Revisiting The Terror (1963) on Blu-ray

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TCM’s spotlight on American International Pictures is over but I recently got my paws on a copy of The Film Detective’s new Blue-ray of The Terror, a film that was originally released by AIP in 1963. I was so bowled over by the quality of the disc that it made me reconsider my long held view of this low-budget Gothic horror film initiated by Roger Corman.

Like any horror film fan worth their salt and of a certain age, I’d seen badly beat-up and butchered prints of The Terror on TV and video a number of times. The film suffered the unfortunate fate of falling into public domain decades ago so it became a staple of late night television and was repeatedly released as part of cheap video and DVD compilations typically sold in bargain bins. What I hadn’t realized is how much the poor presentation of the film had colored my opinion of it.

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Mistress of Menace: Barbara Steele in The Pit and the Pendulum (1961)

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There was a depth to her. On the surface she was a beautiful brunette woman. Beneath that–and you could almost get poetic here looking into her eyes–you could see layer, upon layer, upon layer. I could probably best, and inadequately, describe it as a kind of exotic mystery.” – Roger Corman on Barbara Steele

There are many reasons why you should turn into TCM tonight (8 PM EST/5 PM PST) to catch The Pit and the Pendulum (1961) hosted by Roger Corman. First and foremost, it was the second film in Corman’s laudable Edgar Allan ‘Poe Cycle’ and it remains one of the director’s most frightening achievements generating a palpable sense of dread within its opening minutes with help from Les Baxter’s bone-chilling score. It is also one of American International Picture’s best looking productions displaying some sumptuous 16th century inspired set design by Daniel Haller who, with a minuscule budget, transforms a Hollywood set into a medieval castle draped in blood red and cryptic black velvet accompanied by glimmers of antique gold. Richard Matheson’s script is surprisingly innovative adapting Poe’s suspenseful tale told by a single nameless protagonist into a full-blown gothic drama with multiple characters and elements of mystery, romance and supernatural horror. In addition, Vincent Price delivers one of his greatest performances here as the ill-fated Don Nicholas Medina, a deeply troubled character who alternates between profound melancholy and all-consuming madness. Last but certainly not least, it has the distinction of being the first American horror film featuring the beguiling Mistress of Menace, Barbara Steele.

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Jack Palance: Horror Star

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Jack Palance & his infamous bowler hat on the set of Torture Garden (1968)

Everyone seems to have their own Jack Palance. The Oscar-winning actor, who would be celebrating his birthday today if he was still with us, is typically remembered as the star of popular westerns including Shane (1953) and City Slickers (1991). Others might remember him as a familiar face in Film Noir and numerous crime films made in America as well as Europe. While some may be fond of his roles in war movies and historical epics but for me, Jack Palance will always be the star of some great horror films.

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Halloween Viewing Recommendations with a Feminine Touch

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Halloween is fast approaching and tonight TCM is starting the party early with a batch of great haunted house films beginning at 5PM PST (8PM EST) followed by a 24-hour classic horror movie marathon that’s sure to please the most finicky horror connoisseur. With so many terrifically terrifying films to choose from I decided to ask some of my favorite female film journalists who also happen to be fellow horror devotees to join me in recommending one movie from TCM’s Halloween line-up for your viewing pleasure. I think you’ll enjoy our enthusiastic endorsements but you might want to approach them with caution. A few contain minor spoilers along with some surprising scares but I hope that won’t stop you from joining us in celebrating Halloween with TCM. Demonic monsters, scary chauffeurs and axe-wielding killers are just a few of the shocking thrills that await you!

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Roger Corman & Vincent Price: The Groovy Gruesome Twosome

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This post is part of my month-long celebration of Vincent Price–TCM’s October Star of the Month. For further reading see Vincent Price Takes Center Stage, Vincent Price’s Small Screen Successes, Vincent Price & Gene Tierney: A Doomed Romance and In the Kitchen with Vincent Price.

Vincent Price will be headlining TCM’s terrific Halloween line-up tonight, which kicks off at 5PM PST/8PM EST with THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM (1961) followed by THE HAUNTED PALACE (1963), THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH (1964), THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES (1971), TWICE TOLD TALES (1963), THE TOMB OF LIGEIA (1964) and finally THE CONQUEROR WORM aka THE WITCH FINDER GENERAL (1968). I’ve had the pleasure of seeing all these films before and recommend them without hesitation but if you can only watch a few I suggest setting aside some time to enjoy the Roger Corman films airing this evening, which make for some genuinely thrilling entertainment on All Hallows’ Eve.

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A Forgotten Film to Remember: Bluebeard

bbopeningWhen I was in film school, the students in my group became avid John Carradine fans. Carradine was an aging icon of horror films by that time and was feeble because of a stroke. Yet he was still working, cast in bit parts and cameos by directors who wanted to pay homage to his long career by including him in their movies. In classes, we were exposed to his memorable work as a supporting player and character actor in the films of John Ford and others. He skillfully made the most of his sonorous voice, gaunt frame, and sharp features to enhance his characters—from the melancholy Southern aristocrat in Stagecoach to the charlatan professor in Fallen Angel. This Wednesday, October 30, at 4:45PM (EST), TCM airs Bluebeard, one of the few films in which Carradine played the leading man. Carradine was quite proud of the film and often cited it as his personal favorite.

Based on the life of a 15th-century serial killer, the story of Bluebeard was turned into a novel by Charles Perrault in 1697. Since then, the basic narrative has been retold, reworked, and rebooted in dozens of stories and films. A cautionary tale for young women, the basic premise tells of a handsome lover who courts women into marriage only to kill them. I wonder if the relevancy of the story is in the way it exposes the pitfalls of marriage, especially for women. Bluebeard-like tales represent everything from the fear of the wedding night to the loss of identity when a woman’s goals and dreams are sacrificed to marriage and motherhood (a kind of death). [...MORE]

Telefilm Time Machine: SATAN’S TRIANGLE (1975)

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Kim Novak & Doug McClure in SATAN’S TRIANGLE (1975)

One of my favorite actresses is the beautiful and enigmatic Kim Novak and she happens to be TCM’s Star of the Month. Every Thursday night throughout the month of September you can catch Novak in a number of great films airing on TCM and in celebration of the event I thought I’d devote my latest installment of Telefilm Time Machine to SATAN’S TRIANGLE (1975), which happens to be one of the first made-for-TV movies she appeared in. SATAN’S TRIANGLE has developed somewhat of a cult following over the years thanks to its noteworthy cast and a skilled crew who managed to craft a surprisingly effective little thriller combining elements of classic horror films such as PHANTOM SHIP (1935) and GHOST SHIP (1955) as well as THE EXORCIST (1973) into a spine-tingling original tale set on the stormy seas of the Bermuda Triangle.

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Natural or Supernatural? Name Your Poison

Movie genres are notoriously malleable things.  We all know what a western is until someone mentions that Star Wars is a horse opera in space or Outland is a remake of High Noon in a futuristic setting, and suddenly it doesn’t seem as clear anymore.  Genres also cross streams constantly.  A crime film can be a noir (Out of the Past), an epic drama (Once Upon a Time in America), a gangster film (Public Enemy), a comedy (Some Like it Hot, which also manages to work in rom-com while it’s at it) or any other number of multiple genre mash-ups with “crime” as the umbrella covering all the different subsets.  In the end, horror is no different but no matter how many subgenres of horror there are (and there are plenty), horror can be efficiently broken down into two categories: Natural and Supernatural.  Which side are you on?

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Spy Games – International espionage in… Nashville?!

One of the strangest spy spoofs to emerge from the sixties has got to be HILLBILLYS IN A HAUNTED HOUSE. This oddball musical comedy arrived in drive-ins in 1967 accompanied by the tagline, “If you’re a chicken come with plenty of feathers and a 0-0-0h-7 get-away car!” HILLBILLYS IN A HAUNTED HOUSE is part espionage farce, part sitcom style comedy and a full-blown musical featuring performances from the movie’s three stars (Joi Lansing, Ferlin Husky and Don Bowman) along with appearances by popular country & western performers such as Merle Haggard, Molly Bee and Sonny James.

Today it might be hard for modern audiences to understand how a movie like this ever got made but in James Bond’s heyday country & western music was gaining a growing audience thanks to increased radio play and popular programs like THE PORTER WAGONER SHOW. At the same time rural television comedies including THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES, THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW, PETTICOAT JUNCTION and GOMER PYLE competed with spy themed shows such as I SPY, MISSION IMPOSSIBLE, THE PRISONER, THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. and GET SMART for ratings. B-movie producing brothers Bernard, Larry and David Woolner were eager to cash-in on this strange hodgepodge of pop culture trends and they must have thought they had a surefire moneymaker on their hands with HILLBILLYS IN A HAUNTED HOUSE. To seal the deal they gave their movie some extra drive-in appeal by setting the story in a haunted mansion and hiring three horror film legends (John Carradine, Lon Chaney Jr. and Basil Rathbone) to co-star.

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Tom Chantrell – Illustrator of Nightmares

Throughout Hammer studio’s long reign as Britain’s most infamous purveyor of horror films, Tom Chantrell became their unrecognized ambassador of goodwill. Chantrell was a talented artist who created some of world’s most memorable movie posters but his main body of work was done in association with the “studio that dripped blood.” Chantrell’s use of bright colors and bold type along with his use of dramatic framing and action oriented poses helped define the look of Hammer films. His true gift was his ability to breathe life into a movie before audiences had a chance to see it on screen. Frightening monsters and busty beauties became his forté and during the 1960s and 1970s Chantrell’s name was synonymous with nightmares.

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