Wednesday, October 28, 2015

13 Films Of Halloween: TOMB OF LIGEIA

THE TOMB OF LIGEIA (1964)

Starring: Vincent Price, Elizabeth Shepherd, John Westbrook.
Written by: Robert Towne (CHINATOWN).
Directed by: Roger Corman
Produced by: Roger Corman




Still in England, but this time with some amazing exterior locations including Castle Acre Priory and *Stonehenge*! Though this film is also a little aloof and cerebral, it delivers many more old fashioned scares than RED DEATH, and makes my list of great mock-Hitchcock films. That’s probably what makes this film most interesting to me - that Corman and Towne seem to have put VERTIGO and REBECCA in a blender and come up with this Poe inspired story. 1964 was the year that Hitchcock released MARNIE, and this cheapo Corman film is a much better “Hitchcock film” than the Tippi-hair-fest.

In a strange twist on REBECCA we have a second Mrs. Fell dealing with a husband who is still obsessed with his first wife and keeping some deep and dark secrets about her death. As she tries to deal with her husband’s peculiarities, a seemingly haunted house, a dangerous black cat and solve the VERTIGO like mystery of Ligeia and her death (?) (which has echoes of the Mad Carlotta); the second Mrs. Fell moves from Wuthering Heights style costume drama to Edgar Allan Poe terror. Hey, there’s even a fox hunt like in MARNIE! And hints of a make over like in VERTIGO. And Ligeia ends up having something in common with Mrs. Bates. This really has the feel of a Hitchcock film.

Speaking of Wuthering Heights, once again these films give Vincent Price a chance to play a different and interesting character. From the sadistic Prince Prospero in RED DEATH to this, almost exact opposite character, as kind of a hunky brooding Heathcliff type whose spell our leading lady falls under... but does he have ulterior motives?



1821: Ruins. A funeral procession carries a coffin to a waiting grave... with a Priest chasing after them, “You can’t bury her in consecrated ground. She was not Christian!” Her husband Verden Fell (Vincent Price) insists. They have a little religious debate about whether the ground cares where she is buried, then a black cat yelps and jumps on to the coffin... and Ligeia’s eyes pop open! Fell opens the coffin and touches her - still dead. A nervous contraction. He closes her eyes and the coffin lid.



A fox hunt. A dozen men in red coats and black top hats ride horses chasing the hounds which are chasing the fox. Christopher (John Westbrook) and Rowena (Elizabeth Shepherd) leave the group - she’s found something far more intriguing... the Ruins. Rowena rides up to Ligeia’s grave... the ground in front of the headstone carpeted with fresh red flowers ... and that black cat snarls at her, causing the horse to rear up and buck her off. When she gets to her feet, a dark figure stands next to the massive headstone - Fell in Dark glasses. She screams and passes out. Christopher hears the scream and catches up... ends up introducing Rowena to Fell. Sparks of attraction - this is a “meet cute” in a graveyard. Fell *carries her* back to his house to take care of her injuries, while Christopher watches.

In his rambling old estate, Fell lays her down on a sofa and sees to her ankle... something sexual about removing her boot and stockings to apply the bandage to her sprained ankle. But Fell is cold, distant when she flirts with him. Christopher arrives with Rowena’s father Lord Trevanion (Derek Francis) who would rather show her the dead fox from the hunt than inquire as to her injury. Trevanion shows Fell the fox and asks if he’d ever seen one with these markings... and ends up getting a mini-lecture on the specific species of fox. It’s an Egyptian fox... and was the pet of his dead wife Ligeia. Trevanion is a moron. When they prepare to leave, the fox’s body is gone. How is this possible? The fox was dead. “The cat was not. It appears that the cat has made off with the fox.” They say their goodbyes, and Rowena’s flirtation is met with coldness again. But Rowena is hooked.



Days later a letter for Fell ends up at Christopher’s by mistake, and Rowena decides to deliver it. In the darkness of the house (Fell’s eyes are light sensitive) he mistakes Rowena for his dead wife and grabs her. Realizes his mistake and yells at her never to come to his house unannounced... insists on making her a cup of tea as an apology. “Does she look like me?” “Who?” And we’re in VERTIGO territory... Rowena continues flirting and he thaws for a moment. He is a permanently heartbroken man - after his wife died, he has been alone. His wife was so full of life that without her...

Rowena takes his face and brings him in for a kiss... when the black cat attacks her, leaving a scratch on her cheek.

That’s when Christopher shows up at the door. Fell leaves Rowena’s wounds to his butler Kenrick (Oliver Johnston) and goes to see Christopher... and asks him for some romantic advice. They take a walk through the grounds, ending at Ligeia’s grave. Someone has removed the date of her death from the headstone. Vandals? Christopher asks where is the date of her birth? “I never knew her age.” Fell believes this vandalism is prophetic of Ligeia’s *return*.



Meanwhile, Rowena asks butler Kenrick what Ligeia was like.

Rowena returns to the great room, sees that black cat guarding her hat and Fell’s dark glasses. She grabs her hat without incident, but the cat takes off with the glasses. She gives chase into an old spider-webbed passageway - dark and spooky and unused. Up a dark and dusty staircase... to the bell tower... more shades of VERTIGO! Where the black cat skitters across a very narrow ledge to the other side of a massive clock’s bell. Rowena carefully moves across the narrow ledge, carefully bends down to snatch the glasses from the cat’s mouth. But the cat bolts, and she almost falls.



At Ligeia’s tombstone, Fell wonders who would posses the skill to remove the date from the headstone... aside from himself. Then he sees the marble dust on one of his hands... did he remove the date himself? Without knowing? Has he gone crazy? Then the clock bell begins ringing - but it is not an even hour. What’s going on? Fell and Christopher run to find out.

In the bell tower, Rowena is trapped on that narrow ledge as the bell echoes around her. Plug her ears or hold on for dear life? She chooses to hold on. Fell carefully walks across that narrow ledge, rescues Rowena.



At 35:00, Bells continue to ring: Fell and Rowena’s wedding. Christopher watches the carriage take them away.

Rowena and Fell walk along the rugged coastline, and we’re in some version of REBECCA while they tell stories of their past Fell decides to sell the estate, and start his life again with Rowena... but until the estate can be sold, that will be their home.

After their honeymoon they return to the rambling old estate, where Kenrick has hired a cadre of servants who greet Rowena exactly as the servants greeted the new Mrs. DeWinter in REBECCA. Hey, new wife in the house haunted by the dead first wife? Rowena goes to bed that night and sees a strange reflection in the mirror - Ligeia? Her hairbrush has *black hairs* in it, like Ligeia’s. She runs into Fell’s bedroom - which is empty. In the middle of the night?



Welcome Home Dinner with Lord Trevanion and Christopher and some other guests. Christopher tells Fell there is a problem with the sale of the estate - the deed is in Ligeia’s name, and there doesn’t seem to be a death certificate for Ligeia (which would pass the estate to her husband). Fell says there never was a death certificate, so what now? Christopher says there will have to be an inquest into her death, so that a certificate can be issued. Perhaps the body will even have to be exhumed. Fell says that no one will go near Ligeia’s grave. Christopher explains that *legally* Ligeia is still alive, still Fell’s wife. The dinner conversation turns to hypnotism and regression therapy - uncovering blocked or forgotten memories... Fell says he knows how to administer hypnosis.

After dinner, Rowena grabs Christopher and whispers that Fell seems to vanish at night... strange. Then Fell calls Rowena to be his hypnotism subject. She remembers nothing about her mother, who dies when she was 3 years old. He hypnotizes her... and she remembers her mother singing to her as a baby... and then is *possessed* by Ligeia - speaking in a strange deep voice, repeating passages from Ligeia’s diary which she has never read (but a passage that Fell read to the Priest in the opening scene). “I will always be your wife!” Then Rowena passes out... and wakes up as herself. She is taken to bed. She wants to ask Fell some questions, but he kisses her goodnight and leaves.



Rowena has strange nightmares... the dead fox comes alive and attacks her. The black cat chases her. She runs through the dark and twisted hallways of the estate. Falls into a carpet of red flowers - the same flowers on Ligeia’s grave (the same flowers that Mad Carlotta wore in her hair in VERTIGO?) This is *not* AMERICAN BEAUTY! She leaves the bed of flowers and runs into Fell’s arms and embraces him... and he turns into death - clutching her.

She wakes up - starring into the face of that dead fox! Brought to her bed by the black cat as if it were a mouse. She screams, goes to Fell’s bedroom... which is once again empty. The balcony doors blowing in the wind. She walks slowly to the balcony doors, reaches for them... when they blast open exposing a dark figure! Fell. Oddly, with a tray of food in his hands. Rowena asks where he’s been, why he has the tray of food. What tray of food? Fell is surprised to see it in his hands - he was sleep walking. What?

He asks Kenrick about the tray of food - and gets no answer. But has the butler remove the dead fox from Rowena’s room. Rowena offers to spend the night with Fell, but he brushes her off. I know they went on a honeymoon, but have they not slept together since returning to this house haunted by Ligeia? What’s up with that?

Rowena takes Kenrick back to her room - but the dead fox is gone. Was it part of her nightmare?



Later, Rowena has tea with Christopher and tells him of her frustrations... and asks how she can he Fell’s wife if he is *technically* still married to the not legally dead Ligeia? Rowena believes that Ligeia is still alive, and that Fell goes to her every night. Taking her food, sleeping with her, still married to the woman who is not legally dead. Christopher says he will investigate this...

The black cat watches their discussion.

At the dinner table, Rowena is alone. She grabs a candle and drips wax on her food, then holds her hand over the flame. Kenrick asks if there’s something else he can get her - she answers “My husband.” That’s when Christopher drops in, asks Kenrick where Fell is... and demands and answer. Gives Kenrick the third degree as if they are in a courtroom (Christopher *is* a lawyer) - where is Fell? Where is Ligeia? Kenrick can answer neither question... which is odd, because isn’t Ligeia buried at the base of that headstone? Kenrick begs to leave and bolts out of the room. Christopher tells Rowena to go into her room and bolt the door and do not open it for anyone, especially her husband.



Christopher runs out to Ligeia’s grave, where a pair of laborers are digging up the coffin. He takes off his coat, rolls up his sleeves, grabs a shovel and helps them.

Rowena locks herself in her room... then hears the cat snarling from the other side of the door - banging on the door - hard! Then the banging stops... but the cat is inside the room. It attacks her. She races to the door, unbolts it, runs into the hallway - the black cat chasing her. Locks herself in Fell’s bedroom... but the cat is somehow inside and attacks her again! She races out to the balcony, trying to escape the cat... and spots what looks like a little door behind a plant. Opens it... a secrets passageway. She enters.

Christopher and the two laborers get down to the coffin... a storm on the horizon, thunder and lightning.



Rowena is in a maze of secret passages between rooms. Dusty, covered with spider webs, dark and creepy. The cat chases her. She comes to a doorway, throws it open and dives inside. A strange room filled with Egyptian artifacts. The black cat appears inside the room with her. She spins - and there is someone staring right at her! She screams... then realizes it is a mirror. But her scream has shattered the glass... and beyond the broken mirror she sees a narrow stairway going up. Where?

She breaks away the rest of the mirror and climbs the narrow stairs. Blood drips from her hand from handling the broken mirror. A deep gash.

Christopher brushes away the dirt from the small glass window in the coffin - and sees Ligeia’s face within. He grabs the lantern to take a closer look and drops it onto the window... breaking it... and setting the face within on fire! “Wax!” There isn’t a corpse within, but a wax sculpture. Ligeia is *not* in her coffin, a dummy is! But then, where is Ligeia?

When he looks up from the grave, Kenrick the butler stands over him, shovel in hand. To hit him? He helps Christopher out of the grave. “You must hurry, sir, it’s out of my hands now.”



At the top of the narrow stairs Rowena finds a dark room filled with bizarre sculptures. As she looks through the room a man enters through another secret passage - Fell. Rowena sees him, calls his name... he does not answer. He seems... hypnotized.

Rowena sees a draped area in the back of the room, moves towards it and throws open the black curtains. Exposing Ligeia (also Elizabeth Shepherd) in a black bed. Rowena screams, trips, and falls *onto* Ligeia. Gets tangled in her arms. Tangled in her body. But Ligeia does not move. She seems stiff. DEAD. *Preserved*. Ewww! Rowena untangles herself from the corpse and runs out of the curtained area... right at Fell. He stands there - like a zombie.



A voice from behind her, she spins - Christopher and Kenrick in the doorway. “He’s beyond any of us now. Beyond any shock. Come with us. He’ll come alone, when he can.” It seems that just before Ligeia died, she hypnotized Fell into believing that she would not die, so he should spend the nights with her up here in this room (um, necrophilia), and the days downstairs in his “normal life”. Kenrick says, “He is still held by her word. Only she can release him. And she is dead.”

Rowena has a plan: she attempts to hypnotize Fell the way he hypnotized her - hypnotize him to see her as Ligeia. “Look at me. I am Ligeia. Look at me now. And listen. And remember. Remember everything. Remember all I’ve ever asked of you - and when you do remember you will be free.” Then Rowena slides down to the floor, leaving a huge bloody swath across Fell’s white shirt. “It is too late.” She is dead.

Fell grabs Ligeia’s corpse from the black bed and tosses it into the fireplace (it’s a big one) and the corpse burns in the funeral pyre. Then he takes Rowena’s corpse and puts it on the bed where Dead Ligeia had lain, closes the black curtains and walks away. When he hears a noise - that damned black cat trying to suck the last breath from Rowena. He tosses the cat away. But, did Rowena move? He bends down to her body, looking for signs of life... finds none. Kisses her one last time and leaves her body on the bed, once more closing those black curtains. He walks across the room to the door...



When he hears the curtains open.

He turns, and there is Rowena walking from the bed chamber! Her hair black like Ligeia’s! Fell grabs Ligeia by the throat and strangles her until there is no life left... dropping her to the floor. Christopher runs back into the room, sees Fell standing over the woman’s corpse. Fell says that Ligeia killed Rowena, so he killed Ligeia. Only, it’s Rowena’s corpse at his feet!

Christopher takes Rowena’s body out of the room, down the stairs.

Fell grabs a whip and attacks the black cat - which fights back. Is the cat Ligeia? The cat launches at Fell’s face, tearing out his eyes! Fell staggers around, accidentally sending the curtain into the fireplace and turning the entire estate into a blazing inferno! As the building burns and collapses, Fell finds the black cat and strangles it... both die in the fire.

In Christopher’s carriage. Rowena’s eyes open. She is alive! That loser dude gets the girl after all!

Tomorrow we leave the land of Edgar Allan Poe but stick with Vincent Price for a film that may be a predecessor of SEVEN!

- Bill

Buy the pit



Tuesday, October 27, 2015

13 Films Of Halloween:
THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH

MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH (1964)

Starring: Vincent Price, Hazel Court, Jane Asher, Patrick Magee.
Written by: Charles Beaumont and R. Wright Campbell, based on Poe's MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH and HOP FROG.
Directed by: Roger Corman
Produced by: Roger Corman
Cinematography: Nicolas Roeg




The Poe series returns to horror after that brief comedy attempt, and even returns to a story that was originally adapted to be the second film in the series. After the success of USHER, the next in the series was originally going to be RED DEATH, but the story of a hooded Death seeking out victims during the plague was deemed too much like Bergman’s THE SEVENTH SEAL about a hooded Death seeking out victims during the plague. So the project was shelved at that time, and Corman went on to make PIT AND THE PENDULUM. But a few years later, everyone had forgotten that silly Swedish film and they decided to make RED DEATH, with R. Wright Campbell rewriting Beaumont’s original screenplay. Campbell had just written SECRET INVASION which Corman made for Allied Artists in Dubrovnik for $600k. Corman was often hired by studios to make big films on a small budget. Campbell went on to become a best selling novelist, and I have a bunch of his mysteries on my shelf.

Unlike the earlier films in the series, this was shot in England (due to a production incentive) on left over sets from BECKET, which would be nominated for 12 Oscars... including sets. So they ended up with Oscar winning sets... from another movie! The film also used one of the British stars of BECKET, David Weston, as the romantic lead Gino. The cast is filled with great British actors, many before they became famous. It’s weird to see M from the James Bond movies, Robert Brown, playing a *guard* in a couple of scenes!



One of the great things about making films on a budget is that you end up hiring young talent before they become famous, and the director of photography on this film is Nicolas Roeg. This film was fairly early in his career, though he had already done 2nd unit work on LAWRENCE OF ARABIA and the next year would do some 2nd unit work on DOCTOR ZHIVAGO. Roeg would eventually become a famous cinematographer, and then a famous director - he directed another great Halloween treat DON’T LOOK NOW. He’s one of my favorite directors because his films are “unstuck in time” and often smoothly bounce between time periods using match cuts.

Though this is a beautiful movie, it is more intellectual and less visceral. Where the first two Corman Poe movies were filled with dread and spooky scenes and disturbing situations and all kinds of great scares, this film is a “thinkie”. It’s all about people’s religious beliefs and the ability for humans to be cruel. Not as much about the cruelty itself. So where PIT may have had audiences screaming in terror, this film was more likely to have them discussing the meaning of life. It really is similar to THE SEVENTH SEAL!



A desolate landscape. An old woman gathering firewood is beckoned by a Man dressed in a long red cloak - The Red Death. He holds out a white rose to her, but in his hands the rose turns blood red. “Take this to your village and tell the people: The day of their deliverance is at hand.”

In the village, Prince Prospero’s carriage roars in at high speed... almost running over a toddler playing in the road. Prospero (Vincent Price) thanks the village for their taxes of grain and meat and invites them to his annual ball... where they will be confined to the courtyard and thrown table scraps (as one villager says). Another villager (Nigel Green from IPCRESS FILES) says that an old woman met a holy man who said their day of deliverance is at hand... deliverance from Prospero’s tyranny. Prospero orders the two men killed, but a young woman, Francesca (Jane Asher) begs him to spare them. Prospero gives her a Sophie’s choice - pick one to die. One is her fiancĂ© Gino (David Weston), the other her father. Interrupted by the old woman’s screams - she is dying of the plague... the Red Death. Her face covered with hideous bloody sores.



Prospero asks if either of the men or Francesca touched the old woman? No. So he takes the three with him and orders the village burned to the ground.

At the castle: Francesca is stripped and thrown in a bathtub. Prince Prospero orders his wife Juliana (Hazel Court and her freckled cleavage) to dress her in a fine gown and instruct her on being a lady so that she may attend the party as a guest. She shouldn’t worry - her lover and father ad safe.

In the castle’s ballroom, Alfredo (Patrick Magee from CLOCKWORK ORANGE) and Prospero discuss terror. Then Prospero introduces, for your pleasure, the dancers (both little people) Esmeralda (Verina Greenlaw) and HopToad (Skip Martin)- she does a graceful dance, but accidentally knocks over Alfredo’s wine goblet so he slaps her to the floor. HopToad goes to comfort her. Prince Prospero announces to his guests a masquerade ball at midnight Sunday... but do not wear red. He tells them that the Red Death has reached the village - the plague is just outside the castle walls - but here they are safe.



That’s when Francesca enters - she cleans up well. Prince Prospero takes her on his arm as he ridicules and insults his guests... and the other guests laugh.

Prospero takes Francesca into an apartment where she will stay and they discuss cruelty, and the cruelty of God for bringing famine and pestilence and death. Francesca believes God balances out those things with love and hope... but Prospero thinks there is little hope in this world. When Francesca moves to open a door in the apartment, Prospero blocks her - she is forbidden to go into that room. Tomorrow she can see her lover and her father.

That night, a shadow falls over Francesca as she sleeps... a noise awakens her. She lights a candle and searches the bedroom... a dark figure in the corner! Just her robe on a coatrack. She puts on the robe and follows the noise - echoes of Prospero doing some sort of incantation - through the dark, empty castle. To a pair of golden doors. She opens the doors, moving deeper and deeper into a dark room, to a final set of black doors. Beyond them - Juliana on a strange throne in a trance, Prospero seemingly dead on a slab. She goes to touch Prospero - and his eye blast open. She screams and runs out of the room, through all of the doorways, through the dark castle... where she bumps into a dark figure! Alfredo. “Did I startle you, my dear?” She runs away.



Next morning, Prospero shows Francesca how his falcon hurts and kills other birds... and explains how to turn a falcon into a slave (which is all subtext, baby!). And lets slip that where she worships God and is a Christian, he worships Satan the Lord Of Flies.

A carriage arrives - a late party guest Scarlotti and his wife. Prospero denies them entrance to the castle because the Red Death is upon the countryside. Scarlotti begs to be allowed in, tells Prospero he can screw his wife if they’d just let them in. Prospero says he’s already had that doubtful pleasure... then shoots him with an arrow and tells the wife she should kill herself before she succumbs to the Red Death and throws a sword down to her...

Great Nic Roeg match cut as the sword falls into Gino’s hand in the caste’s prison where a Knight (Robert Brown from the James Bond movies) explains that he will have to fight Francesca’s father to the death - only one will survive. So he’d better get to training. And Gino and the Knight sword fight. The Knight thinks this will be easy, but Gino has some skills. Prospero takes Francesco down to watch this sword fight. She sees that the two men in her life are alive... but for how long?



As they leave the prison, Francesca takes a wrong turn in the dark tunnels and Prospero corrects her, “This way my dear, it would be better.” She hears screaming from that wrong turn destination... the torture chamber. Prospero says his distant relative used that torture chamber during the Spanish Inquisition in the name of God (making Prospero some relative of Medina from PIT AND THE PENDULUM?). We get more discussion of religion... “I don’t want to hurt you my dear. I want to save your soul so that you can join me in the glories of Hell. I will take you by the hand, and lead you through the cruel light into the velvet darkness.”

Meanwhile, jealous Juliana decides the way to keep Prospero’s hands off Francesca is to go all the way with Satan, and gives her vows at a Satanic altar to give her soul to Satan... and seals the deal by branding her boobs with his symbol. Ouch!



In another part of the castle Alfredo and HopToad have a conversation about full sized women and HopToad’s interest in finding other employment... he fears for Prospero’s rein. HopToad is a clever and cunning man... a manipulator. He convinces Alfredo not to dress in his demon costume for the masquerade ball, but as a gorilla - there is an actual stuffed gorilla in a trophy room in the castle that no one has been in for decades. While all of the other guests are dressed in simple costumes designed to show off their bodies, Alfredo will be able to frighten them with his performance as a beast.

Francesca is awakened in the night by another noise... someone is trying to break into her room! She hides behind the curtains as the door bursts open! Juliana enters, and Francesca comes out from the curtains. Then notices Juliana’s boob brand - WTF? She says she has only one more rite and then she will be wed to Satan - and Prospero and eternal life will be hers. Then she gives Francesca a key - so that she can escape the castle. Take Gino and her father and leave now!



Francesca creeps through the dark tunnels under the castle to the prison area... sneaking past the guards to their cells. Through the spider webs, she looks through each cell door - a nice jump moment as a prisoner’s face pops into the cell window. She finds Gino and her father and rescues them... now they must sneak out of the prison. They are caught be the prison guards and there is a fight, Gino shows his sword skills - killing the three guards - and they escape. They get to the side door of the castle where Juliana has bribed the guards, and Francesca taps on the shoulder of the Guard, who spins to face her - it’s Prospero dressed as a guard!

Captured.

Francesca says that Juliana set them up, betrayed her! Prospero says Juliana betrayed *him*... and she will pay, as will Gino and her Father. She begs him, but Prospero says that Gino and her father killed three guards, that’s a sin in *her* religion, is it not? So they must pay for their sins... and fight each other to the death as an exhibition before the masquerade ball.



The big feast before the ball: Prince Prospero gives an anti-toast as he throws daggers into the massive dinner table, saying that not only will Scarlotti and his wife not be attending the celebration because they’re dead; there are people in attendance who have plotted against him... and will be punished as the party goes on. Guests begin looking at each other wondering if it’s them. Tonight’s festivities begin with two men fighting to the death. Francesca gasps as Gino and her father are brought into the room by guards. Prospero explains that these two men have refused to fight each other, since their religion tells them to love thy neighbor; but he has devised a way to allow them to save the other’s life. “There are five daggers here, one of them is impregnated with a poison that kills in five seconds. Each man in turn will cut his forearm. Shall we begin? Will you not lay down your life for your brother?”



Her father selects a knife and slices his arm... tick tick tick... five seconds later he is still alive. “Next.” Gino selects a knife and slices his arm... tick, tick, tick... everyone watches and suspense builds. Gino does not die. “Next.” Her father selects a knife and slices his arm... tick, tick, tick... guests eat and watch the show, but five seconds later her father still stands. “Next.” Gino selects one of the last two knives, sealing either his fate or Francesca’s father’s. He slices his arm... tick, tick, tick... big suspense build... but he is still standing after five seconds. All eyes are now on Francesca’s father and that last dagger. He smiles, pulls it from the table and says, “Five seconds” before stabbing the dagger at Prospero! But Prospero is faster with his sword and runs it through Francesca’s father before the poisoned blade can touch him. She screams as he father falls to the floor, dead. Prospero says the game was not played properly, so Gino will die as well. But not by Prospero’s hand, by *God’s hand* - Gino will be sent back to his plaque ravaged village. Francesca begs him to spare Gino, if Prospero does... she will do anything he wants. Anything. Prospero is pretty sure that will happen whether he saves Gino or not.

He dismisses all of the guests - return at midnight in costumes and let no one see you between now and then.

Then Juliana removes a red flower from the front of her gown to expose her branded boob and tells Prospero that she is ready.



The guards dump Gino in the woods, where he can hear the echoes of a woman’s scream coming from the castle. Francesca or Julliana? He runs through the dark and foggy woods where he bumps into... The Red Death. No chess playing, but a nice discussion with death about life, and how Gino can possibly rescue the woman he loves. The Red Death gives him a Tarot card... tells him this is the answer. But what is it? Gino hears a noise in the woods and runs towards it...

In the castle, HopToad dresses Alfredo in the gorilla’s skin. “Sure it’s hot, but after the unmasking you can take it off... the game will be over.” What is HopToad up to?

In the woods, Gino finds some surviving villagers going to the castle to beg forgiveness for whatever they have done to bring on the red death. Gino tries to stop them, fails.

In the castle, Juliana and her branded boob is in the Satanic Temple portion of the castle taking unholy communion... after she drinks the potion, she has a psychedelic dream (in tinted and warped images): Dancing Aztecs looking for a sacrifice, all kinds of other evil dudes looking for sacrifices... ending with her screaming. Waking up to Prospero’s laugh. “I am betrothed of the death, and I have seen the terror.”



She follows his echoing voice into the clock room of the castle, where a razor sharp pendulum also reminds us of PIT AND THE PENDULUM. The voice says the clock is like the beating of the heart, the footsteps of the assassin... destiny! And then the falcon attacks Juliana and tears away at her face as she screams! Since this isn’t a Hitchcock film it does not peck out her eyes (missed opportunity). She falls to the floor, dead... just as the guests show up for the masquerade ball! Much screaming ensues.

The masque begins!

The village survivors arrive at the castle gates and beg the Night Watch guards for mercy... they decide to inform Prince Prospero of this, it might amuse him. Gino tries to encourage the villagers to die like men. Gino walks away from them. Prospero listens to their pleas for sanctuary, and refuses - telling them to return to their village. “But we will die if we return.” So Prospero saves them a trip and has the archers shoot them all... except for the child.

Prospero joins the party in progress, telling the guests that only 6 people from the village survived the Red Death, but because his guests are within the castle walls there is no possibility of them contracting the plague. Francesca asks what happened to the six survivors, and Prospero said he had them killed... better than starving to death or dying of the plague, right? Now that Juliana is dead, Prospero plans on hooking up with Francesca.

Gino scales the castle walls to rescue the woman he loves... and when he drops within there is someone in the shadows watching him... Mr. Red Death himself. He orders Gino to go no further, and at the stroke of 1am, he will send Francesca to him. Gino doesn’t want to wait, but he has no choice.

In their chambers, HopToad tells Esmerelda that they will escape the castle tonight - Prospero is a larger threat than the plague. Then he leaves to accompany Alfredo to the party... as the gorilla’s trainer.



Alfredo is grabbing random women as the gorilla, he throws one to the floor and prepares too mount her. HopToad lowers the chandelier until it just over Alfredo, ties him to the chandelier and hoists him above the ballroom. Everyone laughs, HopToad splashes brandy all over Alfredo - as Alfredo splashed his wine on him once. Of course the brandy and the candles of the chandelier are a bad combination, and soon Alfredo is burning alive as the other guests watch. Prospero has the guards clear away the burned Alfredo’s corpse, and find HopToad... to give him 5 pieces of gold for providing the excellent entertainment.



Then Prospero notices a guest dressed in red, and he forbid them from wearing red! He goes to investigate - crossing the busy dance floor with Francesca. Chases him into the Satanic Temple. Prospero tries to guess the identity of the guest...
“Is my costume such a disguise that you don’t recognize me?”
Then he recognizes him, “So you have come. The Prince Of Darkness.”
“I am death.”
“Who do you come for? All?”
“Not all.”
Prospero smiles, “I knew I was right, I have won!”
“It is the time of unmasking,” Red Death returns to the ballroom, Prospero and Francesca follow. “It is time for a new dance to begin.”



In the ballroom, as Red Death walks past dancers they grow ugly red sores... until all of the guests have the sores of the plague. Prospero smiles, “Our master will be pleased. I brought all of these souls to him. I taught them his worship. I corrupted them for him. I knew he was supreme when no one else did. I built a chapel to Satan and I prayed to him and I made a pact with him and these, all of my friends, I promised them safety.” Prospero thinks his promise is the kind of joke Satan will appreciate. Red Death orders Francesca to go to the fortress wall, go now. Prospero says, “Yes, go... and I will join you when this is over,” and kisses her. Francesca leaves.



When she’s gone, Red Death says that Satan is not his master... Death has no master. Prospero tries to argue that Satan is the supreme God, but Death tells him that each man creates his own God, his own heaven, his own hell. Prospero demands to see Red Death’s face and yanks off the mask... exposing his own face covered with bloody sores. “No! No!” he runs away... across the dance floor of the damned. The dying guests reach out to grab Prospero, getting their blood all over him! When Prospero reaches the other side of the dance floor, Red Death is there waiting for him. You can’t escape death. And soon, all of the guests lay dead on the floor at Prospero’s feet.

Prospero runs back into the Satanic Temple... where Red Death waits for him. And Prospero’s face erupts in bloody sores and he falls to the floor dead.

The only survivors of the Red Death: HopToad and Esmerelda, Gino and Francesca, and the child from the village who was not shot by the castle archers.

Tomorrow, another British entry into the Corman/Price/Poe universe... this one heavily influenced by Alfred Hitchcock!

- Bill



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Monday, October 26, 2015

13 Films Of Halloween:
LAST MAN ON EARTH

LAST MAN ON EARTH (1964)

Starring: Vincent Price, Franca Bettoia, Emma Danielli.
Written by: Richard Matheson (as Logan Swanson) and William Leicester.
Directed by: Sydney Salkow.
Produced by: Robert Lippert (owner of a movie theater chain in the Bay Area!)




Okay, I am a huge fan of the Richard Matheson novel I AM LEGEND, even though I haven't read it in years. I first read it, probably in high school. Still have that copy. If you don't know who Matheson is, he's the guy who wrote all of those TWILIGHT ZONE episodes you remember. Seriously - make a list of 5 episodes and I'll bet at least 3 of them are his. Anyway, that's how I discovered him. I was a fan of old THE TWILIGHT ZONE TV show, noticed that Matheson wrote some of my favorite episodes, discovered that he wrote books, too... and Stephen King called his haunted house book HELL HOUSE the best horror novel ever written. And Matheson also wrote the book that was made into INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN, one of my favorite Saturday afternoon Sci-Fi movies. Matheson was also the screenwriter on all of the previous Corman Poe movies except PREMATURE BURIAL.

This was the first adaptation of I AM LEGEND, which would be made twice more - once with Chuckles Heston and once with Will Smith (and is up for a reboot now)... and was the inspiration for NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (so just about every modern zombie movie owes its existence to the book). Here's the thing - no one has ever done a completely faithful version of the book. So, several years ago they decided to correct that, and make *the book*. A screenplay was written that everyone loved - exactly like the book (which is awesome by the way). They needed a star, and Ah-nuld stepped up - not the guy I see playing Robert Neville, who is kind of a typical 1960s suburban husband. But I would accept Ah-nuld if the movie was like the book, rather than like that ultra macho mindless Heston version. Then Ah-nuld became governator and the project was shelved.... Until someone dug it out and did a bunch of rewrites and some more rewrites and suddenly it was nothing at all like the book... and so they made it with Will Smith, and it is the *least faithful* version of the book! I can only hope that this new reboot goes back to the theory of making a more faithful version of the book. Until then, this old movie from the 1960s is the best version.



The book is kind of a through-the-looking-glass commentary on 1960s suburban life - the kind of stuff on LEAVE IT TO BEAVER and OZZIE & HARRIET and FATHER KNOWS BEST. Robert Neville is the typical suburban husband and father who carpools to work every day with his buddy Ben Cortman... then a plague breaks out that turns everyone into vampires. Now all of his neighbors and everyone he knows lives at *night* and he is the sole person who lives by day - his world has been turned completely upside down.

His car pool buddy Ben Cortman is now the leader of the vampire clan in his suburban town (I think it was either Pasadena or Glendale in the novel) - and comes for him every night, pounding on his door and screaming for him to come out... so that they can kill him. Every day Neville goes from house to house through the town, searching for the vampires and driving stakes through their hearts... mostly searching for the leader, Cortman. The people he stakes - are his neighbors, his friends. It's a terrible job, but they become an army at night... and soon they will be powerful enough to get through the barricaded windows and doors of his typical suburban home. Every morning, his lawn is littered with dead vampires - people he knows. He has to clear them, take them to the giant bonfires that were designed to burn the dead when the plague had just begun taking lives...



The film opens with the sun rising on the horizon, which may just seem like a nice shot... but it is life or death for Robert Morgan (Vincent Price). Next we see some spooky shots of a city - empty. Not a single person on the streets. No cars moving. Nothing. As we get closer - there are cars wrecked on the side of the roads and dead bodies in the streets. What happened? A sign in front of a church says: The End Has Come!

Now to suburbia - and Robert Morgan’s typical suburban house... dead bodies on the lawn. The alarm goes off, and Morgan wakes up. It’s 3 years after the apocalypse - the plague which wiped out everyone but himself. He goes about his typical morning - coffee, checking the garlic wreath on his front door, checking his electricity generator in the garage... where his typical suburban station wagon is housed. Unbolting and opening the garage door, and loading up all of the dead bodies on his lawn into the back of that station wagon, using his ham radio to see if there is anyone else out there... but he is alone.



A map on the wall shows all of the sectors of the city where he has searched for their “nest” - the place they hide from the sunlight during the day. He grabs a bag of wooden stakes and heads out for the day... a typical day in the life of Robert Morgan. His first stop is the fire pit where he disposes of the bodies. Then he goes shopping - an abandoned supermarket where he picks up garlic and supplies. Then he goes searching for sleeping vampires... staking the ones he finds. Then disposing of those bodies at the fire pit. Then he heads home before dark. New garlic wreaths for the doors and windows, and then night... alone in the house as they attack, lead by Ben Cortman (Giacomo Rossi Stuart) his old car pool buddy from before the plague. “Morgan come out! Come out!” He cranks the music to drown out their voices.

The next morning, it begins again...

He begins making a new batch of stakes on his lathe... then quits and goes to the mausoleum where his wife’s coffin is... and accidentally falls asleep there. When he wakes up, the sun has set! The vampires rule the world. He must get past an army of vampires to get back to his car, then speeds away.



At his house, Ben Cortman waits for him and an army of vampires surround the house. He gets out of the car and makes it to his front door, battling vampires along the way. Once inside, he is safe. That night, he plays home movies of his wife Virginia (Emma Danieli) and daughter Kathy (Christi Courtland) in happier times... his daughter’s birthday party. Ben Cortman is there - they were best friends before all of this. Morgan breaks down...

28:45 minutes in, Morgan flashes back to before the plague...

Kathy’s birthday party. Ben Cortman comes with presents - Kathy showers him with kisses, then goes to play with all of the other kids. When she is gone, Ben shows Morgan a newspaper story - Hundreds Killed By Plague. The plague is carried by the wind, will it reach the United States? Ben and Morgan are scientists working on the plague.



Weeks later, the winds are blowing and Kathy is sick. The plague? Or maybe just the flu? Virginia claims to feel fine, but she is secretly ill as well. Morgan is worried about Kathy... Virginia is scared.

At the Mercer Institute (like the CDC) Morgan and Ben try to solve the riddle of the plague. The streets are filled with bodies, which the government tries to take to the fire pit. The rumor is that if the bodies are not burned... they come back. As vampires. Morgan thinks these are just crazy rumors, Ben thinks it’s possible that the virus can cause vampirism. That’s crazy talk...

Kathy contracts the plague... and goes blind. The final stage before death. He and Virginia do everything they can to see to her medical condition. Virginia wants to call a doctor, but Morgan warns if they call a doctor the doctor will be forced to report Kathy as infected, and... They want a funeral, but if she dies under a doctor’s care they will take her body to the huge bonfire pit and toss her in with the others. There is nothing as sad and horrible as the mass pit where they burn the dead from the book... And that is also in this Vincent Price version.



Morgan’s turn to drive, he goes to pick up Ben and head to work. Ben has hung garlic wreathes from his door and gone into full survivalist mode - he’s not leaving the house ever again. Morgan drives to the lab alone... and find the lab vacant except for his boss Dr. Mercer. The only two people left to find the cure.

When Morgan goes home, he sees one of the government trucks driving down the street. His daughter Kathy has died... Virginia is practically catatonic. She called the doctor and...

Morgan gets in his car and races to catch up with the truck. There are crowds of people at the fire pit, mourning their loved ones as they are thrown into the flames. Morgan breaks though the lines, chased by guards, and tries to stop them from tossing Kathy’s body into the fiery mass grave. Instead, gets there just in time to see her body thrown into the pit with all of the others.



A few days later, it’s Virginia who has gone blind... and then dies from the plague. Can he call for the government truck to take her corpse to the fire pit? “No. I won’t let them put you there. I promise. I won’t let them put you there.” So he sews her up in a shroud and sneaks out in the middle of the night with her corpse in the back of the station wagon... and buries her somewhere beautiful. Under a nice tree. Where she can be at peace. .

Night. Home. Alone. He hears a sound... a whisper... “Let me in. Let me in.” The front door knob is moving! He opens the door to see who’s there...



His wife Virginia, covered in dirt! “Robert... Robert...” She tries to embrace him, to sink her teeth into him and feed off him. He backs away... This is the love of his life... back from the dead! A miracle. He just wants to hold her in his arms. Kiss her. Tell her how much he has missed her, how much he loves her... But instead he must pound a stake into her heart! This scene destroys him... and destroys us.

52:45 we come out of the flashback, Robert Morgan remembering what he was forced to do to what was once his wife. Outside his car pool buddy Ben Cortman - after he turns into the car pool buddy from hell - and his gang have torn the station wagon apart. These two characters had a *history* and a *relationship* which brings drama and baggage to the scenes where Cortman and Morgan battle each other. Having to kill his friends and neighbors by day is gut wrenching - a normal guy having to do terrible things to survive. But this is his new life, and has been his life for three years, now.

The next morning Robert wakes up, survey’s the damage.



He goes car shopping, comes home with a new station wagon. As he parks it, he sees the dog poking around for food. He tries to catch it, but the dog speeds away. The animal hasn’t stayed alive all of these years by allowing itself to be caught. But the dog is *hope* - another living thing! He isn’t the last living thing on earth. He searches for the dog without success... but does find a group of vampires staked with iron bars. That means there is another *human* alive somewhere.

Back at home he tries the ham radio again, trying to find that other human out there. Hears the dog yelping outside. Unbolts his front door and goes out to get him... the dog has been injured. Brings him in, tends to him. Morgan now has a friend... at 60 minutes.



He checks the dog’s blood... it has the plague. He’s forced to stake it before it turns on him. There is no hope.

As he is burying the dog, he spots a figure in the distance... in the daylight... a woman? 62 minutes in, Robert Morgan is not alone. He chases the woman, who runs like hell. He finally catches her. “Wait! I couldn’t be out here in the daylight if I was one of them. You know that they can’t come out until sundown. Do you want to come with me? Or do you want to face them?” She comes with Morgan... following him home as the dog did.

At Morgan’s house, he makes dinner for her. She is Ruth Collins (Franca Bettoia), her husband died in the plague. Morgan grabs a bunch of garlic and pushes it against her face, she turns away - and he accuses her of being one of them. He doesn’t trust *anyone* anymore. She says she watched her husband torn to pieces by those... things... and now he thinks that she is one of them?



Morgan relents, apologizes, and serves her dinner... but she isn’t hungry.

That night, Ben Cortman pounds on the door and yells fro Morgan to come out. He tells Ruth that Ben used to be his best friend, but now? “When I find him I’ll drive a stake through him, just like all the others.” She wonders how he can do that to someone who used to be his friend.

Morgan wants to give her a blood test, to make sure she isn’t infected. She just wants him to trust her - no blood test.

That night, Morgan hears her coughing in her room and goes in to see if she’s okay - discovers her shooting up! She admits, she *was* one of them. But now she is cured, as long as she gets her injection every night. A cure. “We’ve had it for some time, now.”



“We?”
The vampire society... she’s a spy sent to find out what Morgan knows, but it seems he knows much less than they do. “We’re alive. Infected, yes, but alive. We’ve organized a society.”
“And you want me to join?”
“You *can’t* join us. You’re a monster to them. Why do you think I ran when I saw you? Even though I was supposed to spy on you, I was so terrified... from what I’ve heard about you. You’re a legend in the city. Living by day instead of night, many of the people you destroyed were still alive. You are a monster!”
She tells him they are coming for him tonight, and he job is to keep him here, in the house, until they come. To kill him. For all of the murders that he has committed.




She passes out... and when she wakes up, Morgan is giving her a transfusion of his blood. His immune blood has cured her. He gives her a wreath of garlic, and she can breath it without getting sick. She’s cured! Morgan says he can cure *everyone* with his blood. That’s when the Vampire Military comes to capture Morgan. They kill Ben Cortman and all of the “uncured” vampires and chase Morgan through the streets. Eventually they corner him in a church... and they stake *him*. As he lays dying, Ruth comforts him. “They were afraid of *me*? And he dies.

“We’re all safe now.”



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Though I haven't read the novel in years, one of the things I loved about it when I first read it was how it looked at vampires *scientifically* - all of the vampire lore gets a logical explanation that makes complete sense. In the book, Neville doesn't begin as a scientist, the part of his days not staking his friends and neighbors is spent trying to figure out what happened - and that leads him to learn about science and learn about the plague at the abandoned public library... which gives us all of these amazing logical reasons behind vampires being killed by wooden stakes, and garlic repelling them, and light burning them. You read the book and begin to believe that vampires *could* really exist. That feeling is in this film as well - with Morgan testing the blood of the dog and then Ruth.

The book's title comes from the end - a huge twist where we discover that Neville is a monster to the vampires. To them, he's a serial killer. I think they could have pulled that twist end in today's popcorn world in the Will Smith version or even this new reboot. I think as long as 99% of the film has Neville as "hero", that 1% where we reveal he's a monster won't rock the boat too much. And he's still a vampire killer - which may be a good thing to most of the audience. But to those of us who were looking for more than popcorn, that end would have had us thinking about being on the right side or wrong side in a war - is there really any difference? On both sides, people are killed.

There's a Matheson short story about a suburban guy who cuts himself shaving... and bleeds oil. Now, everywhere he looks he sees people eating greasy food and realizes that he's lived with his eyes closed his entire life - and he is a robot. I think the end of LEGEND and this Price film version has Neville opening his eyes... and Cortman and all of the vampires are not really any different than they were before - they still have their eyes closed. They see him as a monster... and he gets a chance to see them as people.

It's strange that this cheapo Vincent Price version you can download on the internet for free is closest to the book. Even though Richard Matheson wrote the screenplay for this version, *he* thought it got watered down on the way to the screen due to budget limitations and censorship restrictions and used a pseudonym. The film was shot in *Italy* subbing for suburban USA and every movie had to be acceptable for general audiences - and the book deals with the sexual issues of being the last man on earth surrounded by naked vampire women who are using their bodies to lure him out to their undeadly embrace. Matheson wished the film had more money and more artistic freedom, but oddly the two films made when with larger budgets and more freedom ditched what makes this story great - it holds up a mirror to *our world* and *our lives*. But, maybe this new reboot will be a faithful version. Who knows?

Bill



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Sunday, October 25, 2015

13 Films Of Halloween: Vincent Price

Vincent Price died on this day (October 25th) in 1993 at the age of 82.

He was born in St. Louis, Missouri on May 27, 1911, into a fairly well-to-do family. His grandfather had invented “Dr. Price’s Baking Powder, used in kitchens across America and his father was the president of the National Candy Company (Jellybeans! Their factory in St. Louis is now a National Historic Landmark building). He graduated from Yale with a degree in Art History, and continued his education at the University Of London aiming for a Masters Degree in Fine Arts... but got mixed up with the wrong crowd (Orson Welles) and ended up acting on stage with the Mercury Theatre in London in 1935. By 1936 he was back in America playing the male lead on stage opposite Helen Hayes in a production of Victoria Regina. As an actual actor, who played a variety of very different roles, when Hollywood called they made him a character actor. His first film was SERVICE DE LUX (1938) but he became “famous” when he played the “kept man” in one of my favorite movies LAURA (1944).



Like all actors under studio contracts, Price had been working in dozens of films up until then, including his first horror film TOWER OF LONDON (1939) with Boris Karloff - who he’d work with in these AIP horror ficks that we’ve been looking at. In 1940 he filled in for Claude Raines in THE INVISIBLE MAN RETURNS and played that role again in one of my favorite horror films ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN.

Being a character actor in studio B movies meant Price also ended up in a bunch of other Film Noirs besides LAURA - he’s in THE WEB and THE LONG NIGHT and THE BRIBE and several others. His mid-Atlantic accent and ability to play all types of characters made him a great villain or suspect in these films.

In 1956 he co-starred in the epic blockbuster THE TEN COMMANDMENTS with Chuckles Heston, who would later play the same role as Price had played in LAST MAN ON EARTH in the schlocky mega-macho version OMEGA MAN.

He returned to horror films in the 3D HOUSE OF WAX (1953) and continued with films like THE FLY (1958) and RETURN OF THE FLY (1959) and THE TINGLER (1959).

Which brings us up to the films that we’ve been looking at in this series - THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL (1959) and the Roger Corman Poe films.

After doing dozens of TV guest starring roles (including villain Egghead on BATMAN) and becoming a regular on THE HOLLYWOOD SQUARES, Price “retired” in the mid-1970s and returned to the stage, plus his love of art and cooking. He hosted a cooking show! The strangest piece of his biography is that he became an Art Consultant to Sears Department Stores which actually sold fine art and reproductions to suburbanites who wanted to seem sophisticated through a kind of “art of the month club”. Price personally selected the art works and thought of this as bringing an appreciation of fine art to a mass audience. Price also donated hundreds of pieces of art from his collection to the East Los Angeles College and established a museum there. He died of lung cancer at UCLA Medical Center on this day in 1993.

I was trying to figure out the best film to highlight Vincent Price’s career today... and decided on an early animated film by Tim Burton you may not have ever seen, called...

VINCENT (1982):



- Bill

Saturday, October 24, 2015

13 Films Of Halloween:
A COMEDY OF TERRORS

THE COMEDY OF TERRORS (1963)

Starring: Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff, Basil Rathbone. Written by: Richard Matheson Directed by: Jaques Tournier Produced by: James H. Nicholson (American International Pictures)



This was one of my favorites as a kid, not based on a Poe story but an original screenplay by Richard Matheson. It was not a big hit like the previous Price AIP movies, and the blame always seems to land on having the word “comedy” in the title... but unlike THE RAVEN, here the comedy really works because the whole story is played straight. The characters are all “serious” and it’s their reactions to the ghoulish situations which are funny. The line from this film I use in real life every once in a while is “What place is this?” After seeing the film, you may, too!



Spooky graveyard opening scene... a funeral in the fog. Undertaker Trumbull (Vincent Price) and his assistant Gillie (Peter Lorre) wait until the funeral ends and the friends and family of the dearly departed have left before lifting the coffin over the hole... and dumping the body from the coffin into the hole! They clean out the coffin, fill in the hole, take the coffin back to their horse drawn hearse, and take off into the fog!

Rhubarb The Cat scurries down a Victorian street, through a doorway, and down to the basement of the funeral parlor where Mr. Gillie works building a crappy coffin, trying to ignore the marital spat from upstairs...



Trumbull and his wife (Joyce Jameson) are arguing at the dinner table, her deaf father Hinchley (Boris Karloff) continues eating. She accuses Trumbull of being a drunk, he says she’s a shrew, she says he only married her for her father’s funeral business, he says who else would have her? Domestic bliss. Old Hinchley keeps mis-hearing what is said and responding inappropriately. Trumbull suggests he give Old Hinchley some “medicine” and shows his wife a bottle of poison he keeps in his pocket. He pours it into Old Hinchley’s milk, and Mrs. Trumbull snatches the milk away before Hinchley can drink it - Old Hinchley complains that she keeps taking away his medicine before he can drink it... she doesn’t care whether he lives or dies. The poison in the milk becomes a running gag throughout the story. The Trumbull & Hinchley Funeral Parlor is having serious financial problems - only one customer in the past 9 months. And Old Hinchley (Mrs. Trumbull’s father) spent his fortune on junk Nic-knacks filling up shelves throughout the house. Trumbull hurls a final insult at his wife and leaves.

On the street outside he bumps into Mr. Black (Basil Rathbone) his landlord who reminds him that his rent is late again, and threatens eviction if he is not paid within 24 hours. Trumbull will have to take up residency in the streets... unless he can drum up some business.

When Trumbull returns to the house, he has a meeting with Gillie about drumming up some business. At midnight they take the hearse out to a mansion on Winkle Road where they break in, and in trying to be quiet manage to make all kinds of noise, at one point causing a domino run of famous people’s plaster busts crash into each other on the way to the floor. While opening upstairs doors trying to find their victim, Trumbull stumbles on his sleeping wife (stripper Beverly Hills) - a real hottie. He finds Phipps’ bedroom and smothers him with a pillow. A new customer! The next morning, they hear the maid scream and show up to help them in their time of need.



Funeral for Phipps, Gillie secretly admires Mrs. Trumbull as she plays the organ... but the widow hasn’t shown yet. In fact, she doesn’t show at all, so Trumbull head to her house... where the Maid is leaving. The house has been cleared out and the Widow Phipps has moved to Boston without paying the Maid, let alone leaving behind any money to pay for the funeral.

They must find another customer...

A knock at the door - the eviction notice from Mr. Black.



Hey, a perfect customer! They can kill two birds with one pillow.

That night they ride out to Mr. Black’s house... but have trouble breaking in. The doors are all bolted from the inside as are all of the windows. But are the upstairs windows bolted? One window way at the top of the house seems to be open. Trumbull forces Gillie to climb the wall of the house... and he bumbles his way up to the window and into the house. Where Mr. Black is reading Macbeth in bed... outloud. Not asleep. He grabs a sword from his wall and begins *performing* the play! Spots Gillie and... has a heart attack!



The Doctor pronounces Mr. Black as dead, but his servant mentions that Mr. Black suffers from catalepsy. The Doctor runs a couple more Victorian era tests - and says Black is quite dead. Trumbull gets a customer without having to use the pillow. Trumbull and Gillie bring the dead Mr. Black back to the funeral parlor and lay him out...

And Gillie sees Mr. Black *move*! “What place is this?” Black says as he sits up. Trumbull explains that it’s the funeral parlor and *everyone* has seen that he’s dead, so... Mr. Black gets up and runs like hell! They catch him, but before they can kill him... he drops dead on the floor. They check him - dead - put him in the coffin (they only have the one) and head to the door to go to sleep when...

The coffin lid creaks open. “What place is this?”



Gillie and Trumbull rush back in and struggle with Mr. Black, trying to get the coffin lid closed. Eventually Trumbull hits him in the head with a hammer. They gag him and chain him inside the coffin...

The funeral for Mr. Black...

Black is laid out in his coffin as Mrs. Trumbull sings a funeral dirge “He is not dead, but sleeping”... Then Hinchely gives an amazing rambling eulogy for the crowd in the funeral parlor... forgetting the word “coffin” until he has a coughing fit. Just as the funeral ends, Mr. Black’s hand moves...



The bigger problem is that Mr. Black is not being buried, but put in the family crypt at the graveyard... which means that one coffin that Trumbull and Gillie have been using for the past 13 years will be locked inside the crypt’s gates and they will have to buy a new coffin... that may eat up much of what they made from this funeral! The crypt is locked, everyone leaves, and a voice from within the coffin asks: “What place is this?”

Celebration at Hinchley and Trumbull as they are paid... Trumbull tears up the eviction papers and fondles the stacks of silver coins in front of him, while Old Hinchley plays the fiddle and Mrs. Trumbull and Gillie dance together... Gillie has always had a crush on big bosomed Mrs. Trumbull. Mrs. Trumbull rejects his advances and goes to her husband... who would rather count his money than go up to bed with his wife. So she goes back to Gillie, and tells him that she will run away with him.

Meanwhile, at the graveyard (at the 60 minute mark) the Caretaker (Joe E. Brown) hears moaning and screaming in the night! He follows the sounds to Mr. Black’s crypt... and the lid pops open and Mr. Black gets out! The Caretaker faints, and Mr. Black is unleashed upon the world, seeking vengeance!

Mrs. Trumbull and Gillie prepare to run away together...



Mr. Black grabs an ax on the way to the funeral parlor...

Trumbull wakes up (drunk) after hearing a noise down in the basement and explores the dark and spooky room. Suspense builds as he pokes around - we know that Mr. Black and that ax are *somewhere* in the house. Trumbull is startled by a mirror, a painting of Hinchley, and even Rhubarb the cat... but the basement is empty. He goes back into the living room and his bottle... not seeing the muddy footprints on the stairs which lead up to the bedrooms.

Mrs. Trumbull is just finishing packing when the door handle to her bedroom begins to turn. She hears it, thinks it is Gillie, and prepares to welcome him to her ample bosom... but it’s Mr. Black and his ax! “Blood will have blood, they say!” She screams.



Both Trumbulll and Gillie race upstairs (separately) bumping into each other as they reach Mrs. Trumbull’s door. They break it open to find Mrs. Trumbull on the floor and Mr. Black swinging his ax down at her head! But the noise of the door causes him to miss her head by a fraction of an inch. He turns, raising the ax at the two men! Races at them! They both trip and his ax misses them. They run down the hallway into a spare bedroom, lock themselves inside. Before you can say THE SHINING, Mr. Black uses the ax on the door, punching a hole in it. Trumbull and Gillie find a hiding place as Mr. Black enters with the ax, and begins searching for them. At one point, Trumbull sees that Black has his back turned and races out of the hiding place. Gillie hears feet running down the stairs, comes out of the hiding place and says to Trumbull, “Thank heavens he has gone.” But it is *not* Trumbull on the other side of the room, it is Mr. Black with his ax!

Gillie races downstairs - tripping and rolling most of the way. Mr. Black moves down to where he is sprawled on the floor, lifts the ax and...

Trumbull shoots him.

Which only makes Mr. Black angry - he charges Trumbull with the ax!

Trumbull shoots him again.

Mr. Black goes down, dead.

Then stands up... quoting Shakespeare.

Then falls down dead.

Then stands up... more Shakespeare!

He keeps dying and then getting back up... until he finally seems to actually die. But who can really tell?

Mrs. Trumbull comes downstairs, finds Gillie at the base of the stairs and accuses Trumbull of killing him. She says she’s going to the police... and Trumbull strangles her. She falls to the floor, dead. When Gillie comes to, he sees her dead and attacks Trumbull with the sword which has been on the wall since Ac t 1. They get into a sword fight, ending with Trumbull hitting him on the head with the sword, and he falls to the floor, dead. Trumbull is surrounded by bodies, when there is a knock at the door.

The door opens - one of the Mourners from Mr. Black’s funeral says that Mr. Black has escaped from his crypt... he wasn’t dead after all!

Then looks down to Trumbull’s feet to see Mr. Black shot several times - dead now. And the bodies of Mrs. Trumbull and Gillie. He says he’s going to the police as he backs out the door. Trumbull has gone crazy and killed everyone! Trumbull passes out from all of the booze he’s consumed...

And Mrs. Trumbull wakes up - not quote dead - and sees Gillie laying near her, and then he wakes up... and they fall into each other’s arms. Each thought the other was dead. They leave in each other’s arms - to start a new life together.



Old Hinchley wanders downstairs wondering what all the racket is about, finds Trumbull passed out and prods him with a finger... Trumbull groans, and Hinchley says he must be feeling poorly. But wait - Trumbull always keeps that vial of “medicine” in his pocket! Hinchley takes out the vial, pours most of it into Trumbull’s mouth, sees that there are a few drops left and drinks it. Trumbull wakes up, discovers what Old Hinchley as done... poisoned him! Old Hinchley says he’s going back to bed and climbs back up the stairs as Trumbull dies from the poison below.

Rhubarb the cat wanders into the room, sits on dead Mr. Black’s chest...

Just as Mr. Black’s eyes pop open - sees the cat looking at him, and says: “What place is this?”

Fade out.

Bill



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