Man, Turner Classic Movies has gone off the deep end with this erratic last two weeks before the autumnal solstice and sacrifice of the virgin, the spilling of his blood across the fields, the burning of the Barleycorn effigy, the return of Guy Fawkes, the anti-pope in the silver castle, the shambling junkies of Dean Street. and Onwards. As a trained expert in the cinemarcane allow me to steer your DV-R record finger to these off-kilter spook shows:
Notable mainly for its cast, including the bewitching Sharon Tate, this Brit devil movie gets mixed reviews but demands to be seen. Tate’s husband Roman Polanski allegedly helped her get this part, and the conspiracy scholars out there hypothesize that her role, coupled to the unholy blowback from Rosemary’s Baby, was what brought the Manson Family to her door in 1969. Aside from The Bride of the Devil (AKA The Devil Rides Out, which came out a year after this), the Brits have never been known for great devil movies and their censors used to cut any mention of Satan or Lucifer in any film up through the 60s, as if they very name could cause the Celts to rise up again. So use the conspiracy eeriness in the back of your mind to make this creepier than it would be without it. Anyway, David Hemmings and David Niven co-star, and it’s in black and white. Forgive it its trespasses….
The Mad Magician (1954) – ?
House of Usher (1960) – ***1/2
Diary of a Madman (1963) – ?
The Tingler (1959) – ***
House on Haunted Hill (1959) – ***
The Bat (1959) – *
Tower of London (1962) – **1/2
The Raven (1963) – ****
Starting at 8 with House of Wax followed by The Mad Magician (both setting the trend for a stream of stories where Price is a disgruntled craftsman using the tricks of his trade to seek revenge against critics, unfaithful wives or scheming business partners), here comes the silky Machiavellian slyness of the delightful Vincent.
The pair of films I can unabashedly recommend amongst this trove are the two Poe adaptations from Roger Corman–The Raven and House of Usher. See them again even if you just saw them. As Little Italy and De Niro were to Scorsese, so Poe and Price are to Roger Corman. Magnifique!
Of course if you want true campy gonzo goofiness for the whole family, with less byzantine wit, grab the two William Castle films in the mix, The Tingler and House on Haunted Hill but in Lucifer’s name avoid The Bat… it’s mostly shrill comic relief with two cranky old maids and my they do go on. See if you can find the bizarre 1930 original instead, with its crazy vertical tracking shots down the pipes of crazy genius William Cameron Menzies’ miniatures.
There are two films in this set that I actually haven’t seen, but am so looking forward to them: Diary of a Madman and The Mad Magician. I have grave doubts, but even mired in stuffy Victorian cushions and bland blocking, Price never disappoints.
Weds 30th – 3 PM
Experiment Perilous (1944)
The morning is spent with a lot of Hammer and Italian stuff that’s great background for getting your costume together or leafing through the newspaper to find the best hay ride, or sleeping. BUT at 12:15 comes Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966) which is only the second in the series and isn’t currently on DVD. So don’t even risk the DVR not working, stay home for it. After that is THe Devil’s Bride, which played a few weeks ago, and Dracula has Risen from the Grave which starts out super slow with some old priest climbing a mountain for around 30 minutes, but picks up steam when Drac picks up the trail of the man’s sexy niece.
At 5:30 the scare engine heats up even further with the Spanish-British horror union of Horror Express (1972), which was long a favorite back in the day, with an alien whose glowing red eyes carry imprints of things it had seen such as a book about dinosaurs, and Telly Savalas as a Cossack who comes barging onto the train at the worst possible time. Christopher Lee is the surly scholar and Peter Cushing is the Sherlock Holmes-ish hero — they’re a great couple, and the train with all its Victorian furnishings and International coziness, is terrific. The film barrels along with nary a dull moment and the kind of crazy Ancient Aliens-style storyline that doesn’t insult the intelligence even while blowing the mind and causing chortles over the cheap effects in spots.
After that, the Pricefest begins once more:
Now the bad news, it’s hit or miss starting with Price at his most floridly campy in Pit, kind of boring aside from one or two scenes with a mutant zoo in Palace, brilliant and essential in Masque, and then Phibes, which I’ve never liked. Why have Price play mute when his greatest asset is his voice? i’ve actually never seen Twice Told, not sure why. Tomb is badass and a great movie to come home to from the parties if you’re 21-40 and still partying all night on a Thursday like you should. After that avoid COnqueror Worm, though it gets great praise and is well made and acted it’s very unpleasant, with Price a bloodthirsty witch hunter terrorizing rural England, and Theater of Blood, one of those “disgruntled blank gets revenge on his critics in creative ways” tales they put Price in nonstop (see also Phibes), and kind of a low budget mess, in my opinion. Then again, maybe TCM has found a good print.
8 PM – Pit and the Pendulum (1961) – ***1/2
9:30 PM – The Haunted Palace (1963) – **
11:15 PM – Masque of the Red Death, The (1964) – ****
1 AM – Abominable Dr. Phibes, The (1971) – *1/2
2:45 AM – Twice-Told Tales (1963) – ?
5 AM – Tomb of Ligeia (1964) – ***1/2
6:30 AM – The Conqueror Worm (1968) – *1/2
8:15 AM – The Theater of Blood (1973) – *1/2
Really, TCM? That’s it? GRRRRR!