Tag Archives: Vincent Price

KAPOW! ZLOPP! TOUCHE! THE BEST OF “BATMAN” (1966-1968), PART TWO

On 30 , March 1966, ‘s Riddler returned for “Ring of Wax” (directed by James Clark, written by Jack Paritz and Bob Rodger). The local wax museum is supposed to be unveiling a wax figure of Batman. To the crowd’s horror, that loathsome lithe Riddler is on display instead, and up to his usual atrocious anarchy with a stupendous squirter, spewing crimson crud all over the Gotham gang. Of course, he leaves a pair of baffling riddles behind. In his cauldron of corruption, Riddler concocts a wax that burn its way through any vault in the world, sending him to the local library (!), where he is accompanied by a striped dayglo duo and a purple leather-clad villainess named Moth (Linda Gaye Scott). She’s one in a series of Gorshin’s increasingly bizarre disciples (in “A Riddle A Day,”  Riddler was followed by a girl who talks like a mouse and a trio of henchmen wearing a rainbow of primary colored hoodies, one of whom is the yellowed bug-eyed cheese munching stooge). The Riddler’s inexplicable entourage makes him all the more absurdly frightening. We get such a kick watching Gorshin’s bouncing, blithesome histrionics that the only disappointment is NOT getting to see him lay waste to the Dynamic Duo. However, he does get to stop them in place with “Dr. Riddler’s Instant Forever-Stick Invisible Wax Emulsion,” AKA spray-on superglue.  Escaping with a book on a lost treasure of the Incas, Riddler and his gang head back to their candle factory, where Batman and the Boy Wonder are tied up and lowered into an enormous cauldron. “Will Batman wax serious? For the sake of our heroes, let’s think positively!!! But it looks bad! Very bad! How can we wait until tomorrow night.. same bat-time… same bat-channel !!?”

Their escape in Part Two (“Give ’em the Axe”) is among the series’ most preposterous, and the battle with henchmen hits a garish high, all of which translates into camp delight. When Moth tries to flirt her way out of jail, Batman waxes chaste: “A moth that plays with fire is bound to be burned.” Needless to say, Gorshin owns both episodes.

“The Curse of Tut/Pharaoh’s in a Rut” (directed by Charles Rondeau, written by Robert Dennis and Earl Barret) aired on the 13th and 14th of April, 1966. “A giant Sphinx is uttering demented threats in Gotham Central Park in a woman’s voice!” “Holy hieroglyphics, this might mean a battle royal” with King Tut (Victor Buono), of course. “Maybe this sphinx will give us a clue!” Tut surrounds himself with 1960s Egyptian babes (including Zoda Rodann as a coney dog eating Nefertiti) and henchmen (including busy character actor and B-Western regular Don Berry), whom Tut dismisses as twits. Chasing the deluded creature Nefertiti in the park, Batman and Robin engaged in a hilarious QUNCKKK of a sword fight, but even that’s topped by a bonked Bruce rolling down a hill on gurney and heading for a cliff—which has to be the sexiest update on a serial cliffhanger to date.

The previous episode is one of the most nonsensical of season one. It looks downright linear compared to Part Two. Nefertiti  swoons amorously, and Tut blows his top. Alfred gets bonked. Batman gets gassed. Batman and Nefertiti, tortured with pebbles (!) are taunted with a chorus of “Twinkle, twinkle little bat, how I wonder where you’re at.” While Alfred drives Robin to the exhibit, BATMAN RETURNS WITH THE BATUSI; he tops his previous version with such flair that I swear Tut’s in love. Oh, but isn’t it just like Batman to burst the poor man’s beard with a “BIFF!”? After another duel (Errol and Basil they ain’t), the heartbroken Tut heads for the hills, but “that’s life—full of ups and downs.” Buono’s a different kind of villain; underrated, and his buffoonery fits the refreshing absurdity.

turns up as another unique, one-time-only nerd villain in “The Bookworm Turns/While Gotham City Burns” (directed by Larry Peerce and written by Hedrick Vollaerts, airing on April 20 and 21, 1966). McDowell is such a delight that one laments it’s his only appearance. “Holy Homicide!” Bookworm has infiltrated a bridge dedication by assassinating Commissioner Gordon live on TV (using stock black and white footage of a man falling from a bridge). “This is one time we don’t wait for the batphone.”

A buxom bookworm henchwoman (inconspicuously dressed from head to toe in a body-hugging bright red body suit) drops a copy of “For Whom the Bell Tolls” in the Batmobile, but “holy reincarnation!” Gordon is alive! It was only a body double and a  “typical twisted bookworm joke.” The Batmobile is literally book bombed, and the Dynamic Duo darts to deduce dastardly designs by a failed novelist turned super bookworm. Wait, he’s gonna blow the bridge, which means time for a Bat-U-turn, and a call to the Batmobile parachute pickup service.

“Holy human flies!” Jerry Lewis shows up for the Batclimb cameo. “Holy headache!” There’s a Robin the belfry. “Holy Midnight, the first minute of the new day… the everlasting end for Robin! Stick merciful cotton in your ears…! The death-knell sounds tomorrow…same bat-time…same bat-channel!”

Where’s Robin? It’s time for Bat-meditation. “But Batman,” pleads Chief O’Hara. “Don’t interrupt! I’m trying to fathom the  subconscious of a deadly criminal!”

“Ohh,” the disappointed henchman moan in unison when the Boy Wonder is saved. The bookworms are dressed like ice cream men and wear glasses, echoing the big worm himself, who drops a giant cookbook in the middle of Gotham City. Luckily, Batman has a neon pink and yellow super-powered bat magnet. Okay boys, take off your glasses, it’s time for… “Thunk!”

I’m showing bat-bias for Gorshin, but his perfect impersonation alone justifies it in “Death in Slow Motion/Riddler’s False Notion” (directed by Charles Rondeau and written by Richard Carr, airing 27th and 28th of April, 1966). A silent film theme takes flight with Keystone Kops, pie fights, a damsel in distress named Pauline (Sherry Jackson), explosive eclairs, a vixen Bo Peep, Gorshin  (briefly channeling ) overdosing on Folgers, and one of the best dialogue exchanges of the entire series. “Holy molars, am I ever glad I take care of my teeth,” Robin says after catching the batarang with his teeth. “You owe your life to dental hygiene,” says Batman. In true silent film spirit, a hogtied Robin nearly gets split into two by a buzzsaw in one of the series most memorable cliffhangers. Ben Hur‘s Francis X. Bushman plays a small part as Mr. Van Jones, and Riddler prophecies, “this is your last reel.” Indeed it was; Bushman died a mere three months later.

takes cheese to a new level in Season Two’s “An Egg Grows in Gotham/The Yegg Foes in Gotham” (directed by Universal horror’s George Waggner, written by Stanley Ross, and Edwin Self, and aptly airing during the Halloween season, 1966).

Egghead is easily the best villain created specifically for the series, and it would never have worked with anyone other than Price, who makes his entrance at City Hall, stealing the Gotham City Charter from the eggsperts and eggsiting stage left with the loot. Egghead’s lair is eggsquisite (with eggdesks, eggchairs, and eggclocks) and populated by chrome-domed henchman: Benedict (Gene Dynakrski), Foo Young (Ben Welden) and eggsecutive secretary Miss Bacon (Gail Hire). It’s downright surreal slapstick, missing only . Egghead finds a loophole in the town charter—Gotham City must pay nine raccoon pelts to Chief Screaming Chicken (Edward Everett Horton)—that can make the city his! Stereotypes are as abundant as puns, with Egghead delighted with the eggstravagant eggshibition in Screaming Chicken’s tepee. Egghead wants an eggsclusive lease.

“You have egg on your face,” Robin announces on barging into the villain’s chicken coop. “Thwack!” “You put all your eggs in one basket,” says Batman. ”

Prepare yourself for an eggspeditious defeat!”

“That’s very apt, Robin.”

Egghead may have just broken the shell of Bruce Wayne’s secret. How diabolical!!! How inhuman!!! How eggscrutiating!!! Will the world’s greatest criminal mind eggstract the true identity of Batman??? The eggsplanation to these and other eggscentric questions tomorrow!!! Same Bat-Time, same Bat-Channel!!!

If Egghead doesn’t give you a batgasm, then Liberace will surely be the batviagra you need in “The Devil’s Fingers/The Dead Ringers” (directed by Larry Peerce, written by Lorenzo Semple, Jr, airing October 26th and 27th, 1966). The Dead Ringers are twin brothers Chandell and Harry (Liberace x 2!). Cigar-chomping, tommygun-toting Harry is blackmailing Chandell into a life of crime. The virtuoso has a wee bonnie trio (a blonde, a redhead, and a brunette) of miniskirted henchwomen (you didn’t really expect Liberace to be hanging out with macho thugs, did you?) From afar, Bruce Wayne hears Chandell make a mistake in a C-minor chord. “Holy impossibility!”

Liberace a ladies’ man? Seducing Aunt Harriet?

That’s only topped by Liberace’s Jimmy Cagney impersonation, which makes him the most delightfully awful villain of the series.

Will the music end?

LON CHANEY, JR.

Why no one has ever produced a cinematic biopic treatment of the Chaney boys ( Lon Sr. and Lon Jr.) is baffling. Bela Lugosi was given quite a spotlight in Ed Wood (1994), and Boris Karloff was a supporting character in Gods and Monsters (1998). Off-screen, Karloff might have made for a nice neighbor, but being the workaholic he was, his biography is dull going. Of course, Lugosi had elements of drug addiction, pathos, and parody late in life working for him. While the Chaneys lacked the European mystery of Karloff and Lugosi, there’s an aptness in these American-bred father and son icons because, as the past year has revealed, Europe has doodly-squat on ‘Murica when it comes to the banality of authentic horror.

From the slivers of information that we have received over the years through peer recollections and various articles, the Chaneys would make for one helluva psycho drama, preferably directed by someone with the sensibilities of a David Cronenberg. No definitive biography has been written about either, and cinematically there’s only a ludicrously whitewashed biopic Man of a Thousand Faces (1957) starring James Cagney as daddy Chaney. Part of the reason for lack of a substantial biography could be the almost obsessive protectiveness of the Chaney estate, who seem to have made things consistently difficult for potential biographers. However, it is also telling that the estate has, as far I know, never disputed the more colorful biographical tidbits that have been given about their silver screen patriarchs.

There must have been something of the masochist in the elder Chaney, who went though much self-inflicted suffering for his art, including looping wires around his eye sockets and wearing false teeth so tight that shots had to be completed quickly before he started bleeding. For Quasimodo, he wore a back prosthetic so heavy that (coupled with instructions to an extra to not spare the whip in the famous beating scene) it sent Lon Sr. to the hospital for an extended stay. Apparently, he was also quite a sadist, and would lock Creighton (Lon Jr.’s birth name) in a closet after razor strap beatings for punishment. (Senior was also psychologically abusive, as when he told Junior that mommy was dead, when in fact she was quite alive).

Such heredity and abuse certainly was instrumental in composing Lon Chaney Jr. as something of a real life lycanthrope with horrific daddy issues. In assessing Jr. as a pale copy of his father, the popular and critical consensus is spot on (for once). In addition to obsessively (and vainly) trying to outdo daddy, Jr. was also a raging alcoholic, had drug problems, and was prone to a violent temper; which, according to some (including writer Curt Siodmak) sprang from guilt over latent homosexuality. However, when actually being directed, instead of just being told to do Lennie from Of Mice and Men again, Chaney, Jr., if not a great actor per se, was memorable in numerous character parts (few of which are in the horror genre).

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TALES THAT WITNESS MADNESS (1973) & FROM A WHISPER TO A SCREAM (1987)

tales-that-witness-madness-1973
Freddie Francis’ Tales That Witness Madness, made for World Film Services in 1973, is clearly patterned after the Amicus horror anthologies. Of course, what better way to emulate the competition than to acquire the man who directed nearly half of the Amicus franchise, along with several of that studio’s top draw actors?

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The setup is simple and familiar enough: Donald Pleasance is the resident psychiatrist of an asylum, giving friend Jack Hawkins (in his final film) a tour of the grounds. Along the way, he tells the stories of four inmates.

In “Mr. Tiger,” Russell Lewis’ imaginary feline pet beast takes a sour view of his master’s verbally abusive parents. Just how imaginary the tiger is questioned after some clawing on the door and blood splattering on Oedipal walls.

A time traveling bicycle is at the malevolent heart of “Penny Farthing.” It stars Peter McEnery as an antique shop owner and Suzy Kendall as his wife. Soon, they discover the bike is literally antique and … we’re so sorry, Uncle Albert.

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“Mel” stretches credibility when Michael Jayston is more interested in an oddly shaped tree than he is in oversexed wife Joan Collins in something pink from Frederick’s of Hollywood. It’s the most remembered segment for a reason—it’s a camp hoot, with Collins channeling her inner jealous diva. The tree tries to upstage the human competition, which is not an easy task against Joan in a flimsy nightie, wielding an axe.

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tales-that-witness-madness-1973

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1969 EXPLOITATION TRIPLE FEATURE: SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN, IT’S ALIVE, AND SATAN’S SADISTS

scream-and-scream-again

After the success of 1968’s The Conqueror Worm (AKA The Witchfinder General, with a deliciously evil Vincent Price), director Michael Reeves was assigned dual films: The Oblong Box and Scream and Scream Again. Unfortunately, shortly after pre-production work on The Oblong Box , Reeves died at the age of 25 from an accidental, lethal mix of alcohol and barbiturates, putting an end to a promising career. The film must have seemed cursed, because scripter Lawrence Huntington also died. Gordon Hessler replaced Reeves and Christopher Wicking replaced Huntington. Given Reeves’ high critical standing, Hessler was immediately criticized as being unable to fill the late director’s shoes. While there’s little doubt that Reeves’  idiosyncratic style would be impossible to imitate, he was unenthusiastic about the assignment to begin with. Thus, whether he could have made a better film is pure speculation. Despite starring Vincent Price and Christopher Lee, The Oblong Box can hardly compete with Roger Corman‘s AIP Poe series, but it does have an ambitious, somber, gothic style of its own and is well photographed by John Coquillon.

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Of more interest is a genuine oddity in the AIP canon: Scream and Scream Again, which also starred both Price and Lee along with Peter Cushing (in what amounts to a cameo) and the same writing/directing team of Wicking and Hessler. Released in the U.K in 1969 and stateside 1970, Scream and Scream Again is one of the queerest horror science fiction extravaganzas committed to celluloid, which may explain why Fritz Lang proclaimed it among his favorite films. Wicking’s screenplay is an ambitiously brazen adaptation of Peter Saxon’s “The Disoriented Man.” Given that Hessler is a minor cult filmmaker, Scream and Scream Again is, likewise, a film with a minor cult reputation, one that deserves a broader audience. Although imperfect, it is creepy and perverse enough to be of interest to weird movie lovers who crave a challenge.

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The fragmented plot (one of several) opens with a jogger in the park, keeling over from what appears to be a heart attack. He wakes up in a hospital bed to a nurse who won’t speak to him. After she leaves, the jogger finds that his leg has been amputated. He screams.

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The corpse of a rape victim is discovered with two puncture wounds on her wrist.

In an unnamed European totalitarian state, a humanoid Gestapo soldier (a lurid Marshall Jones) murders his superior by squeezing his shoulder.

The jogger wakes up to find his second leg amputated. He screams again.

Inspector Bellever (Alfred Marks) of Scotland Yard sets up a sting to catch a serial killer (Michael Gothard) whose M.O. is biting women’s  wrists and draining their blood after raping them. Bellever uses a policewoman as bait, with fatal results. A long, captivating chase follows and, after the modish killer in a convertible is caught and handcuffed to the back of a car, he severs his own hand and another chase follows the trail of blood.

The jogger wakes up to find an arm amputated. He screams again.

Vincent Price shows up as a mad scientist who specializes in “organ transplants” and happens to have a vat of acid.

A fascistic superior (Cushing) lectures the Gestapo soldier about his torture methods, which is followed by another shoulder squeeze.

The jogger awakes to find his other arm amputated. He screams again.

Price returns to an operating table, meets a British Intelligence officer (Lee), and that vat of acid comes in handy.

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And so it goes. For most of the duration of the film, the vignettes seem completely unrelated, but there’s a fascist spy ring afoot, paranoid conspiracies about super humans, and a potential alien takeover of the government. There’s no real star, but Marks (who is quite good) has the most screen time. Price and Lee lend little more than marquee value, although Price does get an over-the-top scene for the film’s conclusion and, for once, his hamminess is apt. While the finale is a tad too neatly wrapped, for the first 90 minutes of its 95 minute running time, one doesn’t know quite what the hell to make of this seemingly erratic mess. It’s equal parts science fiction, espionage thriller, and traditional mad scientist horror yarn, evoking Lang’s Mabuse but with a late 60s disco number performed in a seedy club thrown in for good measure. Well photographed (by Coquillon), kinetically paced, strikingly bloody, and awash in enigmatic energy, Scream and Scream Again is impressive for its adventurously bizarre composition. Although uneven and saddled with a ho-hum title, it’s as difficult to dismiss this authentic original as it is to embrace it.

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VINCENT PRICE ON BLU-RAY

Vincent Price

The first Vincent Price Blue-ray collection has already gone out of print and now requires sacrificing a mortgage payment to purchase a used copy. So, if the second collection is a must buy to you, snatch it up quick in time for Halloween.

Vincent Price II Blu-Ray collection

For many genre fans,Vincent Price is the epitome of classic horror star. That is partly because he is more contemporary than his predecessors and many of his films are in color. While undoubtedly a genre great, Price’s performances often fall into the whiny, overtly fruity category, and we see a lot of them in “The Vincent Price Collection 2.” Price was best when he did not succumb to self-parody. Of course, all the genre stars had their share of clunkers and if Price’s screen persona seems somewhat derivative of Karloff, or if he lacked the edgy screen persona of Lugosi, he still made a few good, near classic films and managed his career well enough to become an authentic horror icon. While this collection includes welcome additions to the Blu-ray format, it does not necessarily represent Vincent Price at his best.

Vincent Price House On Haunted Hill Blu-Ray

House On Haunted Hill (1959) has become a cult favorite. Directed by William Castle, it is a campy example of the “old dark house” genre. Jokes are balanced with the usual Castle gimmickry, including Price’s pitch-perfect performance as the ringmaster of the carnival-like milieu, gleefully at odds with wife Carol Ohmart (Spider Baby). Castle’s pacing may seem dated to modern audiences, but it is much preferable to the 1999 remake.

Vincent Price Return Of The Fly Blu-Ray

The Return Of The Fly (1959) is a pedestrian rehash of the 1958 original (see below). More crime thriller than sci-fi, Return‘s sole saving grace is black humor supplied by Edward L. Bernds (a veteran of multiple Three Stooges shorts). Price collects a check here and nothing more.

Comedy of Terrors lobby card. Peter Lorre, Vincent Price

The Comedy Of Terrors (1963) is part of AIP’s popular Roger CormanEdgar Allen Poe cycle. Unlike the majority of those, this was not directed by Corman, but rather by Val Lewton/RKO star director Jacques Tourneur. Written by Richard Matheson (“The Incredible Shrinking Man,” “I Am Legend,” “Duel,” “The Night Stalker,” “The Legend Of Hell House”) and helmed by the director of Cat People (1942), I Walked With A Zombie (1943),  Out of the Past (1947), and Curse of the Demon (1957), The Comedy of Terrors was initially seen as a disappointment and argued to be more the work and style of producer Corman. Regardless, it has since been reassessed in some quarters and has developed a minor cult reputation. Co-stars Peter Lorre, Basil Rathbone, and Boris Karloff easily outclass Price. Joyce Jameson[1] is even given something to do other than brandishing her cleavage (although she does plenty of that as well).

Boris Karloff, Joyce Jameson Comedy Of Terrors Blu-Ray

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THE VINCENT PRICE COLLECTION: AN INTRODUCTORY PRIMER ON BLU-RAY

THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER . Vincent Price

A Vincent Price six pack has made its way to Blu-Ray. The set features some of the actor’s most iconic roles, along with at least one surprise inclusion. It is by no means a complete collection, as it concentrates primarily on the late actor’s work with Roger Corman and AIP (since most of these movies were adapted from works by Edgar Allan Poe they are known as the “Poe cycle”). Even by that criteria, the collection is a mere introduction.

House of Wax 3D RR Quad

Price cemented his status as horror icon in Andre De Toth’s House of Wax (1953), despite the fact that that this 3D box office hit is a flat and unimaginative remake of Michael Curtiz’ vastly superior Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933). In a way, this parallels Price himself. Although he has been beatified by genre aficionados, and despite doing occasionally fine acting work, Price’ carefully crafted screen persona seems more derivative than innovative. That persona lacks the authenticity of a Lon Chaney, Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, or Dwight Frye. The passage of time makes that even more apparent. Still, the veteran actor could often supply a luster to pedestrian productions, without necessarily redeeming them.

House of Wax. Vincent Price. Lobby card

Fortunately, this Blu Ray collection, although somewhat haphazard in concept and packaging, is a marketable compilation in a “Vincent Price’s Greatest Hits Volume One” style. Like most such compilations, the choices deemed “greatest” are not without debate. Continue reading THE VINCENT PRICE COLLECTION: AN INTRODUCTORY PRIMER ON BLU-RAY