Robert Horton is a Scarecrow board member and a longtime film critic. He will be contributing a series of “critic’s notes” to the Scarecrow blog—a chance to highlight worthy films playing locally and connecting them to the riches of Scarecrow’s collection.
Sticking with Halloween mode this week. If you’re living in Seattle, make a point of checking out Antonia Bird’s Ravenous, revived at the Grand Illusion. This 1999 film is a cannibal-zombie picture set at a military outpost in 1840s California. It is as good as it sounds, and it features a terrific score by Michael Nyman and Damon Albarn that is a masterpiece on its own. I couldn’t find my review of Ravenous, because—these things disappear sometimes. But it’s a rave.
Looking through my critic’s notes, I find some material on Roger Corman, who needs no introduction to Scarecrow devotees. For reasons long forgotten I jotted down notes on three Corman classics (they contain spoilers, so be advised), and I also include here a couple of links to posted writing on Not of This Earth and the Corman-inspired In the Year 2889. As you will see, I pay tribute to my fave moment in The Day the World Ended more than once.
The Day the World Ended
1955 black and white widescreen from Roger Corman. The bombs drop, and a small group of people take shelter in a house in a special, protected valley. The fussy owner of the place (Paul Birch) doesn’t want to let others in, but they come; one is B-movie pro Richard Denning. Touch Connors (years away from Mannix) is the stereotype gangster with a gun; his moll (Adele Jergens) is constantly putting on records and doing hotcha numbers in the living room. (At one point she recalls her striptease days, then breaks down to think that she’ll never strip again.) Animals start mutating. One guy who got caught in the blast hangs around the house, but also goes out at night on mysterious prowls, and shortly grows hairy. He also has a great Moe Howard wig, even at the beginning. Amidst the awful dialogue and bad acting, some cool ideas; this is one of those Corman films that get under your skin despite the paucity of budget. Or because of it. One great scene: The mutant guy comes back one night and speaks dreamily about the new society that’s happening out beyond the valley, the creatures that the survivors are turning into—the shivery moment seems to crack open the generic storyline into something larger. Corman has his customary command of widescreen space, which always keeps things crisp. The basic elements came back in In the Year 2889, a fondly recalled childhood fave. The monsters have eyes in their foreheads, and horns.
The Premature Burial
The rep on this 1962 Corman-Poe opus isn’t that good, but it’s an intense, single-minded spooker with a neat twist ending. Ray Milland, a complete sourpuss, owns a castle and wanders around the fog-shrouded moors, certain that he will be buried alive (as his father, prone to catalepsy, may have been). He marries the va-voom Hazel Court, but builds his own crypt, complete with e-z exit strategies (a pop-open casket, dynamite, rope ladder out the roof, and ultimately poison). Good dream sequence of his own death, colored in green and purple. Charles Beaumont and Ray Russell’s script has Freudian elements scattered throughout, climaxing with Milland breaking into his father’s tomb and being scared into cataleptic shock by the corpse. Also cool: Milland, who may technically be a medical student (the actor is in his mid-fifties, but whatevs), paints in his isolation, and his paintings are mod and neurotic although this is a 19th century story. Floyd Crosby, who shot Murnau’s Tabu, did the cinematography, and in some of the shots of Hazel Court lying prone on an open grave, he captures highlights that betray his roots as a classical photographer of women. Just gorgeous. Dick Miller is a grave robber, Alan Napier the jerky father of Hazel Court. The melody “Molly Malone,” whistled by another grave robber, hounds Milland to distraction.
The Masque of the Red Death
A superior Corman production, brilliantly shot by Nicolas Roeg and designed by Daniel Haller. It opens with great Seventh Seal elan, with someone stumbling across a hooded figure in red, who turns a rose to crimson and proceeds to spread the plague into the next village. Prince Prospero (Vincent Price, bien sur) comes riding in, savoring the chance to garrote the locals and blithely say, “Burn the village to the ground,” when the plague is discovered. Inside his castle (the sets were left over from Becket), he abuses his guests and torments Jane Asher, the simple village girl. Both she and his lady-in-Satan, Hazel Court, are redheads—fitting touch. The fantastic main hall and adjoining colored rooms (yellow, violet, white, and black) are employed with tremendous power. Much interesting talk about the death of god and Prospero’s gnostic approach, plus the final existential whammy (also seen in the Corman-Hellman The Shooting) of having the final unmasking of the red monk be revealed as—Prospero himself! Charles Beaumont’s script did not have the Hop-Toad subplot, which very nicely has the dwarf (well played by Skip Martin) setting up cruel Patrick Magee for the masque comeuppance: getting him to dress as an ape, then setting the fur on fire. While still classical and Hammer-like, many shots have an echt-Sixties quality, a hip combination. Price is lovely, really into it. He is finally swallowed up by the crowd, after everyone has been rendered red by the swish of the monk’s cape.
And here’s something on Not of This Earth.
Plus a bonus on Larry Buchanan’s In the Year 2889, a remake of The Day the World Ended.
Robert Horton, the longtime reviewer for the Daily Herald and Seattle Weekly, is a member of the National Society of Film Critics.