Posts Tagged ‘Robert Bloch’

Presumptuous though it may be, when someone I’ve interviewed dies, I always feel like I’ve lost one of my own, and this is truer than usual in the case of Ingrid Pitt, who left us Tuesday at 73, although she seemed far younger—fitting for a star who embodied a vampire more than once in her memorable career.  First and foremost, of course, she played Heidi in my favorite film of all time, Where Eagles Dare (1968), as well as appearing in two other works that loom large in my legend, The Vampire Lovers (1970) and Smiley’s People (1982).  When I spoke with Ingrid for what became the cover story in Filmfax #62, I felt both an incredible vivacity and a far stronger connection than I have had with many of my other “victims,” despite her being an ocean away.

Ingrid’s relationship with the horror/SF genre dates back at least as far as her early Spanish credit El Sonido Prehistorico (The Prehistoric Sound, aka The Sound of Horror, 1964), which concerns an invisible dinosaur…one way to economize on special effects, I suppose.  Her other pre-Eagles roles reportedly included uncredited appearances in films ranging from Orson Welles’s Chimes at Midnight and David Lean’s Doctor Zhivago (both 1965) to A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1966).  Just before being featured in Alistair MacLean’s blockbuster, Ingrid starred in W. Lee Wilder’s justly obscure genre effort The Omegans (1968); I’ve already shared some of her recollections about that film and the Brothers Wilder in “The Wilder Bunch, Part I.”

Ingrid related an amusing story about being cast as Heidi:  “I was doing [an episode of] Dundee and the Culhane with John Mills.  Ralph Meeker was also on it.  He rang me up and asked me if I would like to go and play poker at [famed stuntman] Yakima Canutt’s house.  I had laryngitis but I thought, well, I couldn’t miss a big opportunity like that.  We went and it was absolutely amazing….When I’d lost all my money and had to cry ‘Uncle,’ Yak walked me to the door.  As I got in the taxi, he leaned in and said, ‘There’s a part in the film I’m just starting, why don’t you go for that?…Mention my name,’ he said as he slammed the cab door.  Of course, mentioning certain people’s names is magic.  I got to see Brian Hutton for three seconds the next day…”

Ingrid had several memorable scenes, and inspired a hilarious line from Richard Burton:  “She’s been one of our top agents in Bavaria since 1941, and…[leering at her ample décolletage] what a disguise.”  She enjoyed making the film, but lamented that “they gave me really lousy billing.  [Producer] Elliott [Kastner] had promised me, ‘Introducing Ingrid Pitt’…[but] it didn’t happen.  He forgot—he said.…I was just at the very end, since my name starts with ‘P,’ and the cinemas are empty by the time my name comes around.”  She experienced another disappointment with Hutton’s follow-up film, which reunited him with Clint Eastwood:  “I was going to be in Kelly’s Heroes [1970], and then he decided he didn’t want women in it after all.  I nearly killed him.”

Eagles is best known for action sequences such as its legendary fight atop a cable car.  “Yak was doing the great shot of the stuntman, Alf Joint, jumping from one cable car to the other….Alf was hovering in front of the camera as the cable car started to go.  (And didn’t he look just like Richard hovering there?)  The next cable car came towards him, and you must imagine hundreds of people, everybody watching.  They got into frame and Yak said, ‘Get those people out of the way!’…Anyway, when Yakima…said, ‘GO!,’ Alf went.  Unfortunately, the force of the thrust as he leapt for the other car caused the cable car to swing and the camera fell off.  Luckily none of the crew followed it.  Elliott went berserk.  They had to shoot the whole dodgy sequence again.”

Next, Ingrid appeared in a trio of films that ensured her iconic status among horror fans:  Roy Ward Baker’s The Vampire Lovers and Peter Sasdy’s Countess Dracula (1971) for Hammer, and the Robert Bloch-scripted anthology film The House That Dripped Blood (1971) for Amicus.  As fond as I was of Ingrid, I’ve never been a big fan of Countess Dracula, which in spite of its title concerns not a vampire but Elizabeth Báthory (1560-1614), the Hungarian countess who was said to retain her youth by bathing in the blood of virgins.  At least I’m consistent, because I feel the same way about other films directed by Sasdy (Taste the Blood of Dracula, 1970; Hands of the Ripper, 1971) or inspired by Báthory (Daughters of Darkness, 1971; Blood Castle, 1973).

Of her nude bathing scene in The Vampire Lovers, Ingrid said, “I had asked Jimmy [Carreras] to call his two producers [Harry Fine and Michael Style] up to London to show rushes.  I thought I might be a little inhibited.  They had this way of looking at me.  I thought, if they’re in London with Jimmy, then maybe it would be a sort of closed set…I came out of my dressing room and saw [the two producers] coming down the corridor en route to the car park with heads hanging down, very sad.  I thought, ‘God damn it, look what I’ve done!’  I had this terrycloth robe on and felt an uncontrollable urge to brighten their lives, so I whipped it open, did a bit of a jiggle and said, ‘Woo-whee!’  I tell you, Matthew, it made them so happy!  They were so bloody happy!”

Ingrid shared billing with Peter Cushing in The Vampire Lovers and The House That Dripped Blood, and with Christopher Lee in the latter, although the three starred in separate segments; she also appeared with Lee in Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man (1973), written by Anthony Shaffer of Frenzy and Sleuth (both 1972) fame.  Other credits included two multi-part episodes of Doctor Who (“The Time Monster” and “Warriors of the Deep”) and the Reginald Rose-scripted action films The Final Option (aka Who Dares Wins, 1982) and Wild Geese II (1985).  But it is for the sanguinary roles she approached with such good humor and joie de vivre that we will remember Ingrid, and for the enthusiasm that made the word “fantastic” a veritable mantra in our interview.

Read Full Post »

I realize the expression “late to the party” doesn’t even begin to describe my situation, but now that John Scoleri and Peter Enfantino have expertly explicated all 67 episodes on their ambitious and highly entertaining blog A Thriller a Day (ATAD), I finally have the Image Entertainment 14-DVD boxed set of the entire series.  (It was supposed to be a belated birthday present—from last June—but that’s another story.)  I won’t waste your time or mine by rehashing their post on Matheson’s sole episode, “The Return of Andrew Bentley,” yet this does give me an opportunity to discuss the audio commentary, one of those special features that have Thriller fans so excited.

Matheson adapted this second-season script from the story by H.P. Lovecraft disciple August Derleth and Mark Shorer, which debuted in Weird Tales in September 1932.  It appeared in their 1966 Arkham House collection Colonel Markesan and Less Pleasant People, whose title tale became another memorable Thriller episode, “The Incredible Doktor Markesan.”  Ellis Corbett (director John Newland) inherits the home of his uncle, Amos Wilder (Terence de Marney), and joins forces with Dr. Weatherbee (Philip Bourneuf) and Rev. Burkhardt (Oscar Beregi) to protect Amos’s remains from ghostly sorcerer Bentley (Reggie Nalder) and his familiar (Tom Hennesy).

Image provides commentaries by various genre historians for almost half of the episodes, and the pedigree of those tackling “Bentley” is impeccable.  Gary Gerani was one of the producers of those very same DVD special features, while novelist and screenwriter David J. Schow, as well as being a Thriller aficionado and the author of The Outer Limits Companion, is cited more than once in Richard Matheson on Screen.  Perhaps not coincidentally, Messrs. Scoleri and Enfantino will be giving The Outer Limits the ATAD treatment on their newest blog, We Are Controlling Transmission (hereinafter WACT, pronounced “whacked”), which debuts on New Year’s Day.

Gerani and Schow intone the inevitable litany of other genre credits for the cast and crew, e.g., Antoinette Bower (featured as Ellis’s wife, Sheila), who starred in “Waxworks” and “Catspaw,” written by Robert Bloch for Thriller and Star Trek, respectively.  Newland is best known for helming and hosting every episode of One Step Beyond (aka Alcoa Presents) and directing Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (1973).  Ken Renard, who played ill-fated caretaker Jacob, was also seen in Newland’s “Pigeons from Hell,” widely regarded as Thriller’s finest episode, and de Marney appropriately appeared in the Lovecraft film Monster of Terror (aka Die, Monster, Die, 1965).

“Bentley” is well-regarded among Thriller experts, popping up on several top ten lists by the ATAD creators and commentators (who occasionally included yours truly), and Gerani and Schow have fun enumerating sets and visual motifs familiar from other episodes.  Thriller was produced by Universal’s television arm, Revue Studios, and they point out that although the whale-like face of the Lovecraftian familiar (with Jack Barron’s makeup obscured by a smeared lens) was unique in the Universal canon, his claws were in fact those of the Creature from the Black Lagoon!  Aptly, Hennesy played the Gill Man on land in Revenge of the Creature (1955).

Gerani and Schow observe that while Matheson typically depicts an element of the extraordinary intruding on the lives of ordinary people, the average episode of Thriller inverts this framework, with ordinary people like the Corbetts intruding on extraordinary events.  They argue that he and Thriller were perhaps not the best match, a sentiment Matheson might share.  Despite publishing two stories (“Wet Straw” and “Slaughter House”) in Weird Tales himself, he noted in one of our Filmfax interviews that he did not care for Lovecraft’s kind of writing, and lamented the changes made to his teleplay, which toned down the bantering relationship he’d intended for the Corbetts.

Read Full Post »

Last night, I was surprised to learn that director Roy Ward Baker passed away on October 5 at the age of 93; surprised because, as is so often the case with someone so long off my personal radar, I had assumed he was long gone already.  I see now from the IMDb that he was working in British television as late as 1992, although the most recent credit I’ve seen is Sherlock Holmes and the Masks of Death (1984), with frequent Baker collaborator John Mills as Watson to Peter Cushing’s Holmes.  Of course, most people in the mainstream wouldn’t recognize his name in the first place, although they should thank him for giving Marilyn Monroe a solid early dramatic role opposite Richard Widmark in Don’t Bother to Knock (1952) during a sojourn in Hollywood.

Said sojourn also included, of all things, the 3-D thriller Inferno (1953), with Robert Ryan as a wealthy man stranded in the desert by his adulterous wife (Rhonda Fleming) and her lover, but soon afterward he was on his way back home to England.  There, Baker made the best film I’ve seen about the sinking of the Titanic, the 1958 adaptation of Walter Lord’s nonfiction bestseller A Night to Remember.  Unlike other Titanic films, e.g., the eponymous entries directed by Jean Negulesco in 1953 and that What’s-His-Name guy in 1997, Night found sufficient drama—to say the least—in the historical events themselves, without focusing on fictional characters and their soap operas, with Kenneth More heading a “usual suspects” cast (including Honor Blackman).

Baker was a prolific television director, notching episodes of such series as The Avengers, The Saint, Department S, The Champions (Alexandra Bastedo—woo-hoo!), Journey to the Unknown, The Persuaders!, The Protectors, and Return of the Saint (starring Ian Ogilvy, a fave of Madame BOF).  But to genre fans, Baker will always be recognized as one of the best of the second-tier Hammer directors, by which I mean most of those below big dogs Terence Fisher and Freddie Francis.  According to Dennis Fischer’s worthy McFarland tome Horror Film Directors, 1931-1990, his association with Hammer was an indirect result of A Night to Remember, since they wanted a technically savvy director, familiar with special effects, to helm Quatermass and the Pit (1967).

Known Stateside as Five Million Years to Earth, this SF epic was adapted by Nigel Kneale from the third of his BBC-TV Quatermass serials, with Hammer stalwart Andrew Keir in fine form as the titular scientist, who investigates the contents of a Martian spaceship found buried beneath London.  Oddly, top billing was given to James Donald, fondly remembered from The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) and The Great Escape (1963), as Quatermass’s self-sacrificing colleague, Dr. Matthew Roney.  The effects are wildly uneven, with the finger-puppet Martians seen in the flashback sequences a hilarious low, but Baker’s command of the complex material was firm, and he wisely reunited Keir with his Dracula—Prince of Darkness (1966) co-star Barbara Shelley.

Having known Bette Davis in Hollywood, Baker next replaced Alvin Rakoff when the latter did not hit it off with the star in The Anniversary (1968), a black comedy scripted by the studio’s resident expert on psycho-thrillers, Jimmy Sangster.  I have seen neither that film nor Baker’s next Hammer outing, but given the conspicuously low reputation of Moon Zero Two (1969), I should perhaps be grateful that it is somewhat elusive today.  Perhaps notable only as the first space Western—a dubious precedent, perhaps, for Peter Hyams’s Outland (1981)—it was co-written by second-generation Hammer honcho and mediocrity-meister Michael Carreras, and as much as I love The Andromeda Strain (1971), I doubt that leading man James Olson set the screen on fire.

My other favorite among Baker’s Hammer credits is The Vampire Lovers (1970), with Ingrid Pitt as J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s “Carmilla,” backed by Peter Cushing and Jon Finch, and although its lesbian bloodsuckers pushed the envelope for its time, Baker kept it tasteful and, above all, serious.  His vampire credentials thus established, he bracketed Hammer’s ill-conceived modern-day Dracula films with two period outings that merit a closer look.  Scars of Dracula (1970) gave Christopher Lee a little more to do than usual, even throwing in a few dollops of material from the novel for a change, while for me to note that The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires (1974) was the first kung-fu vampire film is misleading, bolstered as it is by Peter Cushing’s presence as Van Helsing and Baker’s atmospheric direction.

In between, Baker directed Hammer’s offbeat Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde (1971), my enjoyment of which will be forever hampered by my loathing for Ralph Bates, and—like Francis—worked the other side of the fence by making several films for local rival Amicus.  These included two of their trademark anthology films:  Asylum (1972), adapted by Robert Bloch from his own stories, and The Vault of Horror (1973), based on the E.C. horror comics of the 1950s.  He also directed one of the better stand-alone Amicus films, —And Now the Screaming Starts! (1973), and after that company’s dissolution, Baker was reunited with producer and co-founder Milton Subotsky for another omnibus film, The Monster Club (1980), based on the stories of R. Chetwynd-Hayes.

Read Full Post »

The Grim Reaper was unusually busy in the entertainment world this past week, claiming Arthur Penn, director of Bonnie and Clyde (1967) and Little Big Man (1970), on Tuesday and Stephen J. Cannell, creator of The Rockford Files and The A-Team, on Thursday.  But Tony Curtis’s passing in between was a little unnerving, because he had already been much in my mind as I planned to mark today’s sixth anniversary of Janet Leigh’s death.  During their marriage from 1951 to 1962, Tony and Janet co-starred in several films, including George Pal’s Houdini (1953) and Richard Fleischer’s The Vikings (1958), as well as producing the genetic miracle that is Jamie Lee Curtis.

It would be polite but disingenuous of me to call Curtis one of my favorite actors, yet this has a lot to do with the fact that many of his films were comedies, a genre on which I am very tough, although as always, I’ll gladly make an exception for Billy Wilder.  Seeing Tony woo the plotz-inducing Marilyn Monroe with a Cary Grant accent in Wilder’s Some Like It Hot (1959), joining Jack Lemmon as fugitive jazz musicians in drag, is a rare treat.  For trivia fans, its setting of the Hotel del Coronado figured prominently in Richard Matheson’s Bid Time Return, but could not be used for the movie, Somewhere in Time (1980), as it looked too modern for the period scenes.

I don’t know if this constitutes a guilty pleasure, or how I’d feel about it if I saw it now, but I did love Curtis’s admittedly silly comedy Those Daring Young Men in Their Jaunty Jalopies (1969).  At least, that’s the title under which I stumbled across it on the beloved Late Show in my youth, immediately pegging it as the late Ken Annakin’s follow-up to his own Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines (1965), but back in Britain it was the more manageable Monte Carlo or Bust!  Interestingly, Blake Edwards’s similar The Great Race (1965) left me cold; Edwards also directed Curtis in Operation Petticoat (1959), teaming him up with none other than Grant.

Those who have checked out my “Bradley’s Hundred” list and/or reviews know that Curtis did appear in one of my all-time favorite dramas, chained to Sidney Poitier as convicts on the run in Stanley Kramer’s The Defiant Ones (1958).  There’s not a trace of the grinning pretty-boy here, and Curtis earned a richly deserved Oscar nomination for the role.  Due to less familiarity, I have less distinct memories of his dramatic work opposite BOF fave Burt Lancaster in Carol Reed’s Trapeze (1956) and Sweet Smell of Success (1957); in Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus (1960); or as Ira Hayes, the ill-fated Native American WW II flag-raiser of Iwo Jima, in The Outsider (1961).

As for Leigh, I wouldn’t have placed her in the pantheon either until I had one of those forehead-smacking moments when I suddenly say, “My God, So-and-So starred in [fill in number] of my favorite films!”  In her case, the four are Touch of Evil (1958), Psycho (1960), The Manchurian Candidate (1960), and The Fog (1980), all but one of which (Candidate, cancelled out by other John Frankenheimer films) is also in the B100.  And let’s not forget The Naked Spur (1953), one of the Westerns in which Anthony Mann—who was replaced by Kubrick on Spartacus—directed James Stewart, with a terrific supporting cast including Leigh, Robert Ryan, and Ralph Meeker.

In preparation for this post, I finally read Janet’s book Psycho: Behind the Scenes of the Classic Thriller (written with celebrity biographer Christopher Nickens), which nicely details the making and after-effects of the film, including interviews with Hitchcock’s assistant, Hilton Green, and screenwriter Joseph Stefano.  She offers a unique perspective on how her character of Marion Crane pulls off that Third Man/Exorcist trick of dominating the film despite limited screen time.  We were lucky enough to meet Leigh and have her sign a copy at a convention some years ago, as well as having her autograph a photo for my mother-in-law, whose name is also Marion.

Robert Bloch, whose contribution to the film’s gigantic success as the original author of Psycho sometimes goes underappreciated, paid Leigh perhaps the ultimate compliment when he said, “I wish I had written the character as well as she played her.”  Simply put, she is not only gorgeous (Hitch wasn’t dumb enough not to promote the film with photos of Leigh in her undies), but also immensely appealing; viewers care about her and are devastated by her abrupt death.  Marion is an indelible creation, of the type that any actor would be lucky to create once in a lifetime, so let us hope that Tony and Janet, though long since divorced, are now sharing some happy memories.

Read Full Post »

Marking the 89th birthday of co-founder Milton Subotsky, we revisit this SF-oriented profile written for the late, lamented original Scifipedia website.

As a purveyor of cinematic horror in the 1960s and ’70s, Amicus Productions was Britain’s only serious rival to Hammer Films, whose personnel (e.g., Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, directors Freddie Francis and Roy Ward Baker) it borrowed on a regular basis. Ironically, the studio was founded by the American producers Max J. Rosenberg (1914-2004) and Milton Subotsky (1921-91).

Also a screenwriter, Subotsky received the story credit on an early effort that was technically a Vulcan Production, John Moxey’s City of the Dead (aka Horror Hotel, 1960), a splendid tale of witchcraft featuring Lee in a solid supporting role. He later scripted the first official Amicus production, Francis’s Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (1964), which started a signature series of anthology films.

Subotsky based one of the earliest Amicus films, Francis’s The Skull (1965), on horror author and screenwriter Robert Bloch’s classic “The Skull of the Marquis de Sade.” Bloch was then hired to adapt his own published stories into Francis’s Torture Garden (1967), Peter Duffell’s The House That Dripped Blood (1970) and Baker’s Asylum (1972), each of which utilized the anthology format.

Amicus eventually became the first studio permitted by publisher William M. Gaines to film stories from the eponymous E.C. horror comics of the 1950s in Francis’s Tales from the Crypt (1972) and Baker’s The Vault of Horror (1973). But it also made several significant contributions to the SF genre, including the only feature films to date based upon the long-running BBC-TV series Dr. Who.

Unveiled in the Doctor’s second adventure, “The Daleks” (aka “The Dead Planet”), the titular mutants inside their metallic casings, whose primary goal is to “Exterminate!” humans, soon became the most enduring of his interstellar adversaries. Thus, an adaptation of Terry Nation’s serial seemed a safe bet for Amicus to introduce the Doctor to the big screen—and in color—for the very first time.

Written by Subotsky, with additional material by the show’s script editor, David Whitaker, Dr. Who and the Daleks (1965) changed the Doctor from the Time Lord of the series to an eccentric human inventor, played by Peter Cushing. The film was directed by Gordon Flemyng, who worked almost exclusively in British television for the thirty-odd years of his decidedly unremarkable career.

The Doctor’s invention, the TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimensions In Space), is disguised as a police call box, and can travel through time and/or space. It does both, whisking the Doctor and his granddaughters Barbara (Jennie Linden) and Susan (Roberta Tovey) to the planet Skaro in the distant future, when Barbara’s clumsy boyfriend, Ian Chesterton (Roy Castle), stumbles against the controls.

Poisoned by nuclear war, Skaro is inhabited by two races: the peaceful, humanoid Thals, and the deadly Daleks, which are protected by their mechanized armor. Joining forces with the Thals, the Doctor and his companions undergo the usual quotient of captures, imprisonments, and escapes, but ultimately defeat the Daleks by interfering with the magnetic forces that control their futuristic city.

Cushing and Tovey were back, with a bigger budget, the same screenwriters, and essentially the same crew, for Flemyng’s Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 A.D. (1966), based on Nation’s second Dalek serial, “The Dalek Invasion of Earth.” Ian and Barbara were supplanted by police constable Tom Campbell (Bernard Cribbins), another comic foil, and the Doctor’s niece, Louise (Jill Curzon).

In 2150, the Daleks are excavating in England with evil intent, hoping to blow out the Earth’s magnetic core by planting a bomb in a fissure, effectively turning the planet into a giant spaceship. This ambitious plan is put to rest when the Doctor reprograms their human slaves, the Robomen, and diverts the bomb down an unused shaft, so that the magnetic pull draws the Daleks down to the core.

Allan Bryce’s Amicus: The Studio That Dripped Blood tartly (but not necessarily inaccurately) dismisses their next SF efforts, Montgomery Tully’s The Terrornauts and Francis’s They Came From Beyond Space (both 1967), as “the two worst films the company ever produced.” Each was based on a decidedly pulpy paperback (Murray Leinster’s The Wailing Asteroid and Joseph Millard’s The Gods Kate Kansas, respectively).

Francis told me in an interview for Filmfax that after budgeting for both movies, Amicus spent most of the money on The Terrornauts, leaving very little left over for him. “So we were trying to do this film with not much money, and I thought it was a rotten film anyway,” he said. “That was another Subotsky script [indeed, his writing was widely considered the studio’s weakest link], which I didn’t interfere with.”

In The Terrornauts, a group of humans is spirited off into space and subjected to a series of intelligence tests, before being plunged into the middle of a war between alien races. Francis’s film concerns another alien race, this time taking over humans to effect their mysterious plan, which turns out to be nothing more menacing than trying to get from our moon to their own world to die at home.

More ambitious and intelligent, but faring badly at the box-office, was Alan Cooke’s The Mind of Mr. Soames (1969), based on the novel by Charles Eric Maine. Reminiscent of Charly (1968), it stars Terence Stamp as a thirty-year-old man awakened from the coma he has been in since birth, with Robert Vaughn and Nigel Davenport as doctors in disagreement over how to educate him.

Scream and Scream Again (1970) was an odd hybrid of horror and SF, and of personnel from both Amicus and American International Pictures, then expanding into England. Star Vincent Price, director Gordon Hessler, and screenwriter Christopher Wicking had already worked together at AIP, while Rosenberg and Subotsky produced the film, and Lee and Cushing co-starred.

Based on Peter Saxon’s The Disorientated Man, this historic teaming of horror’s “big three” is a disorientating experience indeed, with multiple settings and plotlines that seem unconnected at first. Finally, it becomes clear (relatively speaking) that Price’s character has been creating a race of deadly, super-strong “composites,” which are infiltrating various governments to control the world.

Amicus also produced some of the few films based on SF novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs, best known as the creator of Tarzan. Financed—and distributed in the U.S.—by AIP, The Land That Time Forgot (1975), its sequel, The People That Time Forgot (1977), and At the Earth’s Core (1976) were all directed by Kevin Connor, as was their last anthology film, From Beyond the Grave (1973).

Land and People concern Caprona, a lost continent on which, as in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World, dinosaurs still exist at the time of World War I. The survivors of a British ship, including American Bowen Tyler (Doug McClure), are taken aboard the U-boat that torpedoed them, and clash with the crew before encountering prehistoric creatures and mysterious tribes of cavemen.

At the Earth’s Core is set in another fictional world, Pellucidar, to which Tarzan himself paid a visit in one of Burroughs’s sequels. McClure starred as David Innes, who journeys to the center of the Earth in a giant drilling machine, with Cushing as Abner Perry, the absent-minded professor who accompanies him, and Caroline Munro as Dia, the primitive princess he rescues from assorted perils.

Amicus was in fact disintegrating as the Burroughs films were being made; Subotsky left the company in 1975, after Land was completed, and the company was officially dissolved even before People was released by AIP. But while its track record was mixed and its production values never as high as Hammer’s, Amicus is fondly remembered for the genre entertainment it offered for a decade.

Read Full Post »

Another day, another obit:  this time we mourn the passing (at a respectable 86) of stage, screen, and television character actor Harold Gould, whose feature-film work included The Front Page (1974), Love and Death (1975), and Silent Movie (1976).  He had memorable recurring parts on Rhoda and The Golden Girls; the former earned him one of five Emmy nominations, as did the role of L.B. Mayer in The Scarlett O’Hara War (1980).  Among his few genre roles were Robert Bloch’s The Couch (1962), William Castle’s Project X (1968), and two apiece on The Twilight Zone, The Invaders, and The Ray Bradbury Theater (one of which garnered another nomination).

AOL News’s Joseph Schuman captured why I am writing this:  “If there was a signature movie role in [Gould’s] long, versatile career…it was the elegant con man [Kid] Twist in The Sting, the 1973 fable of ragtime-era grifters starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford.  The film’s audiences first saw Gould arrive in town wearing matching gray gloves and a fedora.  A jewel-studded tie pin, spats and gold-headed cane rounded out the picture of a dapper sophisticate whose bearing was as precise as the cut of his salt-and-pepper mustache.  But Gould’s eyes, as he signaled recognition to Newman, conveyed the street sense of a veteran con.”  That nails it.

I can’t hold a candle to the professional obits I’ve just been skimming when it comes to covering Gould’s distinguished stage career, his marriage of 60 years (God bless him), or trivia such as the fact that he played the fathers of Marlo Thomas and Ron Howard in what became That Girl and Happy Days, respectively, but lost the roles when the series eventuated.  I do know that when an actor makes a relatively brief role as indelible as Kid Twist, he has something special, and Gould had it in spades.  There are many reasons why The Sting is one of my all-time favorite films, and supporting players like him are a big one, so he will be much missed; here’s looking at you, Kid.

Read Full Post »

Concluding our eclectic selection of Boris Karloff credits from the Bradley Video Library catalog…

The Devil Commands (1941):  HUAC name-dropper Edward Dmytryk directed this misleadingly titled coda to Karloff’s “Mad Doctor” series (see The Ape in our previous installment).  Based on William Sloane’s novel The Edge of Running Water, it concerns a scientist who establishes that human brain waves can be recorded, and are unique (like fingerprints), just before his wife is killed in a car crash. When Boris’s machinery picks up her distinctive waves after death, he launches an all-out effort to contact her spirit beyond the grave, and is immediately dismissed as a nut-job by his colleagues, daughter, and associate/future son-in-law.  So he sets up shop in an isolated cliff-top mansion, joined by a shady spiritualist, a snooping housekeeper, and an employee whose brain was partially cooked by a previous experiment.  Although strictly speaking science fiction, this programmer is filmed in a gothic-horror manner, complete with Dark Shadows-style narration by the daughter—who, alas, probably could not have known about some of the events she relates.  Sadly, Boris’s habit of stealing corpses from the local boneyard (since for some odd reason he needs to have dead people hooked up to his gizmo in order to contact other ones) draws the attention of the sheriff, with predictable results.

Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome (1947):  An utterly routine (albeit mercifully brief) comic-strip programmer, notable only for the presence of Karloff as the titular villain.

Thriller (1960-62):  Having already covered this series in some detail, I’ll merely enumerate a few highlights besides “The Return of Andrew Bentley,” adapted by Richard Matheson from the short story by H.P. Lovecraft protégé August Derleth and Mark Schorer.  They include the atmospheric “Pigeons from Hell,” also directed by John Newland and based on a story by Conan creator Robert E. Howard; four other episodes based on stories by Derleth, written either with Schorer (“The Incredible Doktor Markeson,” an especially creepy episode in which Karloff stars as well as hosts) or without (“Mr. George,” “Trio for Terror,” “A Wig for Miss Devore”), sometimes using his Stephen Grendon pseudonym; an adaptation of Poe’s “The Premature Burial,” also with Boris; three based on works by Cornell Woolrich (“Guillotine” [adapted by Charles Beaumont], “Papa Benjamin,” “Late Date”); Beaumont’s other, inferior episode, “Girl With a Secret”; and a whopping ten written and/or based on works by Robert Bloch (“The Cheaters,” “The Grim Reaper” [starring William Shatner], “The Devil’s Ticket,” “The Weird Tailor,” “Waxworks,” “The Hungry Glass” [also with Shatner], “’Til Death Do Us Part,” “A Good Imagination,” “Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper,” “Man of Mystery”), two of which were remade in his Amicus anthology films.

The Raven (1963):  Extrapolating from “The Black Cat,” the successful comic segment of their Poe anthology film Tales of Terror, director Roger Corman and screenwriter Matheson went all-out in this comedy; Matheson left the series afterward, saying he couldn’t take the films seriously any more.  Featuring Peter Lorre in the title role, Karloff (appearing in his second film allegedly based on Poe’s poem) bemused by Lorre’s ad-libs, the obligatory Vincent Price, the heavenly Hazel Court (who rejoined Corman and Price on Poe’s The Masque of the Red Death the next year), and a very young Jack Nicholson as the dubious—in every sense—hero, Rexford.

The Comedy of Terrors (1963):  Written by Matheson and directed by Val Lewton alumnus Jacques Tourneur, this is a black comedy about unscrupulous undertakers who drum up business the hard way, with veteran horror stars Price, Lorre, Karloff, and—carried over from Tales of Terror—Basil Rathbone.  Originally slated to play the more athletic role of Price’s acerbic landlord, which ultimately went to the ironically older Rathbone, Karloff has a hilarious scene in which he delivers a rambling funeral oration, complete with every imaginable synonym for the word “coffin.”

I Tre Volti della Paura (The Three Faces of Fear, aka Black Sabbath; 1963):  Again, I won’t belabor this anthology horror film, having discussed it in multiple posts devoted to director Mario Bava, but it would be a shame to omit it.  As with Thriller, Karloff hosts and stars in one segment, effectively playing a Russian vampire opposite Mark (House of Usher) Damon in “The Wurdalak.”  Sadly, you won’t hear his voice in the uncut Italian version, only in the one re-edited by the film’s co-producer and U.S. distributor, AIP.  The other segments are “The Drop of Water,” as a ghost reclaims a ring stolen by a greedy woman, and “The Telephone,” in which a girl is stalked by her ex-lover.

The Sorcerers (1967):  One of three films (the others being La Sorella di Satana and Witchfinder General) on which the reputation of Michael Reeves rests; his early death of an alcohol and drug overdose ensured a kind of James Dean fame for the British director.  Karloff and Catherine Lacey star as an elderly couple who invent a machine with which they can share the sensations of, and ultimately control the actions of, a disaffected youth played by Reeves’s perennial lead, Ian Ogilvy.

La Camara del Terror (The Fear Chamber, 1968):  One of four Mexican horror films for which Karloff shot footage (in L.A., I believe) shortly before his death; behind-the-scenes machinations altered some of the resulting pictures from their original conceptions.  Hard to imagine what they had in mind for this one, which as it stands is an incoherent mishmash about scientists using blood from frightened girls to fire up a living, power-hungry rock.  At least, I think that’s what it’s about…

Targets (1968):  Peter Bogdanovich’s first and probably best film (I’m not a fan; it’s mercifully unlike his other work), this stars Karloff as an aging actor who feels his Hollywood horrors can no longer compete with real life, and Bogdanovich as a young guy who chats up oldtime filmmakers (quite a stretch for both!).  Proving his point, a seemingly mild-mannered young man suddenly goes on a killing spree, eventually konfronting Karloff (sorry, too much Famous Monsters of Filmland in my youth) at a drive-in screening of one of his films—in reality, The Terror, made by Pete’s sometime mentor, Corman.

Read Full Post »

While the world (well, okay, three of you) breathlessly awaits the impending publication of Richard Matheson on Screen, which I am still frantically indexing, there is yet new Bradley to be had.  Hot off the presses, and presumably hot on the shelves of your local chain bookstore—or, better yet, a mere subscription form away—is Filmfaxplus #124, containing the conclusion of my interview with W.D. Richter.  This installment covers his work as the director of The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension and the screenwriter of Big Trouble in Little China and Needful Things.  Portions of this interview previously appeared in both editions of Invasion of the Body Snatchers: A Tribute, but although space still hasn’t permitted it to run in its entirety, this is the first time any of the non-Body Snatchers material has seen the light of day.

In a stunning piece of serendipity, this issue also contains an interview with legendary Marvel Comics artist “Joltin’ Joe” Sinnott.  Since I consider Sinnott to be the greatest inker who ever lived, I am beyond honored to be sharing space with him, as I am to be represented in their 25th-anniversary issue.  It seems hard to believe that I’ve been generously represented therein for 17 of those 25 years, since my interview with Robert Bloch appeared in #40.  That was my first published interview, although not the first I conducted, which was with The Great You-Know-Who (and aptly debuted soon afterward in their Vincent Price tribute issue, #42).  The number of times Filmfax pops up in my index bespeaks a long, proud relationship with the magazine, where many of the interviews I draw on first appeared.  I hope it will continue for another 17…

Read Full Post »

Joyous tidings have recently been announced for fans of both classic television and the Southern California Sorcerers (aka “The Group”), namely that the anthology series Thriller will be released on DVD in its entirety by the ever-outstanding Image Entertainment on August 31.  Thriller ran for two seasons (1960-62) on NBC, initially following the same network’s Alfred Hitchcock Presents; both shows were produced by Universal’s television arm, and Hitchcock supposedly pressured them to cancel Thriller because he thought it was too similar.  Indeed, Thriller had much in common with his show:  suspenseful stories, an instantly recognizable host in the form of Boris Karloff, and many of the same personnel (e.g., Herschel Daugherty and John Brahm, who with fifteen and eleven episodes, respectively, were its most frequent directors).

Among those personnel were several Group members, with episodes written by Richard Matheson (“The Return of Andrew Bentley”) and Charles Beaumont (“Guillotine,” based on the story by Cornell Woolrich, and “Girl with a Secret”).  By far the most active was Robert Bloch, who supplied scripts or original stories for many episodes of both shows, including some of the most memorable.  But as with the Hitchcock series and England’s Amicus Productions, which filmed Bloch’s “The Skull of the Marquis de Sade” as The Skull (1965) before hiring him as a screenwriter, he was recruited for Thriller only after three episodes (“The Cheaters,” “The Hungry Glass,” and “Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper”) had been adapted from his work by other writers.

Never as well known as The Twilight Zone or the Hitchcock show, Thriller has its adherents, including Stephen King, who called it “probably the best horror series ever put on TV,” noting in Danse Macabre that “after a slow first thirteen weeks, [it] was able to become something more than the stock imitation of Alfred Hitchcock Presents that it was apparently meant to be…and took on a tenebrous life of its own.”  The show initially focused more on crime and mystery, and many of its early problems can be traced to uncertainty regarding its direction and the tensions between creator Hubbell Robinson and his original producer, Fletcher Markle.  The latter and his associate producer and story editor, James P. Cavanagh (a veteran of  Alfred Hitchcock Presents), were soon supplanted by two new producers, Maxwell Shane and William Frye, brought in to handle Thriller’s crime and horror episodes, respectively.

Shane, who had already adapted Woolrich’s work in Fear in the Night (1947) and Nightmare (1956), left after basing “Papa Benjamin” on another of his stories, and Frye, who produced the remaining episodes, soon gave the series a distinctive flavor by mining the pages of Weird Tales.  That famed fantasy pulp is, of course, best known for featuring the work of H.P. Lovecraft and such protégés as August Derleth and Bloch himself.  Directed by Brahm and written by the show’s most prolific contributor, Donald S. Sanford, “The Cheaters” was one of only two episodes—the other being the Edgar Allan Poe adaptation “The Premature Burial” —that were actually introduced with the host’s frequently quoted tagline, “As sure as my name is Boris Karloff, this is a Thriller!”

This was to be the first of ten episodes written and/or based on works by Bloch, including William Shatner’s only two appearances, “The Hungry Glass” and Daugherty’s “The Grim Reaper”; coincidentally, Matheson scripted Shatner’s only two Twilight Zone outings, “Nick of Time” and “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” and both writers later contributed to his best-known series, Star Trek.  Bloch adapted “The Weird Tailor” and “Waxworks” (both directed by Daugherty) from his own stories, which he later recycled in the Amicus anthology films Asylum (1972) and The House That Dripped Blood (1970).  His other Thriller episodes were “The Devil’s Ticket,” Brahm’s “A Good Imagination,” Daugherty’s “’Til Death Do Us Part,” and John Newland’s “Man of Mystery,” all based on his own work.

Newland, whose Thriller episode “Pigeons from Hell” is often called the single most frightening story ever done on television, also directed “The Return of Andrew Bentley,” which Matheson adapted from a Weird Tales story by Derleth and Mark Schorer.  Although Beaumont and fellow Group member Jerry Sohl adapted Lovecraft’s work in The Haunted Palace (1963) and Die, Monster, Die (1965), respectively, Matheson never did, despite his successful Poe films for the same studio, AIP.  “He wasn’t my kind of writer—too heavy,” he told me in an interview for Filmfax.  “Heavy stuff.  You know, he’d spend fifty pages talking about some Eldritch horror that is so horrible to describe that he can’t possibly do it, and then in the last ten pages he describes it.  I mean obviously, the man was brilliant, I just don’t care for that kind of writing….But the show Thriller, the whole thing had a Lovecraft atmosphere to it.”

For the full story of this neglected show, see Alan Warren’s This Is a Thriller: An Episode Guide, History and Analysis of the Classic 1960s Television Series, to which I am greatly indebted.  For a blow-by-blow account of Bloch’s involvement, see my contribution to Benjamin Szumskyj’s The Man Who Collected Psychos: Critical Essays on Robert Bloch, some of which I have drawn on here.  And, needless to say, you can read more about “The Return of Andrew Bentley” in Richard Matheson on Screen; all three books are, or will be, published by McFarland.

Read Full Post »

Our representative sampling of non-Hammer movies by recent birthday boy Christopher Lee (May 27) concludes with a look at his work in the ’70s, plus one token ’80s offering.

El Processo de las Brujas (The Trial of the Witches, aka El Juez Sangriento [The Bloody Judge], Il Trono di Fuoco, Der Hexentoeter von Blackmoor [The Witch Killer of Blackmoor], Night of the Blood Monster, Throne of the Blood Monster; 1970): Nasty knockoff of Michael Reeves’s Witchfinder General from director Jesus (aka Jess) Franco and writer-producer Harry Alan Towers, with Lee in the semi-historical role of Judge Jeffreys. Highly exploitative in scenes not involving Lee, including one in which the heroine is compelled to lick blood off the naked body of a dead girl (which pretty well speaks for itself, I presume).

El Conde Dracula (Count Dracula [1970]): This is the underrated, if undeniably shabby, Spanish version from Franco and Towers. Trying to play the role more faithfully than the long-running Hammer series frequently allowed him to do, Lee embodied Bram Stoker’s conception of an aging Count who grows younger as he feeds, and wisely insisted on using some of Stoker’s dialogue. The supporting cast includes Herbert Lom as Van Helsing, Klaus Kinski as an excellent Renfield, and Paul (Nightmare Castle) Müller as Dr. Seward. Until Bram Stoker’s Dracula came along, this was easily the most faithful adaptation, with a memorable score by Ennio Morricone’s sometime conductor, Bruno Nicolai. Leading lady Maria Rohm was also married to Towers from 1964 until his death in 2009, God bless her.

The House That Dripped Blood (1971): Of the three Amicus anthology films adapted by Robert Bloch from his own stories (the others were Torture Garden and Asylum), this is the only one to star Lee as well as Peter Cushing. (According to the DVD audio commentary with director Peter Duffell, Lee soon priced himself out of Amicus’s range, although Cushing continued working with them until the end.) “Method for Murder” stars Denholm Elliott as an author convinced his literary strangler has come to life; “Waxworks,” previously filmed as an episode of Thriller, stars Cushing and Joss Ackland (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) as romantic rivals captivated by a statue of Salome; “Sweets to the Sweet” (sometimes erroneously attributed to Richard Matheson) features Lee as a cold, distant father whose daughter delves into voodoo; and “The Cloak” has sometime Dr. Who Jon Pertwee as an actor whose search for realism in his low-budget horror films has unexpected results; Ingrid Pitt (The Vampire Lovers) co-stars.

I, Monster (1971): A depressing misfire, this Amicus adaptation of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde suffers from producer Milton Subotsky’s lame script—which inexplicably changes the eponymous names but not those of the supporting characters—and even worse insistence on having it shot in a new 3-D process that required the camera and/or actors to be in motion at all times. It reportedly gave the people who watched the rushes splitting headaches, and ended up as such a fiasco that much of the footage was scrapped, resulting in an abnormally short running time. This would be a blessing were it not for the fact that it stars Lee (giving his all despite the film’s failings, and adding to his roster of classic movie monsters) and Cushing.

Nothing but the Night (aka The Resurrection Syndicate, The Devil’s Undead; 1973): I barely remember this as a sad reunion for Lee and Cushing in a tale of evildoers cloning kids, or something like that. Latter-day Hammer flash in the pan Peter Sasdy directed, and it was doubly depressing as the first and last solo effort from Lee’s Charlemagne Productions (although they apparently co-produced his Hammer swan song, To the Devil a Daughter).

The Three Musketeers (aka The Queen’s Diamonds, 1973): In light of his subsequent hard-drinking decline and death, it’s as difficult to believe that Oliver Reed was once considered enough of a star to be top-billed in this adaptation of the Dumas classic as it is nice to be reminded of what he was once able and allowed to do. The purist in me wishes this didn’t have so much humor in it, as befits Richard Lester, director of the Beatles film A Hard Day’s Night and Help!, and screenwriter George MacDonald Fraser, author of the Flashman novels. But much of it is actually funny, and what isn’t is made up for by the uniformly excellent sets, costumes, score (by Michel Legrand), swordplay, and cast: Michael York, Richard Chamberlain, Frank Finlay, Raquel Welch (rarely more lovely), Geraldine Chaplin (daughter of Charlie), Faye Dunaway, Charlton Heston, Lee (as one-eyed villain Rochefort), Jean-Pierre Cassel, Simon Ward, Roy Kinnear, and Spike Milligan. Many of their characters died in the more downbeat follow-up (see below), while Kinnear, who appeared in many of Lester’s films, sadly died for real after falling from a horse while filming his The Return of the Musketeers (also with Lee) years later, and his part had to be completed by a double.

The Wicker Man (1973): Not one of my personal favorites, as those who have seen it may understand, but undeniably effective, with Lee as Lord Summerisle, presiding over the Scottish island where policeman Edward Woodward seeks a missing young girl. Ingrid Pitt and Britt Ekland up the pulchritude quotient. Senselessly remade with Nicolas Cage.

The Four Musketeers (aka The Revenge of Milady; 1974): Strictly speaking, this is not so much a sequel to The Three Musketeers as the rest of it, since it was shot as one mammoth film and then broken into two parts. As a result, just about the only new name in the credits is that of Lalo (Mission: Impossible) Schifrin, who composed a worthy score that falls only a little short of Michel Legrand’s original. Michael Gothard (seen as a blood-drinking android who rips his own hand off to escape a pair of handcuffs before destroying himself in a vat of acid in the Amicus-AIP co-production Scream and Scream Again, and an equally ill-fated assassin in For Your Eyes Only) has a small but key role. It’s been said that the stars didn’t even know the film was being released in two parts until the first one premiered in Paris, which seems pretty hard to believe, but apparently it established a legal precedent in which future contracts prevented producers from doing just that (the so-called “Salkind Clause”).

The Man With the Golden Gun (1974): My daughter helped persuade me that I ought to own this one, since it was the only Bond film before The Spy Who Loved Me that I didn’t already have, and with Lee as the titular villain, Scaramanga, I couldn’t really argue with that. It was, however, the first entry to rush ahead of the then-customary two-year interval between films since 1965, and it shows. Ekland, while decorative, is annoyingly spacey as the Bond girl du jour, and even Lee isn’t as effectively used as he might be, with Herve Villechaize (Fantasy Island) as his henchman and model Maud Adams, later to play the title role in the awful Octopussy, as an ill-fated romantic conquest of both adversaries. The fact that Clifton James returns as Sheriff J.W. Pepper from Live and Let Die sort of says it all.

House of the Long Shadows (1983): This is notable chiefly, if not solely, as the only film in which the genre’s latter-day Big Three (Vincent Price, Lee, and Cushing, previously gathered in Scream and Scream Again) teamed up with its own Energizer Bunny, John Carradine. It’s a shame that they couldn’t have done so in, first, something closer to their prime, as this is a bit like watching a bunch of fossils pottering around in a museum (Lee’s the liveliest and, aptly, the sole survivor offscreen) and, second, a genuine genre vehicle, as this is nothing more than the umpteenth version of Seven Keys to Baldpate, an old-dark-house novel by Charlie Chan creator Earl Derr Biggers that was adapted for the stage by George M. Cohan as far back as 1913. Not helping matters is the fact that the team behind the camera was as undistinguished as the cast was stellar: Cannon Films and exploitation hacks Pete Walker and Michael Armstrong. The plot, such as it is, involves Desi Arnaz, Jr. (strike one!) betting agent Richard Todd that he can write a novel in twenty-four hours in a secluded house, and then getting constantly interrupted as the stars pop up (and in turn get mowed down) one by one, along with sundry unknowns.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »