Posts Tagged ‘Vincent Price’

Theater of Blood (1973)

October 31, 2017

104 minutes – Rated R for blood, gore, ironic murders, and violent creativity.

Working in theater is tough. I should know, I studied to be a Stage Manager for four years until I decided I did not really want to be in charge. Instead, I got a job for five years as an electrician, a carpenter, a lighting designer and a sound designer. I took pride in my work and everybody around me took pride in their work too. We lived and died by how good a show we could put on and how many people we could get to buy tickets. We wanted those people to leave at the end of the night and go tell their friends to go see the show too. Critics can be friends of that effort or they can be enemies. A lot of people, especially casual theatergoers, respect the opinions of critics and will abandon a show that is critically panned. That loses money for a theater and consequently makes an actor less likely to be hired. A bad review hurts everybody involved. So, there is palpable fear when the reviewer arrives at the theater and again when the review is published.

I seem to have settled into a pattern with some of my picks for Halloween. I tend to start to fill slots based on what I like and what I have done before. It does not always end up that way but so far there have been some constants. One of those constants is that the last two years I have reviewed a movie starring Vincent Price. This movie is this year’s offering. Vincent Price is a very unique actor. He comes from the age of film acting where a lot of the workhorses in the industry came from a theater or a live performance background. This trained most of those actors with excellent diction and high charisma. Theater also requires its actors to make everything they do larger than life so that the audience can see and hear their emotions. Therefore, theater actors making the transition to film must be coached to pull back and be more subtle. Therefore, directors rarely have to coax more out of them which feels like it would be much less work. All of this obviously helped give Price his trademark magnetically eerie voice which he could turn on and off like a simple light switch.

Vincent Price was not just a national treasure, he was also a global treasure. He had a beautiful voice that was unmatched by anyone I have yet to hear. I could listen to him read the phonebook if doing so did not send chills up my spine. Like Bela Lugosi, he was a master at making the most innocuous thing sound spooky. In this, we get Price as what he was, a brilliant but underrated actor. His musical voice echoes through most of the movie, either through dialogue or narration. Never have I seen Shakespeare used to kill people but it makes so much sense. He is joined on his journey for revenge by a motley crew who do not talk much but are comically insane. They are opposed by a group of critics played by actors who are very good at acting very posh and academic. Caught in the middle is Price’s character’s daughter who is played with absolute conviction by Diana Rigg. Additionally, there are also the police who join with a newspaperman played by Ian Hendry to try to solve the crimes.

This movie was so brilliant with its kills. Really, you need to have studied Shakespeare to some extent to truly understand each kill. I would compare the kills in this movie to another set of Vincent Price movies, the Abominable Dr. Phibes. His kills are also meant to be ironic and each one is also a literary reference. In that case, it was the Judeo-Christian bible but in this case, it is Shakespeare that guides the themes of each murder. However, this movie felt far less dreamy and while it was full of fantasy, it remained grounded and on point. On top of that, there were gallons of blood used in this movie. The deaths and the blood looked really good, especially for a seventies horror film. There are few fancy prosthetics. The effects seem to use a lot of great old theater tricks which makes them all the creepier. What is more, they take great care to add some comedy in with some of the deaths which makes the more grisly deaths all the more horrible.

Overall, I really loved this one. It was such a beautiful way to approach the end of this year’s Halloween celebration. Every year, I try to find a good Vincent Price horror/supernatural film to review because he was a legend. This year, I was also looking for movies to fit my chosen theme for Halloween. What luck that I found one that was not only focused on Shakespeare but also starred the brilliant Vincent Price. A little bit of trivia, this is also Vincent Price’s favorite movie that he ever starred in.

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Media Update 10/26/17

October 26, 2017


XX

When I was looking for horror anthology movies, I wanted to watch something more recent and then this movie drifted into my radar. It is a horror anthology movie specifically made to only have female writers and directors hired because women do not get work in Hollywood. Only the first story in the movie is written by a man and only because it is adapted from a short story. The entire movie is full of four horror stories told from a female perspective. The protagonist in each story is a woman and we see the story from their point of view. This was fantastic. There was so much variety that there was something for everybody to like. The first story, which put a knot in my stomach that took a long time to loosen, was psychological horror. The second story was a dark comedy. The third was a straight up monster story. The final story went a little back to psychological horror. The only director I had ever heard of was St. Vincent but I am looking forward to work from all four of them now. The animation during the interstitial scenes was fascinating and creepy and was a great palate cleanser while keeping the right tone going. I definitely recommend it.


Tales from the Hood

I used to watch Tales from the Crypt when I was younger in the same way that I watched Twilight Zone and Outer Limits episodes. I was not of the appropriate age to read the old Tales from the Crypt comic books or any of the other horror comics that helped make Entertaining Comics big in the industry. However, I always saw the appeal. This movie is modeled after all of the old Tales from the Crypt stuff which was revived for the TV show. All of the stories are told from the black perspective and most of the stories are set in the city (the titular hood). The first story makes clear that from the start that those who disregard human life by killing black people will be punished. However, many of the stories also point out that those who stand by and do nothing will also be punished. Both racists and bullies will be punished as well. There are four stories and all of them are great in their own way, each making a point along the central theme. The wraparound story really drives home the theme of punishment for the guilty, whoever they are. I definitely have to shout out David Allen Grier in a distinctly non-comic villainous role. I also want to give a shout out to Clarence Williams III for being great as the eccentric mortician who tells each story. I definitely recommend this one too.


The Monster Club

For the final movie this week, I wanted something older so that I could sample anthology movies from three different decades and three different perspectives. This movie had jumped out at me early as a good contender. It is definitely a tribute to old Hammer horror movies as it happily cast horror greats John Carradine and Vincent Price in the wraparound scenes in the titular Monster Club. The movie is based on the works of British horror author R. Chetwynd-Hayes who I had never heard of before. The three stories are easy-going, middle of the road horror stories that are very charming but definitely still creepy. Price’s character explains how the different monsters all relate to each other and two out of three stories are about hybrid monsters. The scenes between Price and Carradine and the second story are charmingly funny. In between the Price/Carradine scenes and the three short stories, there are bands playing awesome music. While this was not a home run, the movie was definitely enjoyable. I recommend it.

Music of the Week:
Jex Thoth – Nothing Left to Die

The Deadly Grind – The Rage Within

KISS – Creatures of the Night

HUNTRESS – Spell Eater

Gravediggaz – From the Darkside

Weekly Update:
– I watched more Blindspot Season 1
– I watched more Blacklist Season 3
– I started House of Cards Season 3
– I watched more Van Helsing Season 1
– I watched more Glitter Force Season 1
– I watched more Santa Clarita Diet Season 1
– I watched more Little Witch Academia Season 1
– I watched Patton Oswalt: Annihilation
– Halloween Day is Coming! Only five movie reviews left!

The Raven (1963)

October 7, 2016

I am from Baltimore, Maryland. I am pretty sure I have mentioned this over and over at this point but it always bears repeating because I am proud to call the city my home. I was born, raised and currently reside in the city after an extended stay in New Jersey. So there are certain things that happen when you grow up in Baltimore. A lot of people watch Orioles games, watch Ravens games or go to the Senator Theater. What you definitely do as a kid in Baltimore is you hear the name Edgar Allen Poe a lot and you read and listen to The Raven a lot. The man was inescapable in Baltimore since he was a fixture there in the years before his death. He is buried in the downtown area and there was a long, mysterious tradition surrounding his gravesite that captivated our imaginations. In fact, my senior prom was held in the church that is attached to the small graveyard where his grave rests. And yet, it took reviewing The Raven (2012) to realize that today 10/7/2016 is the anniversary of his death.

Last year I reviewed The Abominable Doctor Phibes and I briefly talked about Vincent Price. Vincent Price is a legend. He has an instantly recognizable voice that has been imitated but never truly replicated. A lot of people go deep and rich when they are trying to be scary. Sometimes actors will make their voice raspy and full of hisses and grating sounds to be scary. Price had a slightly high pitched voice that normally would be innocuous without the acting talent behind him. The force of his personality can be felt in every word and the importance of his words is clear in every single tone. Horror is difficult because the smallest thing can make things seem silly and it sucks the fear right out of you. Older horror movies can suffer from this. However, a lot of the earlier horror movies drew power from using the principle of less is more. A lot of their performances were more subtle because they knew that the ideas themselves could be scary enough. It is not the only way to go about it and it is not necessarily better but it is different from a lot of the big budget films that come out now.

Vincent Price begins the movie by reciting part of the famous poem and, admittedly, the movie could have ended right after he was finished. Few people can recite horror monologues like Mr. Price did. My mind goes back to the terrifying monologue he did as a cold open on The Muppet Show. He has a way of building tension out of nothing and creating an urgency in my gut. Of course, the original poem is about a student longing for his deceased love while falling into madness while talking to a raven. In this, the protagonist is a former sorcerer who is tasked with turning the Raven back to human form. The title character is played by the legendary Peter Lorre who was probably most famous for messing with Humphrey Bogart characters. The two are joined by another horror legend in Boris Karloff who was in a ton of stuff but most famously he played Frankenstein. (Both the Monster and the Doctor in different movies). Karloff is always super creepy. His looks alone are enough to be menacing but his voice just adds to the feeling. Of all people, Jack Nicholson shows up as well. Rounding out the cast are actresses Hazel Court and Olive Sturgess.

The movie is certainly a long way from the dark and romantic poem full of longing and madness. There are plenty of horror elements to the movie. There is a little body horror, mind control and the living dead and these moments have more weight because they are surrounded by lighter stuff. The 1960s saw a peculiar movement that inverted the usual values of what made something “good” or “art”. This was the camp movement which used a certain kind of comic acting to parody more serious ventures. This movie came out shortly before the Addams Family and The Munsters premiered which utilized traditional horror elements in more comic subplots. Of course, this is not strange since Abbot and Costello did it fifteen years earlier. I am more than willing to see the funny side of Halloween since laughing at Death is the only way we can get by sometimes. The movie did a great job mixing a few horror elements in with heavy fantasy elements and plenty of comedy. While the jokes are funny, there is an undercurrent of spookiness that definitely gives me a good Halloween feeling.

Overall, this was a pleasant way to spend an afternoon. While it was not a very scary movie, it was definitely suffused with the same spirit that lives in Halloween. I really had no idea what to expect from this movie since I knew the poem was not an hour and a half long. There is only so much you can stretch that original but brilliant poem and I am glad they did not attempt it. Instead, they introduced an original fantasy story that also homages the original poem just enough to be respectful. The ladies are mostly used as props but when they get a chance to act, you can see that they gave it all they had with few opportunities. Peter Lorre provides a lot of funny lines which I understand were mostly improvised. Nicholson was not great but he definitely got better with age. Boris Karloff is manipulative and politely creepy and I really liked his character. Vincent Price is very likable in this and he has unmistakeable charm. The thing was put together by legendary Roger Corman who definitely embraced camp and Richard Matheson who has had a prolific career. I definitely recommend this if you are in the mood for something a little less scary this year.

The Abominable Dr. Phibes

October 26, 2015

Older horror films are interesting animals in the zoo where horror movies are kept in this analogy. They come from a land where the movie’s full credits could be played over the film’s opening without disturbing the audience or taking too long. Since effects were limited, they couldn’t rely on all of the trickery used in today’s horror films. Their effects seem hokey and lame now that we can do such amazing things with decades of practical effect experience and cutting edge computer effects. It was a simpler time to be sure but it also caused horror movies to be more psychological. Sure, they had their gimmicks back then too but more often than not they relied more on what you couldn’t see then what you could.

Today’s film was made 44 years ago and it was operating with a much smaller toolbox than filmmakers have available today. It’s not a straight horror film as it has a lot of comedy elements to it as well without being a straight parody. Of course, it has two things that just aren’t used as much in today’s horror that serve it very well. The first is that it is very bizarre. It spends a lot of time (especially in the early parts) being strange without explaining itself. I like that. I want to be confused sometimes. It teaches me to sit back and not try so hard and let a movie just take me to the destination it means to take me to. The other thing that this movie has that can’t ever be used today is Vincent Price. Vincent Price was a horror legend, seemingly born with the voice and mannerisms to be creepy but strangely loveable.

The movie follows a bunch of detectives trying to solve the murders of several doctors. The murders were all done in inventive and outlandish ways by the title character for reasons that are not explained at first. The title character is weirdly amazing because Phibes is an amazing killer who is easily twenty steps ahead of the police. He’s also way smarter than his bumbling victims who fall easily to his strangely elaborate traps. There’s no explanation on why the deaths are elaborate but they are based on the ten plagues that Moses brought upon Egypt. I personally love horror stories with themed deaths though usually they’re deaths based on the victim and not on a set mythology. Strangely, despite having a rabbi character in the movie, it changes two of the plagues and their order.

The movie gets a lot of use out of art deco design which, I’m pretty sure, you don’t see in a lot of horror films. The colors all seem a little more vivid than they should be and a lot of scenes feel more like a stage play than a movie. It gives the movie an otherworldly feel that is a little unnerving but also strangely pleasing. The villain is mostly silent and lets the police following him deliver the exposition. The camera work is excellent as they used every trick in the book to tell a very interesting story. In fact, the scene of the second kill wouldn’t have worked nearly as well without the amazing camera tricks they used. Every shot is framed expertly and not a second is wasted in the editing. Beyond that, the sound really does a lot of the heavy lifting as the music and sound effects sometimes give way to perfect, uncomfortable silence. They did a lot of brilliant painting with sound that worked incredibly well.

Sometimes I’m a sucker for these old, simple movies from a long gone era. This one is a mystery that the audience knows the answer to within fifteen minutes while it takes the police the rest of the movie to figure out. It’s a somewhat campy but interesting take on horror movies that’s hard not to like. Parts of it might seem a little dated but I maintain that most of it is as timeless as Hitchcock.  It’s actually a little bit poetic and strangely sweet in its own way. It should also make people who are not fans of gore happy as it is mostly bloodless and relies instead on creepier deaths that are a bit more psychological. I suggest this (and the sequel) to any horror fan who hasn’t seen it yet. You have to respect your horror ancestors.


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