Every Thursday in October, Turner Classic Movies has been screening the films of the incomparable Vincent Price (for my full appreciation of Price, go here.) Seems like the big fun was last Thursday, when they showed all the campy William Castle pictures etc. Tonight’s line-up is more deadly — in more ways than one. Here’s what’s on the macabre menu tonight, the final night, through tomorrow morning:
8:00 pm: The Pit and the Pendulum (1961)
One of Roger Corman’s tedious Poe adaptations, which seems to mix the story of The Pit and The Pendulum in with The Fall of the House of Usher and The Premature Burial (which is good, because without these plot elements we would be looking at a black screen, listening to the swish of the pendulum and a man’s thoughts for two hours—which would have been excellent radio. But then perhaps that is the only proper theatrical way to experience Poe–radio). The settings are gorgeous, but the script is leaden, humorless and lacking in either action or poetry. Talk, talk, talk. Gets better toward the end when Price awakens and seeks vengeance as a man possessed.
9:30 pm: The Haunted Palace (1963)
Another Corman “Poe” picture but in name only. While named after a Poe poem the plot is actually based on the H.P. Lovecraft tale The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. Lon Chaney Jr and Debra Paget co-star.
11:15 pm: The Masque of the Red Death (1964)
A Corman adaptation of the horrifying Poe tale, mashed-up with another powerful Poe story Hop Frog.
1:00 am: The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971)
Absolute heaven—Price as a demented pipe organist—mute, dead, both? Getting revenge on the nine doctors who botched an operation on his wife, killing her. He kills each according to a different plague from Exodus. He then melts a wax figure of each victim with a blow-torch. The picture features clever toy-like mechanical devices, like a clockwork swing band. All-star cast include Joseph Cotton, Terry-Thomas, and Hugh Griffith. For some wonderful theatrical (but nonsensical) reason, Phibes talks to his dead wife’s portrait by plugging his brain into a Victrola. It looks cool, but why bother? But this film, like all great Gothic horror is all about aesthetics, so it works beautifully.
2:45 am: Twice Told Tales (1963)
One often forgets that Hawthorne as much as Poe specialized in moody, supernatural tales. Here we get three, including Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment, Rappaccini’s Daughter and a truncated adaptation of The House of the Seven Gables. United Artists released the picture but they seem to have taken up the low-key, low-budget modus operandi of AIP. With the difference being that this film is more compelling than the Poe series.
5:00 am: The Tomb of Ligeia (1964)
In this AIP Poe adaptation, Price gets to wear amazingly cool sunglasses. Yet another tale where the hero thinks his dead wife is alive. At the climax, a fight to the death with a black cat (which has blinded Price) while the tomb burns down. A sort of low point—lacks the delicious camp, again substituting tedium. Very little of it is derived from the Poe tale Ligeia
6:30 am: The Conqueror Worm (1968)
It’s hilarious that this one was included in the Poe cycle. An English production, it’s about a 17th century official (Price) who tortures people into confessing witchcraft. It has absolutely zero to do with the Poe poem, AIP just slapped that name on it when they released the picture in the States. This the last film in that series. Price is directed to be deadly serious in it; it’s main saving grace from the modern perspective is the large amount of sadistic violence it contains.
8:15 am: Theatre of Blood (1973)
One of my favorite movies! In Theatre of Blood, Price plays a demented ham who fakes his own death in order to get revenge upon a gaggle of theatre critics who’ve literally driven him mad. One by one, he bumps them off in clever, amusing ways drawn from the great plays of Shakespeare. And each critic is played by a hilarious British character actor (Robert Morley as a big, preening sissy stands out in my memory). And for sex appeal, there’s Diana Rigg as Price’s dutiful, equally insane daughter. This movie is as delicious as a bag of Halloween candy — with no apples.