Monthly Archives: May 2020

Anniversary Post: Price, Cushing, and Lee

House of the Long Shadows

Yesterday, 26 May, was Peter Cushing’s birthday. He was born in 1913.

And today, 27 May, is the birthday of Vincent Price (1911) and Christopher Lee (1922).

Three titans of horror. Three excellent actors. Three tall men. All born around the same date.

I guess they were also all friends, although it’s very hard to tell when it comes to actors who are always playing a part when a camera is rolling.

Collaborations

Everyone knows that Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing starred in a lot of films together. Watching a collection of Hammer films is a lot like watching “The Cushing and Lee Show. “

I know of only two films that featured Price and Cushing. The first was Dr Phibes Rises Again although Cushing is barely in it and probably wasn’t even on set at the same time as Price. Much better is Madhouse where they work together closely and brilliantly. It’s a great part for Cushing!

And there’s only one film I know of with just Price and Lee: The Oblong Box. It’s a great film but the two men don’t work that much with each other.

All Three Men

There are two films that feature all three men. The first was 1970’s Scream and Scream Again. It’s a good film that has you confused until the very end. The problem with it is that Peter Cushing is hardly in it all.

If you want to celebrate this occasion, you should watch House of the Long Shadows. It’s an ensemble film but the three men are all primary. And as a special extra it also features John Carradine!

And I just happened to have found a wonderful copy of the film on YouTube. So here’s to Peter Cushing, Vincent Price, and Christopher Lee!


Image from House Of The Long Shadows via Amazon under Fair Use.

The Shark in Monster From the Ocean Floor

Filmfax Issue 102

I’ve stated before that the most interesting thing in Monster From the Ocean Floor is the scene where the lead character fights off a shark. Well, I got more information on this.

You can see a bit of this sequence in the trailer at the link above. But it’s much more impressive than that. What’s in the trailer looks impressive because they are using a long lens, which compresses distance and so makes it looks like the shark is right on top of her when it isn’t.

Luckily, the actor, Anne Kimbell, talked about this in an interview with Michael Barnum for Filmfax 102 (2004), “Monster (from the Ocean Floor) Hunter.”

I got this off the DVD for the film. In it, Tom Weaver quotes from the article:

On the last day, Roger said, “Now about the scene where you fight the shark…” I said, “Roger, “I’m not fighting a shark.” And he said, “Oh no, Anne. It is a very old shark. So again I said, “Roger, I am not fighting a shark!” He said, “We’re going to put a net around it, Anne. It can’t hurt you. It practically doesn’t have any teeth. Besides, the thing we really have to be careful about is that this is a valuable shark…”

There are things that don’t make sense. There is no net apparent in the film. I suspect what he meant was that there would be a net around the whole area so that the valuable shark didn’t escape.

And old or not, toothless or not, a six-foot (blue?) shark is still dangerous. Just running into her could have caused damage.

It Ain’t Anne Kimbell

But this is the most remarkable part of the interview:

So when you watch the movie, the lady fighting the shark is not me. It is the wife of photographer Al Hanson who lived and worked on Catalina Island. His wife, who was also a deep-sea diver, fought the shark.

That’s Al Hanson who did some underwater cinematography (and probably a lot more than he got credit for).

I’ve watched that sequence over and over. They do a good job of not allowing us to see the diver’s face in the shark scenes. But I’ve spent a lot of time trying to notice body differences and I just don’t see them. It all looks like Anne Kimbell. It is definitely not like that great scene in I’m Gonna Git You Sucka.

Also: Roger Corman Was Kind of a Dick

I admire Corman. I think people obsess about him too much. But being a low-budget film producer is hard. And he did it well. But it was all about the money. And he stepped on a lot of toes.

Monster From the Ocean Floor was Corman’s first film as producer. And he already had it down. He got everyone to work for little or nothing in exchange for a cut of the film. Anne Kimbell:

Roger showed the movie briefly in the theaters then he cut it and sold it to TV and made a lot of money to start is own picture career. Unfortunately, those of us that had started on commission never got much money because our commission was going to be on theatrical release, not the television part.

And I’m sure that was a mistake. I’ve gotten used to this. Most of the low-budget producers of the past did so on the backs of the idealism of those around them. And in the end, they get the money and all the credit.

Meanwhile, we don’t even know the name of the woman who did the scenes with the shark.


Filmfax 102 via Amazon under Fair Use.

Anniversary Post: Rats: Night of Terror

Rats: Night of Terror

On this day, 23 May, in 1984, the Italian horror film Rats: Night of Terror was released!

I’ll admit, when I first heard of this film, I was skeptical. I like rats and I don’t like to see them as antagonists in films. (They aren’t in Willard. There, they are just meting out justice.)

But at least the rats are presented as smart. And it has a very happy ending!

Rats was co-written and directed by exploitation master Bruno Mattei. He’s mostly known for never doing anything new. If a film was doing well at the box office, he’d make his own version.

Salon Kitty was a big deal in 1976. So in 1977, Mattei brought the world SS Girls. How do you not love that?!

Night of the Living Rats

Rats is more or less Night of the Living Dead — but with rats. Michael Weldon says it has more or less the same plot as Chosen Survivors, but I haven’t seen it so I can’t say for sure. And clearly, I’m sure it’s also ripping off Willard.

The basis of the movie is that there was a nuclear war in 2015. The survivors head underground and live there. After a hundred years, some of them decided to live above ground. Thus humanity was divided into two groups. The film takes place 110 years after that in 2225.

The story centers on a biker gang (with a tank and a truck) living in a barren land, scavenging to survive. They are a stylish bunch with cool names like Chocolate, Lucifer, and Video!

All is going well after they come to an abandoned town. They find a bunch of food that has somehow survived for 210 years. But then they discover various dead bodies. And the rats start to attack. And then they start to die.

Rats Is a Good Time

Rats is filled with great practical effects. And it does a particularly great job of combining real rats with fake ones. Although the river of rats can be a bit much at times. Of course, one of the treats of this film is that it is always at least a little over the top.

What’s most remarkable here, however, is how compelling the story is. The characters are a lot more real than they have any right to be. That’s especially true of Chocolate (Geretta Geretta) and Video (Gianni Franco).

Everything about the film seems better than it should be. The sets are really good. The lighting is always interesting if sometimes a bit too dark. (This may be a video artifact; projected film always has much better contrast.) The camera work is lively without being excessive. And the editing pulls the story along mostly, although there are moments when it seems like there wasn’t transition material.

I highly recommend seeing Rats: Night of Terror if you get the chance. It’s not great. And one of the female characters is too much like Barbra in the original Night of the Living Dead. But it’s quite an enjoyable hour and a half.


Rats: Night of Terror DVD cover is via Amazon and taken under Fair Use.

Anniversary Post: Vertigo

Vertigo (1958)

On this day, 22 May, in 1958, Vertigo went into wide release. It had its premiere on 9 May in San Francisco. Then it was released in the UK. Finally, the week after, it was released in the US.

People who have been reading me for a while are probably thinking, “Oh no! Not another hit piece on Hitchcock!” But it’s not! Rather, I want to look at the other side of it.

Imagine Destroying John Carpenter’s Career

One of my favorite filmmakers is John Carpenter. There is no filmmaker who consistently delights me more. A number of his films are my very favorites: The Thing, Prince of Darkness, They Live, and In the Mouth of Madness.

(There is so much more to love in Carpenter’s catalog. In addition to all the usual ones that people mention, there’s Vampires, which I really enjoy. And Escape From LA has really grown on me.)

But if people spoke of John Carpenter as though he was some brilliant art film director, I wouldn’t be able to take it. And I say that knowing that Carpenter is as skilled and creative a director as you will find. If he wanted to make art films, they’d be wonderful.

But he doesn’t make art films. (I wouldn’t love his work as much if he did.) It would be an insult to him to pretend that he does — an insult to him but also an insult to the kinds of films that he makes and that I love.

Hitchcock Was Better Than Vertigo

I wish that I could do something for poor Alfred Hitchcock. He deserves better. Above all, he deserves to have his great films admired. I think Vertigo is a joke.

The contortions I’ve seen critics go through to justify why it is a great film! Oh yes, the boring pastels of the film are so meaningful! And the boring plot? Pure genius!

Vertigo is the Alfred Hitchcock film for people who don’t like Alfred Hitchcock. Almost any other Hitchcock film would be a better symbol of his talent. And it shows that all those critics and film “scholars” who supposedly love his work so much don’t really appreciate it at all.

Rather than Vertigo, watch Shadow of a Doubt or The Birds or Strangers on a Train. Or better yet, watch Halloween.


Vertigo poster by Paramount Pictures Corporation — in the Public Domain.

Anniversary Post: Monster From the Ocean Floor

Monster From the Ocean Floor

On this day, 21 May, in 1954, Monster From the Ocean Floor, was released. It is most known for being the first film that Roger Corman produced.

It tells the story of Julie (Anne Kimbell) — a young artist vacationing in Mexico. She hears the story of a sea monster. Then, when a diver is killed, she decides to search for it rather than act like a regular human.

Corman apparently got the idea for the film when he learned about the one-person submarine that is featured in the film. It’s also its worst aspect. Maybe it wasn’t at the time. But now, it just seems like a weird technology and the way it is used at the end of the film is ridiculous.

There’s a subplot about the local people’s belief that if “the fairest” is sacrificed, they will all be safe. And that leads to an old woman forcing a young man to do what must be done. But when it comes to it, he can’t because he’s Mexican, and “some, I assume, are good people.”

The Monsters

The actual monster in the film is unimpressive — even compared to It Conquered the World. And we don’t see much of it. That’s true both because the underwater scenes just don’t look as clear as the scenes in Creature from the Black Lagoon (which I assume was shot in a tank). But also: it just doesn’t get much screen time.

What’s really impressive is the sequence with the shark. Kimbell is in the water with a shark that is about six-feet long. And it clearly swims past her a couple of times — once in quite a menacing way.

I have no idea how they did this. For one thing, the shark makes several passes. These scenes were shot in the ocean. How did they get the shark back? More important: how did they get Kimbell to do these scenes?!

The shark is doubtless not one known to attack humans. But I don’t care! It could be a vegetarian for all I care. There is no way I would get in the ocean with that shark! My hat is off to Anne Kimbell!


Monster From the Ocean Floor poster via Wikipedia under Fair Use.

Anniversary Post: Anthony Zerbe

Anthony Zerbe

On this day, 20 May, in 1936, the actor Anthony Zerbe was born. And he’s still alive. So happy 84th birthday, Anthony!

It’s also James Stewart’s birthday, but I didn’t choose him because I really don’t like him. Even films that I like which feature him are reduced by that fact. The Philadelphia Story is almost destroyed by him. Really: I don’t understand how he was ever a star. He was a very annoying guy!

Younger people probably know Zerbe as the least annoying Councillor in The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions. But he’s a character actor and that means he’s been in a bunch of different things.

He had notable performances in Rooster Cogburn, Who’ll Stop the Rain, and The Dead Zone. But I know him best in the part of Matthias in Omega Man.

The thing I most like about Anthony Zerbe is that he’s always interesting. Second is that he’s always likable, even when he plays bad guys.

I’m glad he’s still around and still working.


Anthony Zerbe from the trailer for The Laughing Policeman (1973) in the public domain.

Anniversary Post: Attack of the 50 Foot Woman

Attack of the 50 Foot Woman

On this day, 18 May, in 1958, Attack of the 50 Foot Woman was released.

I’m a great admirer of 1950s science fiction films. But they aren’t my thing. I rarely seek them out. Attack of the 50 Foot Woman is different. I really like it.

Part of it is what I’m coming to think of as the Dolls Effect. After decades of films where justice plays little role in the resolution, I really like films where the bad people get their due. I call them “feel good” films.

Yvette Vickers is perfect as the comically evil “other woman.” And William Hudson plays the unfaithful husband with a surprising amount of subtlety. He’s clearly pulled in two directions.

Meanwhile, Allison Hayes goes well beyond her pin-up girl good looks and presents a very sympathetic but troubled character. It’s something of a relief when she turns into a monster.

On the downside, the effects in the film are not great. I choose to embrace them. Anyway, it could just be that space alien giants (and their victims) are transparent.

The screenplay was written by Mark Hanna, who co-wrote The Amazing Colossal Man the year before. I really like it too but it doesn’t have the heart of Attack of the 50 Foot Woman.

Also Today

In 1971, another of my favorites, The Abominable Dr Phibes was released. It’s just an excuse for a bunch of impressive murders. But what more do you need?


Attack of the 50 ft Woman poster by Reynold BrownWrong Side of the Art; in the Public Domain.

Anniversary Post: Joseph Cotten

Joseph Cotten

On this day, 15 May, in 1905, the actor Joseph Cotten was born.

People tend to associate him with art films. And he has starred in some great ones. There are the obvious ones: the Orson Welles’ classics Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons. But also, one of my all-time favorites: The Third Man.

Joseph Cotten Psychotronics

But I associate him more with psychotronic films. He played a truly menacing psychopath in one of Alfred Hitchcock’s best films, Shadow of a Doubt.

For me, 1971 was a very big year when it comes to Joseph Cotten. He starred in two important films that year. The first was as Dr Frankenstein in the exceptional Lady Frankenstein.

The second was in The Abominable Dr Phibes. He is notable in being the only person in either it or the sequel who I feel sorry for. That’s not to say that everyone else gets what they deserve, only that the murders are so delightful that it’s hard to care about fictional characters dying.

Sadly, Joseph Cotten had a stroke in 1981, which ended his career. He didn’t perform in anything the last 13 years of his life. But I do appreciate that his career declined from the 1950s onward so that he left us some great supporting roles in lower budget films.


Joseph Cotten by Photoplay Publishing Company; no photographer credited — Photoplay, December 1942 (page 53), public domain.

Anniversary Post: Support Your Local Gunfighter

Support Your Local Gunfighter

On this day, 14 May, in 1971, Support Your Local Gunfighter was first released (strangely, in the UK).

I remembered the film from seeing it in the theater as a kid. I would have been 7-years-old. But all I remembered was the ending where the bad guy (Chuck Connors) freaked out about not wanting to die with his boots on — a reversal on the standard idiom.

Sheriff vs Gunfighter

As with most things when I was a child, it made no sense to me. Nor did I remember the name of the film or even that it was a comedy. As an adult, I was surprised to learn that it was more or less the sequel to Support Your Local Sheriff.

What’s interesting here is that while Sheriff is a pleasant and easily loved comedy, little me can be forgiven for not thinking Gunfighter was a comedy. And I say that as someone who things that it is a far better film.

I think there’s an analogy to computer science here. There is a tendency when creating a second version of a piece of software to fix all the things you thought weren’t quite right in the first version. But normally, this just annoys the users.

But if you get some distance, you can see that the second version really is better. I think all the easy charm of Sheriff is present in Gunfighter. But it was no longer new and so not enough to appeal to viewers. It probably also didn’t help that there is a lot more comedy and that it is more sophisticated.

If you’ve written it off, I encourage you to watch it again. It is funny. It’s just that it’s a lot richer and you have to give it more time.

(Normally, I’d embed the trailer here. But I can’t find one. This film really doesn’t get enough respect.)


Support Your Local Gunfighter poster via Wikipedia under Fair Use.

Anniversary Post: A Pistol for Ringo

A Pistol for Ringo

On this day, 12 May, in 1965, A Pistol for Ringo was released.

I know what you’re thinking, “Another Spaghetti Western?!” Well, yes. There are a lot of great Spaghetti Westerns, and this one is among the best. It was made shortly after A Fistful of Dollars by Duccio Tessari, who had worked on that script.

It doesn’t have quite the same feel as the earlier film. But then, neither did Sergio Leone’s later films. A Pistol for Ringo comes off more like For a Few Dollars More.

Duccio Tessari

I don’t think there is any doubt that Leone was the greater director. But equally, Tessari was the better writer and storyteller. I often feel that Leone gets lost in his own obsessions. Like the long rape scene at the beginning of Duck, You Sucker! I’m not sure what the point is even supposed to be much less what it is.

What’s more, Leone’s sense of humor rarely elicits a laugh whereas Tessari effortlessly produces belly-laughs. At the same time, his films are every bit as gritty.

In A Pistol for Ringo, the title character is extremely charming. He is also a complete psychopath who loves putting people in situations where he can kill them “in self-defense.” In one scene at the beginning, he’s playing hopscotch with some kids right before gunning four men down.

And there’s no “out-drawing” others. He just kills them before they even go for their guns. And thank God! Only an idiot would try to “out-draw” someone.

There’s one other way that Duccio Tessari is better than Sergio Leone: he directed a lot more films! He made films of various genres — including one blaxploitation film. And he still managed to make more Spaghetti Westerns!

I love Leone’s work. But at times they can be ponderous. Tessari made entertaining films and managed to be quite innovative, even if relatively few outside Italy know it.


A Pistol for Ringo poster via Wikipedia under Fair Use.