Favourite Five Series: ROGER CORMAN
Way back in November 2011 I did a feature called Eisenhower and the Horror Movies which covered the horror films made during Eisenhower’s presidency (1953 – 1961). Roger Corman’s film career began during the Eisenhower years. in 1954 Corman produced Monster Maker and co-produced Highway Dragnet. In 1955 he made his directorial debut with Five Guns West. Roger Corman made several creature features during the decade including Not of This Earth, Attack of the Crab Monsters, The Wasp Woman and the hilarious and incredibly corny Creature from the Haunted Sea. That is just a sampling of some of my favourites from the period. I had no idea I was a fan of so many of Roger Corman’s films until I did my top ten lists for each year of the 1960s. Corman ruled the early part of the sixties. I could easily make this list nothing but Corman’s Vincent Price/Edgar Allan Poe collaborations. Corman also made a few pretty great non-horror flicks I’m also fond of. Roger Corman has 56 Director credits and 404 Producer credits! By George that is a resume! I have seen most of Corman’s directorial efforts but one I have not seen is the 1962 film The Intruder. The Intruder came highly recommended to me, so I will definitely check it out in the near future. I think a part two for Roger Corman is a strong possibility for the future. These are my favourite five…
HOUSE OF USHER (1960)
Starring: Vincent Price, Mark Damon, Myrna Fahey, Harry Ellerbe
Philip Winthrop intends to marry Madeline Usher but her brother Roderick adamantly opposes. Roderick believes their family’s bloodline is cursed; a curse that has caused his relations to go mad. Philip is anxious to take Madeline away from the house of Usher but the affliction of which she suffers prevents their departure. House of Usher was the first of several Roger Corman directed films based on the work of Edgar Allan Poe and starring horror legend Vincent Price. The Fall of the House of Usher is one of my favourite Poe short stories. Corman’s version is not an entirely faithful adaptation of Poe’s short story but the elements that make it great are included. Great performances compliment the solid script with Vincent Price perfectly cast in the central role of Roderick Usher. Myrna Fahey is strong as Madeline Usher. Harry Ellerbe gives a particularly memorable performance as Bristol the loyal family butler. Mark Damon as Philip Winthrop is a touch dry but he does have a great dream sequence which is one of the film’s best highlights. The visuals are first class all the way. House of Usher’s great costumes, fantastic sets, superb performances, well-paced plotting, Les Baxter’s neat score and Richard Matheson’s well-written script assures entertainment.
TALES OF TERROR (1962)
Starring: Vincent Price, Maggie Pierce, Leona Gage, Peter Lorre, Joyce Jameson, Basil Rathbone, Debra Paget
I said I could make this favourite five nothing but Roger Corman/Vincent Price/Edgar Allan Poe collaborations! I really could. Tales of Terror is a trilogy of Poe tales based on his stories The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar, Morella and The Black Cat. All three star Vincent Price. The first story is the sombre Morella. A daughter comes back to see her father and tell him she is dying. A father who blames her for the death of her mother and sent her away to a boarding school when she was a little girl. Morella is a haunting and bleak story with great performances from Leona Gage, Maggie Pierce and Vincent Price. My favourite of the three is The Black Cat. It is darkly hilarious! Peter Lorre plays Montresor; an obnoxious arrogant drunk and an abusive husband. One evening while stumbling about drunk Montresor walks into a wine tasting and challenges sommelier Fortunato Lechresi to a taste off. I absolutely love the taste off! Vincent Price plays Lechresi with flamboyant verve and his interaction with Lorre is absolutely priceless! Lorre and Price are both just terrific and they are given great material to work with. The final film is The Case of M. Valdemar. Ernest Valdemar is dying and has turned to hypnotism to ease his pain. Valdemar’s creepy hypnotist Carmichael gives his wife Helene the willies and his physician does not approve of Carmichael’s methods. In return for easing Valdemar’s pain Carmichael is asking for a favor that will cost more than Valdemar could have possibly imagined. Vincent Price as Ernest Valdemar and Basil Rathbone as Carmichael are particular stand outs in this moody and mildly trippy tale. I enjoyed all three segments of Tales of Terror. The trio is visually pleasing and the performances are beautiful, even the supporting roles I did not mention. Tales of Terror has atmosphere, chills and laughs with three horror legends that pleases me immensely.
The Wild Angels (1966)
Starring: Peter Fonda, Nancy Sinatra, Bruce Dern, Diane Ladd, Buck Taylor, Norman Alden, Michael J. Pollard
Blues leads a group of bikers who travel to Mecca California in search of a member’s stolen bike. The excursion ends badly for member Loser who is shot in the back by police and taken to the hospital. Blues and company bust Loser out of the hospital who dies shortly after inspiring the mother of all biker funerals. I like biker flicks and i am particularly fond of Roger Corman’s The Wild Angels. It wasn’t the first biker flick but it is one of the better known entries thanks in part to the appearances of Peter Fonda and Nancy Sinatra. The Wild Angels also seemed to motivate a greater volume of considerably harsher outlaw biker flicks. Since watching Kenneth Anger’s Scorpio Rising a few months back I have been hankering to check out more biker flicks. I would love to do a big feature on biker flicks, but I feel there are a few more key titles I still need to see. Definitely a project for the future. Peter Fonda is completely at ease playing Blues and is a convincing leader. Bruce Dern also slips comfortably into the biker mold playing Loser. They get sweet support from Nancy Sinatra who plays Mike, Blues’ woman and Diane Ladd who plays Gaysh, Losers squeeze. The Wild Angels is one of the best looking biker films I’ve seen. I love the opening shot of the little boy on the tricycle and the imagery of the bikers walking through the small town with Losers’ casket. The Wild Angels is full of “Hell-Raising Trouble Makers”, sex, drugs, humor, violence, rape and Harleys, lots and lots of Harleys. It has everything that makes biker flicks so appealing to me with the added bonus of being well-filmed and acted.
THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM (1961)
Starring: Vincent Price, John Kerr, Barbara Steele, Luana Anders, Antony Carbone, Patrick Westwood, Lynette Bernay
After learning of his sister Elizabeth’s death Francis Barnard travels to the isolated Medina Castle in Spain. Elizabeth was married to Don Medina; the son of a notoriously barbaric Spanish inquisitor. Barnard is suspicious of Medina’s explanation that Elizabeth died of a blood disease and insists on staying in the castle until he uncovers the truth. Much is indeed afoot in the Medina Castle of deceit and death. The Pit and the Pendulum’s best asset is its well written story. I was fully engaged from the first scene to the awesome finale. Another outstanding screenplay by Richard Matheson. The film has a steady pace and maintains an ominous and moody atmosphere throughout. The sets and costumes are fantastic especially the neato titular pendulum device. The Pit and the Pendulum is a visually pleasing delight with a great story and strong performances. The only real blemish is John Kerr who plays Francis Barnard; he is pretty dull. The supporting cast really shine with the fabulous Barbara Steele and Corman regulars Antony Carbone and Luana Anders. Vincent Price of course is just terrific as Don Medina. A neat little score from Les Baxter too! The Pit and the Pendulum is gold.
A BUCKET OF BLOOD (1959)
Starring: Dick Miller, Barboura Morris, Antony Carbone, Julian Burton, Ed Nelson, John Brinkley, John Herman Shaner, Judy Bamber, Myrtle Vail, Bert Convy
I saved the best for last! My favourite of all Roger Corman films; A Bucket of Blood. Socially awkward Walter Paisley is a busboy at a Bohemian joint called The Yellow Door Cafe. Misguided Walter desperately wants to be accepted by the artsy fartsy types who frequent the establishment; particularly the lovely Carla. He decides to buy some molding clay and try his hand at sculpting, but quickly becomes frustrated. It seems acceptance is out of his grasp until he accidentally kills his landlady’s cat and decides to cover it in clay. Quicker than you can say dead cat, Walter becomes a minor star of the local art scene. In the art world however you are only as good as your next piece and staying on top can really be murder! This plot summary came from my review of A Bucket of Blood; there isn’t much I can add that I didn’t cover; I love A Bucket of Blood! To read my review click here.