House of Usher (1960)

Directed by Roger Corman [Other horror films: The Beast with a Million Eyes (1955), Day the World Ended (1955), It Conquered the World (1956), Not of This Earth (1957), Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957), The Undead (1957), War of the Satellites (1958), The Wasp Woman (1959), A Bucket of Blood (1959), The Little Shop of Horrors (1960), Creature from the Haunted Sea (1961), The Pit and the Pendulum (1961), The Premature Burial (1962), Tales of Terror (1962), Tower of London (1962), The Raven (1963), The Terror (1963), X (1963), The Haunted Palace (1963), The Masque of the Red Death (1964), The Tomb of Ligeia (1964), Roger Corman’s Frankenstein Unbound (1990)]

This Roger Corman movie is one I’ve been wanting to see for some time now, and now that I finally have, I’m somewhat underwhelmed. Oh, House of Usher is solid enough, and possesses both great performances and an enjoyable atmosphere, not to mention a fantastic conclusion, but still, I couldn’t help but expect more from it.

Even with the slight disappointment, though, there’s no doubt that Vincent Price brings a hell of a lot to this film. His character, paranoid and somewhat of a bastard, is great, and his performance is up there with the best of his material (House on Haunted Hill and Theater of Blood among them). The delivery of his lines is fantastic, and he just works wonderfully here.

The others are decent, and somewhat amusingly, my second-favorite performance here is not Mark Damon nor Myrna Fahey, but the butler, played by Harry Ellerbe. His loyalty to the dying House of Usher, despite all of the decay that he’s witnessing first-hand, was quite admirable, and I enjoyed him throughout. Fahey was good also, though I felt she didn’t really reach her stride until the finale. Truthfully, while Mark Damon was okay, I think he was the least stellar of the cast.

Also worth mentioning is the beautiful setting, being a desolate, decrepit mansion in the middle of a foggy swamp. With a cast as small as House of Usher had, this location brought more character to the movie, and the fact that it was in color, though gloomy still, was a nice touch. Related, the coloring here was solid, and it really shows in the psychedelic dream sequence, one of the moments that stands out a bit more.

The finale is fantastic, what with the mad search for a woman buried alive, only to discover that the woman has escaped her coffin and went mad, her bleeding fingers leading a trail to a great confrontation. Of course, this truly is the end of the House of Usher, and that’s probably for the best, given Price’s very apparent unstable mind-set.

House of Usher is a classic, and I don’t have a problem saying that. I just wish that I liked it a bit more than I already do. Perhaps I was overselling it to myself before seeing it, but still, the movie is certainly above average, and boasts a very good atmosphere and, of course, Vincent Price near his best.

7.5/10

The Little Shop of Horrors (1960)

Directed by Roger Corman [Other horror films: The Beast with a Million Eyes (1955), Day the World Ended (1955), It Conquered the World (1956), Not of This Earth (1957), Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957), The Undead (1957), War of the Satellites (1958), The Wasp Woman (1959), A Bucket of Blood (1959), House of Usher (1960), Creature from the Haunted Sea (1961), The Pit and the Pendulum (1961), The Premature Burial (1962), Tales of Terror (1962), Tower of London (1962), The Raven (1963), The Terror (1963), X (1963), The Haunted Palace (1963), The Masque of the Red Death (1964), The Tomb of Ligeia (1964), Roger Corman’s Frankenstein Unbound (1990)]

A somewhat classic movie, The Little Shop of Horrors is a rather black comedic horror film that is probably more enjoyable than it should be, though it’s not altogether amazing.

Being a Roger Corman movie, it would shock no one that the film is really campy at times, and the humor is, more often than not, over-the-top. This is evident in multiple scenes, such as the ones starring the dentist, or any scene with Myrtle Vail (also in A Bucket of Blood, from 1959). Hell, even the carnivorous plant is over-the-top, with his constant clamoring to be fed and his silly voice.

Performance-wise, Jonathan Haze does decent as the main character, and Jackie Joseph as his love interest, but there are more interesting and amusing faces here. Mel Welles, who played a foreign florist shop owner, cracked me up with most of his lines (he also appeared in one of Corman’s earlier movies, Attack of the Crab Monsters). Also, there are two faces that I just love to see, being a young Dick Miller (following his starring role in the aforementioned A Bucket of Blood, also directed by Corman) and a younger Jack Nicholson (this is his sixth credit, and fourth movie). Also, if you’re into the JFK assassination, the name Karyn Kupcinet may mean something to you, and she appeared in this movie also as an annoying teenager.

If you can stand a goofy plot, The Little Shop of Horrors may be worth looking into. There’s not really any gore of note (this isn’t H.G. Lewis), but there are some body parts being fed to a carnivorous plant, so occasionally the film comes across as more graphic than you might expect for the age. I don’t find The Little Shop of Horrors an amazing movie, but I’ve seen it quite a handful of times, and have been consistently entertained.

7/10

This is one of the films covered on Fight Evil’s podcast. Listen below as Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and I discuss this one.

The City of the Dead (1960)

Directed by John Llewellyn Moxey [Other horror films: Circus of Fear (1966), The House That Would Not Die (1970), A Taste of Evil (1971), The Night Stalker (1972), Home for the Holidays (1972), The Strange and Deadly Occurrence (1974), No Place to Hide (1981), I, Desire (1982), The Cradle Will Fall (1983)]

You want a movie with some atmosphere? The City of the Dead’s got it, in spades.

Using a Psycho-esque character switch that came as quite a surprise, The City of the Dead had a bit of bang for it’s buck. The plot is interesting enough, what with a young student going to study Satanism by traveling to the small town of Whitewood and taking a room at The Raven’s Inn, only to discover she bit off more than she can chew, but when something happens to our focal character, there’s a time-skip, and more horror ensues.

Of course, the idea of a small New England town being almost entirely dedicated to the dark side of Satanism (because of course, while this movie makes no mention of it, there’s plenty of perfectly good Satanists, more ratio-wise, I would bet, than Christians) was unique, and while I thought that many of the townspeople were being pretty obvious about their ill-intent, I guess that doesn’t bother those who wander into the town.

The cast here is superb. Related, this is a British production, but everyone spoke in American accents, so one might be fooled into thinking this an American-made picture. And speaking of which, while the original title is The City of the Dead, when released in the U.S.A., the title was changed to Horror Hotel (which, in my view, is quite a worse name), so there’s your random fact for the day.

Onto the cast, it’s Christopher Lee who stands out the most as a professor of Satanic studies, and one who takes his research seriously (his argument with a science professor, played by Dennis Lotis, was somewhat interesting). Playing the interested student was Venetia Stevenson, who was quite good, and seemed a lot more self-possessed than many women in the genre at the time. Taking off to the town of Whitewood alone was a nice touch, though it didn’t end as well as she may have hoped. Lotis wasn’t in much else, but he does well here as Stevenson’s concerned brother, as does Tom Naylor, playing her fiancée.

Actually, that brings to mind one thing that rather annoyed me. After a long absence of communication to either her brother or fiancée, Stevenson’s character is presumed missing. Obviously, both men are concerned. And both go up to Whitewood to investigate. But do they share a ride and work together to discover her whereabouts? Of course not. It’s not clear why one or the other didn’t bring up ‘Hey, I’m going to Whitewood, want to tag along,’ but I’m guessing it has to do with foolish ideas of manliness. Either way, the fact that both went up separately just bothered me to no end.

The other two cast-members worth mentioning are Betta St. John and Norman MacOwan. St. John was sort of an interesting individual, as she took the role of the main female character after Stevenson exited stage right, and she worked well with Lotis’ character, all things considered. MacOwan played an elderly priest with no congregation (get better employment, brah, cause you suck at your current job), and he did decent, though the whole ‘Christianity is superior to other valid religions without good reason’ gets really old, not that this is the only movie in the horror genre that makes that antiqued claim. Still, MacOwan was pretty fun.

It’s true that the ending of this one is pretty much the most generic thing about the movie, but it still works out reasonably well, and the fact that the final scenes take place in an old graveyard certainly help with the atmosphere the movie worked so well with (the hotel scenes with Stevenson in the first half were solid enough, and this brings it into overdrive). Overall, I wouldn’t say that The City of the Dead is a perfect movie, but for fans of beautifully-done black-and-white 60’s horror, this one would very likely be well-received.

8/10