Alfred Hitchcock Basics – A Video Primer

Happy Birthday Alfred Hitchcock!

Good Evening, Horror Addicts!

Kristin Battestella aka Kbatz here again with a video review breakdown on some of our Alfred Hitchcock Favorites! From The Lady Vanishes, Lifeboat, Notorious, and Spellbound to Psycho, Rear Window, Vertigo, and The Birds – if you haven’t seen one or two, here’s why you should!

 

 

Don’t forget YOU can be part of the conversation on our Facebook Group or revisit some of my Horror Addicts.net Hitchcock reviews here.

 

By Horror Addicts, For Horror Addicts!

 

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Kbatz: The Oblong Box and Scream and Scream Again for April

 

The Oblong Box Along and Scream and Scream Again Dated, but All in Good Fun

By Kristin Battestella

 

The Vincent Price fest is never over, so along comes The Oblong Box and its double bill with Scream and Scream Again. Though not as special as some of Price’s previous Poe and Corman collaborations, this duet celebrates not one horror master, but two. Vincent Price, meet Christopher Lee.

Julian Markham (Price) has returned from his family’s African plantation with his cursed and deformed brother Edward (Alister Williamson) – who Julian keeps locked in an upstairs room. Despite the mysterious behaviors at his estate, Julian hopes to marry the young and beautiful Elizabeth (Hilary Dwyer). The Markham lawyers Samuel Trench (Peter Arne, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang) and Mark Norton (Carl Rigg, Marked Personal), however, plot Edward’s escape and cure along with African witchdoctor N’Galo (Harry Baird, The Italian Job). Unfortunately, Edward is accidentally buried alive in their scheme. Once rescued by Dr. Neuhart (Christopher Lee) and his grave robbers, the masked Edward romances the pretties and plots his revenge.

 

He may be top-billed, but there’s not as much of our beloved, over the top Vincent Price (The Tomb of Ligeia, House of Usher) in 1969’s The Oblong Box. Although he’s less than a decade removed from the early success of American International Pictures’ Poe series, Price looks a little old for his leading lady Elizabeth. Fortunately, outside of these quibbles, there’s still plenty to love. Julian looks the worn, conflicted English noble. Can he dare to hope while he’s also walking a deadly line of guilt and destruction? Price makes the most of his given scenes, both as a disturbed brother and a charming husband. Again Hilary Dwyer (Wuthering Heights, Hadleigh) seems a little young, but this works in her tender relationship and naivety with Julian. Likewise, Sally Gleeson (Bless This House) looks and acts the pretty -if a little naughty-maid.

Hammer Horror alum and Lord of the Rings veteran Christopher Lee also doesn’t have as creepy a role as I might have liked, but his mad doctor is a high brow mad doctor. He pays slick swindlers to steal the bodies of the recently deceased for his research, but Neuhart does his doctoring while wearing a silk tie and waistcoat. He gets down and dirty with cadavers in the name of science, but Neuhart objects to Edward’s blackmail and murderous revenge. There isn’t much time for this stylized ambiguity in The Oblong Box, but Lee’s presence and voice command your attention in all his scenes.

 

Price, yes, Lee, lovely- but The Oblong Box is Alister Williamson’s (The Abdominal Mr. Phibes) picture. Yes, the masked man who’s true face you never even see and who the voice was actually dubbed steals this picture. It would have been intriguing for Price to play both brothers-or even Lee take a turn under the crimson hood- but the voice and style of both men are too easily recognized. Williamson and his Edward are mysterious, unknown. What does he look like under that hood? We know he’s been wronged and wants to see Edward find justice, but how far will his revenge go? Which side of the law is he on -and why do the ladies find him so irresistible? This is England, 1865 as only 1969 could recreate. Williamson gives Edward charm and tenderness with some ladies, then rapacious violence with others. He’s naughty, nice, misunderstood, and vengeful-not bad for our unknown, unseen, and unheard actor, eh?

The cast keeps The Oblong Box charming, but this very loosely Poe inspired adaptation from Lawrence Huntington (Douglas Fairbanks Jr. Presents) and Christopher Wicking (Murders in the Rue Morgue) isn’t as strong as it could be. Director Gordon Hessler (The Golden Voyage of Sinbad) spends too much time on the stereotypical mistreatment of colonial Africa and blaxploitation-like zooms and voodoo montages. If you want to talk about the unjusts of slavery, set the entire picture in Africa and let the actors go to their scary depths.

 

Thankfully, the visual mix of the sixties and Victorian styles ties The Oblong Box together. The color and costumes are great even though Americans might be a little confused by the English style. When we see 1865 on tombstones, we think hoop skirts and Civil War extravagance ala Gone with the Wind. Here, however, the ladies “be-bustled” in a more mid to late 1880s style. Nevertheless, there’s plenty of bawdy English taverns and cleavage bearing working girls. The outdoor locations are also a treat, and there are even a few daytime graveside scenes- a rarity in these old horror flicks.

The Oblong Box isn’t perfect, but there are a few filmmaking strides here, too. The early, up close, claustrophobic deaths are from the askew killer’s point of view. We want to look away, but can’t. Despite the story’s thin execution, the charm and classic stylings of the cast win out -along with the mystery at hand. We can’t help but watch just to see if our hooded killer is caught and unmasked. Freaky faces, scares, voodoo, and violence -we just can’t help ourselves, can we?

Thankfully, Hessler, Wicking, Price, and Lee reunited the following year for 1970’s Scream and Scream Again. Who could they possibly add to up the horror ante? Why, Peter Cushing, of course!

 

 

Superintendent Bellavur (Alfred Marks, Albert and Victoria) and fellow officer Sylvia (Judy Huxtable, The Touchables) investigate a string of vampire murders. Each victim has ties to local scientist Dr. Browning (Price) and his nurse Jane (Uta Levka). Before Bellavur and morgue assistant David (Christopher Matthews, Scars of Dracula) can solve the case, Intelligence commissioner Fredmont (Lee) must strike a deal with torturous foreign dictator Konratz (Marshall Jones, Crossroads), who wants the files detailing the vampire case. Konratz has overstepped Major Benedek (Cushing) and taken control of a very grim conspiracy that has its subjects screaming and screaming some more.

 

Vincent Price is another year older now, and his old style presence and charisma is a little out of place amid fast-paced Brit coppers. The juxtaposition of all these young go-go folks would make Price seem past his prime -even though we know he has another thirty years of solid work ahead of him. His scenes are few and far between, but his Dr. Browning is so slick. He proves his worth against the hip stylings with suave answers for our detectives and high Frankenstein ideals. He’s a mad scientist with the best of intentions and Price leads us to Scream and Scream Again’s big finish. If the body stealing doctor with the vat of acid isn’t our bad guy, that’s scary.

Well, our man Dracula, aka Christopher Lee, as a good guy police minister-surely this can’t be? Again, there’s not nearly enough of him in Scream and Scream Again, but it’s a treat to see Lee young, modern, besuited and fedora wearing! Fremont has all the lines and politicking needed, using Konratz and Browning to his advantage. Who will come out on top? Who’s really behind all our slim and shady? In the end, Lee’s dominating presence is delightful, as is the freaky style of Uta Levka, another alum from The Oblong Box. This nurse’s devoid eyes and lack of lines would make any patient shudder.

 

Fellow Hammer Horror veteran and Sherlock Holmes star Peter Cushing doesn’t appear for the first half hour, but it’s no surprise that he would be the Major in charge of a Nazi-esque dictatorship successfully taking over a small European country. Unfortunately, his suave class and control over such ugly business is all too brief for Scream and Scream Again. I don’t know who the rest of the people here are and I really don’t care -and it seems the marketing folks who put Price, Lee, and Cushing in bold print knew that. Don’t Wicking and Hessler realize we can handle Price, Lee, and Cushing at the same time-nay we want to see them, we have to see them, we need to see them in more than these briefities! Forget the teenyboppers and bell-bottoms already!

It’s annoying and misleading, yes, as it has little to do with the film; but you have to admit Scream and Scream Again is a crafty title. There’s a nice chase sequence ala Bond as well, but is this so titled flick hip action or horror? Scream and Scream Again has a very interesting concept of realistic, multiple storylines amid scares and fast pacing. Unfortunately, the non-linear and jumpy approach disjoints and unravels any strides made. Each story could have been its own film, and each isn’t given its full deserving depths here. The swanky 1970 music and British contemporary style are very dated now. Scream and Scream Again might have been served better as a traditional period piece, but that probably wouldn’t have worked with Peter Saxon’s source novel. Fans of the cast’s other horror work might feel a little alienated by these vague thoughts on science and conspiracy, and Scream and Scream Again spends too much of its time trying to be hip and avant-garde with its pop music and interweaving trio of storylines.

 

I’ve been critical of the dated styles and misdirection of Scream and Scream Again because it’s a lost opportunity to do something really spectacular with our trio of horror masters. Having said that, it is still a scary and freaky film-psychotic and experimental doctors, cops chasing pseudo-vampire killers, maniacal governments torturing its subjects. When you look at Scream and Scream Again like that, well, then any fan of old school horror should be all for it!

Although these double billed DVDs are an affordable, quick and easy bang for your buck; most of them are a little older, and often double sided. It’s kind of a pain to flip the disc, but it’s better to have these gems digitally restored than not at all. (Insert rant here about how half the films made before 1950 no longer exist and that all the classics that aren’t available on DVD should be restored before any more Disney Direct to Video drivel comes out, thank you.) There are subtitles here at least if no features beyond trailers. What’s really unfortunate for Prince and Lee fans? Their next collaboration with Peter Cushing-and John Carradine- 1983’s House of the Long Shadows, is not available on DVD. Thankfully, The Oblong Box is viewable online.

Though seriously flawed and imperfect by modern standards, both The Oblong Box and Scream and Scream Again make for a fun night of horror and camp. Both may be too bawdy or uninteresting for the kids, but horror enthusiasts and fans of the cast can have a fun, quick marathon for Halloween or any time of the year.

Kbatz: Tomb of Ligeia and An Evening with Edgar Allan Poe

Frightening Flix

Tomb of Ligeia and An Evening with Edgar Allan Poe Surprisingly Good

Several months ago, I saw an interview with Cassandra Peterson-aka Elvira-discussing Tomb of Ligeia, one of her favorites in the American Pictures International’s Poe series by director Roger Corman. Unfortunately, for the life of me I couldn’t recall having seen this final adaptation starring Vincent Price. When the 1969 film came on out on a double billed DVD with An Evening with Edgar Allan Poe, I gave the set my full attention. Perhaps it’s not a total shocker since I like the rest of Corman’s Poe series, but Tomb of Ligeia and An Evening with Edgar Allan Poe are surprisingly good.

Verden Fell (Price) vows that his late wife Ligeia (Elizabeth Shepherd) will defy death. He becomes reclusive and keeps away from sunlight with his dark colored glasses-until the beautiful Rowena (also Shepherd) erroneously comes to his ruined abbey. The couple falls in love, despite Rowena’s previous attachment to Verden’s friend Christopher (John Westbrook). They marry, but Rowena is ill at ease in Ligeia’s former home. Ligeia’s Egyptian antiques are everywhere; her spirit seems to linger over Verden during the night, and there’s a nasty black cat about that makes her displeasure known.

Director Roger Corman (House of Usher, The Pit and the Pendulum) takes a few departures from his earlier Poe films by brightening up Tomb of Ligeia with natural locations and a little more romance than usual. Adapted by Robert Towne (Shampoo, Chinatown, Tequila Sunrise) from Poe’s short story, the analysis of mind and will power over death itself weaves the film together with ancient Egyptian allusions and plenty of ambiguity towards black cats. Each plot resolves satisfactory, but Poe’s twists and Corman’s interpretations leave the viewing thinking longer than prior pure shock conclusions.

Even though this is the last of the Poe pictures, Vincent Price looks younger here. His Verden is a little more sympathetic than his earlier, often evil roles. Not only is Price not as over the top as we love, but he’s actually sad sometimes, even pathetic with his dependence on his little glasses. But of course, Tomb of Ligeia does have the bizarrity we’d expect, including some ambiguity about necrophilia. Ew! Thankfully, Price looks good with Elizabeth Shepherd (Bleak House, Side Effects, Damien: Omen II). Any age difference doesn’t seem to factor in; they match well, and have nice, genuine chemistry. The more romantic tone between Verden and Rowena isn’t so tough to believe amid the scares. Nice as it is to have the sweet emotion amid the creeps; Shepherd is freaky in the duel bits as Ligeia. It’s obvious it is she, of course, but the showdown with Ligeia and the dream sequence with the ladies are well done. John Westbrook’s (The First Churchills) Christopher is in the odd middleman position in this love triangle, but his outside, sane perspective helps the audience balance out some of the horrors.

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While not as stylized as its Poe predecessor The Masque of the Red Death, Tomb of Ligeia has some beautiful natural locals and production. There’s a hefty amount of daylight scenes here-and they all work in the spooky, gothic, Early Victorian setting. There are some great ruined abbeys, the English countryside, and even a romantic stroll through Stonehenge. You might think these pieces don’t go together, but the morbid set interiors match the abbey in gothic look and spooky tone. The Victorian costumes are also early in style, alluding to a bit of the Bronte Sisters, Wuthering Heights, and Jane Eyre. And of course, there’s a very disturbing classic Corman dream sequence that scares better than some of the stranger, more bizarre visual dream trickery previously done.

Side B of our set offers more Vincent Price in a one-man show called An Evening with Edgar Allan Poe. Price showcases four tales from Poe in various stage settings, beginning with “The Tell Tale Heart.” I imagine you’re familiar with the tale, and Price is delightfully over the top here. His crazed style suits the story. The production here looks a little low and bare, but theatre fans can certainly enjoy this spirited Poe dramatization. “The Sphinx” is actually a Poe story that’s new to me. Price changes his looks and time period for each tale, strengthening his suave approach to the audience. He is clearly enjoying the punch line here, and this tale is better dressed than “The Tell Tale Heart.” Some might think a one-man production is stale and boring, but swift camera movement keeps things fresh. Not the crazy angles and dizzying modern zooms, but there’s just enough cuts and close ups to create the illusions needed.

So, that’s how “The Cask of Amontillado” is pronounced! I was never quite sure. The older Price is made up even older here for this unusual interpretation. You’d expect to see this one played out, not in effect told as perhaps “The Tell-Tale Heart” can only be. Price, however, does the voices of both men involved, playing on the amusement of the story and the unreliable status of the narrator. The camera again moves with him, cutting from several sides and using duel tricks almost like Gollum and Smeagol in The Two Towers. It’s a simple maneuver, but it works with the very handsomely dressed dining room stage.

It’s strange that director Kenneth Johnson (V, Alien Nation) would do “The Pit and the Pendulum” here in 1972 when Roger Corman did the feature length film ten years earlier. Nevertheless, Price looks the old and crazy part. Each tale has progressed his age, the time period, and the story’s deceit. This short here is more abstract and dream like than Corman’s back story filled movie. The fire and brimstone effects in this Pit go for more frights rather than a Twilight Zone twist ending. You would think Vincent Price effectively reading books line for line onscreen would be boring, but no. The stories dramatized in these readings are all told in the past tense with Poe’s great unreliable narrator telling his askew interpretation to the audience. Even though it may look old or too theatre to modern audiences, An Evening with Edgar Allan Poe is perfect for Vincent Price fans, film students, or literature teachers looking for a short and sweet visual accompaniment for the classroom.

The DVD set of Tomb of Ligeia and An Evening with Edgar Allan Poe is relatively simplistic, with only a commentary of Roger Corman and Elizabeth Shepherd. It’s a little slow in pacing, but fun and informative for the die-hard fan. The subtitles for Ligeia are great, too. Fans of the previous Poe pictures or sixties horror films can enjoy Tomb of Ligeia, but period piece and gothic fans should tune in, too. However, hardcore viewers looking for a blood fest and straight horror should skip these stylized tales. Likewise, I also don’t know about cat lovers enjoying Tomb of Ligeia. Feline folks will delight in the pesky cat scenarios, but cat enthusiasts won’t like some of the black cat bashing, either. Ah, it’s the beauty of Poe, something for everyone!

Kbatz: Snowy Scares!

Scary, Snowy Romps!

By Kristin Battestella

Well there’s nothing like ye olde killer neighbors, mountain monsters, and things going bump in the cold night to keep you cuddled by the fire, is there?


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How Awful About Allan
Joan Hackett strikes again alongside Anthony Perkins and the late Julie Harris (The Haunting) in this Aaron Spelling produced and Curtis Harrington directed (What’s the Matter with Helen?) 1970 television film from writer Henry Farrell (Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?). The suspense gets right to it with a fire, screaming, survivor guilt, resentment, and hysterical blindness. The intriguing, disorienting, blurry film focus and dark camera photography match Perkins’ sightless actions and mannerisms as his eponymous victim becomes obsessed with trying to prove his new, unseen roommate wants to do him harm. Yes, the Victorian house and post-institution, possibly crazy reclusiveness will seem too obviously Psycho to some viewers, but the increasingly angry tape recordings, crazy carness, heavy music, and scary whispers provide plenty of fearful spin. Retro décor and old, wintry styles accent the seemingly sunshiny household, but the nighttime paranoiaand scary inability to see intensifies the strange noises and point of view eerie. Why aren’t there more visually impaired horror protagonists? This tiny 73 minutes makes you love your glasses a little more! Though not billed as a horror movie per se and the end loses a touch, this taut thriller has all the suspense, lightning, creepy family implications, and desperation needed. 

Nightmare_1964NightmareOft Hammer compatriots Freddie Francis and Jimmy Sangster team up for this very moody and effective 1964 black and white thriller. Eerie music and smart uses of silence anddiegetic sound accent the sixties styles, snow scenery, and mysterious country estates. Excellent light and shadow, candlelight and silhouettes also push the insanity fears, paranoia, violence, murder, and creepy ladies over the edge. There’s a wonderful, scream-filled flashback adding to the mystery, and solid suspense filming works for both the nightmare bizarre and the askew real world, too. Is crazy inherited? What does childhood trauma do to the mind? Or is there something else at work entirely? Some of the screams might be a bit too much, and at first, one may think this is merely an extended Twilight Zone episode. However, some added kink keeps the audience wondering how far the terrors are going to go. The twists keep on coming for not one long Twilight Zone, but rather this invokes a lot of TZ-esque tricks woven together – and it works.

snowbeastSnowbeastOminous music and dangerous snowy slopes belie the sunshiny 1977 ski fashions, snowmobiles, and lush Colorado locales peppering this deadly bigfoot tale. Despite the faded public print, a slightly small scale made for television production, and some pathetically lame bloody ski jackets; lovely forests and mountain photography shine along with tracking zooms and killer camera perspectives. And the cast knows how to ski! The spooky atmosphere restarts slightly once Bo Svenson (Breaking Point) and Yvette Mimieux (The Time Machine) arrive, and a past love triangle is somewhat unnecessary, as is a skimpy Olympic flashback. However, these elements provide some unexpected for a horror movie of the week dialogue on how Olympians often have difficulty coming down to mortal levels and regular life after such glory. Womanly angst aside, this really is just a Jaws in the snow clone – one man believes in a monster after an opening attack, but pesky grandma Sylvia Sidney (Beetlejuice) dismisses it as an avalanche and withholds the news because the economically needed carnival must go on. Unheeding people take to the slopes, death ensues, and sheriff Clint Walker (Cheyenne) claims it was a grizzly attack by presenting a mistakenly shot bear. Contrived miscommunication and crap police action grow tiresome and the ski montages are a tad longer than necessary. Thankfully, the period lack of smartphones and natural snowy isolation remain effective. Shaggy Yeti arm appearances create scare toppers amid the more dramatic act by act pace, and the bigfoot gone wild is smartly only seen in shadows, dark windows, hairy flashes, or with quick, snarling teeth. Seeing what the monster does – over turned vehicles, logs tumbling, shattered glass – rather than what it definitively is keeps this watchable despite those Jaws comparisons and dated archetypes. The pace is uneven in the final act – switching focus on characters and coming to a somewhat speedily conclusion considering how we really just watched people skiing for 85 minutes – but this one remains fun for a summer cool down or a snowy night in with the family.

You make the call Addicts

Crawling_Eye_film_posterThe Crawling EyeThe true The Trollenberg Terror title actually seems like a better name for this 1958 SF gone awry tale, as highlighting the eponymous monster effect isn’t really a very good idea. Thankfully, climbing terrors, ropes fraying, men falling and natural fears of snow, cold, and mountains keep the pace interesting. Toss in a weird psychic chick (Janet Munro, the boy who’s a girl in Swiss Family Robinson), past radiation iffy, missing mountaineers, and local superstitions and you get plenty of peril. Great pulsing, heavy music and nice scares and violence increase as the suspicions and conspiracies get crazy. Unfortunately, the familiar premise would have been more interesting if not for the seriously hokey science equipment and faulty logic. The tone is too stuffy and British dry, and the mountain photography and poor backdrop designs are kind of, well, strange. All that might be a cult horror fan’s low budget or dated charm, granted. However, it is dang tough to tell who is who, and the deadly moving mists and that titular eye are too laughable for most viewers to take seriously, which hampers a lot of the campy fun.

Kbatz: Price and Poe Double Feature!

The Masque of The Red Death and The Premature Burial Make for a Spooky, Smart Double Feature

By Kristin Battestella

In my never-ending search for quality horror, I often turn to the classics. I was pleased to find that two of my favorites The Masque of Red Death and The Premature Burial were available on one DVD. Corman, Poe, Price- Horror Heaven!

Ruthless and satanic Prince Prospero (Price) takes crops from the local villages and burns those carrying the dreaded Red Death plague. He abducts the lovely, devout peasant girl Francesca (Jane Asher) and takes her back to his castle. Other nobles are also gathering at the castle under Prospero’s offer to wait out the Red Death with evenings of pleasure, masquerades, and debauchery. Part of his entertainment includes the diminutive Hop Toad (Skip Martin, Circus of Fear) and his little ballerina Esmeralda (Verina Greenlaw, The Six Wives of Henry VIII), but Prospero’s satanic mistress Juliana (Hazel Court) has no time for dances or Francesca-as she is preparing to become a bride of Satan. These demonic delights are all going to Prospero’s plans-until the Red Death incarnate crashes his decadent party.

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As you can tell, I’ve seen my share of spooky flicks and Price pictures. Perhaps not as well known today, The Masque of The Red Death is my favorite of the Poe series from director Roger Corman. This 1964 treat has all the big budget looks one could ask for. It’s gothic, dark, demonic-yet the candle light, colors, and castle sets are a real treat. The costumes look perfectly medieval-the men as well as the ladies. I could say The Masque of The Red Death is a costumed, epic spectacle if not for the macabre subject matter.

Charles Beaumont (The Twilight Zone) and R. Wright Campbell (Man of a Thousand Faces) skillfully weave Poe’s tale of disease, death, and comeuppance with a touch from his lesser know ‘Hop-Frog’ tale and create a charming and yet dreadfully spooky movie. Poe is well known for his obsessions with death and burial, but the core of The Masque of The Red Death is unique. These prideful and gluttonous subjects fear death, sure-but that doesn’t stop their cruel and deceitful, devilish ways. Religion is only touched upon briefly, but the iconic notion of Death itself entering among the naughty and taking its tally strikes the audience on multiple levels. Do we really see Death when we are so close to it? Do we all walk such a finite yet intimate line with disease and punishment? Visually desensitizing, slash and sex and gore, modern horror can’t compare with Corman’s visual interpretations of Poe.

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I know Vincent Price has a reputation for being over the top-as in The Pit and the Pendulum for example; but he’s relatively suave and subdued here. We’ve seen him in many periods and styles, but the outlandish hats, plumes, and color still look good on Price. He doesn’t seem out of place amid demonic castles and masked parties. We believe his Prospero is kinky, vicious, and deadly-but we’re awed when Death comes along and steals the show. Perhaps Price has more famous roles; but for my money, he is his best here. Likewise, Vincent’s vixens look devilishly good. Horror queen Hazel Court (The Curse of Frankenstein) shows her bosom and her satanic ways with a bizarre mix of charm and grace. We shouldn’t like the dark lady doing nasty rituals and marrying the devil, but Court’s beauty and ethereal style are delightful. Not to be outdone, angelic ex-Paul McCartney flame Jane Asher (Alfie, Crossroads) rivals Court with her white gowns and youthful devotion. We want her to keep her innocent naiveté, but we also don’t expect her righteousness to win out.

The Masque of The Red Death is a rarity in horror pictures because it achieves serious social commentary about the corrupt aristocracy, death, and how the evil get their due- all this along with plenty of scares and onscreen mayhem. Some might be offend by the devilish imagery, but horror fans and classic enthusiasts need to love this macabre, yet idealistic picture. Of course, 1962’s The Premature Burial is by no means merely the back end of a double bill. Technicalities at American International Pictures unfortunately leave us without our regular Poe man Vincent Price, and I think The Premature Burial is a little unloved because of this. However, Charles Beaumont and Ray Russell (The Man with the X-Ray Eyes) again craft an intellectual analysis from Poe’s tale of death and fear.

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Guy Carrell (Ray Milland) fears his family history of catalepsy and builds a complex and technological tomb to prevent himself from being buried alive. His wife Emily (Hazel Court) and sister Kate (Heather Angel, Suspicion) disagree in how to support Guy’s fears, yet stop his building obsessions. Guy turns away from his involved tomb so Emily won’t leave him, but death and family history soon catch up to him.

More than a fine, if surprising, substitute, Oscar winner Ray Milland (The Lost Weekend, Markham, It Happens Every Spring) is delightful as the intelligent Victorian gentleman who becomes obsessed with being buried alive. His extreme, exhaustive precautions are understandable, logical, and well thought out; but somehow, we still know this is all askew, maniacal, and preposterous. Milland is quieter than Price, never quite boiling over as we expect him to. In away, his buttoned performance is bound, trapped inside the coffin Guy so desperately fears.

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Once again, Hazel Court is lovely and charming as Guy’s ambiguous wife Emily. We believe she cares for Guy’s state of mind-and yet she’s too lovely and youthful to put up with his deadly ideas, isn’t she? The Premature Burial gives us more exceptional dresses-but this time we are bespectacled with hefty hoop skirts and Victorian delicacies. Though black and white, Corman gives us a fine production of mood and atmosphere. We don’t often see such proper costumes in a low-end horror picture, but all the creepy graveyards, fog, smoke, and mirrors make their presence known, too.

The Premature Burial is again a picture that might not be fore everyone. It’s slow, deliberate examination of death might be frustrating and too close to home for some. Even though we’re beyond the days of rampant plagues erroneously burying people alive and Victorian occultists trying to cheat death, this is still an understandable, real fear not so far removed from society’s psyche. Both The Masque of the Red Death and The Premature Burial serve up a fine cast, intelligent scripting, period piece atmospheres, and plenty of spooks. These flicks have plenty of old time scares, but nothing majorly offensive- unlike today’s sex and slash flicks.

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The dual DVD of The Masque of the Red Death and The Premature Burial is affordable enough, but again a little old and a pain to flip. Thankfully, we’re treated to a few nice conversations with Roger Corman chatting about this pair of Poe pictures. Horror enthusiasts and classic film fans should adore these two complex, scary tales each and every year.

Kbatz: Bava Special!

 

Super Mario Bava Special!

By Kristin Battestella

 

What’s not to love for the classic horror viewer when it comes to the stylish scares, tempting thrills, and colorful chills of that giallo master Mario Bava?

 

Baron BloodJoseph Cotten (Citizen Kane) and Elke Sommer (more on her in a bit) star in this often unloved 1972 tale of family curses, and the mix of centuries old torture, witches, hidden treasure, and vengeance does indeed need some polish and clarification. Is this about the past cruelty, the raised baron, or the contemporary haunted hotel? Why do these clearly out of their depth people go messing with these past horrors anyway? Despite a bright, swanky, jet setting, and cliché start – an American coming back to his spooky ancestral Austrian castle complete with outfitted dungeon – the titular ghost talk, tolling bells, and incantations build suspense. The accents, poor script, and exposition scenes may be tough, but the dark, murderous actions counter the lack of motivation or room to maneuver from the cast. How is the viewer to like them when the resurrected baron is their fault? Thankfully, the country locales and estates look lovely – the partially restored castle is both dreary as needed or lit with just the right ambiance and fog. Perspective kills, scary zooms, angles, shocks, chases, and kids in peril continue the creepy, and the sickening makeup is burned and nasty effective. The wheelchair bound Cotten does add some slick and twisted layers, however, we don’t see him enough to enjoy his nuances. The picture is off on the wrong foot and hampers itself under a muddled story because it doesn’t focus on the eponymous character. This is rougher around the edges than Bava’s usual style, charisma, and mood, granted, yet the look and players remain just watchable enough thanks to an entertaining finale.

 

A Bay of Blood Signor Bava directs this 1971 plot of heiresses, real estate, and murder – you know, the usual – with his expected mix of upscale cinematography and unsettling panache. Storms and classical melodies create a sadness to start as nasty deaths disrupt a would be old-time gentility. There’s no dialogue for the first ten minutes, but the silently designed kills are tantalizing nonetheless. Add swanky affairs, alluring secretaries, and skinny dipping run afoul to the zany fortune tellers and partying teens, and all today’s quintessential horror ingredients pack these eighty-four minutes. Pretty outdoor designs give way to blue nighttime hues and noir lit interiors add mood while red accents ominously treat the eye. Eerily framed bodies, hallways, and faux suicide notes add layers as those seventies zooms mirror the characters’ swoons and fears. Although this is more bloody than Bava’s earlier works – which some may like and others may not – the bodies here are normal compared to contemporary bimbos. The gory chase, squeamish squidworks, and nasty hatchet slices are artistically juxtaposed with sunshine, birds chirping, and that Bava delicacy. Of course, the weak script is certainly not perfect, the English audio is too low, the subtitles don’t quite sync, and who is who or double-crossing whom can be very confusing. Thankfully, the inheritance battles, illegitimate mysteries, and one by one eliminations mix well with the sex and violence. The bodies pile up in unique ways, and Friday the 13th certainly copied a kill or two! Some scenes may feel slasher for slasher’s sake, but the stylish, somewhat melancholy tone remains strong. Everyone is fighting over this lovely land whilst also ruining it with ghoulish mayhem, and this deadly mystery is still an exciting grandpappy for the slasher genre.

 

Black Sabbath Boris Karloff hosts this 1963 AIP/Italian trilogy production also starring Mark Damon (House of Usher) and Michele Mercier (Angelique, the Marquise of the Angels). ‘A Drop of Water’ leads off the English version here with lovely period charm and freaky questions regarding fright, spiritualism, and the moments immediately before and after death. Seriously, one should never, ever steal from the dearly departed! The great mix of solitary scares, what you don’t see approaching, and the shocker smoke and mirrors effects seal the deal. Hot damn, it got me! Plot two ‘The Telephone’ shines with the then contemporary sixties goodness and lots of suspense. There’s a sexy anticipation, a voyeuristic vibe, and predatory fear adding to the juice. Karloff’s introduction sequences are a lot of fun, too- serious and latently psychedelic in style but humorous at the same time. In his final story, a Russian vampire tale called ‘The Wurdalak’, all the mood, culture, and creepy come across wonderfully. The K’s makeup and approach is so angry and suspicious, even disturbing as familial angles come into play. Completists may go for the alternate Italian version for the full effect of director Mario Bava’s (Black Sunday) vision, but despite studio interference and changes that might upset purists; the scares are loud and clear here.

 

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Black Sunday We’ve seen other anniversary curses and execution revenge pictures beyond this 1960 black and white so-called Bava directing debut, originally edited and released by AIP stateside without its proper Mask of Satan title. Every cliché is here, complete with a coach breaking down in front of a derelict mansion, scholars turned grave robbers, and a few drops of blood releasing a ghoulish mistake, but we’ve never seen such lurid family history, look a like damsels, and undead doctors like this. The stereotypical hysterias, Old World mysticism, Eastern European staples, and Moldavia vibes not only work, but the opening 17th century fire and brimstone narration is darn effective with excellent wind and thunder to match. Sudden movements add surreal jump scares, but fog, phantom carriages, and creepy forests know when to be still. Artfully, posed scenes are filmed thru branches, shadows, cobwebs, and smoke – almost like a silent movie. Sure, this was probably done to conceal the on the cheap but no less crafty period flair or assorted set flaws, but the design looks damn scary and perfectly atmospheric. I wouldn’t go out alone at night and milk the cow either! Though the English delivery and vocals are very well done, it is unfortunate Barbara Steele (The Pit and the Pendulum) is dubbed. Nonetheless, her dual role as the ingénue princess and the not-so-well-to-do witch is ethereal and captivating – the classic lighting and photography captures her stunning beauty as well as the totally creepy corpse effects and ghouly makeup. Of course, the blood necessities, servants dead in the day but alive at night, bodily possessions, and witch or vampire and Satanist terms are all somehow used wrongfully or interchangeably as needed; yet the science versus occult talk is also well thought out, even ahead of its time. Thankfully, the complete 87 minute European version has all the simmering pace and swelling music intact, and one can see why so many other films followed this model. Why did we forget how to make pictures like this?

 

Blood and Black LaceSweet, jazzy rhythms, classy titles, and a suspicious tone open this 1964 ninety minutes – one of Bava’s earlier saucies full of secret diaries, scandal, drugs, hysterical dames, and murder. Though a little slow to get going thanks to confusing lookalike women, uneven or hampered dubbing, and misogynistic “I don’t believe in permanent, exclusive relationships” two-timing men; the violence here is carefully styled and well filmed whilst also being rough, haphazard, congested, and disturbingly intimate as such horror risque should be. It is chilling and uncomfortable to watch as these women are attacked, abused, and tortured – this is real world scary violence not the fantastic or fake monsters. Ripped garments and blood marring the pretty faces add enough skin and gore suggestions alongside a vivid palette of flashing lights, shadow schemes in multiple colors, and symbolic reds matching the illicit. Rome exteriors, layered décor, and fancy frocks accent the mid-century behind the scenes fashion drama, and delightful editing, interesting camera framing, and multi action intercutting raise the tension. The viewer side eyes these naughty women going off alone at night with obsessed, lusty men, yet it’s fun to suspect as the screams and crazy turns add surprises. Who is this fedora wearing masked killer so desperate to keep the off the time racy hidden? Sure, the lethal planning and police investigation are a little sloppy; the subtitles don’t match and thus send some of the details amiss. However, the deadly vignettes progress into an intriguing mystery rooted in a realistic setting and simmering schemes – making this little thriller a wild, must see precursor to slice and dice horror as we know it.

5 Dolls for an August MoonA swanky, sunny, coastal start with groovy records, spinning beds, and heady parties full of glitz and glamour quickly leads to bad business deals, isolated island danger, and mysterious science experiments in this 1970 thriller. Jokes about virgin sacrifices and saucy torture make way for kinky seductions, skimpy skin, juicy gold digging dames, and shady millionaires. No price – such as a life or two – is too much for this elusive formula, and smartly used darkness, silhouettes, and flickering lights accent the fine editing and carefully placed zooms. Though perhaps dated, now period flair and colorful Bava style don’t look budget, and early genre staples add panache. From a false scary start to a scantily clad running beauty and a group of people trapped with a high stakes killer, the eighty minute suspense moves quickly as the players fall. Some of the back and forth money double talk might get lost in translation amid the Italian audio and English subtitles and too many Jacks and/or Jacques do make it tough to tell who is who. However, the dead piling up in the freezer adds a touch of humor, and it’s amusing how the money and formula are more important to these people than finding the killer! Interesting lady leaning innuendo, character turnabouts, missing money, and finger-pointing accusations accent the deadly competition, and red herrings lead to some excellent ante ups for the final twenty minutes. No, there isn’t a lot of outright slice and dice scary or gore as may be expected, and calling this horror feels slightly mislabeled. Fortunately, there is a lot of entertaining tension here to match the interconnecting intrigue, and it’s fun to guess who’s behind the ‘formulaic’ foul play.

 

Hatchet for the HoneymoonRomantic scoring and stylish red designs over the opening credits of this eighty-eight minute 1970 slasher deflect the killer scares to come, but arty, distorted deaths and dreamlike swirls are edited in time with the eponymous slices, shiny blades, symbolic wedding night blood, and bridal voyeurism. Unique camera shots and frames filmed through the mirrors or the internal fashion photo shoot lenses add to the quality, non herky jerky camera movements, and creepy mannequins, seances, secret rooms, askew sexuality, marital dysfunction, and beautiful roses create heaps of atmosphere along with lovely locales, lush interiors, and a spooky speeding train. The killer narration is also bemusingly honest – this psychopath nonchalantly admits where the tallied and once pretty bodies are buried and how he hates his brow beating but unaware spiritualist wife Laura Betti, also of A Bay of Blood. The struggle against the urge to kill escalates as painful memories and seductive, tempting models help piece together this deadly psyche and the murderous source. Brief mentions of a faltering business and rocky inheritance, however, seem of little importance, and the police investigation feels too weak, even easy. Obviously, there are also perhaps too many motherly roots and Psycho parallels, but strangely, partway through the time here, the murdering mayhem turns into something more paranormal. The audience is intrigued by the killer and the surrounding twistedness, but this seemingly rushed double plot tries to do too much. Thankfully, there is a wacky, whimsical mood and internal wink to the deathly love and saucy subtext without the need for excessive skin or gore. There are some fun spins here to keep the bridal butchery entertaining, and I’m surprised this one seems a little unloved.

 

Kill, Baby, KillFrom the period start with bloody spikes, evil child laughter, and coffins to he superb crumbling locales, bleak landscapes, and foggy cemetery – Maestro Bava invokes the total gothic formula for a macabre, dreadful mood in this 1966 mystery. Horrendous deaths, a foreign doctor’s arrival, the mysterious baroness on the continent, suspicious townsfolk, village curses, and carriages complete with fearful drivers blossom amid an impeded investigation, reluctant autopsies, scared girls, and scary ladies. Eerie rituals and specters tapping at the window escalate the suspense while a dizzying spiral staircase and carefully placed zooms increase anxiousness – be they fast, hectic ascents or slow, simmering tracking shots. The print would show its age and low-budget, but there are no faded visuals here thanks to the intentionally lush dimension, well-lit design, smart shadows, strategic cobwebs, and spooky chic interiors. The hazy dream sequence isn’t over the top yet remains disturbing alongside an orchestra of scary sounds, cat meows, and tolling bells topping off the atmosphere. While those familiar with the gothic Hammer productions or our recent American in another country versus juvenile phantom trends may find some elements predictable or the expositions convenient; skin suggestions and hints of blood do enough without the need for excessive nudity or gore. The English audio and subtitles are pretty good, too, and the players are quite fine over the fast-moving eighty-three minute duration. Whichever of the assorted distribution titles you find this one under, there’s no reason not to like the creepy mysteries, spooky revelations, paranormal fun, and sorcery shocks here.
And See

 

Lisa and the Devil The dubbing is off, the spoken volumes low and the music too loud and over the top for this dreamy, stylized, and somewhat confusing 1974 Bava bent. Subtitles are definitely a must to help explain the mysterious men, macabre apparitions, bizarre guests, and Spanish flair. The maze like city streets, weird statues, cluttered Old World feelings and eerie estate, however, are perfectly atmospheric and match the almost elegant filmmaking. Fresh color and blood add to the scandals and up close, erratic violence while reflections, zooms, and angled camerawork anchor the photography and parallel the multi dimensional players and their affairs, secrets, and crimes. This ensemble is aware of their spooky circumstances, even when the script is uneven with superfluous soliloquies and silence. Wispy flashbacks take too much time to explain all the past connections, yet the tale also seems overlong like a 85 minute supersized anthology segment. The nasty implications will be tough to watch, too, but the unique saucy and peculiar sensuality is smartly obscured what we think we see sex and nudity. Telly Savalas (Kojak) is likewise creepy yet charismatic with the svelte ingénue Elke Sommer, and this crisscrossing mix of Doppelgangers, demons, and the dead is a bizarrely entertaining, twisted little ride.

 

But Skip

House of ExorcismStay with me now, for this re-edited version of Lisa and the Devil from producer Alfredo Leone adds new possession themes, exorcism footage, and Robert Alda (Rhapsody in Blue) as the titular performing priest in an attempt to mainstream Bava’s Euro-fashioned uncut edition. From different opening titles and the re-christened Mickey Lion aka Leone directing to more blood, violence, and intercut medical scenes, it’s apparent this is not the same film. Sommer’s grunting and demonic scenes are embarrassing and somehow seem more exploitative than her nasty sex scene in Lisa and the Devil. Not that this is a bad performance by Elke, but the crass sex, extra boob shots, and full frontal nudity just seems so classless – sex and priests just don’t feel right then or now. All the exorcism clichés seem trashy, and the language is so unnecessarily foul it’s almost funny: “Where do you come from?” “A cunt, you jerk!” Wtf? “Don’t break my balls, Priest!” Granted, Bava’s tale is confusing, but this Lisa being possessed has nothing to do with the doubly flashback scandals and makes even less sense. Would I have liked to see an exorcism or possession drama from Bava? Sure. Is this it? No. Die-hard fans may like to watch and compare, but otherwise, don’t bother with this rehash.

 

Kbatz: Thriller Season 1

 

Boris Karloff’s Thriller Debuts with Spooky Quality

by Kristin Battestella

 

Oft bespectacled and mustachioed horror guru Boris Karloff came to the small screen in 1960 as host of Thriller, and though uneven to start, the black and white anthology series’ 37-episode Season One debut packs a wallop of suspense, drama, and scares.

Businessman with a stalker Leslie Nielson (The Naked Gun) is the first of many guest stars on Thriller in “The Twisted Image.” The implied vices, family secrets, violent subtext, and domineering dames may not be anything we haven’t seen before, yet we know the suspicion, schemes, and opportunist desperation can’t end well. Then scandalous topics and saucy literary sources give Thriller a mature tone, and blackmail, wills, and murder keep the sly, vindictive players entertaining to watch. Without the effects of today, Thriller relies on the players and the plot to craft well paced episodes and escalating acts – “The Mark of the Hand” uses flashbacks, distorted investigations, and non-speaking child witnesses for its suburban scandals and askew twists. Mary Astor (The Maltese Falcon) may be a bit obvious in “Rose’s Last Summer,” but its fun to see how the fading stars, would be comebacks, and alcoholism will play out. Disc Two, however, provides the first whiff of the supernatural on Thriller with “The Purple Room.” Rip Torn (Men in Black) and Richard Anderson (The Six Million Dollar Man) spend the night in the house from Psycho and great atmosphere, isolation, hauntings, and hysteria follow in this deadly, scary tale. “The Prediction” continues the bizarre with Karloff himself doing double duty as host and performing as an aging psychic for play within a play theatrics, deadly intuitions, and crazy Cassandra circumstances. Even though it probably would have meant even less episodes for Thriller, I wish Karloff could have played a macabre part in every show.

 

Blink and you will miss a very young Mary Tyler Moore alongside Robert Lansing (Star Trek’s Gary Seven) for “The Fatal Impulse,” an intriguing look at mid-century bomb plots, politicians, and murder threats complete with a ticking clock and unknown peril. Of course, “The Cheaters” may be Thriller’s most famous episode. From the period piece science and accursed spectacles to an antique mood and desperation, the vignettes here offer a disturbing perspective with props to match. What if one could see another’s true, cruel thoughts – or maybe even our own? It would certainly come in handy over poker! This hour makes for a wild precursor to the spooky antiques of Friday the 13th: The Series. The stars continue on Disc Four with more cobwebs, stormy cliff side locales, and creepy mirrors in “The Hungry Glass.” Kirk himself William Shatner and Gilligan’s Island Professor Russell Johnson add to the atmospheric reflections and what you may or may not see, and the proverbial smoke, mirrors, shadows, and lighting tricks set off this simmering spooky and period panache. Likewise, “The Poisoner” is delightfully gothic and operatic thanks to a Jerry Goldsmith score, past waistcoats, paintings, pesky family fortunes, and that suspicious titular tea. The beach bum con artists and rich dames of “Choose a Victim” may be too gullible to be believable; however, kinky swindles and double crossings see it through to the end. Dated witchcraft perceptions may also hinder “Hay-Fork and Bill-Hook,” but eerie chases, Stonehenge accents, and pitchfork imagery keeps this one perfect for Halloween – and look its Batman’s butler Alan Napier! Goldsmith’s music again matches the sacrifice discussion and superstitious ways ala The Wicker Man, and these great supernatural outings just seem to be the better episodes on Thriller.

The Merriweather File” opens Disc Five with dangerous gas, a deceased child, and dead bodies in the trunk as touchy-feely, supposedly friendly lawyers bring subtext and tawdry secrets to light. “The Fingers of Fear” implies more than just child murder to match the quite creepy abductions, sociopathy, and pursuit twists. It’s neat to see how town apprehension, suspicion, evidence, public opinion, and what’s in the newspaper influence the case – especially compared to today. The late Richard Keele (The Spy Who Loved Me) looms over the “Well of Doom” along with a booming score, roadside terror, and castle evils. Is this a scheme or the supernatural? The picture is too dark at times during the titular dungeon escapes, but the desperation and atmosphere work. Likewise, fun science equipment goes awry for Robert Vaughn (The Magnificent Seven) in “The Ordeal of Dr. Cordell.” Pleasing paranoia, spinning effects, unknown trauma, and dangerous triggers accent the escalating laboratory obsessions and frayed tensions. Oft-Thriller director Ida Lupino (The Hitch-Hiker) helms the anthology within an anthology episode “Trio for Terror” with 1905 English scenery and heaps of chilling mood. In what might have been a neat design for the series, claret sipping Karloff hosts these segments from inside a pub full of shady characters – telling tales of spooky train car companions, creepy wax artifacts, high stakes suspense, tricked out castles, and serial stranglers. Though disjointed, there’s a little bit of everything to fit one’s scary need, and the smaller literary based stories do well over the hour.

 

Ironic carnival scoring and a killer sideshow atmosphere lead Disc Six in “Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper.” While mid-century suits debate the psychology of the killings and analyze ongoing 70-year patterns, scandalous burlesque dames, beatnik artists, bloody pacts, and a morbid shocker or two create a fun take on the White Chapel theme. “The Devil’s Ticket” continues the sinister with shady pawn shop dealings and a high price on tokens usually not for barter – such as your soul or your painting talent, perhaps. Great dialogue talks about the fantastic, “What the devil do you mean?” “Now, now, let’s not mention any names,” whilst also debating the internal struggle of objective and subjective truths, the games we play, and the prices we pay. These topics aren’t as cut and dry as we hope – especially when a love triangle adds to the devilish deadline. Likewise, surprising innuendo matches the captivity and titular derelict of “Parasite Mansion” along with some pre-Texas Chainsaw Massacre backwoods family shenanigans and one creepy cackling old lady. The moody score fits the tense attempts to flee amid cobwebs and maze like interiors while more twists await within the walls and beyond. Ironically, the crime and scandal with a little something sinister in this hour is a well done combination of the mixed suspense and supernatural vision looking for its footing on Thriller.

Child innocence and warm velvety interiors lead to squabbling relatives and a disembodied, ghostly voice to start the lovely “Mr. George.” Inheritance plots and turnabout on those deadly intentions build suspense thanks to swinging camera work and cleverly edited accidents. “The Terror in Teakwood” continues on Thriller’s supernatural superior with Hazel Court (The Premature Burial), romantic rivals, Pandora’s Box scares, musical desperation, and piano melodies. Similar to the later The Mephisto Waltz, demented pianist talents and deadly compositions get, well, out of hand, as it were. An opening Paris 1910 charm conceals more menacing tricks and hypnosis alongside Marion Ross (Happy Days) in “Prisoner in the Mirror.” Karloff pops in to update the time line changes, and forgotten burials, beautiful not so dead corpses, and internal plays on mirrors, reflections, and Doppelgangers create some fine illusions here. Dark shadows and lighting schemes accent the atmosphere, twists, and through the looking-glass spins beautifully. Ominous music immediately sets the tone of “Dark Legacy” as fates are decided with occult motifs and the blurred line between magic and sorcery is explored. The rites, rituals, and fake symbols are a little hokey, but smoke and thunder special effects do wonders in upping the misused incantation temptations. Romance becomes insignificance when black magic leads to stage success – or demonic corruption! Concluding Thriller’s First Season on Disc Eight are “Pigeons from Hell” and “The Grim Reaper.” Great swamp fog, overgrown ruins, and avian danger amid the ghostly sounds and off camera screams in “Pigeons” make an excellent Southern Gothic mood for the deadly turnabouts, mistaken investigation, and paranormal afoot – and it’s all done with one scary set and three players. “Reaper” brings Shatner to Thriller again, this time with Hearst driving Mrs. Howell Natalie Schafer of Gilligan’s Island. Ghoulish paintings, kooky authors, trophy husbands, and cursed artwork do superbly for this blend of superstition and suspense. Great shadows, up close editing, and what you don’t see scares hit home, and this final stretch of scary and supernatural sends Thriller‘s debut session out on a high note.

 

However, despite its title and horror pedigree, the first half of Thriller seems somewhat weak or unsure what direction the series shall take. Scary fans could even skip Disc One on the set altogether, for one expecting all weird or speculative horror will be disappointed in the straight drama and gun play of “Child’s Play” or the stereotypical mobsters from “The Guilty Men.” “The Big Blackout,” “Knock Three-One-Two,” and “Man in the Middle” are also redundant in their similar blackmails and crimes against women. Though workable as an hour of dramatic crime and entertainment, Richard Chamberlain’s (The Thorn Birds) small town scandal in “The Watcher” and Cloris Leachman’s (Phyllis) “Girl with a Secret” heist are nothing new and the Moroccan flavors of “Man in the Cage” don’t sparkle as they should. The simmering score in “Late Date” can’t overcome the run of the mill, get rid of the body, beach side violence, and stereotypical Puerto Rico designs, voodoo scares, and non-believing authorities can’t help John Ireland’s (Red River) looking over his shoulder desperation in “Papa Benjamin.” The creative premeditation, literary inspiration, clever weaponry, and fun performances of “A Good Imagination” would have been a neat as the lone bookish murderer among a season of horrors, but since Thriller starts off the other way around, it’s just another more of the same amid too many cheats, blackmails, and revenge.

Fortunately, Thriller provides layers of historical and then-contemporary nostalgia. I’ll take a bottle of your best champagne for fifteen bucks! Sweet cars, swanky music, mid-century fashions, and period accents create mood or accessories as needed – although one could lose an eye with these bullet bras! There are unfortunate, of the time subservient minorities but thankfully, past prejudices are few across Thriller’s eight discs for Season One. The DVD designs for the Complete Series set are also a lot of spooky fun with spider webs and skull cursors. While there are no subtitles and the sound is often uneven between soft voices and loud effects, numerous episodes across the discs have commentaries, promos, or isolated scores by Jerry Goldsmith along with trailers, photo galleries, and production stills. This video collection is a bit elusive, but Thriller can be found on retro over the air stations like Me-TV and with other streaming options.

 

Unlike The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits or even One Step Beyond, Thriller’s first season is not totally paranormal or speculative in nature and can’t really be compared to such anthologies. The show’s division between straight mystery and macabre may split viewers, but overall, Karloff’s outing is more akin to the suspense of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour thanks to these mostly dramatic fifty minute tales. Big Boris himself is of course always suave as host with a fun style and props to his introductions – even if his greetings often read as double talk shoehorning in a titular pun. It’s not the sardonic of Serling or the humor of Hitchcock, but Karloff’s own charming stature is reason enough for some horror fans to tune in for Thriller, so long as you avoid the purely dramatic episodes. Regardless of scary expectations and a rocky start, there are still numerous hours of entertainment, guest stars, and ghastly for mid-century television lovers or creepy enthusiasts to enjoy this First Year of Thriller.