NOVEMBER 28, 2010
I hated myself for watching Tales Of Terror on lowly Netflix a few weeks ago, because if I had just waited a bit longer I could have seen a beautiful 35mm print of it at the New Beverly. On the other hand, it kept me from having to “save” The Haunted Palace for another time (or worse, writing two reviews on a weekend!), so I just went for that, meeting my “quota” of going to the Bev every weekend (wasn’t interested in seeing Monster Squad, the midnight movie) and adding another Vincent Price movie to the HMAD canon.
As most fans probably know, the film has nothing to do with Poe’s tale “The Haunted Palace”, and is actually more based on HP Lovecraft’s “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward”, though it’s a pretty loose adaptation of that too. In fact, I was quite surprised to learn that “Ward” was the same story that The Resurrected was based on, because that film and this one couldn’t be less alike – I would have more easily believed that Wall-E and Deliverance were based on the same source material. Basically, all Corman and co. retained from the Lovecraft tale were the names and the basic concept of resurrection, and changed everything else.
However it still definitely feels Lovecraft-ian (more than it does Poe, anyway), with the gloomy New England town (Arkham), the odd creature trapped in a cellar, and the faceless townsfolk all feeling very much like something out of one of his stories, unlike Poe’s more insular, often fairly romantic tales. The only times I thought of Poe were when the film started feeling like some of the other Corman/Poe/Price productions like Pit And The Pendulum or House Of Usher (i.e. when Price was walking around a big scary castle). Hilariously, Price recites a random Poe quote at the very end of the film, as if to justify the connection with something besides the title. Interestingly, they spell his name right at the end with the quote – it’s spelled wrong at the top of the film when it says it’s based on his story.
Price is as delightful as ever, and it made for a good double feature with Tales (or WOULD have, in my case), since this one also found him playing two roles. One is the heroic Ward, who inherits the place and plans to sell it. The other is Joseph Curwen, a necromancer (and Ward’s great great grandfather) who wishes to be resurrected. So Curwen occasionally possesses Ward, but he can only do so for brief periods of time, allowing Price to switch back and forth quite a bit. And it’s to his credits that it never becomes confusing – he’s so good you can even tell when he’s playing Curwen pretending to be Ward!
However, while I don’t mind getting more Price for my buck, they go a bit overboard with the actors playing two roles, as at least 5 guys from the prologue play their own descendents 110 years later. As I’ve said before, I really don’t care for this sort of lazy casting approach – I barely resemble my grandfathers, let alone my great great ones. It’s sort of insulting to the (by my count) 29 other people whose DNA had been passed along to me, right? Plus, the movie is a period piece anyway – the difference in costumes and “old tymey” look from the 1875 versions of these folks is not particularly distinguishable from their 1765 ancestors. Thus, if you missed the title cards telling you it’s 110 years later, the movie would be very confusing indeed. It’s one thing for say, Back To The Future to use the same actors as each generation of McFly, because so much had been done to change their basic look and the look of the world around them. Here, not so much. Would have preferred they just used different actors – it’s not like these characters (save Price) were particularly defined or even interesting anyway.
And yet, Debra Paget only plays one role! I haven’t seen too much of her (and this was her last film – she “retired” after marrying rich shortly after this film’s production), but man, what a knockout. And she holds her own with Price – not an easy task. Why the hell couldn’t they have figured out a way to have HER in the prologue? At any rate, if I was born in the 30s or 40s, she would have been the Evangeline Lilly or Rachel McAdams of her day, to me.
One thing the prologue does offer is a mob scene, momentarily making me think that the reels were out of order or something. Price (as Curwen) has a girl tied up, some magic is about to go down, and there’s an angry mob with the torches and pitchforks – pretty much the exact thing that occurs at the END of most of these movies (including this one). Once I realized it was a prologue, I truly appreciated the unusual “action-packed” opening, though I was just as pleasantly surprised to discover that the film as a whole moved faster than usual. Price and Paget aren’t in town long before they encounter a bunch of those creepy faceless types, and he starts getting possessed by Curwen not too long after that.
Ultimately, the only thing that annoyed me were the movie’s fades, though it must have been an issue with this particular print. You can almost always tell in an old movie when there’s going to be a fade, because the image becomes a bit washed out or discolored a few seconds before. But in this film, the color temperature AND image changed – it would go from a nice looking print image to something that looked like it was recorded off an analog TV signal, plus overly yellow tinted. And this movie had a lot of fades. Plus, you know when a reel changes and there’s a little jump? It seemed like every cut in the movie had such a jump (possibly just due to the number of fades and the fact that it was an older movie and thus had a lot of long takes), which was a constant distraction. I wouldn’t go so far as to recommend not seeing the film in theaters (it being an early 60s Corman production, it’s quite lovely to look at), but I hope that there are better prints floating around.
Not sure how many Corman/Poe productions I have left... I know I haven’t seen The Premature Burial or The Raven, but I’m not sure about Masque of the Red Death – I thought I did but I can’t find a review (it would have been during my HMAD ‘reign’). I know I saw Usher prior to HMAD, and I’ve seen Tomb of Ligeia but didn’t like it so I didn’t bother writing a review (it was part of a double feature at the Bev; I forget what the other movie was but I reviewed that instead). And there are reviews for Pendulum and Tales Of Terror. That’s all of them, right? Good goal to try to meet before the year’s end!
What say you?