Six Gothic Tales

They Ush­ered in a new age of hor­ror

SFX: The Sci-Fi and Fantasy Magazine - - DVD & Blu-Ray -

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.

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