Archive for the ‘Elisha Cook Jr.’ Tag

House on Haunted Hill (1959)   8 comments

aaahohh

Vincent Price invites you to a party. Are there balloons and noisemakers and a clown? Gee, I hope not. No, but Price does invite a bunch of total strangers, a creepy housemaid, and a scaaaaary skeleton. Ahhhhh!!

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Avon lady!

Millionaire, Frederick Loren (Vincent Price) holds a birthday party for his wife, Annabelle (Carol Ohmart) in a spooky mansion. For those of you playing at home, that mansion is Ennis House designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. If his guests can stomach a night in the spooky house, Loren will pay each of them $10,000. That’s about $81K in 2015 dollars. A nice payday. It sounds simple enough until we learn that several people, including Watson Pritchard’s (Elisha Cook, Jr.) brother were murdered in the house. Funny thing though, they never found his head.

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A building from Wright’s pueblo pyramid period.

Just when we think we’re watching a straight haunted house film, Loren and his wife go at it. The couple do their version of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf and it’s clear this party will end badly. Loren, you see, has had three wives before Annabelle and each has expired under mysterious circumstances. Hmmm. Annabelle confides in guest, Lance Schroeder (Richard Long) that she fears for her life. Her husband, she says, wants to kill her and he’ll stop at nothing. When the servants leave prematurely, locking the party-goers in for the night, they’ll have to contend with ghosts and spirits and a possible murderer among them.

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Vincent has the coolest party favors.

Robb White, frequent William Castle collaborator, wrote the screenplays for House on Haunted Hill, Macabre, The Tingler, and others for the great showman.  Castle directed this movie and filled it with piercing screams, an active skeleton, and a rolling old lady. Supposedly, Alfred Hitchcock saw Castle’s big box office returns and decided to make Psycho. Then, Castle saw Psycho and decided to make Homicidal. I hope that’s true. Anyway, we win. All three films are horror classics.

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“There’s no food at this party.”

Oozing charm and menace, Vincent Price does his best Vincent Price. The rest of the cast hold their own, but are nothing to write home about with the exception of Elisha Cook, Jr. His crazed, drunken ramblings about ghosts and unseen forces are appropriately over the top. Alan Marshal, Carolyn Craig, who might win an Una for screaming artistry, and Robert Mitchum’s big sister, Julie round out the players. Julie Mitchum’s claim to fame in this film is that when offered a drink, she always asks for a scotch and… A scotch and what? Motor oil? Drain cleaner? Mare sweat? It’s an odd thing, but it always strikes me as funny.

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“Aaahoooo Werewolves of London!”

Ever the marketing genius, William Castle used this tagline for House on Haunted Hill. ‘First film with the amazing new wonder EMERGO: The thrills fly right into the audience!’ I wish I had been around to see a Castle film in the theatre. Flying skeletons, fright insurance, cowards’ corner…such fun. By the way, does anyone know a good acid vat installer?

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“I’m not touching you!”

haunty

 

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Blacula (1972)   Leave a comment

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In 1780, an African prince, Mamawalde of Abani (William Marshall) and his wife, Luva (Vonetta McGee) attend a dinner party at the home of the gracious Count Dracula. After the other guests have gone, Mamawalde and Luva remain for a private word with the count. After a brandy and some banter, the prince asks the count if he will side with him publicly in his mission to outlaw slavery in Europe. Instead of support or an argument, Prince Mamawalde gets laughter and a bite on the neck. The evil count imprisons the newly undead prince in a sealed coffin and his wife in an attic prison beside him.

Cut to the 1970s and a couple of flamboyantly and stereotypically gay antiques dealers buy the entire contents of Count Dracula’s castle and ship it to Los Angeles to sell in their shop. Of course they buy the coffin too and in doing so unleash Blacula on an unsuspecting Los Angeles.

Blacula cuts a swath of brutal murders across the city which prompts criminal psychologist Dr. Gordon Thomas (Thalmus Rasulala) to investigate. Thomas’ lab assistant and girlfriend, Michelle (Denise Nicholas) also happens to be the sister of Tina who looks amazingly like Blacula’s long lost love, Luva. So there you have it. Blacula and Tina/Luva fall in love instantly and despite her friends’ suspicions that Mamawalde comes on a little strong and creepy, Tina launches into a passionate affair with him. All hell breaks loose and then you have cops chasing a vampire through the nightclubs and warehouses of 70s LA.

Blacula is a fun film and despite the blaxploitation label and rather obvious title, the film isn’t the racist mess I was expecting. The main characters have depth and don’t fall into Huggy Bear-like stereotypes. The story is compelling and the action scenes look great. William Crain, who directed this and the series The Mod Squad and Starsky and Hutch, knows how to move a story along and the cast, veterans of film and television, do a fine job in their roles. There’s some real chemistry between the two main couples and even though it’s an exploitation film, you care about the people in it. Elisha Cook, Jr. even makes an appearance as a mortuary worker with a hook hand. You heard me. Gene Page, who arranged some of Barry White’s biggest hits, composed the soundtrack and the Hues Corporation, famous for the hit song “Rock the Boat” perform in a few nightclub scenes. It’s a good time!

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