Film Review: Untamed Youth (1957)

Release Date: May 10th, 1957 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Howard W. Koch
Written by: John C. Higgins, Stephen Longstreet
Music by: Les Baxter
Cast: Mamie Van Doren, Lori Nelson

Warner Bros., 80 Minutes

Review:

It is hard to believe that Warner Bros. made this awful movie. Teen dancing movies were all the rage back in the ’50s and ’60s but they usually took place on the beach, not in some podunk town stuck in a barn. This is like a proto-Footloose but without Jesus ruining the kids’ high school dance.

This was also featured on the first nationally televised season of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and for good reason. It’s a stupid, shitty movie but at least it tries to be fun.

The story is about these juvenile delinquents that look thirty. The local law is sick and tired of all their partying, singing and dancing so they are forced into slavery, working on a cotton farm. For real, this is the plot.

Most of the movie just showcases these nitwits dancing like spastic jackasses to awful tunes. I don’t think that any of these “kids” were professional dancers. I mean, Mamie Van Doren is in the film, showing off her talents but it’s hardly exciting.

This is a really bad movie for a major studio, even for the time. Warner Bros. should still be embarrassed by this film, over six decades later. If this movie was any indication of their track record, this alone should have kept the DC Comics films (not controlled by Christopher Nolan or Tim Burton) out of their hands. This film left a blight so deep that even sixty years couldn’t cure it. But I’ll give Warner Bros. a pass, as I like the Police Academy movies.

Anyway, this sucks. Plain and simple.

Of course it must be ran through the Cinespiria Shitometer. The results read, “Type 7 Stool: Water, no solid pieces. Entirely liquid.”

Rating: 3.25/10
Pairs well with: Dancing beach movies from the era but even then, this will bring that horrible genre down into deeper, shittier depths.

Film Review: Tales of Terror (1962)

Release Date: July 4th, 1962
Directed by: Roger Corman
Written by: Richard Matheson
Based on: MorellaThe Black CatThe Facts In the Case of M. Valdemar by Edgar Allan Poe
Music by: Les Baxter
Cast: Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Basil Rathbone, Debra Paget, Joyce Jameson

American International Pictures, 89 Minutes 

Review:

“Haven’t I convinced you of my sincerity yet? I’m genuinely dedicated to your destruction.” – Montresor Herringbone

Director Roger Corman and actor Vincent Price collaborated on several motion pictures for American International in the 1960s. Most of their movies were adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe’s literary work. They also dabbled in the works of H.P. Lovecraft and Nathaniel Hawthorne but it was the poems and stories of Poe that drove most of their collaborations.

This film, is a rare one, as it is an anthology piece that covers three Poe inspired tales. Traditionally, Corman picked a Poe title and turned it into one solid feature. Tales of Terror was a bit more experimental and was able to showcase famous Poe stories that wouldn’t have worked as a 90 minute feature, The Cask of Amontillado for instance, which was mixed into this film’s second story, The Black Cat.

Vincent Price is the only actor to star in all three stories. However, Peter Lorre really steals the show as Montresor Herringbone. He is only in The Black Cat, the middle and longest of the three stories, but it is one of the greatest comedic performances in Lorre’s career. Then again, every time Lorre played the comic relief opposite of Price, the results were always fantastic.

Price also works with Basil Rathbone, another horror legend. We also get to see Debra Paget and Joyce Jameson, two women who would work with Price and Corman again.

Tales of Terror is a solid outing by Corman and Price and it has the same tone and vibe as their other Poe adaptations. The anthology format makes it the most unique and different of these pictures. Plus, it has two really good stories, out of the three. The first one, my least favorite, is still entertaining though, and it is also the shortest.

This is definitely a picture worth checking out if you like Price, Corman or Poe. It is one of the best in their series of these pictures.

Film Review: The Beast Within (1982)

Release Date: February 12th, 1982
Directed by: Philippe Mora
Written by: Tom Holland, Danilo Bach (uncredited)
Based on: The Beast Within by Edward Levy
Music by: Les Baxter
Cast: Ronny Cox, Bibi Besch, Paul Clemens, Don Gordon, R.G. Armstrong, Meshach Taylor

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, United Artists, 90 Minutes

Review:

“Oral sodomy?… Well, that’s why it’s a small town… Yeah, we’ll look into it. Thank you for calling.” – Sheriff Pool

The Beast Within is what happens when someone says, “You know what would be cool? A werewolf movie but instead of a wolf, the guy turns into a cicada!” I guess, just think about the Cronenberg remake of The Fly but nowhere near as good or as cool. And certainly not featuring an awesome level of Jeff Goldblum.

However, I do have to give the film props on one thing, the transformation scene at the end is absolutely friggin’ horrifying and a great use of practical effects. Also, it is really drawn out and doesn’t try to throw in quick cuts to hide its imperfections. It is a stellar sequence that was put together by the filmmakers and still holds up well.

Also, the film’s music was made by Les Baxter, who was a pioneer of exotica music and is mostly known for easy-listening tunes. His score here is a stark contrast to his norm. It is uneasy and chaotic but in a great way.

The film itself isn’t that bad, actually. The story is a bit slow and drawn out but at ninety minutes, I can’t really complain. At least I was entertained by R.G. Armstrong, a guy I’ve always liked, and Ronny Cox, most famous as the evil Dick Jones from Robocop.

The story starts with a woman being raped by a were-cicada. She gets pregnant, has a baby and her and Ronny Cox raise it as their own. When the kid grows to be a teenager, he starts to exhibit weird behavior. The kid is the son of the were-cicada and we discover a small town conspiracy to keep a wraps on this were-cicada stuff.

It’s a strange tale and incredibly dark and while it can actually get drab, at certain points in the film, the high points make up for it. It is just a movie suffering from multiple personality disorder. The pacing is bad, the narrative execution isn’t very good but most of the effects and scares are impressive.

The Beast Within is nowhere near as remembered as other horror films of its day but it should be respected and cherished for its practical effects, especially that awesome transformation scene that kicks off the big climax.

It also has a fantastic poster. And there is something truly unsettling about a woman getting knocked up by a bug.

Film Review: Pit and the Pendulum (1961)

Release Date: August 12th, 1961
Directed by: Roger Corman
Written by: Richard Matheson
Based on: The Pit and the Pendulum by Edgar Allan Poe
Music by: Les Baxter
Cast: Vincent Price, Barbara Steele, John Kerr, Luana Anders

American International Pictures, 85 Minutes 

pit_and_the_pendulumReview:

This is the second in the long series of films that teamed up director Roger Corman and actor Vincent Price in their line of Edgar Allan Poe adaptations for American International Pictures. It also brings in horror icon Barbara Steele on the heels of her success in Mario Bava’s Black Sunday.

The cast is rounded out by John Kerr, who plays the other male lead opposite of Price, and Luana Anders, the female co-star who has significantly more screen time than the higher billed Steele.

Pit and the Pendulum is based off of the Poe story of the same name. It takes some creative liberties but does a good job of capturing the Poe feel. The film also borrows some elements from another Poe tale, The Cask of Amontillado.

Everything in the film eventually leads to the actual pit and the pendulum from the title. The pit itself isn’t all that exciting, it’s a pit. The pendulum, however, is the centerpiece of one of the best classic horror sequences ever produced. Even now, fifty-plus years later, it is still a chilling and dreadful sequence in the film.

Vincent Price was his typical self in Pit and the Pendulum and my only wish was that he shared more moments with Barbara Steele, who was as alluring as always.

John Kerr was fairly solid, if a bit boisterous at times. His character, like Mark Damon’s in House of Usher, was supposed to be a bit pushy and demanding, as he needed to know the truth behind the mystery that was the central plot.

Pit and the Pendulum is a really good looking picture but then, so were all of the Corman-Price-Poe collaborations. The sets were damn good for a picture with a small budget and short shooting schedule but that was always Roger Corman’s specialty.

This is one of the must-see films in Vincent Price’s long filmography. It has all of the best aspects of a classic 1960s Poe adaptation with very few flaws, other than things that were unavoidable in 1961 with limited resources.

Pit and the Pendulum is a horror classic that has done a fine job of surviving the test of time.

Film Review: House of Usher (1960)

Release Date: June 18th, 1960
Directed by: Roger Corman
Written by: Richard Matheson
Based on: The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe
Music by: Les Baxter
Cast: Vincent Price, Mark Damon, Myrna Fahey, Harry Ellerbe

American International Pictures, 79 Minutes 

house_of_usher1960Review:

Roger Corman and Vincent Price teamed up for several films in the 1960s based on the stories of Edgar Allan Poe. House of Usher is the first of these films.

It is hard to say which of the Corman-Price-Poe pictures is the best. They are all very good for their own reasons. House of Usher could be the best though. It all takes place in one house and it only has four actors in the entire picture, except for some ghosts in a dream sequence, yet it is still captivating from the first frame to the last.

Vincent Price’s acting in House of Usher is some of his best, ever. He is a tragic figure that feels the need to do some truly evil stuff, in an effort to bring an end to his family’s curse and his sister’s suffering. Despite him seeming quite mad, the film shows you how he got that way and you can’t do anything but sympathize with him.

His sister, played by Myrna Fahey, is even more tragic than Price’s Roderick, as she must battle for her sanity while trying to find balance between her awful condition and embracing true love. Mark Damon plays the only sane character in the movie, as he arrives at the house in an effort to bring Fahey’s Madeline back to Boston with him. Harry Ellerbe plays the family butler and is more or less an accomplice to Roderick, even if he has reservations.

Vincent Price was just on point in this role. Damon was also really good and their scenes together were intense but fantastic. This almost plays like something more Shakespearean than the works of Edgar Allan Poe. Both actors were very capable and their ability to play off of each other was the main strength of the film.

The atmosphere of the picture was dark and dreary but even then, the sinister mansion of the Ushers felt oddly welcoming. It felt like a place that wanted to give you warmth and comfort and then slowly swallow you into its underlying darkness. Corman pulled off magic with next to nothing but this was his modus operandi throughout his entire career.

House of Usher, considering that it had no budget, one set, four actors and a very short shooting schedule, somehow turned out to be one of the best films based off of the works of Poe. It still holds up well today and is my favorite version of the Usher story.

Film Review: Master of the World (1961)

Release Date: May, 1961 (USA)
Directed by: William Witney
Written by: Richard Matheson
Based on: Robur the Conqueror and Master of the World by Jules Verne
Music by: Les Baxter
Cast: Vincent Price, Charles Bronson, Henry Hull, Mary Webster, Richard Harrison

American International Pictures, 102 Minutes (including prologue)

master_of_the_worldReview:

What happens when you mix the master of terror Vincent Price with the works of the amazing Jules Verne and a screenplay by the great Richard Matheson? Well, you get Master of the World!

This film is like Verne’s more famous 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea except for being underwater in a giant menacing ship, it is in the air. Unfortunately it doesn’t do battle with a giant squid but it does do battle with the nations of the world.

I always loved the movie versions of Verne’s classic works, especially from this era. While Master of the World doesn’t quite measure up to 20,000 Leagues or Around the World In 80 Days, it is still an enjoyable picture and feels like a true extension of those films. Even with its much smaller budget and scale, Master of the World still feels like a big movie. Sure, the special effects don’t hold up tremendously but some of the shots and effects were still well executed for their day and for the limited resources American International Pictures had versus Disney.

Casting Vincent Price as Robur the Conqueror was genius. Known mostly for being the leading man in several iconic horror films, Price was able to be sinister, where the role called for it, while also being commanding and intense as the captain of his airship, the Albatross. The film also reunited him with Charles Bronson, as they worked together on the classic House of Wax, eight years earlier. That was the film that really started Bronson’s career.

The character of Robur is a dynamic one. He is the villain of the story but depending upon your point-of-view, could be the hero. Considered a “mad man”, similar to Captain Nemo from 20,000 Leagues, Robur has created his magnificent airship in an effort to go to war with war. The ship’s purpose is to bully the war-mongering nations of the world into changing their ways. While Robur announces his intention on these nations, he is quick to destroy their warships and their weapons to make his message clear. Robur feels that the loss of thousands is worth it to protect the lives of millions who didn’t ask for war.

The Albatross is one of my favorite vessels in film history. It was steampunk before steampunk was even a thing. It also has the feel of the world from the video game Bioshock: Infinite, which may have borrowed from this movie or the works of Verne in general. The sets that are the ship are very well put together. The colors are nice and welcoming, the use of colored glass enhances the vision of world peace, which is Robur’s goal – even if his means to achieve it are a bit twisted. The Albatross is a menacing warship that doesn’t look anything like a warship. It looks like a nice, cozy place to live. I’m also pretty sure it inspired the airship from Final Fantasy VII.

Master of the World is one of my favorite Vincent Price films, even if it isn’t a horror picture. He owned the role of Robur and gave it a real sense of legitimacy. Charles Bronson was perfect as his foil and the rest of the cast was pretty good too. I especially liked the dichotomy between Price’s Robur and Henry Hull’s Prudent, an arms manufacturer that finds himself captive on the Albatross.

If you like Jules Verne tales in the form of a motion picture, there really isn’t any reason why you shouldn’t enjoy Master of the World. It isn’t a masterpiece but it is a solid film that deserves to be in the same company as the Disney-made Verne movies that had much larger budgets and better resources at their disposal.