Friday, February 22, 2008

14th July 2007: Vincent Price gothic double!

Fall Of The House Of Usher

USA 1960 colour

aka House Of Usher

Director Roger Corman Writer Richard Matheson

Cast Vincent Price (Roderick Usher), Mark Damon (Philip Winthrop), Myrna Fahey (Madeline Usher), Harry Ellerbe (Bristol)

Tonight we pay tribute to the late great Master of Horror, Vincent Price. A suave, erudite man with just a hint of cruelty behind his sardonic smile, he graced the screen until his death in 1993 in scores of true horror classics. He was a classically trained Shakespearean actor who by the Fifties had carved out quite a successful niche in what we affectionately call “schlock” - films like The Fly (1959), House On Haunted Hill (1958) and our favourite The Tingler (1959).

Under contract at AIP he teamed up with veteran B director Roger Corman to produce a series of films based on the horrific tales of Edgar Allan Poe. Fall Of The House Of Usher was the first and, like Corman’s Italian contemporaries Mario Bava (Black Sunday) and Riccardo Freda (The Devil’s Commandment), was the vanguard of the gothic horror revival.

A bleached, aenemic-looking Price is note-perfect as Roderick Usher, last male heir to the doomed lineage of the Usher family who, along with his bed-ridden and almost catatonic sister Medeleine, inhabit the decaying mansion in the country. Madeleine’s finacee Phillip (played by Mark Damon) turns up unexpectedly, to find the two siblings clawing at the walls and seeing death at every turn. They believe the house itself is the chalice for a centuries old curse - on the surface it appears the Ushers are riddled with the legacy of madness, incest or both, but as the film hurtles relentlessly towards its firey climax, Corman and Price will convince you otherwise.

Filmed many times before or since, this version has the unmistakable aura of the Corman-Price-Poe camp - an incredible symbiotic relationship that works miracles out of its meagre resources. The stylish photography effectively conjures up the omnipresent smell of death, as does the studio’s fog-shrouded countryside and the garish hallucination sequences, all set to the strains of longtime Corman collaborator Lex Baxter’s eerily evocative score.

We’ve shown the films of Roger Corman many times on Schlock Treatment, but this is easily one of his finest. Teamed with Vincent Price, their work becomes more than the sum of its parts - it transcends to the level of minor masterpiece. We are proud to present the fiendish Edgar Allan Poe tale The Fall Of The House Of Usher.

The Last Man On Earth

USA/Italy 1964 b&w

aka L'Ultimo Uomo Della Terra, Naked Terror, Night People, The Night Creatures, Vento Di Morte/“Wind Of Death”

Directors Sidney Salkow, [uncredited] Ubaldo B. Ragona Writers William F. Leicester, “Logan Swanson”/Richard Matheson, Furio M. Monetti, Ubaldo B. Ragona

Cast Vincent Price (Dr Robert Morgan), Franca Bettoia (Ruth Collins), Emma Danieli (Virginia Morgan), Giacomo Rossi-Stuart (Ben Cortman)

If tonight’s first film sounds like that Charlton Heston movie The Omega Man, it’s meant to - The Last Man On Earth is a post-apocalypse tale based on the same Richard Matheson novel I Am Legend, only made several years earlier in Italy by American International Pictures. It’s told in endless tortured voice-over by a suitably overwrought Price, as the seemingly lone survivor of a world-wide plague who believes he is besieged each night by the dead coming back to life - hideous lumbering white-faced creatures with darkened eyes, they are less vampires than prototypes for George Romero’s zombies from Night Of The Living Dead.

Like an even lower-budgeted 28 Days Later the post-plague world of 1968 is effectively conveyed with overexposed shots of dead bodies and a Church sign that reads “The End Of The World is Nigh”. Price spends his endless days fashioning wooden stakes on a lathe, decorating his house with mirrors and garlands of garlic, and driving around in a station wagon resembling a hearse looking for the living dead. He then drives stakes through their hearts, and dumps the bodies in what looks like a huge lime pit. It’s a ghastly process, but come nightfall his house is once again besieged. As Kurt Vonnegut would say: And so it goes. One day he comes across what may be the last woman on Earth, and of course fear and paranoia take over; the look on Price’s face when he realizes he may have driven a stake through the heart of hundreds of innocent victims is - well - Priceless.

Religious metaphors are everywhere: exaggerated church choirs, crosses dot the desolate landscape, and there’s the whole vampire-as-evil motif, and if Adam was the first Alpha Male, Price is the Omega, a singular figure inhabiting a personal hell where the horror of sacrificing his family to the Plague is replayed in perpetuity, like Groundhog Day for the damned and the demented.

It’s a small but ambitious film, and like his characters from Corman’s Edgar Allan Poe adaptations Price is again perfect as the limbo-bound soul in torment. It’s time for some low-rent Armageddon courtesy of Schlock Treatment with the 1964 The Last Man On Earth.

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