Archive for House of Wax

Primate Suspect

Posted in FILM, literature, Science with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on July 13, 2012 by dcairns

So, back to my demented quest to see every film depicted in Denis Gifford’s monster bible, A Pictorial History of Horror Movies, and this time it was Roy Del Ruth’s Poe adaptation PHANTOM OF THE RUE MORGUE which passed before my eyeballs, albeit flat rather than in its original 3D. As long as we’re talking about re-releasing Hitchcock’s DIAL M and De Toth’s HOUSE OF WAX in 3D versions, I’d put a vote in for this baby. The 3D gags looked amusing flat, but there were a few things like a shower of gaily-hued Warnercolor balloons that suggested a little more than the usual “poke-em-in-the-eye-with-a-sharp-stick” approach to immersive entertainment.

We begin with some smudgy Parisian rooftops, a perfect match for the gorgeous 2-strip settings of Warners’ 30s horrors DR X and MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM. Throughout, the colour schemes of this film alternate giddily between such subdued, marshy tones, and eye-popping bubble-gum effects more consistent with a musical.

While the aging Del Ruth has lost his handle on a particular kind of gutsy performance style that saw him through the pre-code era (though we can see that misfire spectacularly on his attempt at THE MALTESE FALCON/DANGEROUS FEMALE), he has a comic book sensibility that’s always fun. The zanier moments of this flick, which defy plausibility quite openly and plummet into an inter-stool area of conflicted response (creepy/perverse/amusing/embarrassing) harken back to the director’s days as a gagman at Keystone, particularly this revealing clue –

For a thoroughly daft film (pair it with RDR’s ALLIGATOR PEOPLE but don’t blame me if you laugh yourself through the floor) this boasts some distinguished writing talent — Harold Medford helped script THE DAMNED DON’T CRY and THE KILLER IS LOOSE, and James R. Webb did even better with CAPE FEAR, CHEYENNE AUTUMN and VERA CRUZ. Neither seems to have had a particular affinity for horror films, but they reconfigure Dupin’s detective feats into a new-ish plot which eschews Universal’s Dr Mirakle bestiality shenanigans but gets into some surprising areas — physiognomy and Lombroso, behaviourism and Pavlov, primate communication and psychopathology. Much of this stuff was fairly new to movies, and certainly pretty exotic: research has clearly been done, even if it’s all filtered through the Hollywood screenwriters’ patented bullshittifier.

At the root of it all, as is obvious from the start, is Karl Malden (a man with a face built for 3D) and his pet gorilla, Sultan, the two best actors in the film. Malden suavely walks a tightrope between fanatical, method-y commitment and unavoidable contempt for the material, and Charles Gemora as Sultan turns in a compelling physical performance (reprising his role from the original Universal MURDERS IN THE RM.

The gorilla suit is obviously just that, even if it’s well made, but this ape does have a few more character nuances than most men in suits. There’s also Claude Dauphin, the only Frenchman with a French accent in the film, who’s pretty enjoyable as the worst detective you’ll ever see, and the lovely Patricia Medina (who just died in May) who doesn’t have enough of a part to properly register, alas. Fat credit, thin character.

In the words of Godard, “It’s not blood, it’s red.” Literally, in this case.

I thought this was going to be terrible but we had a blast with it. “I *loved* that!” declared Fiona.

Safe

Posted in FILM with tags , on April 2, 2011 by dcairns

Yes! This blog is brought to you on 100% safe, non-flammable, approved Kodascope safety film. An enclosing booth is not required. No longer need you read film blogs encased in a soundproof, flameproof, radiation-proof enclosing booth. The makers of Shadowplay guarantee that their product will NOT, at an instant, burst into flames and leave you unconvincingly disfigured like that man in MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM or that other, similar man in HOUSE OF WAX.

We doubt the competition can make similar claims.

Hey Presto

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on September 26, 2009 by dcairns

Mad Magician web classic poster

THE MAD MAGICIAN is the second of Vincent Price’s horror flicks, after HOUSE OF WAX (factor in SON OF SINBAD and Uncle Vinnie must be one of the most persistently three-dimensional of actors, for reasons I can’t quite fathom), and despite boasting a story by Crane Wilbur, who scripted the earlier film, and direction by John Brahm, who had brought expressionist/noir chiaroscuro stylings to two Laird Cregar shockers (THE LODGER and HANGOVER SQUARE), it’s easy to see why it doesn’t have the same killer rep as Andre De Toth’s wax museum penny dreadful.

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Obviously shot on a lower budget, MM is black and white, but a slightly gray and washed-out kind, not quite up to the usual standards of Brahm or ace cinematographer Bert Glennon. I suspect the technical difficulties of the 3D resulted in over-lighting, or something. I can’t think of any b&w 3D movies with outstanding cinematography, actually. And Brahm doesn’t do too many of the great off-balance compositions and slow advances that made his Cregar movies deliciously spooky — I suspect Price’s physog just doesn’t inspire him the way lovely Laird’s bloated kisser obviously did.

The plot has compensations — Price may be the only killer in screen history to frame his first victim for his second victim’s murder, and he attempts to repeat the trick with a third target. The gimmick is rubber masks, which Price has developed as part of his job designing tricks for magicians (imagine if the BBC’s Jonathan Creek went bad — and not in the sense of slowly running out of ideas and charm and droning on endlessly with a mounting sense of desperation, because obviously that couldn’t happen). He also uses lethal tricks such as a buzz saw and a crematorium to dispose of his enemies, although ex-wife Eva Gabor is despatched via simple strangulation. Which is odd — you’d think she was the kind of person who could inspire a far more creative homicide.

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Actually, the film’s most surreal moment is when the script requires Price to slap Gabor, something he just can’t do with conviction. Price is an ungainly actor, a brilliantly athletic face mounted atop a stiff, bumbling frame, with a bandy lope of a run — only his hands seem to obey his mind, forming beautiful flourishes in the air. They might wield a whip or pull a maleficent lever, but slapping a face is something they draw the line at.

The whole thing is reasonable fun, slightly unpredictable, vestigially original and worth watching for the Brahm completist, which is me. It’s interesting that Brahm really got his mojo back on TV, where some of his Twilight Zone episodes are even more visually inventive and striking than his best movies. In this he was not alone — Jacques Tourneur, whose late features are largely a sorry bunch, whether compared to his 40s and 50s masterpieces or to run-of-the-mill studio pablum, managed a terrific Zone episode, Night Call, which I recommend to all his admirers, and Mitchell Leisen’s The Sixteen Millimeter Shrine, with Ida Lupino, could serve as his epitaph.

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We watched THE MAD MAGICIAN flat. A guy with a paddle-ball routine turns up, as in HOUSE OF WAX, and the buzz saw looks like it would be fun in 3D, spitting splinters and sawdust in our faces. With Brahm at the helm, it seems likely that some of the more interesting effects are less obvious and can only be discussed after an “in-depth” viewing.

Hooray! Some clips –

And actually that does look a lot more interesting than the flat version would suggest… (You might have to double-click the image to call up an anaglyph version.)

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