Spirits of the Dead
A 1968 French-Italian production of three Edgar Allan Poe tales, narrated by Vincent Price. Federico Fellini signed on to direct the segment “Toby Dammit” thinking the other segments would be directed by Orson Welles and Ingmar Bergman, but he was depressed to learn the other directors would be Louis Malle and Roger Vadim. Sure enough, Malle’s and Vadim’s segments (“William Wilson” and “Metzengerstein,” respectively) are stylish and forgetable-to-tedious, but Fellini’s “Toby Dammit,” the last and longest segment, is well worth the rental. Terence Stamp plays a strung-out British film star nodding past a cavalcade of classic Fellini caricatures, all the time haunted by the figure of a little girl bouncing a white ball…Very, very spooky.
Time Capsule: Also featuring Alain Delon and a scantily clad Brigitte Bardot (“William Wilson”) and a scantily clad Jane Fonda on horseback falling in love onscreen with her brother Peter (“Metzengerstein”).
Wednesday is still my favorite day of the week, thanks to Rod Serling. The only thing good about living in the Central Time Zone was being able to stay up late enough to see Night Gallery. Yes, it’s time to talk about Serling’s OTHER best macabre television series ever. Serling introduced each segment by way of a work of art, a painting or sculpture often as creepy as the segment itself. The segments, especially in the 1970-’71 season, largely avoided the topical concerns often expressed in The Twilight Zone, replacing social consciousness with…bite. “Midnight Never Ends” – “Sins of the Father” – “Little Girl Lost” — even the titles were chilling. Night Gallery on DVD is the perfect antidote to torture porn and tweenie-targeted vampire(ish) nonsense. It’s fast-paced enough for modern audiences, but the writing ranges from rock-solid to excellent, and the performances uniformly reach heights we just don’t see in slasher-trash (sorry, fans of Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasance, Malcolm McDowell and a cast of little-knowns, but now we’re talking about Vincent Price, Orson Welles, Ray Milland, Cesar Romero, Sam Jaffe, Burgess Meredith, Agnes Moorehead, Godfrey Cambridge, Roddy McDowall, Raymond Massey, William Windom, Jack Cassidy, Wally Cox, Robert Morse, Rudy Vallee, Victor Buono, Jack Albertson, Lawrence Harvey, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Patrick O’Neal, Leslie Nielsen, John Carradine, John Astin, Pat Boone, Mickey Rooney…) Oh, yeah. And bits of it were scary as hell. Between light-hearted segments like “A Midnight Visit to the Neighborhood Blood Bank,” “Dead Weight” and “The Flip-Side of Satan,” we had “Something in the Woodwork,” “Pickman’s Model,” and one of my personal favorites, “The Doll.” Laugh if you will, but I still can’t sleep in a room with a doll, with those glassy eyes and that frozen little smile just waiting to widen into a big, toothy grin…damn!
“Good evening, and welcome to a private showing of three paintings, displayed here for the first time. Each is a collector’s item in its own way, not because of any special artistic quality, but because each captures on a canvas, suspends in time and space, a frozen moment of a nightmare.”
—Rod Serling, from the Night Gallery pilot
The Bride of Frankenstein
Four years after Dracula and arguably at the height of Universal’s gothic splendor, The Bride of Frankenstein lacks the misplaced angularity borrowed from German Expressionism that characterized many of the Frankenstein sequels, and it retains a warmth and peculiarity that makes it one of the most human and humane monster movies ever. Thanks to James Whale’s subversive direction, Ernest Thesiger’s evil and effete Dr. Pretorius chills and delights, Karloff horrifies as the monster in his first speaking appearance, and Elsa Lanchester entrances as the iconic Bride. It’s a beautiful bit of cinema history that raised the bar for Hollywood horror, and there’s still nothing else quite like it.
“Sometimes I have wondered whether life wouldn’t be much more amusing if we were all devils, no nonsense about angels and being good.”
— Dr. Pretorius (Ernest Thesiger)
Theater of Blood
Vincent Price chews up the scenery as Edward Lionheart, a Shakespearean actor who commits suicide in front of the critics who’ve thwarted his career. As critics begin to die in bizarre fashion, twistedly reminiscent of the gruesome and unexpected murders in Shakespeare’s plays, chief critic Peregrine Devlin begins to see a startling pattern… Along the lines later aped by Se7en, but far more clever and much, much more fun with a heavyweight supporting cast including Diana Rigg, Harry Andrews, Jack Hawkins, Robert Morley, and Swindon’s own Diana Dors.
“A remarkable performance. He was overacting as usual, but he knew how to make an exit.”
— Peregrin Devlin (Ian Hendry)