BLU-RAY REVIEW: VINCENT PRICE & ROGER CORMAN PRESENT SIX GOTHIC TALES BY EDGAR ALLEN POE / CERT: 12 / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER (1960) / DIRECTOR: ROGER CORMAN / SCREENPLAY: RICHARD MATHESON / STARRING: VINCENT PRICE, MARK DAMON, MYRNA FAHEY, HARRY ELLERBE
The first of Roger Corman's eight adaptations of Edgar Allen Poe's stories stars Vincent Price, Mark Damon and Myrna Fahey in a Gothic and macabre film that would create a template for all of Corman's films to follow and become an influence on the genre for years to come.
A young man, Phillip Wynthrop (Damon), travels to the remote Usher house in search of fiancée Madeline (Fahey) but is warned to leave by her brother, Roderick (Price). The claustrophobic camera work and brilliant use of light and colour create a stunning atmosphere in which the House of Usher is the integral character. The exquisite, bold set and costume design bring the decaying old house of the Usher family to life. Every scene pulsates with a brooding and menacing charm.
Price is relatively restrained as the strange and most likely incestuous Roderick. While in later performances he would certainly embellish his over the top campness, here he gives a sinister performance as the patriarch of the doomed Usher bloodline.
Watching today, there may not be many scares but the mood and sense of gloom that permeates in the film is something to be marvelled at and it makes for a compelling Gothic horror of its time. RM
Special Features: Commentary with Roger Corman / Video essay by critic David Cairns / Interviews with Joe Dante and Jonathan Rigby / Archival interview with Vincent Price
THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM (1961) / DIRECTOR: ROGER CORMAN / SCREENPLAY: RICHARD MATHESON / STARRING: VINCENT PRICE, BARBARA STEELE, JOHN KERR, LUANA ANDERS
Vincent Price is on fine scenery-chewing form in this garish, colourful – and extremely loose - 1961 adaptation of Edgar Allen Poe’s short story. We’re in Spain in the 17th century and Francis Barnard (Kerr) travels to the remote cliffside castle of brother-in-law Nicholas Medina (Price) to find out the truth about the death of his sister, Elizabeth (Steele). Frank’s unconvinced by explanations that she succumbed to heart failure brought on by fright, and when an exhumation of her tomb reveals her rotting remains contorted and twisted in a rictus of terror, Nicholas realises that he buried his wife alive – or did he? Nicholas topples into madness and convinces himself that he’s his own twisted father, the evil and abusive Sebastian.
Agonisingly slow – and amusingly tame - by modern horror standards, The Pit and the Pendulum is gloriously hammy and deliciously Gothic, beautifully-filmed on evocative interior sets and boasting a commendably arch and occasionally tongue-in-cheek script. But it only really comes alive in the last reel, when mad Nicholas straps Francis to a stone slab beneath a swinging pendulum. Cheesy and creaky and spectacularly unscary to modern eyes, The Pit and the Pendulum is worth your time just to see Vincent Price at his wide-eyed, gibbering best. PM
Special features: Commentary with Roger Corman / Commentary with critic Tim Lucas / Making-of documentary / Additional TV version sequence / Vincent Price US TV orations
THE RAVEN (1963) / DIRECTOR: ROGER CORMAN / SCREENPLAY: RICHARD MATHESON / STARRING: VINCENT PRICE, PETER LORRE, BORIS KARLOFF, HAZEL COURT, JACK NICHOLSON
The fifth entry in Roger Corman’s Edgar Allan Poe movie saga, The Raven is a deliciously absurdist comedy which sees sorcerer Erasmus Craven (Price) team up with grouchy wizard Selbo (Lorre) in stopping both the wicked Dr. Scarabus (Karloff) and Craven’s long-thought-dead wife Lenore (Court) from claiming Craven’s powers for their own deeds. Turning Poe’s timeless gothic poem into an adventure-style comedy full of wizards and hocus-pocus might ruffle the feathers of Poe purists, but even after all these years, The Raven still manages to be an enjoyably fun romp that is completely nuts! The Gods of horror, Vincent Price, Boris Karloff and Peter Lorre, not to mention Jack Nicholson in an early starring role, ham it up in glorious OTT style and especially both Price and Lorre make a delightful comedy double-act with both of their unique personalities blending together brilliantly.
Whether or not Corman should have turned The Raven into a horror-comedy is debatable, and the hardcore target audience will probably be longing for the full-on gothic chills of the timeless horror classic, The Pit and the Pendulum. However, this is a film where you have to accept it for what it is and to just enjoy no matter what. RP
Special Features: Peter Lorre: The Double Face documentary / The Trick short film / Interviews with Roger Corman and Richard Matheson / Promotional record / Sills and poster gallery
THE HAUNTED PALACE (1963) / DIRECTOR: ROGER CORMAN / SCREENPLAY: CHARLES BEAUMONT / STARRING: VINCENT PRICE, DEBRA PAGET, LON CHANEY JR., FRANK MAXWELL
With brooding, atmospheric menace oozing from every dark and cobwebbed corner The Haunted Palace is one of the best examples of Roger Corman’s literary adaptations. Based on a H. P. Lovecraft novella but released under the guise of an Edgar Allan Poe story to fit consistently with Corman’s recent releases this film displays superbly realised gothic bleakness.
With regular collaborator Vincent Price in scene-stealing form as the troubled Charles Dexter Ward, a man haunted by the spirit of his malevolent warlock ancestor and possessed to the point of madness, The Haunted Palace follows traditional Poe themes while adding Lovecraftian mysticism in the form of The Necromonicon. Both influences are notable when Ward’s great-grandfather is burned to death as amidst blood-curdling screams he promises to return in vengeance, while cursing the village and leaving the residents with mutant offspring and centuries of misery.
Perhaps most significant is that Corman’s stylistic qualities and Price’s distinctive acting most successfully blend within this production. The director’s sweeping camera and dark aesthetics were rarely more prominent and with stunningly realised gothic tropes, The Haunted Palace for many will be a new and hugely enjoyable discovery. JT
Special Features: Commentary with Ron Chaney and Vincent Price biographer David Del Valle / Interview with Roger Corman / Kim Newman on H.P. Lovecraft / Stills and poster gallery
THE TOMB OF LIGEIA (1964) / DIRECTOR: ROGER CORMAN / SCREENPLAY: ROBERT TOWNE, PAUL MAYERSBERG / STARRING: VINCENT PRICE, ELIZABETH SHEPHERD JOHN WESTBROOK
Vincent Price was much too old for this one, but as he’s Vincent Price no one seems too bothered. He plays Verden Fell, a (not so) young widower whose (possibly not) dead wife is buried in the grounds of his (rather picturesque) abbey. A headstrong young woman (Shepherd) inexplicably falls in love with the rather weird Fell (probably the antiquarian sunglasses that did it) and they marry. But Fell is still obsessed with Ligeia, his (questionably) dead wife. You know this isn’t going to end well, especially as his cat seems to have it in for his new bride. They always do.
This was the last of Corman’s Poe-cycle and it’s noteworthy for use of outside locations rather than the entirely studio-bound fare of the earlier efforts. So it looks very pretty (especially on Blu-ray), but it’s a bit too slow (it’s only 80 minutes but feels longer) and you get the sense that the series was dragging on by this stage. Still, it’s pretty good once it finally gets going and you kind of expect Poe to be done at a glacial pace. Something to do with dramatic tension, we expect. Just a shame it wasn’t called That Darn Cat. It would have worked... JK
Special Features: Commentary with Roger Corman / Commentary with Elizabeth Shepherd / All-new interviews with cast and crew / Trailer
Also included in the set: Tales of Terror (1962) / 200-page collector’s book / Reversible sleeves featuring and newly commissioned artwork for all films
Reviews by Rod McCance, Paul Mount, Ryan Pollard, John Townsend, and John Knott.
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