Saturday, October 31, 2015

13 Films Of Halloween:
FROM A WHISPER TO A SCREAM

FROM A WHISPER TO SCREAM (1987)
Aka THE OFFSPRING

Starring: Vincent Price, Clu Gulager, Susan Tyrell, Cameron Mitchell, Lawrence Tierney, Terry Kiser (WEEKEND AT BERNIES), Rosalin Cash (OMEGA MAN) and many others - great cast!
Written by: C. Courtney Joyner, Darin Scott, Jeff Burr.
Directed by: Jeff Burr
Produced by: Bill Burr & Darin Scott


Happy Halloween!



This brings the series to a conclusion, and I’ve had a lot of fun writing these entries. All of these great films from my childhood - watching on late night TV on Halloween night - this was reliving my childhood watching Bob Wilkens’ CREATURE FEATURES and the kids matinee movies they showed at Pleasant Hill Intermediate School on Saturday afternoons. Watching the films again has been a blast, and looking at how they delivered scares on low budgets without gore or much in the way of special effects. Those Corman movies used suspense and dread and shock moments - and I tried to point all of them out in the synopsis so that you can see how the films work. These were all films that you could show to an auditorium full of kids... and provide some “safe screams”.



But some of you are wondering, “Where was THE FLY? Where was TALES OF TERROR? Where was THE TINGLER?” Hey, there are easily 13 more Vincent Price horror films that I didn’t use this time... so maybe I’ll do those next year.

For our last film I decided to go with a film late in Vincent Price’s career, after his “retirement” from movies. When you read a biography of Price they always say he came out of retirement to do two films, WHALES OF AUGUST and EDWARD SCISSORHANDS... but they never mention this film! The actual return from retirement movie. Oh, and made by a whole bunch of people I know. Directed by my friend Jeff Burr, produced by my friend Darin Scott, written by my friend C. Courtney Joyner (plus Darin and Jeff), and even some of the cast members are people I know. Met these folks at a series of Fangoria conventions I went to when I was still living in the Bay Area... and at AFM (maybe the year they were selling the film as THE OFFSPRING - I had a long conversation with Bill Burr on one of the balconies as we looked down at the “Lobby Rats”). Since the film was 1986, and that was my first year ever at AFM, these guys may have been the first people I met in Los Angeles! I saw the film at AFM, which means I probably saw it before it was released by MGM under the new title the next year.



Katherine White (Martine Beswick) is being executed in a Tennessee prison, as the Warden (Lawrence Tierney, pre-RESEVOIR DOGS “comeback”), the death is not instantaneous nor pleasant. Reporter Beth Chandler (Susan Tyrrell) watches in horror...

Oldfield, Tennessee: a spooky old house that is a combination town Library, town bureau of records, and residence - where the White family lived. Beth knocks on the door, finds it open, ventures inside to discover Mr. Julian White (Vincent Price) in the library section. He was the uncle of the executed woman. Beth wants the full story - Katherine killed her first man at age 7 and continued her killing spree until she was caught at 32. Why? What could have caused her to kill at 7? White says his niece’s execution will not end the problem - Oldfield is serial killer central, many a killer has called this place home. A cursed town. White tells the stories of some of the residents like...



Stanley Burnside (Clu Gulager), who wakes up screaming after dreaming of his dead and bloody wife. A quiet small town man. Lonely. He watches a pretty girl, Grace (Megan McFarland), at en employee barbeque for the meat packing company he works for. That night his sister Ellen (Miriam Bird-Nethery) is suffering from a fever and he has to bathe her in ice water, washing down her naked old body. This is more horrifying than that execution - as the wrinkled old sister is digging having her brother touch her naked flesh.

At work he shyly flirts with Grace, who gives him the cold shoulder.

One night, he calls her to ask her out on a date... and she refuses at first... then relents. Sister Ellen is jealous that he’s got a date.



At some cheap family chain restaurant they have an awkward meal together... afterwards on the drive back, she pretty much shoots him down big time. He forces a kiss on her, and she insists he take her home. When she keeps shooting him down, he strangles her to death... the tail light of the car blinking as they struggle. He dumps her on the side of the road and drives away.

Next day at work the Foreman announces that a fellow employee was killed the night before. There will be a funeral in a couple of days and they will be given time off to attend. A coworker notices that Stanley has scratches on the side of his face.



Night. The funeral home. Someone breaks a basement window and crawls inside... Stanley making a late night visit. Grace is laid out in a coffin for tomorrow’s funeral, surrounded by flowers. Stanley brings champagne, tells the corpse they can’ let something like this get in the way of their romance. Oh, yeah - it’s going there. Stanley kisses her corpse, then undresses both of them and gets busy...

Nine months later...

He comes home from work to find his sister wanting a bath... and wearing a ton of make up. Um, what’s up with that? Stanley breaks up the ice with an ice pick and pours some in the tub. His sister keeps talking on and on and on... and finally Stanley just pushes her head under the water and tries to drown her. That doesn’t work, and he grabs for the ice pick., ends up getting her robe belt - that works just fine to strangle her. She ends up dead and naked in the tub of ice water.

Meanwhile, at Grace’s grave, something crawls out of the dirt! Crawls across a field to Stanley’s house.



Stanley hears noises in the house - a broken window in the kitchen. A tree branch? No, something messy on the floor - dirt and slime. And there’s something crawling around in his house - like the totem dude in TRILOGY OF TERROR. Now it’s Stanley versus this little crawling thing! He reaches under he couch for it and it bites his hand! He grabs a knife to defend himself as it terrorizes him - what the hell is it? It skitters upstairs. When he follows, he finds his sister’s naked corpse at the base of the stairs! He climbs the stairs carefully, knife ready... when that *thing* trips him at the top of the staircase. Stanley tumbles all the way down... into the arms of his dead sister. He looks up to see what that thing is... and it’s a dead baby. A dead baby that keeps saying, “Daddy!” Then the baby comes down to attack him!

Back to Mr. White who tells the next story... that happened over 30 years ago.

Jesse Hardwick (Terry Kiser) lives in a crappy trailer and has the ultimate in relationship problems - his girlfriend says she’s leaving, and that she’s tipped off the McCoy Brothers that he was cheating them... and they are on their way.

Just the, the McCoy Brothers show up - guns drawn - and Jesse blasts through the wall of the house trailer and runs. But he can’t outrun a bullet, and one of the McCoy Brothers shoots him and leaves his body on the side of the road. But Jesse isn’t quite dead, and drags himself to the river where he has his boat stashed and then passes out in the boat. The boat drifts down the river... until someone pulls it ashore.

Jesse wakes up in an old shack filled with some really weird stuff. The old man who owns the shack, Felder Evans (Harry Ceasar) comes home and tells Jesse he’s been asleep for days. Gives him some soup. That night, old man Felder is practicing voodoo on the back porch and Jesse overhears.



The next day, Jesse asks Felder some prying personal questions and can’t get any straight answers. How old is Felder? How long has he been living here? Felder just talks about carving wooden buffalo while standing in the middle of a herd. No herds of buffalo for decades. How old is this guy? When Felder leaves, Jesse ransacks the shack - looking for valuables. Finds a hidden trunk filled with “valuables” - some antique guns, a book of voodoo spells, a scrap book with clipping about Felder that go back over *two centuries*. What? How is that possible?

Felder comes home and Jesse asks him how a man gets to be 200 years old. Is it that voodoo? Jesse demands to know how it’s done. If you could live that long, you could become rich! Jesse wants to take voodoo lessons...



Three weeks later, Jesse is frustrated. He’s a guy who is looking for a get rich quick scheme and this voodoo thing is a lot of work. Jesse has seen Felder drink from a little vial - is that his secret to eternal life? He knocks out Felder, puts him on the boat, and takes him out on the swamp. Threatens to throw him overboard if Felder doesn’t tell where the vial of magic water is. Felder doesn’t tell, and Jesse screws up yet again and accidentally shoves him all the way out of the boat. Felder sinks into the swamp. Jesse can’t see his body anywhere. Crap!

At Felder’s shack, Jesse is tearing the place apart looking for the vial - can’t find it. When Felder - covered in swamp mud - blasts through the door and slams him in the head with the boat paddle!

Jesse wakes up tied to the dock. Felder tells him when he first dragged Jesse and that boat in, Jesse was already dead. Felder used that potion from the vial on him to bring him back to life - so Jesse has just been trying to steal something that he already had. “You can’t die. I gave you enough that you’ll last another 70 years or more.” Felder pours kerosine on Jesse’s chest. Then chops off one of Jesse’s arms and sets him on fire and...



Two kids find a *moving* sack on the side of the road, call the police.

Hospital: The doctor says it is impossible for this... man... to be alive in his condition. But he is. And then we see what is left of Jesse - burned torso and head and... yech! Felder’s voice echoes, “You’ll last another 70 years or more.”

Back to Mr. White and Beth, who still isn't convinced it is the *town* that is evil. All of these bad things happening in the same place is just a coincidence. Mr. White tells her the Librarian who was here 40 years ago killed two people and buried them under this very floor (what that Mr. White?) then he tells her a story from his childhood - when the carnival came to town, bringing along the sideshow. And he remember Amarrillis Caulfield....



1933: The Carnival - crowded - pretty small town girl Amarrillis (Didi Lanier) walks along the midway until she comes to the sideshows, and enters the tent for Arden The Amazing (Ron Brooks) - who eats nails and screws and broken glass and razor blades and other things not on the standard food pyramid. After the performance she waits for Arden, and kisses him. Small town girl attractive to “sophisticated” carny. As they kiss, fellow carny Leonard (Gordon Paddison) watches them. Arden tells her he has a poker game with the guys, so she’s gotta go. She doesn’t want to leave... and makes him a deal - she’ll leave tonight if he meets her for a necking party at the graveyard after tomorrow’s shows have finished. He agrees and tells her to leave, “You don’t know how dangerous it is here if she finds you.” Amarrillis wants to know “Who’s she?” but Arden tells her to just leave.



Arden plays poker with the other carnies... when SnakeWoman (Rosalind Cash) steps from the darkness and wants to know who’s the girl she saw Arden with. Arden asks *who* saw him, SnakeWoman or Leonard? Leonard sneaks up behind Arden and blows on his neck. Tiny Tinker (Angelo Rossitto) says that SnakeWoman has no control over their personal lives, and she threatens him with the police... Tinker relents. SnakeWoman says that she protects all of them from the police in exchange for their talents - maybe in the case of the freak “No Face” (Barney Burman) she gave him his talent (by removing parts of his face). “This is my carnival. I own everything in it. Even you,” she says to Arden. “I own the tears you weep and the blood you shed.” Arden splits.

Amarrillis goes to the graveyard to put flowers on Father’s grave, when Arden arrives. Arden says he can’t stay long, she needs to forget about him. She says since she first saw his act she wanted to marry him, or just be with him. He tells her he’s a freak. She puts his hand on her breast and gets her freak on. They make out on her father’s grave, and begin undressing each other. But when he puts his hands “down there” she screams and bleeds - is it supposed to hurt like that? He takes his hand out of her panties - and screws and nails that he’s eaten in the past have erupted from his finger tips. He screams and staggers back to the carnival, where SnakeWoman is there to meet him. “Welcome home, glass eater.” SnakeWoman is a voodoo priestess - whose tent is filled with snakes. She makes his bleeding stop... and tells him to forget the girl. She makes the glass and nails he has eaten poke through his insides! Tells him to love that girl and know what pain really is.



When Arden returns to his tent, Amarrillis is waiting for him - she begs him to leave with her. He decides that might not be a bad idea. But on the way to her car they are discovered by Leonard - who has a gun. When he threatens to kill Arden, Tiny Tinker comes out of the shadows and stabs Leonard in the back. As Leonard lays dying he tears open his shirt, exposing a third eye on his chest, and says “I can still see you!”

Arden and Amarrillis drive off together.

In a roadside motel, they once again try to make whoopi... then he begins screaming in pain as all of the nails and screws and glass and razors he has eaten over the years *burst* from his body! Blood sprays everywhere - drenching Amarrillis - and piercing her body again and again!



Back to the side show, where they have a new attraction: Amarrillis The Human Pincushion. She has holes in her body that you can see through!

Mr. White finishes the story, and Beth is coming around... she is starting to believe that Oldfield might just be an evil town. “Oldfield’s history is written in human blood, on pages of human skin.” All the way back to when the town was founded during the Civil War. He shows her a series of Civil War photos, and one comes to life before our eyes for the last story...

Four Confederate Soldiers, lead by Sgt. Gallen (Cameron Mitchell) have been separated from their division, and come across a group of Union Soldiers - also separated from their division. The Union soldiers haven’t seen them yet, so Gallen orders his men to fire on them. Everyone fires except Pike... whose man is getting away. Gallen grabs Pike’s rifle and kills the running survivor. Gallen has them loot the bodies. They find documents on the dead Union soldiers - the war is over, and has been for a month. Gallen thinks there’s still some raping and looting left to do. Pike says if the war is over, he’s going home... and walks away. Gallen shoots him in the back, killing him.



Gallen and the two other soldiers (Bullock and McBride) go looking for a house where they can rape and loot, when they’re fired upon... and captured. They’re taken in a wagon to an old house named Oldfield with a bunch of children in the yard. Some of the children have been mutilated in the war - missing limbs or eyes or parts of their face. A little boy in a Union Army uniform, Andrew (Tommy Nowell), comes out of the house and tells Gallen that he is their prisoner now. Gallen can’t take this little boy seriously. Bullock (Tim Wingard) tells them their just a bunch of kids... and gets stabbed in the balls with a knife. Suddenly Gallen is taking this seriously. He tries to convince the boy that the war is over... but little Andrew does not believe them. Andrew takes the three Confederate soldiers into the house and warns them that the Magistrate will decide their fate. The Magistrate taught them everything they know - how to fight.

Soldier Bullock who was stabbed in the balls? They don’t expect him to last the night, so they’ll prepare a game for him. The other soldier, McBride (Leon Edwards), is in a different room, so he won’t be able to conspire with Gallen to escape.



A little girl with only one leg and only one eye, Amanda (Ashli Bare), brings Gallen dinner. He tries to talk her into letting him go when the ball rings - the Magistrate is calling a meeting. She leaves.

Andrew tells Amanda that he has a surprise for her, and takes her into the room where they have McBride. The Confederate soldier is now strapped to a table. Andrew tells Amanda to take off her eye patch... and then he inserts one of McBride’s eyes into her socket. McBride screams - and we see that his eye has been cut out.

When Amanda brings his next meal, Gallen convinces her to untie him... he’s adopt her and be her daddy. She untie him... Then he gives her a full on kiss... which is just wrong. She fights him. And he kills her and escapes... to find the kids playing a game in the front yard.

Pinata with meat hooks and the body of dead soldier Bullock. You know, for kids!



Gallen gets the hell out of there - running through the woods at top speed. Until he runs into Pike, who wasn’t killed by Gallen’s shot in the back. Pike knocks Gallen to the ground. Gallen says - you have to help me get away, those kids are going to kill me!

And Andrew has discovered Amanda’s body and the kids *are* chasing through the woods to find Gallen. But Andrew doesn’t help Gallen... he turns him over to the kids.



Gallen wakes up in the Magistrate’s Room. Andrew tells him they don’t murder people, they take them before the Magistrate and the Magistrate passes sentence. Then Andrew pulls aside a curtain so that Gallen can see the Magistrate: a Frankenstein’s monster made of the body parts of these kid’s parents... who were murdered in the war.

And the sentence for Gallen? Barbecue. They cook him up and eat him.

And that’s where the town of Oldfield came from - those cannibal kids.



Mr. White tells Beth that Poe and Lovecraft’s monsters where inventions of their imaginations, but here in Oldfield they walk the streets. Beth asks how Mr. White managed to survive this town, and he answers: “How do you know that I did?” Beth reaches into her purse and touches the handle of her knife... Mr. White smiles and tells her that he managed to just remain an observer of the parade of violence, but his niece Katherine became part of the parade. Beth says that she reported on Katherine’s murders, then after the arrest became Katherine’s pen pall while she was in prison... and learned all about this town and how Katherine was brought up... by Mr. White. And now she’s here to deliver Katherine’s parting gift to the man who raised her - pulls out her knife and stabs Mr. White, who dies saying: “Welcome to Oldfield.”

One of the final credits on the film: “When In Tennessee Visit Oldfield”!

Happy Halloween everybody! Trick Or Treat responsibly!

Buy the pit



Friday, October 30, 2015

13 Films Of Halloween:
DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN!

PHIBES RISES AGAIN (1972)

Starring: Vincent Price, Robert Quarry, Peter Cushing, Terry Thomas, Hugh Griffith
Written by: Robert Fuest, Robert Blees.
Directed by: Robert Fuest
Produced by: Sam Arkoff and James H. Nicholson (American International Pictures)



When we last left Phibes he was dead - and embalming himself in his crypt. Obviously no one was thinking there would ever be a sequel, but here we are a year later and Phibes has returned. What’s interesting about this film is that it shows us how to engineer a sequel using “clues” to that sequel in the original film... so Dr. Phibes used the Ten Plagues Of The Pharaohs in the first film, and it was mentioned that he was an expert on Egypt... so what they hell can happen in Egypt that makes sense for a sequel? Hey, maybe Phibes was there trying to find some way to bring his dead wife back to life? Once you find that idea in the previous film, what in that previous film can be used to support that idea? You assemble more “clues” - clues that were never planted there because every intention was that Phibes was *dead* and there would never be a sequel. Hey, there were stars and planets on his crypt - what if opens when the stars and moon are in a certain position? More pieces of the puzzle can be found, and now with a bit of rewriting of the past, Phibes can Rise Again.

In Egypt.

In a story that now seems like some sort of mash up between RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK and FINAL DESTINATION. Yes, RAIDERS - which would be made nine years later. This story is about the search for an ancient Egyptian treasure - and the race between two rivals - an evil archeologist and his cutthroat team and our lone protagonist who wants the treasure for (discussed at the end of the film) selfless reasons. There are secret chambers and ancient curses and all kinds of stuff shared by both RAIDERS and RISES AGAIN! The key to the search is a map... with a twist that changes what the map means, and that map is stolen. Oh, that lone protagonist *does* have a sidekick... who is much better looking that Sallah. The lone protagonist also has a romantic interest who is kidnaped by the bad guys at one point. Oh, and lead bad guy: German. Though mentor archeologist’s name Ambrose only sounds a little like mentor archeologist Abner, that seemed close enough for me to scribble down while watching the movie. There’s even a truck loaded with the treasure that gets stolen - and a chase... which is basically off screen because this is not an adventure film it’s a horror film. Instead of exciting action and great stunts we get bizarre deaths.

The FINAL DESTINATION stuff is carried over from the first film - Phibes has his crazy Rube Goldberg murder methods where no matter how hard the victim tries to escape death... they just make it worse!



We open with a recap of the first film, with a bit of a rewrite in the V.O. narration (though not on the screen) where instead of embalming fluid replacing Dr. Phibes’ blood, it is some sort of suspended animation fluid - and Phibes and his dead wife are actually alive. Hey, he *didn’t* die at the end of the first film (so that final curse of Eternal Darkness just meant he turned out the lights and he can turn them back on for the sequel).

Three years later...

The moon comes into conjunction with the other planets and shines on his crypt... waking him!

He strokes his dead (?) wife’s hair in the crypt, climbs out, goes to his organ (covered in 3 years of dust) and plays, plugging in the voice jack to his neck. “Victoria, for three years I have rested by your side. Now the moon has risen to the exact position which last occurred two thousand years ago, signaling the opening of this crypt, and the beginning of our greatest adventure. We shall embark to the land of Egypt, where years ago in a mountain overlooking the Valley Of The Pharaohs, I did prepare for us a wondrous shrine, unknown by any living man. There, my beloved, awaits the key to resurrection for you and eternal life for both of us.”



He calls once again for beautiful Vulnavia (this time played by Valli Kemp) his trusted aid, to help him bring his dead wife back to life. He has her get the map of the River Of Life, which they must find at its flood, and prepare for their journey...

But upstairs - the house has been destroyed... and the safe has been broken into and the ancient map stolen. Only one man could have done this - Biederbeck (Robert Quarry)!

Biederbeck shows Ambrose (Hugh Griffith) the ancient map. Biederbeck had one section of the map, and claims to have bought this other section from a dealer who found it in the rubble of Phibes house. Ambrose doesn’t understand Biederbeck’s *obsession* with these weird spiritual artifacts, is he not a man of science? Why deal with these superstitions? Ambrose has excavated the entire area and found nothing. Biederbeck says that Ambrose’s problem is that he looks down instead of up - the stars will show the way to the Temple Of Ibisis... if there’s treasure - gold - Ambrose can keep that, Biederbeck is looking for something legendary and possibly supernatural (the Ark Of The Covenant?). Beiderbeck’s attractive fiance Diana (Fiona Lewis) enters to remind him they are having dinner with the Princess tonight. Biederbeck puts the map in his safe and they leave.

Outside, Phibes and Vulnavia get out of their car when they see them leave and grab a basket filled with... something.

In the house, Biederback’s Bodyguard (Milton Reid) is playing pool as he guards the safe, when he hears a slithering. A golden snake under the pool table. He beats it to death with his pool cue, Then another slithering sound. Another golden snake - another death by pool cue. Except the snake keeps slithering! The bodyguard picks up the snake and sees that it is a mechanical wind up toy. Another snake slithers onto the pool table - just a toy... Not this one! It bites him! He quickly grabs a knife, slices open the bite and sucks out the venom, then goes to the phone to call for an ambulance.

Phibes waits until the Bodyguard gets the phone up to his ear and then nods to Vulnavia, who pushes a button... and a steel spike shoots from the earpiece of the phone and pierces the Bodyguard’s head - on one ear and out the other! As Phibes goes to the safe, Vulnavia picks up the snakes and hangs up the phone.

Crime scene - Inspector Trout (Peter Jeffrey returning) examines the Bodyguard’s body and questions Biederbeck... who seems to care more about his missing map than his dead Bodyguard. Trout asks who would want to steal this old map? There are a dozen living scholars who might find it of value, but they are all *scholars* not thieves. Trout thinks that this is a calculated act - not just some random burglary.

Phibes puts his dead wife in a special air-tight glass coffin, and takes it along with his assistant Vulnavia to South Hampton where they board a ship...

On the deck of the ship, Phibes and Vulnavia dance.

On the same ship, Biederbeck worries that he is down to his last vials of his Elixir Of Life - he must take 3 drops per day - if he fails to find the Temple Of Ibisis he will die.



Biederbeck tells his archeologist mentor Ambrose that mountains erode, rivers find new courses, everything on the land changes with time... but starts remain the same. That is why he will find the temple that others have been unable to find - he will use the stars! He sends Ambrose down to get the model of the mountain which is in their automobile on the cargo deck... and tell no one about this. As Ambrose leaves, he passes Diana who was listening at the door.

On the cargo deck, Ambrose searches for their car, passing a huge plywood advertisement for a Gin brand featuring cut out women and a massive glass Gin bottle... wishes the gin bottle (and the women) were real. Finally finding the car and the model of the mountain... then spotting a strange thing in the corner - another big advertisement display? A Woman in a glass case! Seemingly a *real* woman! (Mrs. Phibes). And a life size mechanical band. Ambrose presses a button and the band plays... as he watches it play, Phibes comes up behind him and grabs his neck.

The Ship’s Captain (Peter Cushing) comes to Biederbeck’s cabin to inform him that the search for Ambrose has turned up nothing - it’s as if he has vanished off the ship. Biederbeck seems unconcerned by this. He would rather they continue forward than stop and search for him in the water.

Meanwhile - off the coast of England - a giant glass gin bottle washes to shore. A message inside? Nope - Ambrose. How the hell did he get in the bottle? Trout ends up getting the case, of course.

In Egypt, Phibes and Vulnavia go into an underground Pharaoh’s Tomb, between the towering legs of a huge Anibus god statue (just like in RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK’s Well Of Souls scene... and this set is its twin) where Phibes has built a secret passage to his Egyptian headquarters - which may need some minor decorating, a little touching up, but will suit his current purposes. A dance floor, an organ, and the transplanted mechanical band.



Back in England, Trout is questioning the shipping agent Lombardo (Terry Thomas) about the giant gin bottle and the dead man inside, Ambrose. He tells them that Ambrose, being and archeologist, was a regular traveler to Egypt on their ships. Trout asks if there was any passenger on the ship that might be a little... odd. Lombardo seems to think that most of the passengers are odd. Or oddish. Well, on this last trip an attractive and fashionable young woman had them install an organ in one of the cabins. Some passengers enjoy playing the piano on these long voyages, but this was the first request for an organ. Trout asks if this passenger with the organ was named... Phibes. “No, Smith... we get a lot of Smiths.” Oh, and he also had in cargo a group of mechanical musicians... Lombardo has all of the details on the ship’s manifest. Trout wants to look at the manifest. Lombardo says Mr. Smith’s ticket was one way. The Chief Inspector hopes that means that Phibes won’t be coming back to England. Trout says, “He always comes back.” (Potentially setting up further sequels which never happened, but *could have*.)

Phibes and Vulnavia touch up the new digs.

At the police station, Miss Ambrose (Beryl Reid) cousin of the dead man washed ashore in the giant bottle, and provides information as to where he was going in Egypt.



Back in Egypt, Biederbeck and his group arrive at base camp and ask where the others are. Archeologist Hackett (Gerald Sim) says they have all gone ahead to the dig site. Biederbeck tells his fiance Diana to wait here while they go to stop the others from premature digging.

At the archeological site, Stewart (Keith Buckley) goes into an ancient Egyptian tomb and pokes around the darkness with his lantern. Climbs a stone stairway into a narrow passageway. Something fluttering in the darkness. A falcon! The falcon attacks Stewart’s face, tearing it to pieces and eating parts of him!

In Phibes new digs, the falcon returns to its perch. “Did you have a good dinner?”

Phibes has found a secret chamber - invisible because this section is usually flooded with water, but the moon’s position at this time (when all of the planets align) creates a gravitational pull that recedes the water... exposing a passageway which may lead to the River Of Life! Phibes enters the passage, finding a secret doorway, and a golden sarcophagus! Inside, the remains of a mummy. But in a secret compartment inside that sarcophagus - a silver key!



Biederbeck and Hacket arrive at the dig site - the same one with the secret passage which leads to Phibes new digs. He chastises Shavers (John Thaw) and Baker (Lewis Fiander) for starting without him. The two young diggers are insolent and creep right to the edge of insulting Biederbeck (later they will watch the shadow of Diana undress on the side of his tent and make sexually suggestive comments - and we will get to see the shadows of naked boobies in a movie rated so that even a 13 year old boy could see it).

At basecamp, fiancĂ© Diana discovers something sparkly in the sand. She carefully brushes away the sand to find what seems to be a golden sarcophagus. Bushes away more sand exposing... a skull with still a little meat on it. She runs to the dig and grabs Biederbeck - she has a little discovery of her own that she thinks he ought to see. As they leave, one of the skulls littered about on the floor under the giant god statue opens its eyes - it’s Phibes without his face.

In his new digs, Vulnavia brings Phibes a tray with his face and wig, and he gets dressed. Mrs. Phibes is in a chrome and glass coffin... which moves on rails into that secret compartment where the sarcophagus was - where the River Of Life will rise when the planetary alignment comes. Phibes vows to kill everyone who gets in their way - if you haven’t been paying attention, instead of the Ten Plagues from the Bible, this time people are killed by Things Found In Hieroglyphics (for $100, Alex).

At basecamp Shavers sees a woman in veils dancing in the moonlight (Vulnavia) and follows her into the desert night to a luxurious tent. As she dances near a giant golden statue of a scorpion inside the tent, he comes closer to her... closer... then Phibes (dressed as a sheik) enters the tent and turns a key on the scorpion statue and the pincers close on Shaver’s arms, trapping him! Golden needles in the pincers pin his arms in place. Phibes puts the key in a plaster statue of a dog just out of reach of Shaver’s hands, and he and Vulnavia leave the tent. Shavers realizes he can maybe reach the plaster dog if he moves his arms... which rams the golden needles deeper into his arms. He does this - ouch - and grabs the statue. Tries to break it open. The good news is that he succeeds, the bad news is that he drops it on the floor just out of reach, the worse news is that inside that plaster dog statue were a dozen *real* scorpions! They crawl up his legs - and he can’t brush them off! He screams as the scorpions sting him all over his body - yes, even there - they crawl into his pants!

Inspector Trout and Chief Inspector Waverley have arrived in Egypt and are slightly lost in the desert. No one to ask for directions. Then they spot something on the hillside... a luxurious tent.

Phibes and Vulnavia go to the tomb... and discover that both the golden sarcophagus *and* Mrs. Phibes coffin have been stolen!



Biederbeck has the golden sarcophagus loaded up on the back of a truck, and finds the silver key...

Just as Trout and Waverley pull up at basecamp... with Shavers on the golden scorpion attached to the roof. When Biederbeck asks who would do such a crazy thing to a man, Trout asks him if he’s ever heard of a Dr. Anton Phibes?

As Biederbeck tries to patch up his relationship with Diana, Trout and the other Archeologists wonder if you need a search warrant to go through all of the tunnels and catacombs of that tomb where they found the sarcophagus to see if they can find Phibes?

Baker ends up pulling guard duty - sleeping in the sarcophagus tent. A wind is blowing through the desert, so he zips uo his sleeping bag and buries his head inside. What he doesn’t know is that Phibes has a giant theatrical wind machine that he is blowing at basecamp. While Baker is wrapped up in his mummybag, Vulnavia secretly straps him onto his cot, then slices a hole in the tent. She goes to man the wind machine as Phibes goes down to Baker’s tent and begins twisting the crank on a giant vice that compresses Baker’s cot - and his body...

As Inspector Trout and Chief Inspector Waverley sleep in a tent a few feet away, huddling together from the wind... unable to hear Baker’s screams over the wind.

Phibes and Vulnavia have retrieved Mrs. Phibes coffin and the sarcophagus and taken them back to the room... but when he pulls the lever on the sarcophagus - the silver key is gone.

Biederbeck discovers the compressed version of Baker. Trout tells Biederbeck that there is no hope of winning against Phibes - he’s just too damned clever. Biederback is going to stay, but tells everyone else to strike basecamp and go back... back to England. Trout and Waverley discuss if they should dispose of Baker’s body - or just bury his head?

Hackett drives Diana to safety when they hear bagpipes... and see a British military flag on the horizon. There’s a military regiment out here? They can help! He orders Diana to stay in the car while he climbs the hill to get help. At the top of the hill - no regiment, just a lone soldier holding the flag and three other soldiers playing the bagpipes. When he gets closer still, he discovers that they are Phibes lifesize mechanical musicians. He races back to the truck... but Diana is gone. Crap! He starts up the truck - and sand *blasts* out of the vent... sandblasting him into a skeleton!

Biederbeck realizes Phibes has Diana, races into the tombs and looks through the tunnels and catacombs until he hears the organ music... follows it to Phibes. Phibes and Biederbeck face off. Diana for the silver key. He has 3 minutes too save Diana - Phibes has her chained to a platform in a well... which is slowly filling with water!

Biederbeck tries to release her... then sees that as the platform rises, the ceiling lowers. And on the ceiling are dozens of golden serpents with spiked tongues. He wedges a board between the two - which temporarily saves her life. He runs up to confront Phibes.

Phibes and Biederbeck make a deal - the key for Diana... and there is a chance that Biederbeck can *share* in the River Of Life. He hands over the silver key... just as that board that Biederbeck wedged in there breaks! The golden serpents begin to descend again. But when Phibes uses the silver key, the water rushes into Phibes’ chamber and leaves Diana’s... so her platform moves down, away from the golden serpents. Diana will live! But has Phibes (and Mrs. Phibes coffin) floated into the River Of Life?

Trout and Waverley finally find Phibes fantastic headquarters - just in time to see Vulnavia walk into a tunnel and vanish. Where does she go between films? Is she from a temp service or something?

Biederbeck runs out, dives into the water in the chamber and swims to the open gates leading to the River Of Life... which close as he gets to them. He yells through the closed gates for Phibes to come back and let him in as well. But Phibes rows Mrs. Phibes coffin down a flooded tunnel to the River Of Life. Diana tells Biederbeck that it’s not the end of the world... but for him it *is*... he has run out of elixir and without the River Of Life begins *rapidly* aging. He goes from handsome Robert Quarry to and withered old man in seconds. The wedding with Diana is probably off!

Phibes and Mrs. Phibes head to eternal life...

Tomorrow we bring this series to an end on Halloween... with Vincent Price’s return to films after his retirement in a film made by a bunch of guys I know!

- Bill

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Thursday, October 29, 2015

13 Films Of Halloween:
THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES

THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES (1971)

Starring: Vincent Price, Joseph Cotten, Hugh Griffith, Terry Thomas.
Written by: James Whiton, William Goldstein.
Directed by: Robert Fuest.
Produced by: Sam Arkoff and James H. Nicholson (American International Pictures)




Even though there were Vincent Price Poe movies we didn’t look at this year, variety is the spice of life so we are venturing into other Price movies... And this film fits into some strange pattern: We went from Vampire Plague to the plague in MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH to this film which opens both with vampire bats and a deadly masquerade party! This one which is certainly the strangest movie in our series due to the musical numbers. Yes, musical numbers. Sometimes with dancing.

Okay, it may not be as weird as what you are imagining now, because these are not big Busby Berkeley dance numbers with corpses or slasher victims dancing in formation - it’s just Vincent Price’s serial killer dude dancing with his lovely assistant or just playing a song on his organ while his band of life size mechanical musicians play along. All kinds of good old tunes from the 1920s. Between the murders. Yes, that *is* still weird.

The great thing about those mechanical musicians is that it perfectly sets the stage for Phibes serial killings - which are often have a “automated” component and use contraptions and Rube Goldberg-like devices that kill people bby some form of remote control. Which makes this fun. And that’s the tone, here - fun murders. Fun scares. Just plain fun... and maybe the predecessor of the movie SEVEN.



1920s London: Dressed in a black hooded cape, Dr. Phibes (Vincent Price) plays the organ in his own private concert hall, then grabs his baton and conducts his life size wind up band, The Clockwork Wizards, as they play. A door opens in the concert hall and his beautiful assistant Vulnavia (Virginia North) steps out and dances with Phibes... then dances down to the garage beneath the concert hall. Phibes lowers a black shrouded bird cage through a portal in the floor, and Vulnavia straps the cage onto the back of a beautiful vintage automobile and climbs inside, where she is joined by Phibes and they drive away into the night.



In his bedroom Dr. Dunwoody (Edward Burnham) turns off the light to sleep. The skylight of his bedroom opens and that black shrouded bird cage is lowered in to the room. The black shroud is removed with a string, then the cage is raised back out of the room: empty. The skylight closes.

Dr. Dunwoody hears a noise and awakens... sees something fluttering in his room. What could it be? A vampire bat! No, a dozen vampire bats! One lands on his bed and crawls up to his neck and...

Back home, Phibes enters the concert hall and sits at his organ, playing as the platform the organ is on descends to his bed chambers.

Dr. Dunwoody’s butler brings breakfast in the morning, “Good morning, sir.” But when he uncovers the breakfast a bat lands on the eggs and sausages. WTF? Where did that bat come from? He looks up and sees the dozen bats hanging upside down throughout the room... and Dunwoody’s bloody yet bloodless corpse on the bed.

In a room with nine wax statues, Phibes puts a gold chain with a symbol on its amulet around the neck of the one that looks like Dunwoody... then sets it afire.

Police at the scene of Dunwoody’s death. Inspector Trout (Peter Jeffrey) and Inspector Tom Schenley (Norman Jones) discuss the completely weird case, and a previous strange case where another surgeon died - he was stung to death by hundreds of bees in his library until his entire body was covered with boils. Could there be a connection?

In his bedroom, Phibes dresses, putting on his clothes, his ears, his nose, his hair... WTF? The great thing about this film is that there is no massive information dump at the beginning where you are told everything, instead *everything* is mysterious and you get one little clue at a time. So we don’t know what happened to Phibes or even what he looks like before he puts on his face... we just know that he does put on his face. And at this point of the story, he has not spoken a word. Phibes at his organ and plays... and it ascends into the concert hall.



At a Masquerade Party, Phibes wears a bird mask and one of those gold chains as Dr. Hargreaves (Alex Scott) chats with him. Hargreaves hasn’t brought a mask - he seems to have been given the only invitation to omit that detail, but Phibes has brought along a spare - a toad mask that fits over the entire head. As Phibes clamps it on, a ratchet operated by a hidden clockworks begins to slowly move on the mask. Hargreaves enjoys the party for a while, until the mask begins to tighten... and he falls to the floor surrounded by guests with blood spewing out the frog’s mouth and eye holes. They are shocked.

Phibes puts a gold chain around the wax figure that looks like Hargreaves and sets it ablaze.

In his office at Scotland Yard, Inspector Trout tells the Chief that they have a rash of doctor’s deaths - strange. The Chief wants him to keep this from the press: Bats, Bees, Frogs? The papers would run all kinds of wild stories. The Chief believes that the three doctor’s deaths are not connected - “There’s some very strange people practicing medicine these days.”



None stranger than Dr. Longstreet (Terry Thomas), who begins watching erotic videos of a woman dancing with a snakes as soon as his housekeeper Miss Frawley has left. His projector goes on the fritz, and when he looks up from fixing it... the beautiful Vulnavia (Dr. Phibes’ Assistant) is in the room. She sits him in a chairs and ties his arms to the arm rests with silken cords. Longstreet is no doubt thinking this will turn into 50 Shades Of Gray, when gray faced Phibes enters the room... and shoves a needle into his arm. A needle attached to a pint jar. Longstreet attempts to fight - clutching at the gold chain with the symbol medallion around Phibes’ neck and tearing it off... as his blood drains. And Vulnavia plays the violin. Soon 8 pint bottles are filled.

Inspector Tom has what might be a clue to this string of strange doctor deaths: at some point in time each of the doctors worked with a Dr. Visalius...



Inspector Trout arrives at Dr. Visalius’ (Joseph Cotton) house and finds him playing with an electric train while his teenaged son watches. “Do the names, Hargreaves, Thornton, and Dunwoody mean anything to you, sir?” Dr. Visalius knew all three, he had a conversation with Thornton only a few days ago. The phone rings, and it’s for Inspector Trout. After taking the call, Trout asks Visalius if he knew a Dr. Longstreet. “Knew?”

Yes, past tense.

At the crime scene - Inspector Trout interviews Longstreet’s housekeeper Miss Frawley, who heard violin playing in the street last night. It seemed strange at the time, but was beautiful music. She has never seen the necklace with the strange symbol on its amulet before, “It’s not mine and it’s certainly not his.”

Meanwhile, as Phibes prepares to use a blowtorch on Longstreet’s wax figure he realizes he has lost the necklace. His perfect crimes have accidentally left behind a clue. He hesitates for a moment... then torches the wax bust of Longstreet.

Trout interviews jeweler Goldsmith (John Laurie) who made the necklace with the strange amulet, who says it is one of a set of ten. Each had a different symbol. They were made for a lady. She paid in cash - now way to trace it, and she gave no name or address. A tall attractive young lady who didn’t speak much, but was fashionable. Goldsmith says he doesn’t know what the mark means, but he believes that it’s Hebrew.

Trout interviews a Rabbi (Hugh Griffith) who identifies the mark as the symbol for “Blood”... one of the Ten Curses visited upon the Pharaohs before Exodus. The Rabbi gives Trout (and us) a brief lesson in these Ten Curses: Boils, Bats, Frogs, Blood, Rats, Hail, Beasts, Locusts, Death Of The First Born, and then Darkness. Hey, something to look forward to!

Dr. Phibes plugs an electrical cable into a jack on the side of his neck and the other end of the cable is plugged into an old Victrola on a wheeled stand. Then he looks at a photo of his dead wife and tells her he will get revenge for her death. 9 people killed her and 9 shall die! His voice comes out the Victrola speaker - tinny and strange. So, Phibes not only has to put on his face before he goes out for the night, the only way he can speak is through this speaker. What the hell happened to him?

Dr. Vesalius has compiled a list of all of his recent surgeries for Inspector Trout: 1,200! Out of those, there are 37 cases where he worked with any two of the 4 victims... out of those there are 12 where he worked with 3 of the 4 dead... but only 1 where he worked with all 4. Victoria Regina Phibes. They were too late and she died. They called her husband, Dr. Anton Phibes, and he raced back... but his car drove off a cliff and he died. Burned to death. Only his ashes were recovered at the crash site. So it must be some other madman who is doing this... but who? Trout says he will provide police protection for the final five.

Phibes old automobile pulls up next to a country lake and parks, Vulnavia steps out and pops the hood, looking distraught, just as Dr. Hedgepath (David Hutcheson) drives by. He has his chauffeur pull over to see if the lady needs some help. The Chauffeur gets out, goes to the car and asks the attractive young lady if there is some problem with her car. That’s when Phibes kills the chauffeur, then carries a mechanical contraption to Dr. Hedgepath’s car. Vulnavia puts a music box with a dancer on the seat next to Dr. Hedgepath, who smiles at her, until she closes the door. Phibes puts his mechanical contraption between the front seats in the chauffeur’s section and...

Inspector Tom reports to Trout: Everyone of the remaining potential victims have police protection except one - Dr. Kitaj, who seems to be out of the country. He flies his own plane, so it is difficult to know where he is at any time. After Dr. Phibes’ death, his bank accounts were transferred from Switzerland to an account in London, then the account was liquidated and taken as cash by an attractive young woman. Very odd.



Crime scene - Trout and Tom at Dr. Hedgepath’s car parked near the lake... A police officer found the dead chauffeur, but the man he was driving is still in the car. The officer did not even open the door - to preserve evidence, of course. Trout goes to the car and the windows are completely frozen over. Um, it’s spring. It’s about as sunny as a day in the English countryside gets. How can the windows be *frozen*? He tries to open the door - it’s frozen shut! He finally gets it open and see Hedgepath *frozen solid* in the back seat! The curse of hail *inside the car*!

Dr. Vesalius follows up on his own clue he came across while talking to his teenaged son - Dr. Phibes was a famous organist, and the local sheet music salesman Mr. Darrow (John Laurie) knew him... and claims that he is *still* a customer, even after his death. What? How is that possible?

Trout and Vesalius go to Mr. & Mrs. Phibes crypt. Inside, two coffins. One has fresh roses on top. They open Anton Phibes’ coffin and inside find... a box with ashes. Trout says all that this proves is that *someone* was incinerated in that accident, but not necessarily Dr. Anton Phibes. Maybe his chauffeur? They open Mrs. Phibes coffin and... it’s empty!

Dr. Phibes and Vulnavia drive to an airfield owned by the London Aeroplane Club, where Dr. Kitaj (Peter Gilmore) hops in his airplane and goes through the steps involved in starting up a biplane. Meanwhile Inspector Tom races in his car to warn Dr. Kitaj that he is in danger. Kitaj get the plane going and taxis down the field... Tom chasing in his car. But Dr. Kitaj takes off...

On a hill near the airfield Phibes watches the plane take off through a telescope as Vulnavia plays the violin.



In the plane, Dr. Kitaj is attacked by a hundred hungry rats! They bite him all over... and he loses control of the plane. It crashes. Which allows Tom to finally catch up with it.

Phibes dances with Vulnavia in celebration. He drinks a glass of champagne... through a hole in the other side of his neck. What the hell is under Phibes’ face when he takes it off at night?

Inspectors Trout and Tom hustle Dr. Whitcombe (Maurice Kaufmann) off to a safehouse in the country where they can protect him 24/7. Whitcombe says he needs to return to London in a few days to tend to his patients. They assure him it will only take a few days to figure out who this killer is and capture him. As they prepare to leave Dr. Whitcombe’s building, a brass unicorn statue blasts through the doors and pierces him - screwing his body to the entry hall wall behind him. Trout and Tom must twist Whitcombe’s body around to unscrew it from the wall. The Curse Of Beasts.



Dr. Phibes puts the golden necklace with the amulet on the wax bust of Whitcome and sets it on fire. Then plays his organ and looks at photographs of his dead wife projected on the wall in a slide show. Within 24 hours his work will be finished.

Inspector Trout tells the chief that the brass unicorn was *fired from a catapult* into Dr. Whitcombe. Marvelous shot. Trout gets dressed down for not solving this case, and always showing up to prevent the next victim’s death moments after it has already occurred. His timing is terrible. Trout thinks he’s getting closer to preventing a murder, since they were actually with this last victim when he was killed.

Phibes has a wheelbarrow full of *brussell sprouts* and dumps them into a cauldron attached to what seems to be a still... and begins distilling green goop.

Inspector Trout has the hospital where soon-to-be-victim #8 Nurse Allen (Susan Travers) is working surrounded by police. Police cars. Policemen. Plain clothes officers. Undercover officers. There is no way in or out of the hospital, except maybe by balloon. Dr. Vesalius is also in the hospital, and he tries to calm down Nurse Allen who doesn’t want all of the police officers meddling in her life. The two get onto an elevator where an orderly with a cart stands in the corner... but we recognize him as Phibes. Vesalius explains to Nurse Allen that a man is trying to kill her and all of these police are just here for her protection.



Phibes rolls his cart into a room, unrolls a lifesize drawing of a naked woman on a bed onto the floor and positions it exactly where a bed would be if this room were furnished. Pulls out a drill and drills through the drawing’s head into the floor... through the ceiling of the room below where Nurse Allen sleeps. He carefully dribbles his brussell sprout syrup through the hole and onto her face as she sleeps... then unleashes a jar of *massive* locust through the hole. The locust go for the brussell sprout syrup on her face and...

Inspector Trout and Dr. Vesalius sit in the hospital - the two last potential victims are in the same place and under extreme police protection. Nothing to worry about. They discuss the remaining causes of death - locust, darkness, and death of the first born sons - and Dr. Vesalius says his older brother passed away years ago, so no chance of first born sons being his fate... and then Inspector Trout yells for police cars to speed to Dr. Vesalius’ house and make sure his teenage son is protected. They never thought of that! Vesalius goes with Inspector Tom to his house to make sure is son is okay.

Phibes puts the last of the locusts through the hole by hand, then looks through the hole at Nurse Allen...

When Inspector Tom and Dr. Vesalius get to his house, they discover the back door has been forced open and his son is gone. Inspector Tom races back to the hospital to tell Trout.



Inspector Trout tells Tom they’ve obviously been guarding the wrong potential victim, so they will give one final check on Nurse Allen and then go to Vesalius’ house and process it for clues. The police officer posted at the Nurse’s quarters is still there - no one has come in or out. They knock on the door, no answer. They open the door... and inside find Nurse Allen *covered in locusts* which have *eaten away her face*!

Phibes burns the wax bust of Nurse Allen.

Inspector Trout tells Dr. Vesalius they’re doing everything they can to find his son. The phone rings and when Vesalius picks it up - organ music. Then Phibes strange electronic voice says: “Nine killed her. Nine shall die. Eight have died, soon to be nine. Nine eternities in doom! The organ plays until midnight, the large house in Muldeen Square, come alone.” Vesalius wants to go alone, Trout insists that he come along. Vesalius says he must make a phone call first, then knocks out Trout with the phone and leaves.



Dr. Vesalius pulls up at the large house and rings the bell. Vulnavia answers the door, and leads him to Phibes. “I have killed 9 times in my life, Vesalius, how many deaths can be attributed to you?” Hey, Surgeons don’t murder people, they just make mistakes. It’s different... unless the mistake killed someone you love. Vesalius demands to see his son, pleads to see his son. Phibes says he will see his son - in a way that may bring back memories. Through the glass floor of the ballroom Vesalius sees his son on an operating table below!

Trout wakes up, takes a drink to give him courage, and heads to Phibes’ house.

Phibes tells Vesalius that his son’s neck is locked onto the operating table, and the key has been inserted into his son’s body next to his heart. There is an X-Ray showing this. To free his son he must perform an operation and remove the key. One slip and he will kill his own son! Oh, and there’s a ticking clock - there is a Rube Goldberg device that will release acid onto his son’s head in exactly 6 minutes. Starting... Now! Dr. Vesalius puts on his gloves and gets to work!



Phibes tells Vulnavia to destroy all of the evidence then turns to Dr. Vesalius and explains that Phibes’ wife lived only 6 minutes on the operating table, so his son has only six minutes. Phibes removes his *face* to show Dr. Vesalius what was left of him after he was burned in that car accident - basically just a skull! Yikes!

Trout and several policemen arrive at Phibes’ house.

With 30 seconds left, Dr. Veslaius removes the key from next to his son’s heart and quickly unlocks the padlock and moves his son out of the path of the acid drop as it drips down... onto Vulnavia!



Phibes is putting his face back on as Trout and the other police search the house for him. Then Trout spots the organ rising from the depths. They try to figure out how it can be lowered, as downstairs Phibes moves to his bed... where his dead (and embalmed) wife lays. He lays next to her, hooks up his arm to an IV that replaces his blood with embalming fluid and presses a button which brings the canopy down over the bed - darkness and the 10th death. By the time Trout and the police get there, no sign of Phibes. The end.

Or is it? The problem with killing your serial killer at the end is that if your film is a big hit like PHIBES was, they will want a sequel, right? So tomorrow we’ll look at that sequel which co-stars the great Robert Quarry (COUNT YORGA) who was also in one of my films as well as Peter Cushing... and which may be the predecessor of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK!!!!

- Bill



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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



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