Countdown to Halloween – Day 31: House on Haunted Hill (1959)
Cast: Vincent Price as Frederick Loren
Carol Ohmart as Annabelle Loren
Richard Long as Lance Schroeder
Elisha Cook Jr. as Watson Pritchard
Written by Robb White
Directed by William Castle
Plot: Millionaire Frederick Loren and his wife Annabelle are holding a haunted house party in a home where seven murders have occurred. Five people are invited and each will walk away with $10,000 if they stay the night…and if they can survive the ghosts and murderous intentions.
Personal Thoughts: This is one of my all-time personal favorite Vincent Price films. While not in a gothic setting and Price isn’t really the bad guy here, we still have that wonderful Price charm wrapped up in a William Castle bow. There are some creepy moments but nothing ever truly crosses the line. Rather, it comes across as a big Halloween trick or treat scare. The supporting cast was entertaining, although I wish I had a dime for every time Nora (Carolyn Craig) screamed as it got a little tedious. Even though everything gets explained in the end, there are events that occurred that never really get answered, such as the doorknob moving when nobody was there or how the rope moved on its’ own. So, maybe it was a little haunted after all?
- With large returns at the box office for this film, Alfred Hitchcock was inspired to do his own horror film, Psycho (1960).
- Exterior shots were filmed at the Ennis Brown House, designed and built by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1924.
- Filmed in “Emergo”, a gimmick by William Castle where a lighted skeleton flew over the audience in the theater.
Availability: Available on numerous public domain sets but the best bet is on Blu-ray in The Vincent Price Collection II.
Countdown to Halloween – Day 30: Last Man on Earth (1964)
Cast: Vincent Price as Dr. Robert Morgan
Franca Bettoia as Ruth Collins
Giacomo Rossi Stuart as Ben Cortman
Based on the novel I Am Legend by Richard Matheson
Screenplay by Ubaldo Ragona & Furio M. Monetti
Directed by Ubaldo Ragona
Plot: A plague has devastated Earth, leaving the survivors as zombie-like vampires lurking in the darkness. Dr. Robert Morgan is the last man on Earth who hasn’t been contaminated but when he meets some other infected survivors, he may have the last chance to find a cure.
Personal Thoughts: The Omega Man is one of my all-time favorite films, partly because I love that era of Charlton Heston. So, it’s hard for me to watch this film without immediately comparing Price to Heston. I think Price is miscast here as I’m never quite convinced that he has been alone for some three years, struggling to survive and hunting down the zombie vampires (or whatever we wish to call them, who greatly resemble the Romero some four years later). For me, Price is best when he’s in a gothic setting, so he seems out of place here. The movie is well made and there are some fun segments, including the chase scene towards the end. That said, something has always seemed a little off with this one.
- Richard Matheson wrote the original script in 1957 with the intent it would be produced by Hammer Films and directed by Fritz Lang.
- Remade in 1971 as The Omega Man with Charlton Heston and 2007 as I Am Legend with Will Smith.
- The main character’s name is Robert Neville in the book and other two films.
- Richard Matheson was dissatisfied with the final script and opted to be credited as Logan Swanson in the US prints.
- Charlton Heston was not a fan of this version, which he viewed prior to making The Omega Man.
Availability: Available on Blu-ray in The Vincent Price Collection II from Shout! Factory. It’s also available in the public domain but the Blu-ray version is the best way to go.
Countdown to Halloween – Day 29: Diary of a Madman (1963)
Cast: Vincent Price as Simon Cordier
Nancy Kovack as Odette Mallotte
Chris Warfield as Paul Duclasse
Based on the story by Guy de Maupassant
Screenplay by Robert E. Kent
Directed by Reginald Le Borg
Plot: After failing to listen to a condemned man, who insists he was possessed by a spirit, Magistrate Simon Cordier begins to notice strange occurrences in his home. Could he be the next victim of the strange spirit?
Personal Thoughts: While I have seen some of Vincent Price’s films over and over again, others I’ve only watched once or twice. This is one of those and upon revisiting, it remains at about the middle amongst my favorite to least favorite Price films. Price is never truly evil because when he does kill, it’s because he’s under the influence of the Horla (voiced by Joseph Ruskin). While Nancy Kovack is beautiful to look at, she’s not really a heroine and her eventual death doesn’t come as a shock nor are we necessarily sad to see her go. The slightly heavy handed message at the end also falls a little flat for me. Not a bad film but there are better Price films to enjoy.
- The movie was originally entitled The Horla.
- Director Reginald Le Borg wanted the Horla to sound distorted but the producers disagreed, which Le Borg insisted was a mistake.
- Not critically well-received at the time and one of the harder Vincent Price films to acquire until the recent Blu-ray release.
Availability: Available on The Vincent Price Collection III Blu-ray set.
Countdown to Halloween – Day 28: Tower of London (1962)
Cast: Vincent Price as Richard
Michael Pate as Sir Ratcliffe
Joan Freeman as Lady Margaret
Robert Brown as Sir Justin
Written by Leo Gordon, F. Amos Powell and Robert E. Kent
Directed by Roger Corman
Plot: With King Edward IV near death, his brother Richard soon launches a campaign to seize the throne away from his other brother and two nephews. A trail of murder and mayhem follow and the ghosts of his victims soon drive Richard down a path of madness.
Personal Thoughts: I know I had seen this movie before but upon viewing I realized it must have been quite some time ago as it felt like the first time. While the lack of color hurt the box office results, I personally feel black and white is a better choice, allowing for some great use of shadows and darkness in the film. Price is genuinely evil here, slipping into madness as his character of Richard is menaced by the ghosts of his victims, which are piling up as the movie progresses. This was a unique way to present the story and was vastly different from the 1939 Universal Horror original. The ghostly sequences were a little cheesy at times but the violent deaths remind us just how non-comedic the story is. This is an underrated Price film that is well worth your time to experience.
- Vincent Price appeared as the Duke of Clarence in the original 1939 Universal Pictures version, which also starred Basil Rathbone and Boris Karloff.
- Stock footage from the Battle of Bosworth in the 1939 original was reused for this film.
- A last minute budget cut forced the movie to be filmed in black and white, which ultimately hurt the overall box office results.
Availability: Available on Blu-ray in the Vincent Price Collection III from Shout! Factory.
Countdown to Halloween – Day 27: Pit and the Pendulum (1961)
Cast: Vincent Price as Nicholas/Sebastian Medina
John Kerr as Francis Barnard
Barbara Steele as Elizabeth Medina
Luana Anders as Catherine Medina
Based on the story by Edgar Allan Poe
Screenplay by Richard Matheson
Directed by Roger Corman
Plot: After Francis discovers that his sister has died of a blood disease, he suspects her husband, a descendant of a torturer of the Spanish Inquisition, of foul play. Castles, premature burial and a swinging pendulum make for a deadly recipe of fear.
Personal Thoughts: One of my personal favorites in the Corman-Price-Poe series due to the vibrant colors and fun performance by Price. It’s always nice to see him in devilish roles but here, he gets to play a sympathetic and tortured soul before slipping into madness. The images of him slinking around while the pendulum swings out of control are classic. While we don’t see too much of Barbara Steele, her addition here is greatly welcomed. Per usual, the Poe connection is stretched pretty thin but better than in most Poe films. This is a true classic that is a must-see for any Vincent Price fan.
- Roger Corman had every other frame removed the from the pendulum sequence to make it appear as if it was moving twice as fast.
- This was the second in Roger Corman’s Edgar Allan Poe series.
- The opening prologue and scenes of Luana Anders in an asylum were filmed after the completion of the film to help pad out the running time for television distribution. They have nothing to do with the main film other than to offer an idea of what happened to Catherine after the end of the movie.
Availability: Available on DVD in numerous versions but the 4-film set from MGM appears to be the best bargain. If you can find the original Vincent Price Collection on Blu-ray for a reasonable price, grab it up as it is now out-of-print.
Countdown to Halloween – Day 26: The Mad Magician (1954)
Cast: Vincent Price as Don Gallico
Mary Murphy as Karen Lee
Eva Gabor as Claire Ormond
Written by Crane Wilbur
Directed by John Brahm
Plot: Don Gallico designs magic tricks which are sold to other magicians to be used on the stage. When Gallico starts a plan to start his own career, his boss stops his efforts, leading Gallico down a path of murder and revenge.
Personal Thoughts: I first discovered this film through a bootleg copy, which was actually hard to find. Now available in a beautifully restored print, I can say that the experience was greatly enhanced. The movie is not Price’s best nor is it often mentioned among even the top films of his career. However, he turns in a fun performance as a man seeking revenge and falling farther down the rabbit hole. You’ll get some House of Wax vibes along the way, just not quite as memorable. I enjoyed the magic setting and some of the comedic supporting characters were funny at times but they wore thin quickly. Well worth your time checking this one out as Price turns in an entertaining performance.
- This was the very first movie to be broadcast in 3D on television.
- One of the hardest Vincent Price films to find until Twilight Time issued their limited-edition Blu-ray.
Availability: Available on a limited edition Blu-ray from Twilight Time.
When it comes to the horror film legends club, there are seven core members. In years past, I’ve covered Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, I’ve recognized Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, and this month started off with the Chaney family. Now, the final seven days of our 2017 Halloween journey is dedicated to Mr. Vincent Price. There are so many wonderful films to choose from, I hope you enjoy the seven I selected.
First up is Cry of the Banshee (1970), which I talk about on episode 530 of the Dread Media Podcast. Check it out and tell ’em Monster Movie Kid sent ya!
Countdown to Halloween – Day 24: El Vampiro (1957)
Cast: German Robles as The Count
Abel Salazar as Dr. Enrique
Ariadna Welter as Marta Gonzalez
Story by Ramon Obon
Screenplay by Ramon Rodriguez
Directed by Fernando Mendez
Plot: After her aunt dies, young Marta returns home to discover she has already died. She finds her aunt’s home in disrepair, her uncle refusing to sell the home and her other aunt prepared to sell it to a nearby neighbor. However, she discovers that the rumors of the area being infested with vampires may be true as she becomes concerned and intrigued by her next door neighbor, Count Karol de Lavud.
Personal Thoughts: I really enjoyed my first time viewing of El Vampiro despite a few of its’ flaws. Visually, the film is rich with atmosphere, from cobwebs to mysterious shadows to the dilapidated courtyard, there’s a lot to appreciate on the screen. However, the characters come off as either a little over melodramatic or simply too understated but the plot is interesting enough that they don’t deter from the overall enjoyment of the film. I really enjoyed German Robles’ performance and I look forward to watching him again in the 1958 sequel, El Ataud del Vampiro. Highly recommended for those of you seeking something “new” in the vampire genre.
- El Vampiro is the first time we see a vampire with long teeth. While Nosferatu had a version of this, no other actor before German Robles wore traditional fake vampire teeth, not even Bela Lugosi.
- It is often considered one of the most important and best Mexican horror films.
- Abel Salazar, who starred as Dr. Enrique, also produced the film.
Availability: Originally released on DVD from Casanegra, it has now gone out of print with copies running near $100.00 or higher. Worth tracking down but be prepared to pay a little more, just be patient for the right price.
Countdown to Halloween – Day 23: Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)
Cast: Gary Oldman as Count Dracula
Winona Ryder as Mina Murray
Anthony Hopkins as Von Helsing
Keanu Reeves as Jonathan Harker
Richard E. Grant as Dr. Jack Seward
Cary Elwes as Arthur Holmwood
Tom Waits as R.M. Renfield
Based on the novel by Bram Stoker
Screenplay by James V. Hart
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola
Plot: Jonathan Harker heads to a remote castle to meet Count Dracula and arrange his arrival in London. Unbeknownst to him, the count is a vampire and in search of fresh blood. The Count is entranced by a picture of Jonathan’s fiancée, Mina, and travels to London, where he is headed to a confrontation with Professor Von Helsing, one of the few people who realize what he really is and how dangerous he can be.
Personal Thoughts: I had mixed feelings about this when I originally saw for the first time…and the second time…and finally this time. I think the film is visually great and Gary Oldman’s performance is incredible. I also enjoy seeing Hopkins as Von Helsing although he’s not perfect. However, Keanu Reeves is horribly miscast and really does seem to be sleepwalking his way through the film. The supporting cast is adequate but I wanted to see more of Tom Waits’ performance as Renfield. I may not entirely agree with the focus shifting so much to Mina but it is something different, which I can appreciate. Overall, not my go to version of Dracula but I did enjoy it more this go around than in the past, so check it out again if it’s been awhile for you as well.
- Keanu Reeves is not proud of his work in the film as he was tired after filming numerous movies back-to-back. His performance is considered one of the weakest points of the film.
- Liam Neeson was originally considered for the role of Von Helsing until Hopkins had such a success with Silence of the Lambs (1991).
- Johnny Depp was originally considered for the role of Harker but studio heads pushed for Keanu Reeves, who was incredibly popular in Hollywood at the time.
- George Lucas recommended the final decapitation scene after being privately shown the movie.
Availability: Available on Blu-ray from Columbia Pictures.
Countdown to Halloween – Day 22: The Thing from Another World (1951)
Cast: Kenneth Tobey as Captain Patrick Hendry
Margaret Sheridan as Nikki Nicholson
Robert Cornthwaite as Dr. Carrington
James Arness as The Thing
Based on the short story Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell Jr.
Screenplay by Charles Lederer
Directed by Christian Nyby & Howard Hawks
Plot: When a group of scientists at an Arctic research station stumble upon a spacecraft frozen in the ice, they discover the body of an alien life form. When the body thaws out and comes back to life, it becomes a battle of survival between the isolated crew and a creature that is a threat to mankind.
Personal Thoughts: The Thing from Another World is not only one of the best science fiction films of the 1950s but of all time. It would set the tone of alien invasion films that became a mainstay at theaters throughout the decade. The feeling of isolation in the frozen tundra permeates throughout the film as the small group of scientists and military men are in a fight for their very existence against a creature from another world. Unfortunately, we never really get a close-up of the Frankenstein-like creature but that adds to the mystery. Oh sure, there are some cheesy lines here and there, not to mention to the odd sexual tension between Captain Hendry and Nikki but they all add to what is a tremendous amount of fun. Highly recommended! And yes, I got to see this on the big screen at Cinema a Go Go as well and it was quite the treat!
- The first of to-date three films based on Who Goes There?, the 1938 novella written by John W. Campbell Jr. and published in Astounding Science Fiction.
- James Arness was actually quite embarrassed by his role and did not attend the premiere. Ironically, it remains the second most popular acting job he ever did, aside from his role as Marshall Matt Dillon in Gunsmoke.
- The government declined to work with Howard Hawks on the film as they were afraid it would be an admission of life on other planets.
- The creature is not a shape-changer as in the original story and subsequent films. However, early production sketches show that it was originally planned but, most likely, changed due to the low budget.
Availability: How is this not available on Blu-ray yet? That said, it is available on DVD from Warner Brothers.