Horror Scenes That I Love: Vincent Price’s monologue in Roger Corman’s Masque of the Red Death


This scene, from 1964’s Masque of the Red Death, was directed by Roger Corman, performed by Vincent Price, and shot by Nicolas Roeg.  It was based on a short story by Edgar Allan Poe.  That’s a lot of talent on display.

Enjoy!

Film Review: Insignificance (dir by Nicolas Roeg)


The 1985 film, Insignificance, opens in New York City in the 1950s.

On the streets of New York, a crowd has gathered to watch as the Actress (Theresa Russell), a famous sex symbol, is filmed standing on a grate while wearing a white dress.  Beneath the street and the Actress, a fan has been set up and the crowd of onlookers cheers as the Actress’s skirt is blown up around her hips, again and again.  Standing in the crowd, the Actress’s husband, the Ballplayer (Gary Busey), watches and shakes his head in disgust.  After the scene has been shot, the Actress hops in a taxi while the Ballplayer chases after her.  A very famous man is in town and the Actress is on her way to pay him a visit.

In a nearby bar, the Senator (Tony Curtis), drinks and talks and sweats.  Though it may not be obvious from looking at him, the Senator is a very powerful man.  He’s leading an investigations into subversives who may be trying to bring down the United States government.  He may look like a small-time mobster but the Senator can make and destroy people on a whim.  He’s come to New York on a very specific mission.  He and his goons are planning on pressuring another famous man into testifying before the Senator’s committee.

Though they don’t know it, both the Actress and the Senator are planning on dropping in on the same man.  The Professor (Michael Emil) is a world-renowned genius.  When we first see him, he is sitting alone in a hotel room and looking at a watch that has stopped at 8:15.  The public may know the Professor for his eccentricities but, in private, he is a haunted man.  The Professor’s work was instrumental in the creation of the first atomic bomb.  And now, with both the U.S. and Russia stockpiling their atomic arsenals and the world seemingly on the verge of war, the Professor fears that his work will be the end of humanity.

Though none of the characters are actually named over the course of the film, it should be obvious to anyone with even a slight knowledge of American history that the four main characters are meant to be versions of Marilyn Monroe, Joe DiMaggio, Joe McCarthy, and Albert Einstein.  Insignificance imagines a meeting between these four cultural icons and really, it’s not difficult to imagine a scenario in which they all could have met.  Joe DiMaggio actually was present during the filming of the subway grate scene from The Seven Year Itch and most accounts record his reaction as being not that different from what’s portrayed in Insignificance.  Albert Einstein was suspected of having communist sympathies and several scientific figures (including many who worked on the Manhattan Project) were investigated during the McCarthy era.  Finally, Marilyn Monroe was often frustrated by her “dumb blonde” image and said that she found Albert Einstein to be a very attractive man.  When she died, a biography of Einstein was reportedly found on her nightstand.

In the film, the Senator pressures The Professor to appear before his committee.  It’s not long after the Senator leaves that the Actress arrives.  The Actress announces that she’s fascinating by the theory of relativity and, using balloons, toys, and a flashlight, she proceeds to demonstrate the theory for the Professor.  The befuddled Professor is impressed.  The Actress informs the Professor that he’s at the top of her list.  Meanwhile, downstairs in another hotel room, the Senator is met by a prostitute who bears a resemblance to the Actress. The Ballplayer sits in the hotel bar, tearing up a picture of the Actress and wondering why their marriage is failing.

Because this film was directed by Nicolas Roeg, the film is full of seemingly random flashbacks.  We see the Senator as an altar boy, trying to impress a smiling priest.  We see the Ballplayer getting yelled at by his domineering father.  We see the Actress, growing up poor and being ogled, at first by the young boys at an orphanage and later by Hollywood execs.  Meanwhile, The Professor continually sees the destruction of Hiroshima.  His visions are apocalyptic and, towards the end of the film, he even gets a glimpse into a possible future of atomic hellfire.  It’s a film about fame and cultural transition, a film where people look to celebrities for hope while doomsday comes closer and closer.

Or something like that.  To be honest, I wanted to like Insignificance more than I actually did.  As is typical with so many of Nicolas Roeg’s films, Insignificance has an intriguing premise but the execution is a bit uneven.  There are moments of absolute brilliance.  Theresa Russell and Gary Busey both give perfect performances and the film’s final apocalyptic vision will haunt you.  And then there are moments when the film becomes a bit of a slog and the dialogue starts to get a bit too pretentious and on-the-nose.  Michael Emil has some good moments as the Professor but there are other moments when he seems to be lost.  Meanwhile, Tony Curtis gives such a terrible performance as The Senator that he throws the entire film off-balance.  Curtis bulges his eyes like a madman and delivers his lines like a comedian doing a bad 1930s gangster impersonation.

That said, Insignificance is still an interesting film.  It’s uneven but intriguing.  Though the film may take place in the 50s and may deal with a quartet of historical figures, it’s themes are still relevant in 2020.  People still tend to idealize celebrities.  Politicians still hold onto power by exploiting fear.  The possibility that everything could just end one day is still a very real one.  Insignificance is a film worth watching, even if it doesn’t completely work.

4 Shots From 4 Films: Happy Birthday, Donald Cammell!


4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking!

86 years ago, Donald Cammell was born in Edinburgh, Scotland.  The son of a friend and biographer of the infamous Aleister Crowley, Cammell grew up surrounded by bohemians, artists, and magicians.  After getting his start as a painter and establishing himself as a mainstay of “swinging London,” Cammell pursued a career as a screenwriter and director.

Cammell only completed a total of four films, all of which walked the very thin line between brilliance and pretension.  All four of them have since developed strong cult following but were considered to be financial and critical disappointments when first released.  As a result, Cammell had a difficult time getting anyone to back the majority of his projects.  Cammell also had the misfortune to get involved with Marlon Brando during the latter’s mercurial period.  Brando commissioned Cammell to write and direct at least two films for him before losing interest just before shooting was set to begin.  Frustrated with both his life and his career, Cammell shot himself in 1996.  He reportedly survived for 45-minutes after shooting himself and he spent that time recording his thoughts on life and dying.  Though Cammell died in relative obscurity, his films have since been rediscovered and reevaluated.  His legacy lives on.

4 Shots From 4 Films

Performance (1970, directed by Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg)

Demon Seed (1977, directed by Donald Cammell)

White of the Eye (1987, directed by Donald Cammell)

Wild Side (1995, directed by Donald Cammell)

 

4 Shots From 4 Films: Rest In Peace, Nicolas Roeg


One of the greatest filmmakers of our age has died.  Rest in peace, Nicolas Roeg.

4 Shots From 4 Films

Walkabout (1971, directed by Nicolas Roeg)

The Man Who Fell To Earth (1976, directed by Nicolas Roeg)

Bad Timing (1980, directed by Nicolas Roeg)

Insignificance (1985, directed by Nicolas Roeg)

Horror Film Review: Don’t Look Now (dir by Nicolas Roeg)


Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie in Don’t Look Now (1973)

I have to admit that I’m actually a bit embarrassed to say that Venice is my favorite city in Italy.

I mean, it’s such a cliché, isn’t it?  Tourists always fall in love with Venice, even though the majority of us really don’t know much about the city beyond the canals and the gondolas.  I spent a summer in Italy and Venice was definitely the city that had the most American visitors.  Sadly, the majority of them didn’t do a very good job representing the U.S. in Europe.  I’ll never forget the drunk frat boys who approached me one night, all wearing University of Texas t-shirts.  One of them asked, “Are you from Texas?”

“No,” I lied.

“You sound like you’re from Texas!” his friend said.

“No, ah’m not from Texas,” I said, “Sorry, y’all.”

I mean, that’s not something that would have happened in Florence or even Naples!  In Rome, handsome men on motor scooters gave me flowers.  In Venice, on the other hand, I had to deal with the same assholes that I dealt with back home!

That said, I still fell in love with Venice.  And yes, it did happen while riding in a gondola.  At that moment, I felt like I was living in a work of art.  I can still remember looking over the side of the gondola and watching as a small crab ran across someone’s front porch.  That’s when I realize that, by its very existence, Venice proved that anything was possible.

I’ve often heard that Venice is slowly sinking.  That Venice has a reputation as being a dying city would probably have come to a surprise to the drunk Americans who were just looking for a girl from Texas that summer.  And yet, Venice has always been associated with death.  Just consider Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice and the subsequent film adaptation from Luchino Visconti.  Consider the controversial Giallo in Venice.  And, of course, you can’t forget about the 1973 film, Don’t Look Now.

Oh my God, Don’t Look Now is a creepy movie.  It’s probably best known for two things: the lengthy sex scene between Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland (which was apparently quite controversial back in 1973 but which seems rather tame when viewed today) and the film’s shock ending.  It’s one of the best and most disturbing endings in the history of horror and I’m not going to spoil it in this review.  The first time I saw the movie, the ending caught me totally off guard and gave me nightmares.  Admittedly, it’s not hard to give me nightmares but what’s remarkable is that, upon subsequent viewings, the ending is still just as frightening and disturbing.  In fact, knowing what’s going to happen makes the film even more chilling.

The film’s story is actually a rather simple one.  After their daughter, Christine, accidentally drowns, John (Donald Sutherland) and Laura Baxter (Julie Christie) take a trip to Venice.  Though they’re in Venice so that John can restore an ancient church, both John and Laura are mostly trying to escape their grief.  Laura meets a blind woman, Heather (Hilary Mason), who claims to not only be a psychic but who also says that she can see Christine in the afterlife.  Laura believes Heather and is concerned when Heather says that Christine wants them to leave Venice.  John, on the other hand, believes that Heather is a fake.

When the Baxters get a phone call informing them that their son has taken ill, Laura flies back to the UK.  Or does she?  One day, John spots his wife riding on a boat with Heather and her sister.  Has Heather abducted or brainwashed his wife?  When John goes to the police, they are as skeptical of him as he was of Heather.  In fact, they start to suspect that John may have something to do with a recent rash of murders.

Confused, John searches Venice for his wife but, instead of finding her, he spots a figure in the distance.  It appears to be a young child, one who is wearing the same red coat that Christine was wearing when she drowned….

It’s a simple story but it’s told in a very complex fashion.  Director Nicolas Roeg is best known for his fragmented narrative style.  Roeg often mashes together scenes from the past, present, and future and leaves it up to the viewer to put it all together.  (For instance, in Don’t Look Now, scenes of John and Laura making love are intercut with scenes of them getting dressed afterward.)  Roeg’s style that can often come across as being pretentious but, in Don’t Look Now, it works perfectly.  The audience is kept off-balance and is always aware that that’s more than one possible interpretation for everything that is seen.  Is Laura in the UK or is she on a boat in Venice?  Is Heather seeing Christine or is she just trying to con a grieving mother?  Is John chasing the figure in the red coat or is she actually the one pursuing him?  Is John chasing the figure because he believes that she’s his daughter or because he wants to prove, once and for all, that Christine is gone and never coming back?  Roeg keeps you guessing.

Death seems to permeate every frame of Don’t Look Now, whether it’s Heather’s cheery descriptions of the afterlife or the sight of a bloated corpse being pulled out of the canal.  Even when John is working in the church, he still nearly slips off a scaffolding.  While John restores ancient buildings to the vibrant glories of the past, the present seems to grow more and more ominous and menacing.  John and Laura may have traveled to Venice to escape their grief but their grief follows them.  How they deal with that grief — both as a couple and as individuals — is what determines their fate.  For a film that is full of mysteries, none is as enigmatic as Julie Christie’s smile when she’s on the boat.

I’m probably making Don’t Look Now sound like an incredibly grim film and, to a certain extent, it is.  After all, early 70s cinema is not known for its happy endings.  And yet, as dark and disturbing as this film may be, it’s impossible to look away from.  Roeg does a fantastic job capturing both the beauty and the decay of Venice while Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie are so sympathetic as John and Laura that you find yourself rewatching and hoping that somehow, they don’t end up making the same mistakes that they made the last time that you watched.

Don’t Look Now is an essential horror film and one that’s as timeless as the sight of a crab running across someone’s front porch.

Music Video Of the Day: Memo From Turner (1970, dir by Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg)


In the 1970 film Performance, a sadistic gangster named Chas (James Fox) goes on the run and ends up hiding out in a mansion that’s currently occupied by a burned-out rock star named Turner (Mick Jagger).  Turner, we’re told, used to be great but then he “lost his demon.”  Could Chas be his new demon?

Well, before the answer to that question can be revealed, Chas ends up under the influence of hallucinogenic mushrooms and that’s when he sees Turner transformed into a London mob boss and performing Memo From Turner, a song about his exploits.

Though this is a scene from a movie, it’s still most definitely a music video.  In fact, it’s frequently cited as the first “true” music video.  (I imagine that John’s Children, Procol Harum, and Nancy Sinatra would disagree.)  Still, even if it’s not the first, it’s influence on subsequent videos is undeniable.

Enjoy!

4 Shots From 4 Films: Monty Python’s Life of Brian, Time Bandits, Mona Lisa, Track 29


4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films is all about letting the visuals do the talking.

In 1978, George Harrison co-founded HandMade Films to finance Monty Python’s The Life of Brian.  The company continued to produce films through the 80s and helped to reinvigorate the British film industry.  All of the shots below come from HandMade films and credit George Harrison as executive producer.

4 Shots From 4 Films

Monty Python's The Life of Brian (1979, directed by Terry Jones)

Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979, directed by Terry Jones)

Time Bandits (1981, directed by Terry Gilliam)

Time Bandits (1981, directed by Terry Gilliam)

Mona Lisa (1986, directed by Neil Jordan)

Mona Lisa (1986, directed by Neil Jordan)

Track 29 (1988, directed by Nicolas Roeg)

Track 29 (1988, directed by Nicolas Roeg)

4 Shots From 4 Films: Cold Heaven, Europa, Naked Lunch, Until The End of the World


4 Shots From 4 Films

 Cold Heaven (1991, directed by Nicolas Roeg)

Cold Heaven (1991, directed by Nicolas Roeg)

Europa (1991, directed by Lars Von Trier, released as Zentropa in North America)

Europa (1991, directed by Lars Von Trier, released as Zentropa in North America)

Naked Lunch (1991, directed by David Cronenberg)

Naked Lunch (1991, directed by David Cronenberg)

Until the End of the World (1991, directed by Wim Wenders)

Until the End of the World (1991, directed by Wim Wenders)

4 Shots From 4 Films: Walkabout, Don’t Look Now, The Man Who Fell To Earth, Insignificance


Happy birthday, Nicolas Roeg.

4 Shots From 4 Films

Walkabout (1971, directed by Nicolas Roeg)

Walkabout (1971, directed by Nicolas Roeg)

Don't Look Now (1973, directed by Nicolas Roeg)

Don’t Look Now (1973, directed by Nicolas Roeg)

The Man Who Fell To Earth (1976, directed by Nicolas Roeg)

The Man Who Fell To Earth (1976, directed by Nicolas Roeg)

Insignificance (1985, directed by Nicolas Roeg)

Insignificance (1985, directed by Nicolas Roeg)

Horror on The Lens: The Masque of the Red Death (dir by Roger Corman)


MasqueOfTheRedDeath(1964film)

So here we are, 24 days into October, and I have yet to share an old Vincent Price film!  It’s not October without at least a little contribution from Vincent.  Well, allow me to correct that with today’s horror on the lens, the 1964 Roger Corman film The Masque of the Red Death.

Based on the classic story by Edgar Allan Poe, this film features Vincent Price giving one of his best performances as the doomed and decadent Satanist Prince Prospero.  The film’s cinematographer was future director Nicolas Roeg and The Masque of the Red Death is probably one of the most visually impressive of all of Corman’s films.

Enjoy!