha are accidentally released into the wild and threaten both a summer camp and a resort.

Thoughts: The success of Jaws created a tidal wave of “animal attack” movies in the late 70’s and early 80’s.  One of the best “rip-offs” has to be the Roger Corman produced and Joe Dante directed Pirnaha.  To be fair, nothing that imitated Jaws came anywhere close to capturing the terror of that giant shark, nor did any of them come close to the quality of Jaws, but at least a handful of them are pretty fun.

The acting in Piranha is a bit of a mixed bag, with some pretty over the top hammy performances along with some pretty awesome supporting roles.  Bradford Dillman plays Paul Grogan, a drunk hermit who ends up as the unlikely hero of the movie. In a lot of ways, he reminded me of Tom Atkins, probably because he was an older guy that didn’t give a shit and still bedded a younger leading lady.  His obvious pulls from his flask were often so ill-timed that it was hilarious!  I also loved seeing Dick Miller and the beautiful Barbara Steele in supporting roles.  Miller has a history of playing a sort of bungling character, and doesn’t deviate from that here either.

Joe Dante doesn’t seem to get enough respect when you talk about the “Masters of Horror.”  Guys like Wes Craven, George Romero and John Carpenter are often at the top of people’s list as far as horror director’s go, but Dante’s resume is pretty damn impressive and very diverse, which might be why he isn’t considered in the same light as some of the greats.  Piranha is one of his earliest works and his introduction to the horror genre. It’s pretty easy to see why Dante would go on to a successful career behind the camera as he does a great job here.  He keeps the action moving and the Piranha attacks were pretty inventive, even if you don’t really see much of them in the water.

As I mentioned before, Piranha is one of the better animal attack movies not named Jaws out there.  It’s close to the top of my list and one that I revisit often.  It’s like comfort food!  If you haven’t seen this one yet, make it a point to check it out.

Galaxy of Terror (1981)

Directed By: Bruce D Clark

Produced By: Roger Corman

Starring: Robert Englund, Sid Haig, Erin Moran, Ray Walston, Taaffe O’Connell, Zalman King

Sub-genre: Science Fiction – Horror

You know what I like most about Roger Corman?  He makes no qualms about what he sets out to do.  He readily admits that Galaxy of Terror sought to cash in on the success of Alien, just like he did with Jaws and Piranha.  He brought his own metaphysical spin to it, but none the less, the storyline mirrored Alien in more ways than one.

We start with a rather cryptic beginning as an old woman and mysterious man with a glowing head playing some game and speaking of putting “something” into motion.  The guy with the glowing head is referred to as the Planet Master and instructs a minion to send a ship to Morganthus, where we just witnessed a sole survivor get attacked and killed by some unseen force.

We get to meet the crew of Quest as they speed towards Morganthus, and quite a crew it is.  Corman has assembled quite the rogue’s gallery here, including pre-Freddy Robert Englund, Sid Haig, Erin Moran (Happy Days), Ray Walston, and Zalman King (who would go on to create The Red Shoe Diaries).  Most of the characters are pretty ridiculous, as you would expect, but I thought they did a pretty good job here.  On a side note, Sid Haig looks the same as he does today.  Apparently he doesn’t age.  At all.

The crew of Quest makes it to the distant planet and discovers the aftermath of a massacre aboard the crashed starship.  They soon make another discovery, a gigantic pyramid, rather alien in nature, and devoid of any life, according to their psi-sensitive crew member.  Of course, when the begin to investigate, they get attacked by all sorts of nastiness, including Sid Haig getting killed by his own crystal throwing stars and Robert Englund fighting and evil doppelganger  Easily the most offensive and memorable scene from the entire movie is the death scene of Taaffe O’Connell.  She is attacked and raped by a giant worm like creature.  Not only is she raped by it, but she dies at the apex of her orgasm.  Needless to say, the editors had to get creative here to achieve an R rating.  The first trip to the MPAA earned them the dreaded X rating.

The twist here is that all of the horrors that are witnessed are actually manifestations of the crew members’ greatest fears.  I just think it is a damn good thing that Corman didn’t get Dan Akroyd for the movie, because ol’ Stay Puft would have looked a little odd in outer space.  If you watch the extras on the Shout! Factory DVD, Corman talks quite a bit about this and about the worm rape in particular. 

Eventually, we come to find out that the pyramid is actually a test for the crew members, as the Planet Master is looking for someone to pass his mantle down to.  Only one survives, and he eventually becomes the new master.

It is amazing to see what was accomplished with a micro-budget.  Do yourself a favor and watch the making of featurette to learn how they used discarded McDonalds Styrofoam containers to make a spaceship.  On a side note, the Production Designer and Second Unit Director for Galaxy of Terror happened to be one James Cameron, who would go on to direct just a few major movies.

This was a fun watch, especially with the connections the movie has.  Do yourself a favor and settle in for a Roger Corman Cult Classic.