Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. Why ZOMBIES & SHARKS? Well, those are the two things that I’ve had the most nightmares about. It’s the reason I rarely swim in the ocean. It’s the reason I have an escape plan from my apartment just in case of a zombie apocalypse. Now if you’ve ever had those fears or fears like them, inspired mainly by nights upon nights of watching films of the frightening kind, this is the place for you. So look for AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS every Friday for the foreseeable future, horror hounds, where we’ll be covering horror in all forms; retro, indie, mainstream, old and new.
Vincent Price was a dauntingly tall man with a demanding presence and a gentleman’s poise, even when he was being devious. There was something about his angular face and the tone of his voice that sent chills down my spine while watching him on the “Saturday Horror Matinee” show on TV as a kid. Even back then, I knew any film was made better with Vincent Price in it. He treated schlock like Shakespeare. With a sideways glance and a wry smile, Price could do what all of the other monster icons required fright makeup for. While other horror icons were made famous portraying the Wolf Man or Dracula or Frankenstein, Price did so by playing himself, a master of the macabre whether he was reacting to it or performing the foul deeds himself. Vincent Price would have been 100 years old today and while we celebrate his centennial with this column, I urge the readers to seek out a Vincent Price film and experience a true master at work. The films looked at in this column are just the tip of the iceberg of iconic roles Price portrayed. I hope you enjoy it. Happy Birthday, Mr. Price, wherever you are! Thanks for the scares!
But first, check out these horror news bits…
The makers of the indie zombie comedy BEVERLY LANE are in the middle of producing their next horror venture. To the right is the teaser poster for IDIOT GORE and the chaps behind the film were nice enough to share a trailer for the film too. Looks to be a lot of fun. Check out the teaser trailer by clicking here.
Another film positively reviewed here on AICN HORROR a while back, THE COLLAPSED will have it’s U.S. premiere as an official selection of the Fangoria Film Festival, part of the DAYS OF THE DEAD horror convention. Find out more about screening times here.
As reported earlier in the week here on AICN, friend of AICN HORROR Todd Lincoln (THE APPARITION), has been hired to direct a story by Joe Hill (son of Stephen King) called TWITTERING FROM THE CIRCUS OF THE DEAD. Mandalay is producing. The story is described as “written entirely as tweets from a teenage girl, follows an American family on a cross country road trip that goes horribly wrong.” The original story was published in THE NEW DEAD , an anthology of zombie stories published earlier this year. But Lincoln promises this is not just another zombie film, but an entirely new kind of threat. Sounds pretty cool. Find out more about it here.
I reviewed BUNNYMAN a few weeks back just in time for Easter. It definitely is a film to look out for. Well, the Bunnyman himself showed up at last week’s WEEKEND OF HORRORS and was met with equal parts creep and fun. See Bunnyman interact with the likes of Ted Raimi, Lance Henriksen, Tom Savini, Heather Langenkamp, & Danielle Harris. Even for a horror crowd, I don’t think they knew what to make of a 7 foot tall bunny splattered in blood and filth.
And now, let’s check out Vincent Price doing what he does best…
(Click title to go directly to the feature)
THE TINGLER (1959)
EDGAR ALLEN POE’S THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM (1961)
WITCHFINDER GENERAL (1968)
CRY OF THE BANSHEE (1970)
And finally… SUSPENSE: FUGUE IN C MINOR!
THE TINGLER (1959)Directed by William Castle
Written by Robb White
Starring Vincent Price, Judith Evelyn, Darryl Hickman, Patricia Cutts, Pamela Lincoln, & Phillip Coolidge
Retro-Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Though utterly flawed, THE TINGLER is by far one of my favorite movies of all time, let alone my favorite Vincent Price film. Sure, Price delivers better performances in WITCHFINDER GENERAL and scores of other films, but none of his films stack up to the sheer amount of fun and lunacy that is contained between the first and last reels of THE TINGLER. Though his presence is important in this film as the dedicated scientist, Dr. Warren Chapin, there are so many other aspects that make this film an instant classic.
William Castle’s showman tactics were always an important factor in his films, making them an essential part of wanting to see the film in a theater, but THE TINGLER hinged on that aspect. I’ve seen THE TINGLER in the theater with Castle’s Percepto (a buzzer installed under the chairs of random seats in theaters playing the film) installed and I have to say, as some films must be seen in 3D, it is a film that is enhanced by being in a packed theater. Everything hinges on the particular scene in which the Tingler gets loose in a crowded theater. That was Castle’s money shot. All else in the film, specifically the plot, falls by the wayside in comparison to the attention to this particular scene. It’s a great scene, don’t get me wrong, but had as much attention been given to other aspects such as script, plot, direction, effects and story, it might have been more than just the cult classic it is today.
Other faults revolve around this attention to the theater scene. Characters are introduced and then exit stage left, never to return. Logic is thrown out the window in the last scene in favor of a final jolt scare. The string that pulls the obviously rubber Tingler across a carpet is all too visible. But despite all of that B-movie hokiess, the film is still one of the coolest horror films ever.
So why is this such a cool film? Many reasons. There’s an absolutely hair-raising fright sequence as a mute woman (played with campy glee by Judith Evelyn) is scared to death because she can’t scream and she’s overcome by the Tingler’s steel grip. The climax of this sequence ends in a bathtub filled with Technicolor blood that leaps from the screen (TV or silver) from the black and white background. Other highlights include Vincent Price’s acid trip which again is played to the campy max. Seeing Price trip out is a scene to behold and filled with fun.
Despite the campiness and all of the structural flaws, Robb White’s script deserves mention. The scenes between Price’s Warren and his cheating wife, Isabel (Patricia Cutts), are my absolute favorite scenes of the film. Price’s wit is dry and biting, knowing his wife is conniving, money hungry, and not to be trusted. The back and forths between the two are classic: “There’s a word for you.” snaps Isabel. “There are several for you.” Warren responds. How about this one; ”The only way Dave Morris will marry my sister is over my dead body.” shouts Isabel. To which Warren retorts, “Unconventional but not impossible.” This witty repartee in the script elevates it to a more sophisticated level while keeping the tone darkly fun. One of the most unsatisfying parts of the film is that Isabel leaves halfway through the film and is practically forgotten by the final act. There is no resolution to the rocky relationship in the end, leaving it a dangling plotline, pushed out of the way in favor of the Percepto experience.
Full of goofy science, campy dialog, cheesy effects, and sequences both hilarious and horrifying, THE TINGLER is a true classic. Even though the flaws are abundant, it doesn’t take away from the sheer fun in each and every second. Cementing this as a classic is Price’s Warren Chapin character, a staunch and dedicated scientist, not unwilling to bend the laws of ethics to find out the secrets of fear itself. I loved this film so much, when the opportunity to write a comic book sequel fell into my lap, I leapt at the challenge and hoped to honor it with my two part special VINCENT PRICE PRESENTS THE TINGLERS (here’s a link to #1 and #2 and a follow up two-parter is set to be published later in the year from Bluewater). THE TINGLER is without a doubt one of my favorite films. If you’ve seen it, you know why. If not, get out there and seek out the campy fun that is…THE TINGLER!
EDGAR ALLEN POE’S PIT AND THE PENDULUM (1961)Directed by Roger Corman
Written by Richard Matheson, based on the story by Edgar Allan Poe
Starring Vincent Price, John Kerr, Barbara Steele & Luana Anders
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
PIT AND THE PENDULUM was one of the first fright films I ever saw as a child and definitely one of the first to introduce me to Vincent Price. Though the film is somewhat of a G rated version of the recent torture porn we so often see in recent cinema and the torture device in the title is only teased at in the film until the end, it still stands the test of time as a true classic. Stuart Gordon remade the film in the late eighties with a more sadistic tone featuring Lance Henriksen as Torquemada, but while Gordon took liberties with making his film more closer to a retelling of the Spanish Inquisition, here Roger Corman chooses to remain closer and more personal to Edgar Allen Poe’s original masterpiece.
Vincent Price plays the tortured Nicholas, who is haunted my mental illness and nightmares from his childhood (vividly shot in Technicolor gorgeousness by Roger Corman). When Francis (played by John Kerr in a wooden performance comparable to a modern day Keanu) arrives at Nicholas’ castle to investigate the death of his sister (Nicholas’ wife, Elizabeth, played by the always sultry Barbara Steele), his presence stirs up all sorts of trouble. Price is at his best here playing both the tortured and the torturer as his sanity continues to slip with visions of his dead wife lurking around the dark corridors of the castle. Once Price’s Nicholas snaps, it doesn’t take a genius to know the foreshadowing of the torture chamber scenes would come to play later in the film.
While watching PIT AND THE PENDULUM, I couldn’t help but become frustrated. Having endured sitting through recent turds with Roger Corman’s name attached such as DINOSHARK and SHARKTOPUS, it’s easy to forget that the man once had a firm hand on what was horror. Though Corman may have lost that grip today, PIT AND THE PENDULUM is one of those films that is as effective now as it was back when it was released: full of moody atmosphere, gothic themes, and twisted characters. Corman embraces all of the usual themes found in Poe’s work an all too early burial, betrayal, and loss of sanity in this perfect adaptation of one of the author’s best works. Price spent half of his career playing Poe’s characters, in PIT AND THE PENDULUM he gives one of his best performances in one of Poe’s best stories.
WITCHFINDER GENERAL (1968)AKA EDGAR ALLAN POE’S THE CONQUEROR WORM
Directed by Michael Reeves
Written by Ronald Bassett, Edgar Allen Poe (poem at the beginning), (Screenplay) Tom Baker, Michael Reeves, Louis M. Heyward
Starring Vincent Price, Ian Ogilvy, Hillary Dwyer, Robert Russell, & Rupert Davies
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
I can’t say enough good things about this movie. WITCHFINDER GENERAL was one of those films I saw as a kid on one of those Saturday afternoon matinee TV shows and even though I’ve revisited it over and over, I could never get sick of seeing it. It’s a brutal, evil little film which doesn’t pull any punches and bites deep into any viewer’s heart brave enough to watch it.
Director Michael Reeves does a fantastic job of making this film look and feel authentic. There are so many shots of the English countryside in this one, it is almost a beautiful movie if not for the brutal acts depicted in it. When watching WITCHFINDER GENERAL, you might notice that it’s more of a Western than anything else, following an anti-hero as he rides into town on horseback. It’s easy to shoehorn this film into the horror genre, but Reeves’ attention to character, setting, and authenticity to the time make it so much more. The shots of the characters racing across the screen on horseback--some to save the day, others to ruin it--are the stuff of John Ford’s best cowboy films.
Michael Reeves provided the amazing camera work and direction, but WITCHFINDER GENERAL is what it is because of Vincent Price’s callous and conniving portrayal of Matthew Hopkins. Though it was rumored that Price and the director battled with one another on set, it doesn’t show at all in this, in my opinion one of Price’s best performances. He is absolutely evil in this role—his dead eyes staring at the burning “witches”, his pompous posturings as he rides into town to pass judgment. Price owns this role and sheds his usual wink and smirk one often sees in his other horror film roles that were indeed schlocky. Price leaves the schlock at home here and plays it completely straight. In Matthew Hopkins, Price gives us one of the most evil men in the history of cinema.
What more can I say? I love WITCHFINDER GENERAL more than any other film in this week’s column and probably most of the previous columns here at AICN HORROR. I loved it so much, when I had a chance to write a prequel to it, I did so for Bluewater Comics’ VINCENT PRICE PRESENTS comic ( you can pick up a copy of VINCENT PRICE PRESENTS #20 WITCHFINDER GENERAL here if interested ). Though named after Edgar Allen Poe’s THE CONQUEROR WORM here in the States, apart from a line at the beginning of the film, WITCHFINDER GENERAL has nothing to do with the poem. Nevertheless, it’s such a solid movie filled with a memorable villain, delicious direction, and characters you care for. It’s an unflinching film that looks at a terrible man doing terrible things. It’s not a witch film, per se, but about a persecutor who would stop at nothing to fulfill a misguided quest. If you haven’t seen WITCHFINDER GENERAL, you can see the whole thing on YouTube starting here.
CRY OF THE BANSHEE (1970)Directed by Gordon Hessler
Written by Tim Kelly & Christopher Wicking
Starring Vincent Price, Elizabeth Bergner, Essy Persson, Patrick Mower, Hillary Dwyer, Carl Rigg, & Andrew McCulloch
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
Though this film is far inferior to Vincent Price’s other witch opus, WITCHFINDER GENERAL, it still isn’t without its own charm. CRY OF THE BANSHEE’s biggest problem is that aside from a freaky howl ringing out occasionally to add tension, there really isn’t a banshee to speak of in this film. Sure CRY OF THE BANSHEE is filled with witches, voodoo, Satan worshipers, mad dogs, mad noblemen, and something that might possibly be a werewolf or a demon, but I honestly don’t think the word banshee is mentioned aside from the fantastically gothic animated title sequence (by Terry muther grabbin’ Gilliam!!!).
Price plays Lord Edward Whitman, a proud man obsessed with ridding his township of witches. CRY OF THE BANSHEE opens with a scene of a witch execution, as WITCHFINDER GENERAL does. But where WITCHFINDER GENERAL moves on to tell a fascinating story of a man and a woman torn apart by an egomaniacal madman, CRY OF THE BANSHEE tells a convoluted story of the destruction of a family by obsession. The main issue with CRY OF THE BANSHEE is that there really isn’t a person one can identify or root for. Price is the head of the family, but early on the viewer is privy to his obsession for killing witches. His actions cause his family to be cursed when he kills the children of a powerful witch named Oona. The witches aren’t ones to root for either, as Oona (played maniacally by Elizabeth Berger in a performance reminiscent of the old creepy lady in Raimi’s recent DRAG ME TO HELL) is pretty evil herself, killing off Whitman’s brood one by one and chanting about Satan whilst poking voodoo dolls with pins. Whitman’s family is not very likable either. Some terrorize the women of the town, forcing them to undress and if they don’t give into their advances they are accused of witchcraft. Others are such milksops that their inaction makes them equally dislikable. Sure some of them disapprove of Whitman’s obsession, but none take action against it. Without a real side to take, you find yourself in the uncomfortable position of wishing the entire cast would just take each other out and be done with it.
I hate to keep comparing this to WITCHFINDER GENERAL, but the fact that both star Vincent Price (who as usual brings it all to this performance, but there are moments where it doesn’t seem like even he knows how to react; the scene where he gets into a fight with his adoptive son and his co-star from WITCHFINDER Hillary Dwyer and then for some reason they all burst into laughter as if it were a blooper reel comes to mind) and the way both films handle matters of witchcraft and persecution almost force me to lump the two together. CRY OF THE BANSHEE handles the matter of the witch hunts with a heavier hand and although WITCHFINDER GENERAL is a more brutal film in its content and storyline, CRY OF THE BANSHEE seems to be more in your face with the brutality with multiple rapes and torture of women on screen simply for the sake of showing a couple more boobies.
The one thing CRY OF THE BANSHEE has going for it is that it has one hell of an ending. It’s choreographed in an almost DePalma-esque meticulousness as complex events unfold into a truly horrific finale. Though far inferior to Price’s masterpiece WITCHFINDER GENERAL, the ending of CRY OF THE BANSHEE makes the film definitely worth a watch.
MADHOUSE (1974)Directed by James Clark
Written by Greg Morrison & Kevin Levinson, based on the novel “Devilday” by Angus Hall
Starring Vincent Price, Peter Cushing, Robert Quarry, Adrienne Corri, Natasha Pyne
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
MADHOUSE was Vincent Price’s last film in which he stars. He had a long career after this film, but those were mostly lesser roles or comedies. MADHOUSE, though not the best of Price’s films, almost feels like a swan song of sorts. Price plays Paul Toomes, an actor known for his roles in horror films, in particular a role known as Dr. Death. A victim of a midlife crisis which resulted in the unsolved murder of his fiancée, Toomes returns to England to reprise his role as Dr. Death for a television series. As the filming of the series proceeds, the bodies start piling up and all involved begin to wonder if Toomes’ mental state is not well. Price, as usual, is perfect in the role as the oftentimes persnickety, often charming aging actor who has grown weary of playing the same role over and over.
At its heart, MADHOUSE is a mystery. Is Toomes the killer? Or is someone else wearing his costume and murdering the ambitious actresses that cross Toomes’ path? Director James Clark sets up a lot of red herrings with an actor turned director, a producer, and a crazy scarred starlet lurking about. Clark does a great job of laying out the scenes of horror (there’s an especially effective scene where the camera closes in on the eyelashes of one of the dead bodies as they curl from the heat of the flames that is especially amazing) MADHOUSE also may be one of the first of the self referential films we saw too much of in the 90’s (another fantastic scene has the killer being blinded by a Dr. Death film being projected into his eyes) as it pulls back the curtain and shows the behind the scenes drama of the filmmakers making a horror film. The dramatic final scenes of MADHOUSE are especially creepy as we find out who the killer is and how despite the deaths that occur, the show must go on.
Was MADHOUSE Price’s response to a lifetime of horror films? Maybe. Maybe not. Price plays the complex character of Toomes with his usual style and grace. Throughout the film, Toomes is faced with clips of his long career, in scenes provided from some of his real life films such as THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM, TALES OF TERROR, THE RAVEN, & HOUSE OF USHER. Price is often shown gazing upon these clips, sometimes with remorse, sometimes with fascination, sometimes with boredom. Price also has fellow horror veteran actor Peter Cushing to share the stage with. In a touching scene, both actors look upon a picture of themselves as young actors with fondness and a little bit of melancholy. Robert Quarry from COUNT YORGA also shows up in this love song to horror films of yesteryear in as especially biting role as a film producer.
If Price were bored with horror, he doesn’t show it in MADHOUSE. In an interview in the movie, Toomes explains the audiences’ fascination with his horror films; “I think it’s because they are not about the ordinary, everyday world around us. They’re about a world that is deep inside of us. A world of impulses and instincts that we have been taught to suppress.” He goes on to say, “—impulses that we don’t dare admit. Impulses that sometimes we don’t even know we have. They’re tamed and caged. Sometimes they prowl around inside of the cages we’ve built for them. And there comes a time in between our sleeping and our waking when they whisper to us that they want to be set free. Well, we don’t set them free. I think maybe that’s why the pictures are so successful, because they do set them free.” Price seems to be speaking beyond the film about his own expansive career in horror and shows an understanding that few in the genre have. Though this column only shows a snippet of Price’s film career, it’s abundantly clear that the horror world would not have been the same without him.
And finally…just in case you can’t get enough of the esteemed Mr. Price, here’s Vincent Price’s radio broadcast of SUSPENSE: FUGUE IN C MINOR. Enjoy!
And Part Three:
Happy Birthday, Vincent Price!
See ya, next week, folks!
Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, original @$$Hole / wordslinger / reviewer / co-editor of AICN Comics for over nine years. Support a Bug by checking out his comics (click on the covers to purchase)!
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