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Posts Tagged ‘Roger Corman’

  1. From the Necromantic to the Psychophantic

    September 5, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    It’s always interesting to find out what the squares in 1961 were thinking of the trifles some of us obsess over half a century later. Thanks to Hammer Studios in the UK  and AIP’s Roger Corman in the US, horror films were undergoing a huge revival in the summer of ’61.  The genre was meeting with such success that even mainstream periodicals had to take note.  The following article appeared in the Arts section of the September 1, 1961 edition of  Time magazine.  The wonderful thing about the uncredited author of this piece is that while he makes fun of the films and their stars (“Vincent Price, a sort of sissified Bela Lugosi”), you can tell he enjoyed watching them nonetheless. And isn’t that what most of us fans of these movies do ourselves?  

    Cinema: Blood Pudding

     

    Time magazine, Sept. 1, 1961. Images added by The Belated Nerd


     Terrible-eyed, a father rose up from his coffin one night last week, rushed after his beautiful young daughter and with bloodthirsty screams attempted to sink his fangs into her throat. Poor stiff. Some other vampire, succubus, lamia, boggart, barghest, uturuncu or related fee-faw-fum had already drunk the poor girl dry. The U.S., as summer moviegoers may have observed, is crawling with the bloody things. The horror industry is in the hideous throes of what may be the biggest necromantic revival since Count Dracula was a nipper.

    Monsters are out. After almost a decade of gigantic grasshoppers, monstrous mollusks and vicious vegetables, the menace merchants have surveyed their shrinking returns and concluded that overwork at last had killed the pterodactyl that laid the golden egg. With that the world’s leading gooseflesh peddlers—American International Films of Hollywood and Hammer Film Productions Ltd. of London—decided to go back on the ghoul standard. The bats were summoned from the industry’s well-stocked belfry, and in recent months they have been sucking the green stuff out of the public at an impressive rate. Three of the new horrors, made for less than $300,000, will gross more than $1,000,000 first time around; another (Homicidal) is already werewolfing its third million. What’s more, a surprising number of the new blood puddings have been cooked up with skill and can be swallowed without appreciable nausea.

    Black Sunday (Galatea-Jolly; Al), for instance, is a piece of fine Italian handiwork that atones for its ludicrous lapses with brilliant intuitions of the spectral. Taken from a tale (Fry) by Nikolai Gogol, Black Sunday tells the story of a female demon who once every century rises from a moldy old Moldavian crypt to terrorize the countryside. Director Mario Bava makes subtle use of a Gothic setting—much of the film was shot in a medieval Italian castle—to enhance the Gothic mood. One shot is pure black magic. The vampire’s coach, black as a hearse and carved with demoniac exuberance, careens through the night like a colossal bat out of hell—but soundlessly, and in slow motion, so that it seems to be floating tunelessly through an interminable nightmare.

    Curse of the Werewolf (Hammer; Universal) is a routine, competent British fang opera filmed, as many of the new scare shows are, in a color process that seems peculiarly sensitive to red. The picture contains an inspired scene. As a priest holds a pretty little baby (destined to be a werewolf) over a baptismal font, a fiendish face appears suddenly in the depths of the font and the holy water bubbles to a rolling boil. The scriptwriters have also provided an unwittingly hilarious line. After slaughtering five sheep and draining them of blood, the werewolf, now a fat little boy, is called to lunch by his fond stepmother. “Aw, mother,” he pouts, just like any other little boy called in from play, “I’m not hungry.”

    Dr. Blood’s Coffin (Caralan; UA), another nasty trifle from Britain, is a skillful piece of suspense writing that might be described as a woman’s horror picture—it’s about a man who wants a woman’s heart. When he can’t get it, he takes somebody else’s and transplants it into a corpse that—heh, heh—has some nasty ideas of its own.

    The Pit and the Pendulum and House of Usher (Al) are a couple of literary hair-raisers that are cleverly if self-consciously Edgar Allen Poetic. Both pictures are filmed in redolent colors, both feature Vincent Price, a sort of sissified Bela Lugosi, and both are crowded with drafty castles, dismal tarns and what the press-agents call “torturous passageways”—which in The Pit have been sprayed with 20 gallons of a rubber-cement solution that makes the darnedest lavender spider webs.

    Blood and Roses (Paramount), a gently eerie tale of “the most recent life” of a lady vampire, is the most subtle, careful, beautiful and expensive ($750,000) of the current crop of chillers—a small black pearl of a picture. It was directed by Roger (And God Created Woman) Vadim, and stars Mel Ferrer. It was filmed at the Emperor Hadrian’s Villa, just outside Rome, by Cameraman Claude Renoir, the gifted nephew of the painter, who has laved all this hushed horror in lights and colors as mild and creamy as viper’s milk.

    Snake Woman (Caralan; UA) is a hypodermic horror with a striptease gimmick. A mental patient, injected with cobra venom while she is pregnant, produces a terribly strange child with cold blood and no eyelids. At seven, the child disappears from her home, and soon thereafter villagers start to die of cobra bites. Then one day the hero, a detective assigned to catch that cobra, finds the skin of a girl, all in one piece, as though it had been shed like a snake’s. A gleam in his eye, he hurries after her, tootling on a little fakir’s flute . . .

    Homicidal (Columbia), financially the most successful of the new shockers, may well point a new trend in terror: from the necromantic to the Psychophantic. The picture was obviously made in imitation of Hitchcock’s thriller (which has already returned the highest percentage of profit in film history—$14,000,000 on a $780,000 investment). Just as obviously, it surpasses its model in structure, suspense and sheer nervous drive. Simply, directly, the camera watches a homicidal maniac (Jean Arless) proceed through a carefully premeditated series of ferocious murders. Those who cannot bear the tension may be grateful for the Fright Break, during which they may “follow the Yellow Streak to the Coward’s Corner and have the admission sneerfully refunded.”

     


  2. The Pit and the Pendulum: Who’s the Hero?

    August 7, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    Now, I don’t want to spoil the ending of Roger Corman’s The Pit and the Pendulum (1961) for anybody who hasn’t seen it yet, so for those who think they’ve had better things to do over the last 50 years, please stop reading now and go watch it. It’s on Netflix streaming. I’ll wait. Go!

    Welcome back! Was it worth 80 minutes of your time? I think so.

    The Pit and the Pendulum has a wonderfully streamlined cast of characters. There’s Vincent Price as the grieving widower and don of an old Spanish castle.  His household is made up of two servants, Maria and Maximillian, and his visiting sister, Catherine. I suppose we should also include the “ghost” of the don’s wife, Elizabeth, as another member of the household. A frequent visitor is Doctor Leon who is the don’s friend and family physician. Lastly, we have the character everyone expects should be the hero, Elizabeth’s brother, Francis Barnard, who has traveled all the way from a renfair in London to investigate his sister’s suspicious death.

    So, let’s put these characters in their respective boxes, shall we?

    THE HEAVY: Vincent Price’s Don Medina is a sympathetic character who, despite Barnard’s suspicions, is wholly innocent in the death of his wife. He only becomes the heavy after a psychotic snap brought on by the treachery of the two true villains.

     

     

    THE VILLAINS: Doctor Leon and Elizabeth fake the latter’s death and attempt to drive Don Medina insane. They succeed at this to the point that it costs them their own lives.

     

     

     

    THE INNOCENT BYSTANDERS: Catherine‘s role as the potential love interest of the hero is never really fulfilled and she joins the servants Maria and Maximillian as mere witnesses to the strange goings on at Castle Medina.

     

     

    THE HERO THE DAMSEL IN DISTRESS: Elizabeth’s brother, Francis Barnard spends the first half of the film throwing suspicion upon the innocent Don Medina. His role is entirely to throw red herrings at the audience. Once he comes around to the reality that the don had nothing to do with Elizabeth’s “death” he merely becomes the freshly demented Medina’s victim; subjected to the title torture device. Does he devise a clever escape? Does he succeed in bringing Medina back to his senses? No. He cries to Catherine to come to his rescue! He’s not the hero; he’s Nell from Dudley Do-Right.

     THE HERO: Looks like we have to reconsider the roles of a couple of the innocent bystanders. Catherine makes a valiant attempt to claim the honor of heroine, but, alas,  she is a mere woman after all and must call on the assistance of the butler, Maximillian, who is the one who gains entry into the torture chamber, kills the demented don, and turns off the infernal machine about to bisect the entirely helpless Barnard.

    Yes! Our hero is Maximillian! Not only didn’t the butler do it; but he was the man who saved the day! A character so far down in the credits that I can’t even find a picture of him from the movie. (You’ll have to settle for a picture of actor Patrick Westwood playing a taxi driver in an early episode of The Avengers.)

    Maximillian is one of those unsung heroes in film that I find both baffling and charming. Don’t even get me started on the the Merry-Go-Round operator in Strangers on a Train.