The Pit and the Pendulum

The Pit and the Pendulum is currently available on Amazon Prime

The Pit and the Pendulum (1961)

“Vincent Price plays a 16th century Spanish nobleman who slowly goes crazy when he thinks that his wife has been buried alive. It’s all a joint plot between the supposed dead wife and her doctor/lover to get Price’s money. Price now totally insane, assumes his father’s identity (that of a grand inquisitor) and starts to murder!”

The House of Usher (1960) was Corman’s gamble on a big Poe production. Not only did he spend the money to film it in color but also in widescreen. The gambit paid off handsomely so naturally Corman looked to repeat that success. Most of Corman’s Poe films exist to showcase the talents of Vincent Price and this one is no exception.

In 1961, Roger Corman released The Pit and the Pendulum. With each film in the series Corman takes further liberties with Edgar Allan Poe’s source material. Here, in a stroke of genius, he capitalizes on Vincent Price’s popularity by using the character’s madness to essentially double-cast him. As a nod to Poe, there is someone who was bricked up and someone who may or may not have been buried alive.

Vincent Price was not always a flamboyant actor but his success with House of Wax and subsequent roles persuaded him to make his performances more and more theatrical. Vincent Price plays Nicolas Medina who is going insane. The insanity allows him to play both Nicolas and his father.

Barbara Steele plays Elizabeth Barnard Medina. Steele was hot off her Italian horror hit Black Sunday. She performs well here and looks very striking but her voice is dubbed by another actress. John Kerr as Francis Barnard makes a solid if low-key leading man.

In addition to the titular pit and pendulum, we also get a rack, pokers, and an iron maiden. Corman definitely does not shirk on the torture devices but this being the 60s, actual torture is only alluded to (thankfully). Because this is Corman, we also get a castle (matte painting), scenes of crashing waves, a cobweb machine on overdrive, and wonderful sets.

Remake-itis: The Pit and the Pendulum was previously made in 1909 (Le puits et le pendule) and 1913. After this it was remade in 1991 with Lance Henriksen, Jeffrey Combs, and Oliver Reed and, in 2009, the name was ripped off for a David DeCoteau movie.

The Haunted Palace

The Haunted Palace is currently available on Amazon Prime

The Haunted Palace (1963)

“When a man arrives in the New England village of Arkham to claim the palatial mansion that was once the domain of his great-great grandfather (a black magician who was burned alive 110 years before), he discovers an evil curse. In HD.”

“One becomes accustomed to the darkness here.”

The official title of this movie is Edgar Allan Poe’s The Haunted Palace which is funny because it is not at all based on Poe. Corman takes the title of a Poe poem (Poe-m?) and has Price quote a few lines in voiceover in order to shoehorn this into the Poe series.

In actuality, if the location of Arkham did not give it away, The Haunted Palace is based on an H.P. Lovecraft story, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. It is based as loosely as the Poe adaptations before it but the movie captures a wonderful Lovecraftian feel. In addition to Arkham, we get Elder Gods, the Necronomicon, and a pervasive atmosphere of doom. The eyeless, webbed and deformed villagers are sooo creepy.

Once again the script provides Vincent Price the opportunity to play both protagonist (Charles Dexter Ward) and villain (Joseph Curwen). He does a superb job of both, though certainly his villains are more intriguing. Instead of being grandiose (as many of his villains are), Price’s Curwen is icy and menacing.

Price gets an assist here from another legend of horror, Lon Chaney Jr. (here billed as Lon Chaney as if he did not have a separate identity from his silent movie star father – poor Creighton). Chaney plays Simon Orne, the more sensible villain but still second fiddle to Joseph Curwen. Sadly Chaney’s alcoholism was in full swing at this point and he never did another Corman picture. He still had one good role ahead of him – that of Bruno in Spider Baby (1968).

The female lead, Ann Ward is played by Debra Paget in her final film role. She had a wonderful career in the fifties – she rocked with Elvis in Love Me Tender (1956), played Cosette in Les Miserable (1952) and Cecil B. DeMille picked her to play Lilia in The Ten Commandments (1956) without a screen test. She retired after this.

As usual Corman gives us a castle (matte painting), wonderful sets, creeping fog, lots of candlelight and crashing waves. Fire is a recurring theme throughout the film – starting with the burning of Joseph Curwen in the prologue.

People Watch: Look for the instantly recognizable Elisha Cook Jr. as Peter Smith and Micah Smith. He is probably best remembered as Wilmer Cook in The Maltese Falcon. He also appeared in The Big Sleep, Shane, House on Haunted Hill and Rosemary’s Baby.

The Masque of the Red Death

The Masque of the Red Death is available on instant Netflix and Amazon Prime

The Masque of the Red Death (1964)

“At a 12th-century masked ball from hell, dissolute satanist Prince Prospero (Vincent Price) torments his guests, forcing them to participate in a variety of gruesome lethal games in this Roger Corman-directed horror flick based on two stories by Edgar Allen Poe. While most of the games end in someone’s death, those who survive Prospero’s amusements must endure the nightmare of torture and unthinkable depravity.”

“You promised me entertainment, I never expected this. Have such eyes seen sin? ” – “They will.”

The Masque of the Red Death is Roger Corman’s most sumptuous Poe adaptation. There were a lot of reasons for this. The film was shot in England to take advantage of a government subsidy by using a British cast and crew. Corman also allowed for a five week schedule as opposed to three weeks for the previous Poe adaptations.

Masque was filmed using sets leftover from Becket (1964). The costumes are simply lavish and amazing, especially at the masque itself. Screenwriters Charles Beaumont and R. Wright Campbell should be applauded for squeezing in Poe’s short story Hop-Frog as a subplot.

Vincent Price does not play a dual role here – he is simply evil…grandiose evil as Prince Prospero. His performance is nuanced, hammy (in a fun way) but nuanced. He lusts after Francesca but not for her flesh, he just wants to corrupt her.

The delightful Hazel Court is Juliana, Prospero’s consort. It is clear that while Juliana is evil, her motivation is to keep the eye of Prospero, who has been fascinated by the innocence and beauty of the young Francesca. Court had 72 roles but is best remembered for her handful of horror movies: The Curse of Frankenstein, The Man who Cheated Death, Doctor Blood’s Coffin, The Raven, Premature Burial, and Masque. Masque would be her last speaking role in a movie.

Patrick Magee makes a great foil as the evil Alfredo. He spends much of the time being the butt of Prospero’s humor. Magee would go on to be a veteran of Hammer and Amicus productions appearing in The Skull, Tales from the Crypt, Asylum, And Now the Screaming Starts and Demons of the Mind.

The Masque of the Red Death naturally has the hallmarks of a Corman Poe adaptation: Castle, dungeon, torture devices, lots of cobwebs, even more candlelight, and wonderful sets. It is the best of the Poe adaptations and that is saying something since all eight are enjoyable – only Juliana’s dream sequence stood out as unnecessary.

People Watch: Nigel Green has a small part as Francesca’s father. He had his best role earlier that year as Colour-Sergeant Bourne in Zulu, stealing the movie from leads Michael Caine and Stanley Baker. Patrick Magee also did a wonderful turn in Zulu as Surgeon Reynolds.

The Tomb of Ligeia

The Tomb of Ligeia is currently available on Amazon Prime.

The Tomb of Ligeia (1964)

“A widower falls in love and marries an exact replica of his first wife. The second wife soon discovers her husband’s fixation with his dead spouse and becomes the object of evil happenings. In HD.”

“She will not die because she willed not to die.”

The Tomb of Ligeia is the last of Corman’s eight Poe adaptations. Like Masque of the Red Death, The Tomb of Ligeia was filmed in Britain to take advantage of the subsidies.

The Tomb of Ligeia is far more subdued than the other adaptations. Not much actually happens during the course of the film but an atmosphere of dread permeates the whole feature.

I love Corman’s elaborate sets but I really enjoyed that he opened up The Tomb of Ligeia (so to speak). A majority of Tomb takes place outdoors. We have cemetery scenes, scenes among the ruins and in fields and a fox hunt.Even the indoor scenes in The Tomb of Ligeia are spacious.

The outdoor ruins of Castle Acre Priory and Stonehenge are fabulous. It is great to see Stonehenge, albeit briefly, without all the ropes and safeguards in place. I envy my wife getting to have a champagne breakfast there with her father but I digress.

Vincent Price is wonderful again here, alternately subdued and manic, haunted and doomed. He is our haunted protagonist and does not get to fall back on his villainous persona this time.

Elizabeth Shepherd, taking a page from Price’s book, gets to play a double role here. She plays both Ligeia and Lady Rowena Trevanion. She was actually cast as Mrs. Peel in The Avengers (1961) but somehow lost the role to Diana Rigg. Ligeia was her big movie role – she moved back to television afterward.

The rest of the cast is stable but do not make much of an impression. Richard Vernon, who plays Dr. Vivian, had just finished playing Smithers in Goldfinger. He would later play Slartibartfast in the 1981 adaptation of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Cat lovers may want to skip this one and the ending feels forced but Elizabeth Shepherd and Vincent Price are fun to watch, the feeling of dread is nicely communicated, and the sets and scenery are nice to look at.

Remake-itis: This was remade, sort of, as The Tomb (2010) starring Michael Madsen, Wes Bentley, and Eric Roberts. It is called The Tomb and has a female character named Ligeia but it is set in modern times and bears almost no resemblance to the Poe story.

Poe & Corman & Price – Horror Movie Month

Edgar Allan Poe was one of the first adult authors I read and I loved how gloomy, scary and depressing his stories were. I was particularly frightened by the thought of being bricked into a wall a la The Cask of Amontillado. Where I saw gloom, guilt and despair, Roger Corman apparently saw fun. All of the below films are available on instant Netflix.

The Pit and the Pendulum (1961)

Francis (John Kerr) visits the gloomy Spanish castle of his late sister Elizabeth’s husband, Nicholas (Vincent Price), to learn the reason for her death. Nicholas fears his wife isn’t really dead and that her spirit wanders the halls at night. Seems Nicholas’s father was a feared leader of the Spanish Inquisition; as a child, Nicholas saw his father torture his mother and bury her alive, and he’s convinced Elizabeth has suffered a similar fate.

Oddly Corman’s first Poe adaptation, House of Usher (or Fall of the House of Usher) has no Netflix listing. This is a shame because it is the most faithful of Corman’s Poe adaptations in both plot and mood.

The Pit and the Pendulum is his second effort and is less serious. Most of Corman’s Poe films exist solely to showcase the talents of Vincent Price and this one is no exception.

Tales of Terror (1962)

It’s a triple threat of terror from the master of the genre: Edgar Allan Poe. This collection of three films — The Black Cat, Morella and The Case of M. Valdemar — offers everything horror fans can’t get enough of, from murder and dementia to live burials, open tombs, resurrection and zombies. And with three of horrordom’s greatest villains (Vincent Price, Peter Lorre and Basil Rathbone) in the lead roles, the chills are guaranteed.

The Black Cat is an adaptation of my favorite The Cask of Amontillado. Unfortunately it’s played for laughs and the ending is from another story altogether but don’t let that stop you from watching. Vincent Price is always a hoot and here he is joined by Peter Lorre and Basil Rathbone in their waning years. The other two stories are taken a bit more seriously even if the effects in Valdemar are a bit on the goofy side.

 

The Tomb of Ligeia (1964)

From director Roger Corman comes this supernatural tale of undying love set in the early 19th century. After the death of his wife, Ligeia, eccentric Verdon Fell (Vincent Price) will do anything to replace her, even if he must sacrifice his new wife, Rowena (Elizabeth Shepherd). Plagued by eerie events in her new home, the terrified Rowena seeks help from former suitor Christopher (John Westbrook), but can he thwart Fell’s plan to revive Ligeia?

Ligeia evokes a nice sense of dread and Price is quite subdued. The atmosphere is appropriately moody as Rowena finds herself in way over her head. Not much actually happens in the film but it is still entertaining.

The Masque of the Red Death (1964)

At a 12th-century masked ball from hell, dissolute satanist Prince Prospero (Vincent Price) torments his guests, forcing them to participate in a variety of gruesome lethal games in this Roger Corman-directed horror flick based on two stories by Edgar Allen Poe. While most of the games end in someone’s death, those who survive Prospero’s amusements must endure the nightmare of torture and unthinkable depravity.

Masque is one of my favorites. Vincent Price hams it up (a bad thing for other actors but Price is the ham master) and Hazel Court has a lot of fun as Juliana, taking increasingly desperate measures to keep Prospero.

The costuming is wonderful. Masque has an expensive sumptuous feel in part because Corman was able to use the sets left over from Becket. Corman even manages to squeeze the short story “Hop Frog” in as a small subplot to the overall story. If you pick one of these to watch, this is probably the best one.