Bloody October: The Shining (1980) and Room 237 (2012)

The Shining (1980) and Room 237 (2012)


I’ve decided to combine my reviews of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining with Room 237, the 2012 documentary about theories surrounding the meaning of The Shining. This is largely because just about everyone and their mother has written a review of The Shining and I have little new to add to the general consensus that it’s one of the scariest movies ever made.

The Shining (in case you’ve managed to miss both it and The Simpsons’ Treehouse of Horror sequence “The Shinning”) is about a nuclear family that decides it’s a good idea to hole up in a massive hotel in the mountains of Colorado, where they will see no one else for five months. The last caretaker happened to chop up his entire family into little tiny pieces, but whatever. Five months rent free!

You know the drill. Jack Nicholson goes all kinds of crazy – as if he wasn’t already – and chases Shelley Duvall and the adorable Danny Lloyd around with an axe after his ghostly friends tell him to. Kubrick creates a deep sense of wrong and foreboding from the very beginning. Subtlety is the name of the game in The Shining; the hotel seems off, with winding corridors that don’t quite make sense, offices with windows where there should be none, shifts in decoration that feel unnatural. The Shining trades on peripheral vision, the sense that something is just not quite right. Kubrick pulls this off by introducing or eliminating small elements in a single frame: a chair that’s there one minute and gone the next; a cigarette with smoke circling inward instead of outward. There are undercurrents of abuse – Danny’s shoulder was once dislocated by his father, though this is claimed as an accident – and unnamed violence. Is the hotel really haunted, or is this Jack having a breakdown? Does Danny cause the madness of his father, a mental projection of anger and hatred? It’s a fascinating, labyrinthine film that gives no real answers or explanations. As Scatman Crothers remarks to Danny, there are just traces left over from the past.


If The Shining is indeed a movie about traces, Room 237 spins a few convincing (and less convincing) yarns about those traces. Giving voice to some of the interesting, odd and often outlandish theories about the meaning of The ShiningRoom 237 largely avoids passing judgment on the theorists, allowing them to speak for themselves. And the theories are interesting indeed. One presupposes that the whole story is about the genocide of the American Indians, marking out instances of Native American decorations and photographs that dot the hotel. Oddly, the issue of the Calumet baking soda cans prevalent in several shots is dwelt on more than the fact that the Overlook is built on an ‘ancient Indian burial ground,’ that favorite of horror story tropes.

Another less convincing analysis has a German history scholar examining relations of The Shining to the Holocaust – because all post-war violence has something to do with the Holocaust, and Jack totally uses a GERMAN typewriter. A third theorist tries to claim that Kubrick was using The Shining as a way of telling us all that he was involved in faking the moon landing (what?).

Room 237 is not all crazy, though. Most of these theorists have noticed fascinating elements in the film that might otherwise pass unnoticed. All, however, take their analysis just that one step too far, claiming that the film is ABOUT this and only this, and trying – sometimes in very extreme ways – to prove their case.  What none of them focus on, though, are the very disturbing gender relationships, eliding over Jack’s aggression towards his wife and the notion of ‘correcting’ the bad behavior of women and children through physical violence. I’m amazed that anyone can spend twenty minutes proving the genocide of the American Indians via baking soda cans, but miss the whole “I’m gonna bash your fucking brains in”.

The Shining and Room 237 are fascinating to watch together, however, and well worth the time. While none of the proposed explanations are convincing on final analysis, they all pick up on elements within the film that make it so very fascinating to watch.  The Shining is not just a great horror film; it’s a great film, and still has the power to scare the hell out of you.

Bloody October: The Fog (1980)

The Fog (1980)


There are certain gaps in my horror film education that I have struggled to fill. While I’m very good on Roger Corman, James Whale and Tod Browning, I have missed out on the major works of directors like Wes Craven, Dario Argento and, I realize, John Carpenter. Some of this is due to a total lack of interest in slasher films or most body horror, but as a horror fan I cannot run forever. Some films I simply have to see.

The Fog is one of those Carpenter films that I heard good things about and never got around to watching until now. I’m pleased that I did so. It all begins with Mr. Machen (John Houseman) telling a scary story to kids at a campfire. The story sets up the rest of the film, which plays like an urban legend. The town of Antonio Bay suddenly goes crazy one night, with car alarms going off, pieces of stone falling out of walls, and the ground rattling with an unmeasured earthquake. Meanwhile, a glowing fog rolls in across the water, traveling against the wind. The fog, as Mr. Machen tells us, once caused the deaths of ship full of people, crashing them against the rocks in the Bay 100 years ago on that very night. Now it has returned to Antonio Bay, and it brings with it a strange and terrible vengeance.

The Fog really could have gone either way. The notion is a good one – a traveling fog that envelops and murders – but it could easily have slipped into hokey special effects and people running away from a cloud. Carpenter is a better filmmaker than that, thank God. He instills a sense of otherworldly terror in the fog – there are ghosts that come with it, but for the most part they are glimpsed in shadow and profile, announced by a pounding on the door or wall, proceeded by fog and haze. The horror lies in the build-up, not the execution, and there are few filmmakers from the 1980s so capable of building suspense as John Carpenter.

The cast helps too. Jamie Lee Curtis is on hand as a sweet young hitch-hiker who just happens to wind up in Antonio Bay. Her mother Janet Leigh puts in an amusing appearance as one of the town pillars. Adrienne Barbeau is the local radio DJ and as close to a final girl type as we’re going to get. There’s also Hal Holbrook playing a drunken priest who discovers the true story of the founding of Antonio Bay, and the reason why the fog is … really pissed off.

It’s a simple but effective story told in a simple but effective way, which is what good horror filmmaking is all about. Elaborate backstories, big CGI effects and convoluted character development be damned. Horror is about good scares, and The Fog has that in abundance.

Bloody October: Re-Animator (1985)

Re-Animator (1985)


I’m a big fan of the works of H.P. Lovecraft, so it was with a feeling of shock and shame that I realized that I had not seen what’s often considered the greatest adaptation of a Lovecraft story ever: Re-Animator, from 1985. So I queued up my Netflix, popped my popcorn, and settled down for what was sure to be a 1980s schlock-extravaganza.

What had I done? I’d been warned about the grossness of Re-Animator, but I did not expect…this. Granted that Lovecraft adores indulging in oozing viscosity and putrid terrors from the beyond, I still did not expect to be translated so very literally to the screen. But my word it was! Re-Animator is one of the grosser, funnier horror films I’ve seen, and I enjoyed every overblown, overheated minute of it.

Re-Animator tells the story of Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs), a brilliant but quite insane medical student who has created a serum capable of bringing the dead back to life. The problem is that the serum mostly just brings back the primitive instincts, not the higher brain functions, effectively turning reanimated corpses into hyper-strong atavistic zombies. It’s a combination of Frankenstein and a zombie movie by way of Lovecraft.

West goes to Miskatonic University (the site of most of Lovecraft’s educational based narrative), where he connects with fellow medical student Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott) and his girlfriend Megan (Barbara Halsey). He also runs afoul of Dr. Hill (David Gale), a doctor whose work on brain death West directly challenged. But all the plot machinations are largely excuses for West and Dan to make some zombies, re-animate some corpses, and explode some body parts in a hail of blood and guts.

The first half of Re-Animator plays like a typical camp 80s horror film; the second half is pure insanity. Staff members are murdered, college deans are turned into zombie slaves, Megan (predictably) loses all her clothes, and severed heads return to life in some of the most hilarious, ridiculous and disgusting ways imaginable. It’s nearly impossible to describe what happens in Re-Animator without resorting to noises of shock and horror, not to mention insane laughter.

There are moments in Re-Animator that would be offensive if they did not take place in such an insane film to begin with. The lengths the film goes to get Megan naked is quite remarkable, but it never quite crosses the line into offensive exploitation. The whole film is so mad that it would be impossible to claim that any one scene goes too far. Props to actress Barbara Halsey, though, for being willing to go the extra mile for … art, I guess.

Jeffrey Combs is the mad center of this mad film, his Herbert West fascinating and repellant and, by the end of it, strangely likable. He’s Dr. Frankenstein on acid, dedicated to his cause and completely without morals. I loved him.

No everyone will love this film. Many will be repelled by the sheer amount of blood and gore, or the sight of a headless man attempting to fellate a girl tied to a morgue slab. But it is, indeed, one of the best, maddest Lovecraft adaptations ever likely to be made. Mr. Lovecraft would be incredibly proud.

Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983)


It’s that time of year again. The days grow shorter, the nights windier, there’s a howling in the North Country, the leaves turn and the Pumpkin Spice Lattes hit your local cafe. Halloween might be more than a month away, but it’s time to start getting the scares out.

Unintentionally, I began this scary season with my first-time reading of Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes. While Bradbury may not have invented the ‘evil carnival’ subgenre, his tale of two boys fighting the cotton candy-flavored forces of darkness certainly does it the best. Bradbury’s genius lies not just in the story, but in the language he uses, creating a deep sense of foreboding, an electric energy and excitement for the danger and mayhem to start. He writes the way that Halloween feels.

So having read the novel, I decided that it was a good idea to seek out the Disney film of the same name, starring Jonathan Pryce as the illustrated Ringmaster Mr. Dark, Jason Robards as Mr. Halloway and Vidal Peterson and Shawn Carson as the two boys, Will and Jim respectively.

wicked4The film follows Will and Jim, two best friends on the brink of adolescence living in a small Midwestern town that remarkably resembles Vermont. The arrival of Mr. Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show in the small hours of the morning precipitates the arrival of Halloween by a week. The carnival offers hopes and dreams to unhappy residents of the little town, and in the process makes them a part of the freak show. Just what Mr. Dark is up to becomes clear, although his motives with regards to the two boys seem somewhat confused.

It’s difficult not to compare the film to the book, of course, but I’ll do my best. This is Disney, after all, and it offers up a fairly clear opposition between the evil of the carnival and the good of the two boys. It largely removes the darkness of Jim’s character, and cuts down the conflict and sympathy between the two friends. The people of the town who join the carnival all have distinct failings: a ladies’ man, a greedy man, a woman wishing for beauty, etc, which the carnival exploits. I was gratified, however, that they did not turn Mr. Dark into a Satan figure, but rather retained the book’s emphasis on the carnival’s love of misery and pain.

The film suffers from a few problems, the biggest of them lack of direction. While I can accept some of the changes to the novel’s structure, they are not replaced by any convincing motives. Mr. Dark appears to go after the boys because of what they see at the carnival, yet his methods largely call more attention to himself as a malevolent force. Mr. Halloway’s unhappiness is likewise a tad confused. The film dwells on his heart condition, but introduces his perceived failure as a father in a rather explicatory scene that doesn’t feel like it fits well with the rest of the narrative. Robards, looks uncomfortable in his part, delivering his lines in a somewhat stilted manner that does nothing to ingratiate him with the audience. Whether this is a fault in direction or in script I cannot tell, for Robards is typically a dynamic actor. But his performance, which should set up a counterpoint to Pryce’s Mr. Dark, lacks conviction. Something-Wicked-s

The highlight of Something Wicked This Way Comes has to be Jonathan Pryce, who imbues his Mr. Dark with all the energy and malevolence we might expect from a good Disney villain. His speech in the library as he searches for Jim and Will comes straight from Bradbury, with Pryce intoning every word with the glee of a carnival barker. He’s thoroughly enjoying himself. While the film tones down some of Mr. Dark’s corrupting influence, Pryce retains his seductive edge. He’s a demonic seducer, offering despair.

I’d love to recommend Something Wicked This Way Comes, and if I’d seen the film before reading the book I might be able to. It’s not the book; the story loses much of its power by establishing a good/evil binary and then wrapping it all up. Aside from Pryce, the performances are stilted – the two boys in particular could have used some acting lessons – and much of the terror falls off after the carnival’s arrival. Being a Disney film, perhaps the director was afraid to really bring the scares. The novel could do with a frightening adaptation that makes use of all the arsenal of horror filmmaking. Something Wicked is a book about Halloween coming early, and it’s more trick than treat.

Dragonwyck (1946)


In case you missed it, I’ve got a bit of thing going on with Vincent Price. It was entirely unintentional, but whenever I want a movie that is guaranteed to be delightful without being too terribly serious, I go for something starring Mr. Price.  Because Vincent Price is cooler than you or me, and he knows it.

So imagine my excitement when I realized that I had not sene THE movie that more or less made Vincent Price into Vincent Price. That is to say, up until Dragonwyck, Price had been a standard supporting player, appearing mostly as second-class villains or smarmy pretty boys (Laura). Despite a pretty creepy turn in Samuel Fuller’s Shock, a non-villainous part in The House Of The Seven Gables with George Sanders, and a few minor villain roles, Price had not quite become the gothic creeper we all know and love.

dragonwyck großartigThen along came Dragonwyck.  Price plays Nicholas Van Ryn, a New York landlord with medieval sensibilities who falls (kind of) for his distant cousin Miranda (Gene Tierney). But Van Ryn’s wife (Connie Marshall) is in the way, so he’s got to get rid of her before he can marry his pretty cousin and ruin her life too.  Meanwhile, the tenants of Van Ryn’s land want out of their rather feudal contract with their master – and are trying to get there with the help of the hunky local doctor (Glenn Langan), who’s also falling for Miranda.

Dragonwyck represents Price’s first real foray into the realm of the gothic villain.  His Van Ryn is charming and frigid, a vindictive head-case with delusions about his place in society. He’s a snob, a vicious landlord, a classist, a suppressor of men’s rights, and an apparent believer in the droit de seigneur.  He’s also positively gorgeous in a way that I did not really think Vincent Price was capable of being.

But although I watched Dragonwyck for Price, the movie really belongs to Gene Tierney, who plays a sympathetic and remarkably strong young woman.  It’s understandable how the daughter of a Connecticut farmer and minister (played, by the way, by Walter Huston, just because) could be seduced by her handsome, wealthy cousin.  But at no point does Miranda fall into the common position of gothic heroines.  She stands up to her autocratic husband, despising and loving him at the same time.  As her illusions are stripped away, she does not become less powerful but more so.dragonwyck

Dragonwyck is a surprising film.  It could very easily have fallen into a typical gothic tale of innocence assaulted and corrupted.  But none of the characters are stereotypes.  Miranda’s father preaches at her, then softens, saying, “Indulge me.  You won’t have to put up with me much longer.”  Huston plays him as a decent, God-fearing man who wants very much to give his daughter what she desires, even if it does not tally with his beliefs.  He is in direct contrast with Van Ryn, who does not believe in God but in himself.  This is not just hubris – it is a fundamental aspect of Van Ryn’s character that is more tragic than dangerous.  He’s a man imprisoned by his ancestors and wholly incapable of escaping them.

So Dragonwyck exceeds its gothic underpinnings. While there are the requisite secret rooms, creepy servants and haunting portraits, the film produces a complex tale of power and religion, love and possession, the sickly past and potential for the future.  It’s a fascinating film, and not just because Vincent Price is beautiful.  Although, there’s that too.

1946 Dragonwyck [El castillo de Dragonwyck] - Joseph L. Mankiewicz - [DVDrip] [XviD 640x480x30] [[01-34-05]

The Comedy Of Terrors (1963)


I’ll just leave the cast list right here: Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff, and Basil Rathbone, in a film directed by Jacques Tourneur (Cat People).

Do you need that repeated? No? Just read it a few more times.  Now inform me of how this movie can possibly go wrong.

The fact is that it can’t.  Price is Waldo Trumbull, an obnoxious and drunken undertaker on the verge of being cast into the street by his landlord John Black (Rathbone).  He has a crazy opera-singing wife he despises (Joyce Jameson), an incompetent assistant named Felix Gillie (Lorre) and a father-in-law who has seen better days (Karloff).  In an effort to buoy his failing business, Trumbull undertakes (HA!) to murder rich elderly men so that he can give them a funeral.

This is a Laurel and Hardy film with four of the finest horror movie actors to step onto a screen.  Price and Lorre bully, shove and tear into each other constantly, Karloff chews the scenery whole and Rathbone … Rathbone has to be seen to be believed.  The plot hinges on Trumbull’s idea to simply knock off his landlord, thus making some ready cash and getting rid of a man he hates into the bargain.  But Rathbone proves (hilariously) hard to kill, prompting the funniest funeral ever.

Comedy of Terrors

The Comedy Of Terrors could not have been performed with any other cast – each actor brings their own inimitable star personas to theirparts, and proves once and for all that they were all capable of playing comedy.  I knew that already about Price and Lorre, but Karloff! Now Karloff was a revelation, giving Rathbone one hell of a eulogy.  The comedy depends on an audience’s awareness of the roles the four men have played in the past – it’s one of the first and finest of the self-referential horror-comedies that Price would cash in on so brilliantly later in his career.

There are things that could be better about The Comedy Of Terrors.  A little less time dwelling on Price and Lorre breaking into houses and a little more time on the plot to kill Rathbone.  Less of Jameson warbling, more of Karloff wandering about looking befuddled.  Price is incredibly unlikable, yet you want him to get away with it just to keep everything moving.  The running jokes get a little wearing after the fourth or fifth repeat, and Price’s vicious hatred of his wife becomes off-putting – however obnoxious she is.  The film really picks up in the second half, once Rathbone has fully committed himself to spouting Macbeth at regular intervals and Karloff begins indulging in histrionics.

I don’t know what else to say about The Comedy Of Terrors, except that I enjoyed just about every minute of it.  Price and Lorre are a great comic team, their differing physicality working very much to their advantage.  Despite some plot holes big enough to fit a horse-drawn hearse, by the end of the film I was laughing so hard I did not care.

The Black Cat (1934)

black cat bottom

I’m back! I know you’ve been waiting with bated breath, but I had … important … things to … stuff.

The Black Cat! How can you go wrong with Karloff and Lugosi? The answer is that you cannot, but there are times when filmmakers do try.   The Black Cat is supposedly based on Edgar Allan Poe’s short story of the same title, but the only resemblance is just that: the title. There is a black cat that shows up at regular intervals – supposedly a representative of undying evil – but that piece of the plot drifts away and never comes back.  So the only thing going for it are the presences of Karloff and Lugosi, and the might of Universal horror in the early 1930s.

Which, let’s face it, is all this film really needs. Lugosi is Dr. Vitus Werdegast, recently released from a prison he languished in for 15 years as a prisoner or war and returning home to find out what has become of the wife and daughter he left behind.  He’s joined by sweet honeymooning couple the Alisons (David Manners and Julie Bishop), the two most boring and useless people on the planet.  The fun starts, though, when circumstances land them all at the high modern home of Hjalmar Poelzig (Karloff), Werdegast’s sworn enemy, a murderer, sadist and Satanist.  Let the games begin!


This film is simply delicious.  From the instant that Lugosi asks to share the Alisons’ train compartment, you want to start screaming “Holy God, no!”  But for once, Bela is not the one we need to be worried about.  He actually plays Werdegast with great subtlety, as a man possessed by revenge but likewise desperate to pick up his life where he left off.  All he really wants are his wife and daughter back.  One has the impression that he would leave vengeance behind.

The film exploits horror’s roots in German Expressionism, particularly through Poelzig, a villain made up of sinister angles.  Karloff imbues The Black Cat with its menace.  His costuming and style match the high modern house that has become a tomb for past horrors.  He’s a war criminal who escaped judgement, causing the deaths of thousands, and then returning to build his home on their graveyard.  But of course he has not stopped there – the ground below the house is the site of Satanist rituals, and the place where Poelzig keeps his female victims preserved for all eternity; including, of course, Werdegast’s wife.  If all that wasn’t enough to convince you that this guy is seriously fucked up, try this: after marrying Werdegast’s wife, Poelzig went on to marry her daughter too.  Ew.

I will avoid spoiling the ending, except to say that it’s shockingly violent for the time period.  It’s also rushed, which is the biggest problem with The Black Cat.  The film sets up a number of plot threads and conflicts, then speeds through resolving them.  Blink and you’ll miss salient plot points.  Let your attention wander for an instant and characters are suddenly dead.  If it were not for Lugosi and Karloff anchoring the film, it would float off into space.

Both Karloff and Lugosi made better films, but perhaps none pitted them so marvelously against each other as The Black Cat.  Despite dropping some of the more interesting elements – the backdrop of World War I, Satanism and possession – the film succeeds in what it sets out to do.  It wants to give us an hour of two of cinema’s greatest monsters glaring at each other across a chess board, framed in a doorway, or cackling in each other’s faces.  Lugosi and Karloff are possessed of two of the most wonderful voices in early cinema and they dwell on every word of their dialogue, vying for screen-time.  Pleasure in cinema can be found in the weirdest places, and The Black Cat remains one of the more pleasurable experiences for this horror fan.

Theatre Of Blood (1973)

theatre of blood poster

“It’s him all right. Only Lionheart would have the temerity to rewrite Shakespeare!”

Why was I not informed of this movie’s existence? Have I been so out of the loop? I’d heard of it, naturally, but why did not someone tell me of the exceptional level of awesomeness contained in this one bloody little package? WHY?

I have no one to blame but myself.  At least I have rectified the situation.  This movie has everything: Vincent Price, a cross-dressing Diana Rigg, Shakespeare, dead theatre critics, blood EVERYWHERE.  And, remarkably enough, it’s actually a quality piece of camp cinema.  God, how I wish I’d seen it sooner.

It’s quite similar to The Abominable Dr. Phibes, but with a better script and production values.  Price is once again the sympathetic madman taking revenge on those who wronged him  This time his lovely assistant is his daughter Edwina (Diana Rigg – I’m a straight woman, but my God is she sexy), helped along by a pack of derelicts in the best Shakespearean tradition.  Price plays Edward Lionheart, a ham actor presumed dead who murders his critics by way of Shakespeare. And if you know your Shakespeare, you know there are some really spectacular deaths.

But Theatre of Blood stands a decapitated head about The Abominable Dr. Phibes, and then not just because of the production of blood  The cast is a who’s who of British thespians from the 70s: Robert Morley, Coral Browne, Ian Hendry, Jack Hawkins, Dennis Price, Harry Andrews.  If you don’t know the names, you’re likely to recognize the faces. Price and Rigg in particular are more than game for their parts, gnawing the scenery while spouting some overblown Shakespeare.  It helps that both are quite capable of handling the language.  Seeing great actors over-act Shakespeare on purpose is a rare pleasure.

The deaths make better sense than The Abominable Dr. Phibes; the ‘villains’ are quite sympathetic, particularly when their victims are painted in such unflattering light.  I began to think that playing a theatre critic that is venal, snarky and vitriolic is a perfect actor’s revenge.  It’s also delightful for the audience.  The violence is over the top, and in places quite surprising for the early-70s, but it’s off-set by the camp.

At times the Shakespeare angle is strained – the murder from Henry VI Part 1 is hilarious, but hard to place.  There’s a patch in the middle, as Ian Hendry recounts Lionheart’s death, that suffers from inaction.  We’re all just waiting for them to get back to the killings.   At times the film suffers from a confusion of tone – the seriousness of the police jars with the apparent glee that the villains (and the camera and the audience) take in the murders. I did find myself wishing for a more entertaining police investigation a la Trout/Waverley, but perhaps I’ve just been spoiled.  And the ending, while powerful, fell just a little flat, and felt just a little unfair.

But these are minor quibbles in a movie that I loved from beginning to end.  It’s a delicious film that doesn’t overdo the violence – at least, not without injecting it with a heady dose of humor.  I enjoy films where the actors seem to be having fun, and everyone was having fun.  Theatre of Blood is a Jacobean revenge tragedy played the only way Jacobean revenge tragedies should be played: for laughs.

The Curse Of Frankenstein


peter cushing curse frankenstein

Without really intending to, I seem to be going through a schlocky old-school horror movie phase.  I blame society.

The Curse of Frankenstein was Peter Cushing’s first Hammer film, but he goes into it with all guns blazing.  He’s Baron Victor Frankenstein, the man with the penchant for charnel houses and the creator of one nasty Creature (Christopher Lee).  He’s also perhaps the least sympathetic of Cushing’s roles, a man at once a coward and a villain, coldly sacrificing everyone he’s close to in pursuit of his monomania.

The plot is the familiar one, with a few Hammerian touches to give it extra oomph: Victor’s assistant is Paul Krempe (Robert Urquhart), not Igor; the good doctor is not particularly in love with Elizabeth (Hazel Court), but is having it off with his maid Justine (Valerie Gaunt).  The Creature only shows up part way through the film, and then promptly dies.  There’s plenty of decapitation, heaving bosoms, and bright red blood that we come to expect from a Hammer outing.  Victor’s cruelty is also on display: he viciously murders an old doctor for his brain, he imprisons Justine with the Creature when she reveals that she’s pregnant, and threatens to sacrifice Elizabeth if Urquhart doesn’t help him finish his work.  Gone is the tragic doctor of Mary Shelley; this is Franky as the mad scientist.

And who can object to that? Cushing gives his character a cold, calculating gaze, his clipped accent perfect for a man obviously missing a mirror gene or two.  Unlike some of the other actors – Hazel Court, for instance – Cushing rolls over the more ridiculous dialogue without letting it throw him off.  Despite his cruelty, it’s something of a disappointment when he doesn’t get away with murder in the end.

The Hammer films seemed to get better as the 50s moved along, and finally really hit their stride in the early 60s, and this one still shows signs of being uncertain of itself.  There’s an awful lot of build-up to the introduction of the Creature, and when it arrives I was sort of disappointed.  No rampaging around the village, no angry mobs, no torchlit processions.  The Creature sort of wanders around the woods, kills a blind man and then gets shot in the head. Even his final rampage is perfunctory.  It’s a shame, because behind all that decaying make-up is Christopher Lee and it would have been nice to give him a bit more to do.

At the end of the day, while Curse of Frankenstein is not my favorite Hammer film, or even my favorite Frankenstein film, it’s still good fun.  This was a film that basically resurrected classic horror, and brought Peter Cushing into the Hammer fold.  There’s no way to argue with that one.

Dr. Phibes Rises Again


dr phibes rises again

“Come, Vulnavia!”

*Here thar be spoilers for The Abominable Dr. Phibes*

Oh dear.  I had such high hopes for this one.  First, if you didn’t already know, I loved the original The Abominable Dr. Phibes.  I love Vincent Price.  I so wanted the sequel to be everything the original was and more.  Now I’m sad.

The plot, such as it is, looks promising.  After Dr. Phibes (Vincent Price ) embalmed himself in the tomb of his beloved wife Virginia, we thought that the good doctor was gone for good and all.  How wrong we were.  He’s back, because apparently you can embalm yourself and then totally put your own blood back into your body three years later.  That definitely works.  Resurrecting his lovely assistant Vulnavia (Valli Kemp)  from her home in a mirrored kaleidoscope, Dr. Phibes sets about the second half of his diabolical plot to reunite with Virginia.  This time he’s off to Egypt to find the River of Life and give himself eternal life … or bring back Virginia … or something.  I wasn’t entirely clear on that.  This naturally involves murdering EVERYONE he comes in contact with.  All righty.

As with the original, the murders are pretty unique.  Hawks go after an under-used John Thaw (TVs Inspector Morse), scorpions get some poor young archeologist, and an elaborate mechanical clamp crushes another fellow to death.  But that’s really the most that can be said about this one.  The plot is all right, with Robert Quarry eating the scenery as Phibes nemesis Darrus Biederbeck, a man who wants to find the River of Life for his own purposes.  Inspector Trout and Superintendent Waverley (Peter Jeffrey and John Cater)  are back too; their scenes are among the best and I found myself wishing that they had appeared in their own series.  Peter Cushing appears all too briefly as a ship’s Captain, as does Terry-Thomas in a scene with Trout and Waverley.  The art-deco style of Phibes’s Egyptian tomb – yes, he does have one – and brief scenes of Phibes and Vulnavia experimenting with interior design are fabulous.  Unfortunately these are only bright lights in an otherwise murky film.

Price bears the brunt of the badness, I’m afraid.  His dialogue was purple in the original; here it’s incandescent violet.  He addresses his dead wife far too much, and there are extensive scenes of him recapping for her corpse what’s happened thus far.  So while he’s still Vincent Price, he’s Vincent Price saddled with an unmanageable script.  What’s more, all the sympathy we felt for Phibes in the original rapidly dissipates as he murders one innocent after another.  His revenge seems natural, if extreme, in the first film; in this one it’s basically tangential.

I’m sorry to say not to bother with this one.  Despite some good points, the film as a whole is by turns boring and confusing and underuses the talents of the very talented people involved.  I was hoping that Phibes would try resurrecting Virginia, perhaps harvesting the organs of his victims to rebuild her a la Frankenstein? That would have been interesting.  In this case, I wish that Dr. Phibes had stayed embalmed.