Wednesday, October 22, 2014


Challenge Totals to Date:

Movies Watched Today: 5
Total Movies Watched: 54
Total First Time Views: 13
Amount raised: $415.80

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, sponsored by Drew Martin

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The Last Man on Earth (1964) d. Ragona, Ubaldo/Salkow, Sidney (Italy/USA) (3rd viewing) 87 min

“Another day to live through. Better get started.” From its opening shots of barren city landscapes littered with lifeless corpses to its bleak conclusion, the first screen version of Richard Matheson’s novel I am Legend is a downer all the way. But considering the subject matter, this is no surprise, and director Ragona (with additional material inserted by Salkow for its U.S. run) is to be lauded for remaining true to Matheson’s apocalyptic spirit. Following a worldwide plague that transforms the living into vampiric undead, lone survivor Robert Morgan (Vincent Price) spends days dispatching former friends and neighbors with wooden stakes and nights tearfully watching home movies while the infected batter away at his barricaded home. The stark black-and-white scenes of shambling undead, some former loved ones, cannot help but conjure images of Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (still half a decade away). Through haunting voice-over, Price projects the appropriately weary tone of a man isolated for nearly three years, torn between apathy and a base animalistic desire to survive, even if his less-than-athletic screen presence makes him an unlikely and/or unconvincing hero at times. (In the face of Uncle Vincent’s limp-wristed stake-pounding, one cannot help but imagine what Peter Cushing – originally considered for the role – might have done with it.) The flashback sequences of the plague’s early days never quite pack the punch they should, due to the cast’s oddly mannered acting, but with the help of a strong third-act twist, the film musters an ending both tragic and satisfying. An admirable effort overall, leaps and bounds ahead of 1971’s The Omega Man and 2007’s I am Legend based on the same material.

The Tomb of Ligeia (1964) d. Corman, Roger (UK) (3rd viewing) 82 min

The last of Corman’s Poe adaptations is certainly one of the best-looking, due to terrific exteriors shot in the English countryside (the notoriously tight-fisted producer/director was looking to explore a different look from the previous studio-bound installments). Adapted from Poe’s slim story “Ligeia” by future Oscar-winning scribe Robert Towne, the film revels in its morbid gothic atmosphere and excellent performances. In the midst of a well-photographed foxhunt, the Lady Rowena (Elizabeth Shepherd) comes across grieving widower Verden Fell (Vincent Price) and his groovy period shades. Immediately drawn to his mysterious nature, she insinuates herself into his life, and the two happily court and marry. Following their honeymoon, however, she observes the return of her husband’s dark mood, accompanied by increasingly strange behavior. Under hypnosis, she reveals Price’s darkest fear: The spirit of his previous wife, the dark, exotic Ligeia (also played by Shepherd), is intermittently inhabiting the body of his new bride, fulfilling her dying curse that she “would be his only wife.” If all this seems a little much, it is, with Corman and Towne blatantly borrowing elements from previous AIPoe outings (hallucinatory dream sequences, black cats, fiery climax). But the costumes and sets look great, and Price dives into the role of madman clinging to sanity with his usual aplomb, ably matched by Shepherd in her dual roles of tormentor and savior.

House on Haunted Hill (1959) d. Castle, William (USA) (5th viewing) 74 min

This classic fright-fest frivolity from producer/director Castle stars Vincent Price as eccentric millionaire Frederick Loren, offering $10,000 to five diverse guests if they can spend the entire night in the titular haunted house; thrills and chills ensue. Castle has never been more adept at creating straight-faced spooky atmosphere, and Robb White’s snaky screenplay provides characters and mystery adequate to hold our attention through the film’s zippy running time. Doors creak open and slam shut, decapitated heads appear and disappear, and vats of acid bubble deliciously in the cellar, with a wonderfully cheesy skeleton topping off the delightful buffet. The mental (and sometimes physical) tug-of-war between Loren and willful wife Annabelle (Carol Ohmart) provides an additional layer of tension to the proceedings. Their beleaguered guests include Richard Long’s dashing jet pilot and cute Carolyn Craig (a great screamer, though not much more should be asked of her). Elisha Cook, Jr. is top-drawer as a frightened mouse of a man, alternating between shots of whiskey to ease his frazzled nerves and doom-filled warnings to anyone who’ll listen. This is the film where eternal showman Castle revealed his classic “Emergo” stunt of flying a skeleton on wires over theatre patrons, but even without gimmicks the film stands strong on its own, supplying equal measures of eerie jolts and campy fun. (Favorite moment: the floating servant woman.)

Return of the Fly (1959) d. Bernds, Edward (USA) 4th viewing) 86 min

Philippe Delambre (Brett Halsey) follows in his father’s buzzy footsteps by resurrecting the transporter machine – much to the chagrin of Uncle Francois (Vincent Price) – only to be pitched into it alongside another winged traveler by his duplicitous business partner (David Frankham). As a straight-ahead goofy ’50s monster movie, this thoroughly laughable sequel to the previous year’s classic is undeniably entertaining, but for all the wrong reasons. Rather than a true follow-up, it’s best seen as a parody, with a multitude of goddawful effects, unintentional comedy, cartoonishly huge fly heads, and plot inconsistencies galore. From Halsey’s inexplicable entomophobic histrionics to the detective/guinea pig switcheroo to the matted fly photo with Halsey’s head stuck on it crying “Help me!” (minus the corresponding arm and leg that should be on there, considering his humanoid counterpart), Bernds’ script is a litany of ridiculousness from start to finish, played admirably straight by all involved. Terrible, but Turkey-liciously so.

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) d. Aldrich, Robert (USA) (3rd viewing) 134 min

Former Shirley Temple-like child star Baby Jane Hudson (Bette Davis) fails to transition successfully into adult fare, her good fortune only sustained by her warm and benevolent sister Blanche (Joan Crawford). But after a tragic auto accident leaves Blanche crippled, both their careers come to a screeching halt. . .whereupon their screeching co-habitation begins with Jane’s increasing alcoholism and sadism tipping her ever-closer to madness. The teaming of “over-the-hill” stars Davis and Crawford (54 and 56 at the time, respectively) as the two embittered siblings combined with Ernest Haller’s stark black-and-white was a surprise smash hit, launching a mini-wave of “hag horror” (or “psycho-biddy”) offerings such as The Nanny, Die! Die! My Darling!, Strait-Jacket, and Aldrich’s own Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte. Victor Buono, after years of episodic guest spots, makes his first credited big screen appearance here as a fussy English pianist recruited by Jane to revive her act, and the two misfits’ interactions provide the necessary viewer empathy for Davis’ otherwise harpy-like antagonist. The on-set tension between the two leading ladies is the stuff of legend, detailed in Shaun Considine’s 1989 book, Bette & Joan: The Divine Feud.

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