1961; directed by Roger Corman; adapted by Richard Matheson; 77 mins
[Sort of spoilers. Read it and then watch the movie to decide or not they were]
Only watching this for the second time did I realise that Don Nicholas Medina (Vincent Price) is actually the victim in this movie. There are twists in the tale that I’d forgotten but this was one I completely missed the first time round. It’s just one of the virtues that make this the best of Corman and Price’s Edgar Allen Poe collaborations.
Set in 17th century Spain, Englishman Francis Barnard (John Kerr) visits Don Medina in his seaside castle to uncover the truth behind his sister’s (the Don’s wife’s) mysterious death. Once there, it quickly becomes clear that the disturbed Don and his nearest and dearest are not giving up the full story of Elizabeth‘s untimely demise…
There is something about this film that traverses that gap between classical filmmaking and the advent of 60s experimentation, particularly cinematographer Floyd Crosby‘s visual style. The Hays Code was already being left behind in the 50s due to the efforts of a few brave souls and by the time the early 60s rocked up, barriers were being barged past for a more full-blooded film experience, especially when it came to horror. The Corman/Poe films may not seem so gory or explicit but shots of blades touching skin or ripping clothing would not have been allowed under the Code. Aswell as this, however, it’s the bright slashes of colours which smear the screen in opposition to the beautiful-yet-respectable hues of the castle interiors. The opening and closing credits feature a sea of garish colours, bleeding all over one another which seems to predate psychedelia while the tinted flashbacks and moments of extreme horror hark way way back to silent cinema of the 1920s. The American New Wave may get all the praise but Roger Corman’s hand in shaping the look of things to come is becoming more and more relevant.
In other matters… well, I’ve pontificated about Vincent Price elsewhere on this blog but he really is at the top of his hammy game in this. John Kerr fills a gap as the nominal bland protagonist: one facial expression fits all. Barbara Steele consolidates her position as Queen of All Scream Queens and gets a great intro in the castle crypt!
It does still creep you out in certain passages, maybe not so much as Mario Bava’s Black Sunday but certainly the sections where Price is being chased through the underground corridors by unseen assailants still work pretty effectively. It’s funny how all the talk of torture, madness and adultery comes across now like good old-fashioned entertainment in a very healthy way that all the children can enjoy! They’re all desensitised by video games now, anyway. In the words of Glenn Wool; “Oh, he’s shot in the head? No, that doesn’t kill ya!”
There is a point to that last bit. Those that don’t get horror will carry on saying that even stuff like this will make people kill each other but bollocks to them! We get it and that’s enough!