Thursday, April 30, 2020

April Quick Picks and Pans

The Strangler (1964) This overlooked little thriller is worthy of rediscovery, thanks to Victor Buono’s gloriously unhinged performance as Leo Kroll, a man frozen in a stage of arrested development. The standard police procedural plot is nothing special, hampered by wooden acting from David McLean and Baynes Barron as obtuse cops. Buono takes the film to a different level as Kroll with his intimidating presence, sociopathic tendencies and idiosyncrasies (he targets nurses and collects dolls, which he keeps locked in a desk drawer). He’s tormented by his hospitalized, domineering mother (Ellen Corby), who teaches him to distrust women. In one of the most memorable scenes, he expresses his love to a horrified arcade prize booth worker. If you can excuse the dated psychology, it’s a compelling portrait of a profoundly disturbed individual.  

Rating: ***½. Available on DVD and Tubi

The Perfume of the Lady in Black (1974) Mimsy Farmer stars as Silvia Hacherman, a successful chemist, in director/co-writer Francesco Barilli’s (writer of Who Saw Her Die?) unconventional, slow-moving mystery. She’s confronted by many questions and few answers, as she comes face to face with a young girl who seems to know a little too much about her shady past. The film invites viewers to separate reality from delusions, with shades of Repulsion and multiple references to Alice in Wonderland, as Silvia’s sanity gradually erodes. The story moves with a deliberate pace, in a giallo seemingly devoid of murders, but stick with it as the bodies pile up in the third act. The conclusion is as baffling as it’s disturbing

Rating: ***½. Available on Blu-ray, DVD and Kanopy

The Believers (1987) Martin Sheen stars as police psychologist Cal Jamison, a recent widower, who relocates to New York. He barely gets settled before becoming embroiled in a case involving a series of ritualized child murders (linked to an extremist sect of Santeria). As he digs deeper for answers, his young son (Harley Cross) is targeted by the murderous cult, whose tendrils spread far and wide. Sheen is over the top, but there are some good supporting performances by Robert Loggia as a police lieutenant, Harris Yulin as a wealthy philanthropist, and Helen Shaver as his landlord/girlfriend (she has the honor of being in the film’s ickiest scene). Director John Schlesinger builds a modicum of suspense and paranoia, although it probably would have been wise to omit the dodgy opening scene, depicting the improbable accident (milk and coffee makers don’t mix) that killed Jamison’s wife. The film might not make you a believer (pardon the pun), but there are worse ways to spend 90 or so minutes.

Rating: ***. Available on Blu-ray, DVD and Prime Video

Burke and Hare (1972) Despite the tremendous potential of the subject matter, this movie somehow squanders its retelling of the infamous Burke and Hare murders, which occurred in Edinburgh, Scotland in the early 19th century. Vernon Sewell’s 1972 film attempts to be erotic and comic, yet fails on both counts. Ne’er do wells Burke and Hare (Derren Nesbitt and Glynn Edwards) hatch a scheme to get rich, selling bodies to an anatomical school. In order to meet the increasing demands of the school, and their greed, they resort to murder to keep the product flowing. The film suffers from lethargic pacing (spending too much time with a subplot about a local brothel, frequented by doctors and medical students), feeble attempts at comedy, and does little to evoke a sense of horror or atmosphere. The theme song by The Scaffold is kind of catchy, though.

Rating: **½. Available on Blu-ray, DVD and Kanopy

Tuesday, April 28, 2020


(1981) Written and directed by John Waters; Starring: Divine, Tab Hunter, Edith Massey, David Samson and Mink Stole; Available on Blu-ray and DVD

Rating: ***½

“If Polyester is suburban hell, then I don’t think… I think people could be happy in suburbia. I’m not saying that they can’t be… I could never be. If there was a John Waters utopia, it would probably be a great house, with great rugs, next door to a prison.”
– John Waters (from 1993 Criterion commentary)

John Waters once remarked that when he was a kid, he wanted to sit in William Castle’s lap for Christmas. While it’s doubtful he ever got his original wish, Waters followed in the footsteps of his idol, with an affectionate tribute to Mr. Castle’s famous gimmicks, Polyester. Presented in “Odorama,” * Polyester combined two seemingly disparate things: Waters’ anarchic, anti-establishment comedy and Castle’s flair for showmanship. Shot in 35 mm (compared to 16 mm for his earlier efforts) with a $300,000 budget, it was his biggest production to date. As a film designated for mainstream cinemas, as opposed to the midnight movie circuit, it heralded a new era for the filmmaker.

* Fun Fact #1: Audiences were introduced (or assaulted) to a smell-related gimmick, years earlier, with Scent of Mystery (1960), presented in “Smell-O-Vision,” and starring Peter Lorre, Denholm Elliott and Diana Dors. Oddly enough, this wasn’t a Castle film.

For the benefit of those who didn’t attend an original theatrical screening of the film (including yours truly), we have the next best thing with the Criterion Blu-ray (there’s also a DVD available), which includes an Odorama* card. The card replicates its theatrical counterpart, complete with numbered scratch and sniff sections that correspond to flashing numbers on the screen, so everyone can play along at home. Considering the source, it should be no surprise that not everything smells like roses (although that’s one of the scents). Instead, expect more along the lines of “fart” and “smelly tennis shoes” (I won’t divulge which numbers on the card correspond to what).**

* Fun Fact #2: According to Waters, per legal requirements, the film company had to confirm that the original scratch-n-sniff cards, manufactured by 3M, would be non-toxic in the event that someone tried to eat them.

** Fun Fact #3: For the creation of the Odorama cards, the 3M company used some smells off the shelf from their library (including “rose” and “skunk”), while they had to get creative with a combination of scents, to get the desired effect for some of the more infamous odors.

Divine, who played some truly despicable characters in Waters’ earlier films, gets a chance to win our sympathies as beleaguered suburban housewife Francine Fishpaw, gifted with exceptional olfactory abilities (lucky us, we get to smell what she smells), but seemingly cursed with everything else. Francine laments, “I look into my future, and all I see is a long, dark highway filled with endless toll booths and no exits.” Everything seems to go wrong in her nuclear family turned upside down, starting with her loutish husband Elmer (David Samson), who operates a local porn theater, berates her on a daily basis, and cheats on her with his girlfriend (Mink Stole). Her son Dexter (Ken King) has a foot fetish and a penchant for serial foot stomping, while pregnant daughter Lu-Lu (Mary Garlington) hangs out with a disreputable crowd – notably, her boyfriend Bo-Bo (played by ex-Dead Boy, Stiv Bators). Just when it looks like things can’t get bleaker, even the family dog decides to end it all. The one bright spot in Francine’s life is her well-to-do friend Cuddles (Edith Massey), * who stands by her when things are at their worst. It’s when things are at their worst that Francine finds love in an unexpected place, from slick-talking, Corvette-driving conman Todd Tomorrow, played by ‘50s/’60s heartthrob Tab Hunter (who also sings the title song, with Blondie’s Debbie Harry as backup).

* Fun Fact #4: Waters noted that Massey (a Baltimore fixture and regular in his films since 1970’s Multiple Maniacs) had trouble remembering her lines and pronouncing some of the dialogue, resulting in multiple takes.

Waters has a knack for turning the microscope on modern society, filtered through his gleefully distorted lens. Polyester sets its sights on suburbia and what he considered “nouveau riche bad taste,” with its atrocious fashions, garish color schemes and questionable trends (witness Waters regular Mink Stole in corn rows – a mocking call-back to Bo Derek’s 10 look). Casting Edith Massey against type, as a wealthy socialite, is another inspired choice. In a film packed with gags, one of the funniest (and more elaborate) involves a highbrow drive-in theater that shows obscure French arthouse film (come to think of it, that’s not such a bad idea). The topper is a romantic montage to end all romantic montages, with Francine and Todd cavorting in a field to the strains of a love song crooned by Bill Murray (it’s about as surreal as you could imagine).

* Not-So-Fun-Fact: In one scene where an enraged gospel singer bites into a car tire, actress Jean Hill became a bit too involved in her role, which resulted in losing her front teeth.

Polyester successfully heralds the transition between John Waters’ earlier, demonstratively less-commercial efforts (Pink Flamingos, Female Trouble) and his more people-pleasing endeavors (Hairspray, Serial Mom). The common denominator that runs through all his work, however, is a fondness for pushing buttons and a disdain for conformity. The most shocking thing about Polyester might be that Waters ultimately has an (Gasp!) uplifting message for us, with a soft spot for the underdogs, the downtrodden and misunderstood. Amidst the bad smells and depictions of antisocial behavior, we’re encouraged to learn to respect others’ differences, and just as importantly, value ourselves. Mr. Waters gently nudges us in the ribs, reminds us that going to the movies engages all our senses (and all that implies). William Castle (who passed away in 1977) never lived to see Waters’ film, but I’m sure he would have been touched to see that good showmanship (albeit in the interest of bad taste) never died. 

Sunday, April 19, 2020

The Vincent Price Blogathon – Wrap Up

It’s hard to believe that we’ve reached the end of the Vincent Price Blogathon, after months of planning. The call for submissions went out in February, and participants rose to the challenge with multiple reviews, a podcast, videos, a cocktail recipe, and another fabulous word puzzle, courtesy of The Anagram Hunter (see answers below). I’m overwhelmed and awed by the quality and breadth of topics about this versatile, multi-talented performer. The films covered included many favorites, and a quite a few more obscure selections. Sadly, I never got the chance to meet Mr. Price in person, but this blogathon was the next best thing.

Once again, I’d like to thank my blogging pal Gill from Realweegiemidget Reviews for being such a wonderful, resourceful co-host. I’m truly grateful for our collaboration, and look forward to working together on many future blogathons. Also, thanks to everyone who contributed, making this the biggest blogathon we’ve ever done!

And finally, in an announcement that shouldn’t surprise too many loyal bloggers and readers, Gill and I have decided to host a third Hammer-Amicus Blogathon later this year. Watch for details soon. We hope to see many of you again soon.   

If you’re still planning a last-minute submission for the Vincent Price Blogathon, let us know, and we’ll post a link. Post a comment below, email me at, or reach me on Twitter (@barry_cinematic). You may also contact Gill by commenting on her post, through her blog’s Contact Me page, or on Twitter (@realweegiemidge).

And now, on with the contest. Drumroll, please! The winner of the Italian poster pair of The Pit and the Pendulum is…

Al Daugherty!


Answers to the anagram quiz from Day 1 (No peeking, if you haven’t played yet):

1. Theatre of blood 2. House of Wax 3. The Tomb of Ligeia 4. Return of the Fly 5. Beach Party 6. Witchfinder General 7. Twice Told Tales 8. House on Haunted Hill 10. Edward Scissorhands 11. The Abominable Dr. Phibes 12. The Last Man on Earth 13. The Haunted Palace 14. Scream and Scream Again 15. Dr. Phibes Rises Again

Be sure to visit the recaps from days One and Two:

Here are the submissions for Day Three:

Daniberry from Kinojoan seeks out Witchfinder General (1968).

 Enjoy your favorite libation while you read Andrew Wickliffe’s (from The Stop Button) review of Champagne for Caesar (1950).

Cody Hamman from Life Between Frames reviews The Oblong Box (1969)

Eric Binford from Diary of a Movie Maniac let us know if murder mystery Moss Rose (1947) is worth a look.

Kevin Crighton, aka The Grump of Horror, passes judgement on Witchfinder General (aka: The Conqueror Worm) (1968)

Black Cats and Poppies makes her blogging debut with a look at Dragonwyck (1946)

 What the Craggus Saw witnesses a Bloodbath at the House of Death (1984)

Andrew from Maniacs and Monsters would like to extend an exclusive invitation to The Monster Club (1981)

Let Debbie Vega from Moon in Gemini be your guide in The House of the Seven Gables (1940).

Rebecca Deniston from Taking Up Room reviews the film noir classic Laura (1944).

Don’t be afraid to read the Metzinger Sisters’ (from Silver Scenes) discussion of the BBC radio serial The Price of Fear (1973).

Tommy Ross from B-Movie Gazette has prepared a special Theatre of Blood (1973) poem.

Movie Rob is back to tell us about the World War II drama The Eve of St. Mark (1944).

Buzz on over to The Psychotronic Kinematograph, where Glenn McCulla takes a look at The Fly (1958).

Don’t be startled, it’s just Gabriela from Pale Writer with a review of Shock (1946).

Paul from Reel Distracted hangs out with The Last Man on Earth (1964)

Are you brave enough to explore The House on Haunted Hill (1959) with Lê from Critica Retro?

Saturday, April 18, 2020

The Vincent Price Blogathon – Day 2 Recap

Day Two of the Vincent Prince Blogathon is upon us, and we have another bumper crop of posts, with Edgar Allan Poe, creepy houses, flying mammals, gothic romance, the silly side of Mr. Price, a double dose of biopics, TV, radio drama, and Vincent singing!  

If you plan to participate but you’re not quite ready, fear not, we’ll post your link on Day Three. Post a comment below, email me at, or reach me on Twitter (@barry_cinematic). You may also contact Gill by commenting on her post, through her blog’s Contact Me page, or on Twitter (@realweegiemidge).

In addition to today’s links, be sure to visit the Day 1 Recap, and stay tuned for Day 3!

Reminder: The deadline to enter for a chance to win an Italian poster pair (below) for The Pit and the Pendulum (1961), courtesy of Westgate Gallery, is 11:59 p.m. (Pacific Time) on Saturday, April 18th (See the Day 1 Recap for contest details). The winner will be selected by random drawing on Sunday, April 19th, and announced on the Day 3 Recap. Good luck to all everyone who entered!

Here are the submissions for Day Two. Be sure to check out the following links and remember to tune in Sunday for Day Three.

Get your clicker ready, because it’s time for Caftan Woman to discuss Vincent’s TV appearance on Have Gun Will Travel, “The Moor’s Revenge.”

What’s that behind you? Never fear, as Sally Silverscreen from 18 Cinema Lane is our guide for the House of the Long Shadows (1983).

Shawn Hall from The Everyday Cinephile looks at Brigham Young (1940).

You’d have to be bats to miss Constance and Diana Metzinger’s review of The Bat (1959) on their blog, Silver Scenes.

Karavansara gives the 1947 radio drama The Saint a listen.

 Swing on by John V’s Eclectic Avenue, and read his review of The Pit and the Pendulum (1961).
Stop by The Midnite Drive-In for an eye-popping double feature of Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine (1965) & Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs (1966).

Paul Batters from Silver Screen Classics pays his respects to The Tomb of Ligeia (1964).

 Peter Fuller from Vincent Price Legacy UK explores the musical side of Mr. Price.

 Movie Rob is back to talk about Brigham Young (1940).

Vinnie Harris dares us to spend the night inside the House on Haunted Hill (1959).

Don’t sleep on Virginie Pronovost’s (of The Wonderful World of Cinema) review of Fritz Lang’s While the City Sleeps (1956).

And finally… Join me, won’t you, as I step back in time to 1844, and pay a visit to Dragonwyck (1946).


(1946) Written and directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz; Based on the novel by Anya Seton; Starring: Gene Tierney, Vincent Price, Walter Huston, Glenn Langan, Anne Revere and Vivienne Osborne; Available on Blu-ray (Region B) and DVD

Rating: ****½ 

“I didn’t expect you to understand – how could you? Don’t be offended. By ordinary standards, you’re quite intelligent. But I will not live by ordinary standards. I will not run with the pack. I will not be chained into a routine of living which is the same for others. I will not look to the ground and move on the ground with the rest. So long as there are those mountaintops and clouds, limitless space.” – Nicholas Van Ryn (Vincent Price) to Miranda (Gene Tierney)

Many thanks to my excellent co-host, Gill Jacob from RealweegiemidgetReviews, for helping make The Vincent Price Blogathon a reality. I’m excited to be part of this three-day multi-blogger event, covering numerous topics about this fascinating, multi-faceted personality. Be sure to check out all the exceptional posts!

The eminently watchable Vincent Price made a career out of protagonists that you loved to love, and villains you loved to hate. This movie fan, however, enjoys Price best when he’s portraying characters at their worst. With his refined manner and velvet tongue, he could deliver a curse and make it sound like a benediction. Price shines in his landmark role as landowner Nicholas Van Ryn,* the brooding patriarch of Dragonwyck Manor.

* Fun Fact #1: Before Price was ultimately cast, Gregory Peck and Laird Cregar (who died tragically young) were considered for the role of Nicholas Van Ryn.

Based on Anya Seton’s 1944 novel (set in 1844), Dragonwyck displays many of the hallmarks of a gothic romance, including a headstrong heroine in a love triangle, treacherous dealings, and a shadow-filled mansion harboring dark secrets in every corner. The big budget ($1.9 million) production marked the directorial debut of Joseph L. Mankiewicz, taking the reins after the original director, Ernst Lubitsch suffered a heart attack. Their creative partnership initially went well, but due to Lubitsch’s meddling or (depending on your interpretation of events) the broadening chasm between their artistic differences, Lubitsch had his name removed from the credits.

Gene Tierney plays the naïve yet strong-willed Miranda Wells. After her mother (Anne Revere) receives an invitation from Nicholas Van Ryn, a wealthy distant relative, Miranda jumps at the chance (overcoming objections from her father) to venture out of her sleepy farming community of Greenwich, Connecticut to Dragonwyck estate in New York. She finds her benefactor a charming host, but all is not as it seems with Nicholas or the dark legacy he’s inherited. Much to Miranda’s consternation, Van Ryn’s young daughter Katrine (Connie Marshall) views her father and mother Johanna (Vivienne Osborne) with loathing. Nicholas is also reviled by the townspeople, who toil on land he owns, with no possibility of purchasing a plot for themselves.* He enjoys privileged status as quasi-royalty in his private fiefdom, collecting rent from the poor farmers.** A young, idealistic local doctor, Jeff Turner (Glenn Langan),*** sides with their plight and takes a keen interest in Miranda. Turner vies for Miranda’s affections, but Miranda (thanks in part to Nicholas’ machinations) only has eyes for Nicholas.

* Fun Fact #2: This system, a carryover from wealthy Dutch immigrants settling in America, was known as a patroonship (Say it, it’s fun!). You can find out more here:

** Fun Fact #3: T.V. fans might recognize one of the angry farmers, Klaas Bleecker, played by Harry Morgan (aka: Henry Morgan) of M*A*S*H fame.

*** Fun Fact #4: IMDB lists Langan’s height at six feet, two-and-a-half inches, while the Blu-ray commentary stated that he was six feet, five inches. Whichever source you believe, Langan was similar in stature to co-star, Price, who was six feet, four inches. As imposing as he seemed in Dragonwyck, Langan would appear in his biggest (wink, wink) role, 11 years later, as Lt. Col. Glenn Manning in The Amazing Colossal Man (1957).

Veteran character actor Walter Huston plays Miranda’s pious, controlling father Ephraim, who’s skeptical of the world outside his family’s tight-knit community. He takes umbrage at what he perceives to be her shift in loyalty, shunning their simpler way of life for the extravagance of Dragonwyck. Ephraim and Nicholas are polar opposites, representing constraint anchored in religious fundamentalism, contrasted with indulgence and atheism. Nope, there’s not much of a middle ground here, but it’s a story told in broad strokes, consistent with its romantic underpinnings.

While Vincent Price received third billing behind Tierney and Huston, he effectively steals the show from his co-stars as the alternately charming and tyrannical Van Ryn. His character’s true nature is gradually revealed to Miranda once she falls into his trap. He abhors imperfections (“Deformed bodies depress me”), and regards those who work under him as inferiors, not equals (reserving much of his anger for Miranda’s maid Peggy, played by Jessica Tandy). Immediately after his wife’s sudden death (under dubious circumstances that we can spot a mile away), he expresses his intentions to Miranda, as it becomes abundantly clear that his primary goal is to find someone who can provide him with a son. It’s a little too simple, however, to paint Van Ryn as a sneering monster, with his mercurial temper and scheming ways. As expertly portrayed by Price, Nicholas Van Ryn is a man of refinement and contradictions. The ruminative, tortured quality of Price’s performance has invited comparisons to his Poe characters a decade and a half later (coincidentally, in a scene that was in the book but unfortunately omitted from the screenplay, Van Ryn would have met Edgar Allan Poe).

Dragonwyck includes many visual touches that make it rise above simple historical melodrama. Miranda’s introduction to Dragonwyck Manor, perched on a cliffside, is especially memorable, viewed from the deck of a steamboat. Inside the mansion, an ominous portrait of Van Ryn’s great grandmother (who killed herself many years ago) watches over the residents’ heads. Later in the film, when Miranda summons the courage to makes the trek to Nicholas’ secluded attic hideaway, we’re treated to expressionistic flourishes, with the intimidating staircase shrouded in distorted shadows. There’s also a hint of the supernatural, as Van Ryn and his daughter Katrine are tormented by harpsichord playing and ghostly sounds in the night.

Whether or not producer Lubitsch’s alleged meddling created significant waves, it pales in comparison to the contentious relationship 20th Century Fox experienced with Joseph Breen and his Production Code Office, which imposed multiple revisions to the script and even the women’s costumes. In the film Van Ryn mentions his drug addiction, but makes no mention of opium (referenced in the book). Although oleander plays a significant part in the story, Breen wanted to omit any references to how the toxic plant was employed, out of fear that some moviegoers might try to duplicate the deadly results. One of the largest concessions to the Production Code, which dictated that the perpetrator must be punished for his crimes, prescribed eschewing the ending from the book (Spoiler Alert), in which Van Ryn heroically sacrifices himself to save some drowning victims of a steamboat accident. Arguably, the ending that was created for the film works just as well.

Much like its antagonist, Dragonwyck becomes progressively darker as we delve into the mystery of Van Ryn. It’s a fractured love story, depicting a clash between classes, and the perils of unchecked entitlement. Despite her strong performance, co-star Tierney reportedly wasn’t much of a fan of the film. She looks radiant though, and is utterly convincing as a young woman as much in love with a dream as she is with a man. Dragonwyck boasts a uniformly excellent cast, great atmosphere, stunning cinematography and a lush score by Alfred Newman. Price has never been better as Nicholas Van Ryn, in a performance that would set the template for many characters he would subsequently play in other films.

Sources for this article: Indicator Blu-ray commentary by Steve Haberman and Constantine Nasr; 2008 featurette: “A House of Secrets: Exploring Dragonwyck”