Six Gothic Tales
They Ushered in a new age of horror
Release Date: OUT NOW!
1960- 1964 | 12 | Blu- ray Director: Roger Corman Cast: Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff, Basil Rathbone, Lon Chaney Jr, Elizabeth Shepherd
1960 and 1964, B- movie king Roger Corman directed eight Edgar Allen Poe films. This box set presents three quarters of the cycle, all starring Vincent Price, four of them here making their UK HD debut.
The connection to the author’s work is often tenuous; indeed, one is more an HP Lovecraft film. All six are compendiums of the crepuscular: misty moors, cobwebs, secret passages, black cats, random tarantulas, decaying mansions tumbling down in flames.
The first, The Fall Of The House Of Usher, is probably the best, a deeply Freudian tale of burial alive with troubling undercurrents of incest. The Pit And The Pendulum, which bolts a two- act prelude onto a tableau of torture, works well enough, but feels rather like an Usher remix.
Tales Of Terror takes the anthology route. Adapting three stories, it stumbles with a crudely comedic take on “The Black Cat”, but recovers with an unsettling adaptation of “The Facts In The Case Of M Valdemar”, thanks largely to a commanding turn by Basil Rathbone as a maniacal mesmerist.
After his fourth Poe film Corman was wearying of the format; thankfully this led him to mix things up from then on. So The Raven is goofy horror- comedy, a tale of squabbling sorcerers which delightfully pokes fun at genre trappings – “Hard place to clean, huh?”, Peter Lorre cracks of a cobwebbed crypt. Its climactic battle, in which Price and Boris Karloff trade optical- effect magic attacks, is an utter delight.
The Haunted Palace deviates even further, being more an adaptation of Lovecraft’s “The Strange Case Of Charles Dexter Ward”; though it still channels Poe, a sequence featuring eyeless mutants, offspring of human women and the old gods, feels jarringly of the Cthulhu mythos. The split role it provides Price, as a gentle man possessed by a cruel ancestor, is one of his best. Finally, after seven films confined to sound stages ( a deliberate choice, to weave an unreal atmosphere), The Tomb Of Ligeia, shot in England, lets loose Corman’s camera to scamper along with a fox hunt and roam a ruined abbey. Scripted by Chinatown’s Robert Towne, it feels liberated in another way too, with a surprisingly independently- minded heroine.
Certain themes repeat with clockwork regularity: physical and mental corruption; families cursed to repeat the past; a morbid fascination with death. Corman’s penny- pinching means sets and shots recur too; déjà vu descends whenever a mysteriously combustible castle erupts into familiar- looking flames. This means a marathon viewing session is best avoided, but watched in isolation, all six films succeed.
An impressive array, too many to list here. They include six commentaries across four films ( Usher and Ligeia each have a pair); one of these ( on The Haunted Palace by Price’s biographer) is new, the others carried over from previous releases. There are ten interviews ( 144 minutes); four of which ( all with Ligeia crew) are new. Three new featurettes ( 67 minutes) are all talking heads with critics, with Kim Newman sounding forth a little ramblingly on first Poe and then Lovecraft adaptations, and Anne Billson talking cats in horror.
These bonuses are a little hit and miss: audio quality on one of the Ligeia commentaries is offputtingly poor, while a German documentary on Peter Lorre’s career from 1984 is plodding and pretentious – still, their inclusion will satisfy completists. And there are gems too, like an insightful new interview with Corman’s assistant on Ligeia, or a short promo record for The Raven which amusingly presents it as “an adventure into monstrous terror”.
Plus, the accompanying booklet is superb: 200 pages long, it includes intelligent essays on all the films and one final treat: reproductions of the tie- in comic adaptations of three of the films. Ian Berriman
A Ghost Story Before Christmas
Release Date: OUT NOW!
2014 | 15 | DVD Director: Ashley Pierce Cast: Jodie Comer, Michael Palin, Mark Addy, Julia Sawalha, Sheila Hancock
scheduled in the run- up to Christmas when once it would have been parachuted right into the middle of it, this MR James- styled chiller made most of its headlines by being the series that welcomed Michael Palin back to dramatic acting. As eightysomething Tom, he’s absolutely the reason to watch, giving a tender and sweetly vulnerable performance that belies his relatively youthful 71 years.
As the teenage nurse at the centre of it all, Jodie Comer easily holds her own alongside a veteran- heavy cast, though Mark Addy’s journey from regular put- upon copper to someone who can talk about ghosts without raising an eyebrow takes some hard swallowing.
As a ghost story, Gwyneth Hughes’s three- parter seems to have been given more space than it needed. Supernatural fiction often needs some breathing space for atmosphere, but Remember Me’s favoured shots of dripping taps, mantlepieces groaning with old photos and moody shots of the Yorkshire skyline do feel tediously patience- testing after a while.
It’s certainly nice to look at, with some handsomely composed shots courtesy of cinematographer Tony Miller, but it’s all so leaden and self- conscious. Though Hughes and director Ashley Pierce should be commended for bucking the cliché and locating so many of their scares in broad daylight, Remember Me’s lumpish pace only reminds you quite how beautifully economical those old BBC MR James adaptations of the ’ 70s were.
None. Steve O’Brien Michael Palin’s last dramatic role was in GBH, which includes a hilarious sequence set at a Doctor Who convention.
All six films are compendiums of the crepuscular
Vincent Price’s nan has a shirt- sized hole in her best curtains.
BBC cuts hit his latest travelogue.