Posts Tagged ‘Vincent Price’

Movie Reviews 338 – The Ten Commandments (1956)

March 29, 2018

I jumped the gun on purpose this week to rewatch The Ten Commandments which is a movie traditionally broadcast on network television and watched by millions over the Easter weekend. I did so to try to get my review out just before the weekend hoping that some would read it and garner a greater appreciation for this epic film. I should point out right away that while it is a religious film depicting the Exodus, Moses and his struggle to free the Israelite slaves, I am not a religious person by any means (quite the opposite in fact) and yet have always enjoyed every aspect of this marvelous film.

I supposed that some of my love for this film was conceived when I first saw this movie in 1972 when it made one of its many rounds in theaters – keeping in mind that in those days there were no home viewing devices other than television so movies would often have multiple theatrical releases hoping to have a new generation of viewers come and watch. I was doubly lucky in that I was able to view it in one of the city’s last majestic, ornately decorated theaters – Montreal’s long gone Capitol theater which had seating capacity for over 2500 people – just one year before it was razed. But I digress…

Clocking at nearly four hours, the story relates how Moses (Charlton Heston) is raised as a prince of Egypt despite being born of slaves, and grows up as the favored successor to the throne overshadowing the king’s own son Ramses (Yul Brynner), outshining him not only in the eyes of the pharaoh Sethi but also in the heart of the princess Nefretiri (Anne Baxter). Only when Moses learns of his true heritage he willingly trades in his royal garb for the loins and life of a slave where he ponders the legitimacy of slavery until eventually assuming the role of the prophesized Deliverer and the voice of God himself.

I won’t go into details of the layered plot for those that have never seen the movie – ironic since this is one of those films I’ve watched so many times I can probably recite the proceedings from memory – other than saying that Moses is exiled when his parentage is revealed to the king and he is denounced as the Deliverer, despite making no such claim. With Moses castigated, Sethi proclaims Ramses as the heir to the throne, a position that also gives Ramses claim to the princess. Moses ends up in a faraway land and upon hearing the continued misery of the slaves confronts God on Mount Sinai who command him to return to Egypt and free his people. Moses unleashes and ever increasingly impressive display of supernatural events that fail to convince Ramses of Gods powers until the final one breaks the pharaoh. But taunted by the princess Ramses makes one last vainful attempt to regain his dignity.

The special effect laden movie boast some spectacular scenes hallmarked by Moses parting the Red Sea as an escape route for the Israelites as he keeps Ramses and his army of chariots at bay by a pillar of fire. But as mesmerizing as the spectral scenes are, the rest of the film is just as eye catching. While the backdrops suffer somewhat from primitive rear projection techniques no expense were spared in the many other stock scenes whether it be the rise of a new city (and the thousands of slaves toiling as thee build it) or the storms raging on mount Sinai.

This is one of the earliest movies featuring a star studded cast that includes Vincent Price, Edward G. Robinson and Yvonne De Carlo to name just a few and despite the length, the script is taut and suspenseful from beginning to end. This was actually director Cecil B. DeMille’s second stab at making The Ten Commandments, having made a silent version in 1923. He must certainly have learned a few things because in my opinion, he nailed it with this one. The script, the acting, the cinematography, the costumes, the sets, the score and certainly the special effects.

While I do have a considerable number of Blu-ray movies in my collection, I rarely go out and buy them new. However in the case of this movie I was anxiously awaiting the Blu-ray edition so that I could watch this film and all it’s lavish colours and detail in the high definition it deserves.

If you have yet to see this film, you must watch it.

“So let it be written, so let it be done.”

Advertisements

Movie Reviews 337 – Witchfinder General (1968)

March 23, 2018

Back in the day the name of Vincent Price was synonymous with horror cinema. His 200 plus acting resume was filled with performances in many horror staples including The Fly, House of Wax, The Tingler, House on Haunted Hill, The Abominable Dr. Phibes, Theater of Blood, and those only touch the surface as he had an illustrious career in mainstream films. His roles oscillated between being the protagonist and the antagonist, interchangeable in the sense that he was equally adept in either capacity. But one film often left out when reciting those better known horror films is Witchfinder General, ironically the one in which I find he is at his detestable best (a good thing in horror). But perhaps this performance transpired as it did for other reasons.

Titled as The Conqueror Worm in the US, the film is set during the 1645 civil unrest in which lawyer Matthew Hopkins (Price) is appointed as ‘witch finder’ a duty he fulfills wandering the British countryside from one town to the next accompanied by his trusty torturer Stearn (Robert Russell) who all too happily does most of the dirty work. Needless to say the goal is not so much to save anyone from the evils of Satan as it is to put down political foes or just a pretense to collect a few guineas.

After demonstrating some quick marksmanship that saves the life of his unit commander, cavalryman Richard (Ian Ogilvy) is granted a few days of leave and takes the opportunity to visit his beloved Sara (Hilary Dwyer) who lives with her priest uncle (Rupert Davies). The priest urges Richard to marry Sara as soon as possible but only on the promise that he will take his niece and leave the village, only hinting at troubles brewing. But almost as soon as Richard returns to his unit he learns that the uncle has been taken in by the witchfinder. Against orders he returns to the village but not before Sara herself is imprisoned and Richard must save her from the horrific fate that awaits all those accused by the witchfinder.

While not as resplendent in blood as Hammer Studios and American International Pictures (AIP did provide some funding for this film) gothic horrors of the era, the gory scenes are fairly graphic. The allure of the film lies with the richness in character and the clear distinction of good versus evil. The sorcery perspective is well captured with such scenes as a cleric appealing for repentance from a woman being dragged to her death with the opportune witchcraft references like brimstone and burning flesh read aloud by a vicar. What makes the film truly terrifying is wrapping your head on how mere accusations could result in one’s demise. What comes off as comic in one of Monty Python’s troupes best sketches (“She’s a witch!”), is eerily prescient here with dead seriousness despite the equally insane faulty logic we see the witchfinder using to ‘test’ those accused. And there are plenty such trials and extractions of false confessions with all manor of deadly sentences.

A cult favorite today, one of the reasons Price may have been so effective in this film portraying the ruthless, conniving Matthew (based on the real life character) was that the director never wanted Price for the role and made no secret of the fact throughout filming which rankled the otherwise humble Price. This acrimony seems to have translated into Price’s deadpan performance which was perfect for the role.

If the Salem witch trials were your idea of Satanic eradication, they have nothing when compared to The Witchfinder General.

Movie Reviews 284 – Theater of Blood (1973)

January 8, 2017

Theatre of BloodThe late prince of horror Vincent Price had a knack for coming back from the dead and tormenting those who have crossed him in the past. He did it in the role of The Abominable Dr. Phibes, in which he took revenge on the doctors who were unable to save his wife after a car accident injured her (and supposedly killed him). As professor Henry Jarrod, his partner at the House of Wax thought he had killed him for the insurance money before Jarrod started creating remarkably lifelike wax creations of his victims. In Theater of Blood Price once again becomes an afterlife tormentor, this time focusing his daggers on a circle of theater critics who denied him his due.

Rejected a theatrical award he believed was rightfully his, Shakespearian thespian Edward Lionheart (Price) confronts the circle of critics who humiliated him and, snatching the trophy that was withheld, makes one final dramatic posture as he throws himself into the river Thames to end his life. But soon after those very critics start dying one by one, in each case the fatal injuries exemplifying scenes from a Shakespeare play. It does not take long for the police detective on the case to tie the murders into a pattern, the common thread being a playlist of Lionheart’s oeuvres.

Luring his former detractors, Lionheart’s kills are as dramatic as his performances, first reading the defamers back their derisive reviews of particular past performances of his which he has meticulously clipped and saved from newspapers over the years. After each scalding review is brought back to remind the critics of their stinging scrutiny, Edward then fashions their impeding methods of dying based on the very acts of death in those plays. With the final recitals exhausted, his doomed victims get their comeuppance in grisly fates that include quartering, stabbing, heart extraction, force feeding, swashbuckling swords, vat drowning, and (my fave) decapitation.

The few leads the cops have in trying to apprehend Lionheart include tailing his daughter Edwina (Diana Rigg) and vainly trying to sequester the remaining critics from opportunities to snatch them. But the dimwitted and vain ensemble each have their vices which, exploited by Edward, are often the eventual cause of their ruination.

The prose of Othello, King Lear, Romeo and Juliet, Titus Andronicus are all delightfully mixed in with a few corny one liners to make this film enchanting. Whether you’re a fan of the Bard or not, you’ll relish this film. Honestly, this is the only way I can really sink my teeth into Shakespeare.

Movie Reviews 258 – The Tingler (1959)

March 10, 2016

The TinglerThe Tingler is as much an event as it is a literal spine tingling movie. Directed by master showman William Castle who was renown for promotional gimmicks, Castle promised the film would shock viewers who watched it. And ‘Shock” them he did, reputedly placing buzzers under the seats of unsuspecting audience members in select theaters at the time of the release.

Given both the title and the histrionic laced background of the film it would be easy to conclude that it would be nothing but more that a humble B movie, created as a quick cash grab and meant to fade into obscurity once it’s theatrical run was over.  But The Tingler should not to be overlooked as a mere stunt and delivers on more than one account.

Dr. Warren Chapin (played by the legendary Vincent Price) and his protégé David (Darryl Hickman) are obsessed with the study of fear and have been researching the matter by capturing stray animals and subjecting them deadly fright. Warren notices that when death is induced by fear, the spines of the subjects are sometimes mangled by an unexplained force.

When not dealing with his research Warren’s has to contend with his adulterous wife Isabel (Patricia Cutts), a vixen who constantly taunts her husband, openly gallivanting every night with other men. Fed up, Warren awaits her one night and quickly dispatches her, much to her own surprise and shock. Having planned ahead, he uses the occasion (such a professional) to x-ray her spine in a series of consecutive shots. What he discovers is the temporary presence of a sluglike creature that has quickly grown out of nowhere to envelope the spine, then receding back to nothing in a short period of time.

The two scientist postulate that this creature, the Tingler, takes form when subjects are prohibited from expressing their fear, the unspent energy thus manifesting itself as the creature. With the knowledge that a scream prohibits the emergence of the Tingler, Warren believes he can capture one before it can recede by having a subject unable to scream at the time of death by fright. When he befriends a tranquil movie house owner whose wife is a deaf mute, the opportunity to gather a Tingler becomes obvious. But how that creature comes about is not as straightforward as you would think. And therein is just one of the many surprises this movie has in store.

Beginning with a somewhat plausible plot, we’re also treated to fairly neat creature look for the Tingler itself. Aside from a few shots where the guide wires are clearly visible, the Tingler looks quite realistic and creepy, and can put up a mean fight. While the movie was shot in black and white it has select few scenes involving blood where the screen is convincingly colored red only for the blood portions. But best of all is that the audience is really thrown for a loop storywise with a well thought out and genuine surprise towards the end.

So don’t let all the silliness fool you. This is actually an entertaining movie and well worth watching even if you aren’t just a Vincent Price fan. If you can get your hands on the 40th Anniversary DVD (shown above), be sure to watch the special features that document the history of both Castle and the film itself.

Hold on, I’m sensing a tingle under my seat! Nah, it just the Black Russian I’m sipping on as I write this…