The House on Haunted Hill will forever remain my favorite Vincent Price horror flick, followed closely by The Tingler (and a few others). But in the 1960s, when he wasn’t working with William Castle (I blog about those films here), he was pretty much working with Roger Corman—and doing adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe stories and poems. So here are some quick flashbacks to the Price/Poe flicks, most of which I originally saw on the 4:30 movie on ABC when I was a kid! And I cover a load more of his films here…and here…and here.
HOUSE OF USHER (1960)
House of Usher is possibly one of my favorite Price/Corman films. The screenplay is by horror master Richard Matheson of Trilogy of Terror.
Vincent Price plays Usher, looking unique with his mustache shaved and his hair bleached platinum blond. A handsome young man, who is to marry Usher’s sister, comes to the house to see her, only to find that Usher is kind of insane and thinks he and his sister must never leave.
The film takes place in a creepy house complete with long hallways, creaking doors, falling chandeliers, thunder and lightning, and coffins. Probably the reason I like this film the most of the Price/Corman collaborations is because the atmosphere is the most like The House on Haunted Hill!
PIT AND THE PENDULUM (1961)
Another Poe tale adapted by Richard Matheson, Pit and the Pendulum pretty much has nothing to do with the original story. Price’s magnificent presence, this time as the son of a sadist, saves this one from being totally boring, as does the presence of horror icon Barbara Steele. But you still sit there the whole time wondering when the fuck they’re going to get to the pit and the pendulum in the castle setting. It only comes in at the last moment…and no one is sliced in half! Yawn. Not to mention, the mindfuck plot pretty much rips off The House on Haunted Hill.
TALES OF TERROR (1962)
Considering Price, Corman, and Matheson adapted Poe’s works into short films for this horror anthology, I’m surprised they went back to expanding others back into full-length movies after this.
Hinting at the Creepshow style of wraparound, the three stories here actually fade in from and fade out into animated stills. Awesome. And these three tales deliver the kind of zinger endings worthy of Poe adaptations.
In the first story, “Morella,” Price’s estranged daughter returns home and they are both terrorized by the ghost of his dead wife. This is a goodie.
In “The Black Cat,” the brilliant Peter Lorre (who those of a certain age–my age–will remember most as a cartoon character on Bugs Bunny) steals the show, bringing his comic timing to a tale of a man who loves his liquor but hates his wife’s black cat.
When his world collides with that of Price, the story actually chooses to borrow heavily from Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado,” which leads to sweet revenge for the black cat.
“The Case of M. Valdemar” is actually a trippy concept, with a mesmerist putting Price into a trance right before his death in an attempt to forestall his demise. Things end with a good old walking corpse!
THE RAVEN (1963)
Price, Corman, and Matheson stretch Poe’s “The Raven” into a movie with no resemblance whatsoever to the poem, but it makes for one fantastic comedy horror farce.
Peter Lorre is back—as a talking raven. He’s been the victim of a spell by an evil magician, played by Boris Karloff! Price, also a conjurer, turns Lorre back and then they head off to Karloff’s castle to confront him and put a stop to his evil.
A majority of the film features Price and Karloff facing off on thrones as they zap each other with their magic powers. These two horror icons have never been this much fun. And keep an eye out for a young Jack Nicholson as Peter Lorre’s son.
THE HAUNTED PALACE (1963)
Here’s a confusing one. The title comes from a Poe poem, but the plot is based on the story “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward” by H.P. Lovecraft.
The Haunted Palace has Price and his wife coming to a castle he inherited from family…a family with a history of sadism. Lon Chaney Jr. also appears as the in-house servant!
This one promises something chilling, complete with deformed people walking the streets, some sort of monster locked away in the castle, and angry villagers with torches. But the extreme underuse of the monster ruins it for me. Seriously, we don’t even get to see it in full…it’s sort of submerged under water at one point and that’s the best look you get.
THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH (1964)
Even though The Masque of the Red Death drastically drags out a simple story about a king who is determined to keep a deadly plague out of his castle, it’s an intriguing film anyway, with Price really shining as a Satan worshipper who rules with tyranny and loathes God and religion. There’s plenty of weird and bizarre occult shit going on around the castle before the final masquerade ball. And the twist on the “identity” of the plague is perfect.
THE TOMB OF LIGEIA (1964)
These movies sure test my non-existent tolerance for period pieces that take place in castles.
This movie adaptation of the Poe short story “Ligeia” is sort of like Rebecca…with a black cat…in a castle. And of course, Vincent Price as a madman. This time, he has lost his wife, who he believes won’t stay dead. He also wears dark sunglasses due to an eye condition, which makes him even weirder.
This crazy bastard steals a woman away from his friend and marries her. As they live in this huge castle together, an evil back cat—believed to be Price’s late wife in a different form—terrorizes them. Price becomes more and more insane in his fear of his late wife’s return and his new wife becomes more and more terrified of him and the black cat.
So yeah…if you love sinister black cats, this is the movie for you. There’s an all-out catfight at the end!
THE OBLONG BOX (1969)
While Roger Corman had no hand in making The Oblong Box, Price is back, starring alongside Christopher Lee this time, in a movie with Poe’s name attached—even though it has absolutely no relation to the plot of the short story after which it is named.
The Oblong Box is actually more of a template for what would become many a modern day slasher plot. Price is keeping his disfigured brother locked away from the world. Naturally the brother escapes. He dons a red velvet mask and sets out on a slashing spree.
Definitely moving Price into a more modern era of horror (even though the film is a period piece), The Oblong Box features bloody knife kills, prostitutes, and even an exposed boob! And the unmasking of the deformed face—which is really the one thing you are waiting for throughout the entire movie—has become a horror movie cliché that still works like a charm to this day!