Archive for Basil Rathbone

Comedy of Terrors (1964) Review

Posted in Comedy of Terrors with tags , , , , on November 20, 2014 by Last Road Reviews

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COMEDY OF TERRORS

*** ½ Out of 5

Tagline- Your Favorite Creeps Are Together Again!

Release Date- January 22nd, 1964

Running Time- 84-Minutes

Rating- NR

Screenplay- Richard Matheson

Director- Jacques Tourneur

Starring- Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff, Joyce Jameson and Basil Rathbone

The Comedy of Terrors apparently had a showing in 1963 before getting a theatrical release in 1964. The Comedy of Terrors mixes horror and comedy and features quite a legendary cast with Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff and Basil Rathbone. I really can’t think of a horror film with a better cast as all these actors are icons and it doesn’t end there as the script was by Richard Matheson and directed by Jacques Tourneur. Comedy of Terrors has amazing talent involved and it doesn’t really disappoint either, but with such talent involved the stakes are raised. While I enjoy horror and comedy there aren’t many though that would make my top list and slapstick, which this film often goes for can be hit or miss even within the same film for me.

With his business failing Waldo Trumbull (Price) does what any good owner of a funeral parlor would do and that’s murder people to drum up business.

Richard Matheson is perhaps best known for his novel I Am Legend and a year after this movie he’d co-write an adaption of it titled the Last Man on Earth, which starred Vincent Price. As a screenwriter Matheson’s most notable films are probably the Edgar Alan Poe adaptions directed by Roger Corman and starring Vincent Price with such films as House of Usher, Pit and the Pendulum and Tales of Terror. Richard Matheson also wrote a number of episodes of the Twilight Zone, while continuing to be a critically acclaimed author. The script for Comedy of Terrors has a simple plot, but the writing is quite sharp and often funny. Characters are terrific, which is a mixture of the writing and the actors involved. Comedy of Terrors is a well written spoof and while it can get a little too silly in spots it always remains funny.

Director Jacques Tourneur is quite an iconic horror filmmaker and its s shame he isn’t talked about more. Curse of the Demon is seen as a classic of the genre and his work with Val Lewton with Cat People, I Walked with a Zombie and the Leopard Man are some of the most influential genre films of their time. Jacques Tourneur delivers a well made and well paced film and stages some terrific comedy. The film high on camp is a joy from opening to start and for me the best moments are the ones that border slapstick, but are held back just a notch. The more over the top gags are also quite funny, but for me after a bit slapstick can get a little tiresome and while here I always found it funny I did prefer the scenes where Tourneur held back just a bit.

As mention the cast is legendary are is hands down one of my favorite casts of any genre. Vincent Price is hysterical as Waldo Trumbull and it was clear he enjoyed playing the role. Price was one of those actors that was so gifted he could even make a subpar film just a little better. My personal favorite Vincent Price film and performance was the Witchfinder General. Price’s performance with Comedy of Terrors is no doubt one of my very favorites as well. He’s simply a joy to watch here and his work with Peter Lorre is a riot. Boris Karloff is one of my all time favorite actors and his performance in the 1931 version of Frankenstein despite having no dialogue is in my opinion amongst the greatest performances ever. At this stage in his career, Karloff was making a bit of a comeback thanks to Roger Corman, but his health was starting to decline and originally Karloff was cast as Mr. Black, but due to his arthritis he wasn’t able to play the demanding role and Basil Rathbone took over the part and Karloff took the role of Amos Hinchley. Karloff’s comedic timing is excellent and I’ve seen many Karloff films and this could very well make my top 5 Karloff performances. Basil Rathbone is best known for his performances as Sherlock Holmes, but he’s no stranger to the horror genre and one of his most notable horror roles came in Son of Frankenstein, which also happened to be the last time Boris Karloff played the Monster. Rathbone is simply outstanding in a wild performance as John Black. Like a true pro Rathbone and the rest of the cast aren’t afraid to ham it up.

Overall the Comedy of Terrors is a terrific film that’s quite funny throughout and while the comedy can be a little too over the top for me at times I never lost interest. As mentioned when you have the talent of the highest level involved the stakes are raised so I can see how some might be letdown, but with strong writing and directing a cast that is clearly having fun working with each other the Comedy of Terrors delivers the goods.

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Tales of Terror (1962) Review

Posted in Tales of Terror with tags , , , , , on November 6, 2014 by Last Road Reviews

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TALES OF TERROR

** Out of 5

Tagline- A Trilogy of Shock and Horror

Release Date- July 4th, 1962

Running Time- 89-Minutes

Rating- NR

Screenplay- Richard Matheson

Director- Roger Corman

Starring- Vincent Price, Debra Paget, Maggie Pierce with Peter Lorre and Basil Rathbone

After the success of House of Usher in 1960, Roger Corman directed several films based off the work of Edgar Allan Poe and many of these films starred Vincent Price with a few written by Richard Matheson and all three are together again in the 1962 release of Tales of Terror an anthology based off the work of Edgar Allan Poe. Besides having the talents of Corman, Matheson and Price, Peter Lorre and Basil Rathbone also star however despite the amount of talent involved I quite honestly found Tales of Terror rather dire and I’d probably rate it as the worst of the Roger Corman films based off the work of Poe. However Tales of Terror also gets a lot of positive reviews, but for me it just wasn’t working and I found it a bit of a chore to get through. In 1993 Dario Argento and George A. Romero would team up for Two Evil Eyes, which was meant to be a TV series based off the work of Poe and in Two Evil Eyes, both filmmakers would direct a segment. Argento had the Black Cat and Romero the Strange Case of Mr. Valdemar and both those stories were also used in Tales of Terror. Two Evil Eyes never became a series, but regardless I found it far better than Tales of Terror.

All three segments were written by Richard Matheson who was an excellent novelist and screenwriter, but in my opinion this wasn’t one of his best scripts. The first story is Morella and after not seeing his daughter since she was a child Lenora (Pierce) returns to see her father Locke (Price). A few months after Lenora was born her mother died and she blamed Lenora as does Locke. While the story itself was interesting I’m not sure if it was interesting enough for a segment and this is something better off as a short story. While the ending was solid everything else just felt like filler. The 2nd segment the Black Cat has Montresor (Lorre) after Fortunato Luchresi (Price) for an affairs with his wife. This segment is silly and campy, but the problem is everything feels too forced and in my opinion this was the worst of the anthology. The last segment the Case of M. Valdemar has Carmichael (Rathbone) a hypnotist trying to prolong the pending death of Ernest Valdemar (Price). The last segment was the strongest in terms of writing, but it also kind of lacks. By this point the film kinda lost me, but the Case of M. Valdemar was overall the strongest.

Roger Corman was an excellent director and people tend to forget how good he was, but Tales of Terror isn’t the film to showcase that. Pacing is sluggish and the films just lacks the excitement. Morella just sort of lacks any sense of direction and Black Cat was a total camp fest, but like how the writing felt forced so did the direction. With a better script, Corman gets things on track in the final segment, but by this point I really didn’t care as I zoned out, but pacing was generally stronger.

The saving grace were the performances, which were excellent. Vincent Price like always is terrific and while I strongly disliked the Black Cat the only redeeming factor was the performances by Price and Peter Lorre who worked wonderfully together. Basil Rathbone also gives a great performance and if only everything else was better this could have been something special.

Overall Tales of Terror in my opinion was rather poor and more often than not I was quite bored throughout. Tales of Terror would probably rate as my least favorite film Corman made based off Edgar Alan Poe. As I mentioned a lot of people tend to like this one, but for me it was a total waste.

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Son of Frankenstein (1939) Review

Posted in Son of Frankenstein with tags , , , on October 4, 2013 by Last Road Reviews

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SON OF FRANKENSTEIN

**** ½ Out of 5

Tagline- The Black Shadows of the Past Bred This Half Man, Half Demon, Creating a New and Terrible Juggernaut of Destruction!

Release Date- January 13th, 1939

Running Time- 99-Minutes

Rating- NR

Screenplay- Willis Cooper

Director- Rowland V. Lee

Starring- Basil Rathbone, Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Lionel Atwill, Josephine Hutchinson

Released in 1939 Son of Frankenstein along with the Wolf Man in 1941 were the last two Universal Monster movies that in my opinion were Hollywood releases since most of the Monster Movies by Universal after those two had much more of a B-Movie feel and if not for better production values they slightly feel like they could be made by Poverty Row. Son of Frankenstein from a technical side is better than the first two in the series. The production values are excellent and the film is more polished from the visual side to the editing. In terms of the films go Bride of Frankenstein trumps this not by a lot though, but I would say this was on part with the original. I favor the original, but its close and even though I think Bride of Frankenstein is better I really don’t think Son of Frankenstein is far behind and I find this one very underrated and should be held in the same regard as the first two even if they are a little better. As great as this film is it does lack the James Whale touch who would leave the series after Bride of Frankenstein. When it comes to Universal Studios you’ll be hard pressed to find another studio with a greater legacy in the horror genre. Who knows where the horror genre would be without the Monster Movies from Universal Studios as these films inspired generations of filmmakers and back in the 30s Universal set the bar for the horror genre. As I stated to me Son of Frankenstein was one of the last of the Golden era and I truly believe should be held in higher regard.

After meeting Ygor (Lugosi), Dr. Wolf Von Frankenstein (Rathbone) plans to bring the Monster back to life in hopes of changing him and restoring the Frankenstein family name, however Ygor has other intentions for the Monster.

The script by Willis Cooper is fantastic; from a writing standpoint, Cooper might deliver the best written film in the series. The characters are excellent and the film is well plotted. If anything the main problem was how the Monster was used, which I’ll get into in better detail in just a bit. If anything Willis Cooper takes certain elements from the first two, but yet has enough originality that this doesn’t feel like a rehash, but instead it feels fresh.

Director Rowland V. Lee takes over as director and crafts a truly terrific film. Like I said earlier from a filmmaking side of things, Lee delivers the best film in the series from a technical side. James Whale was a great filmmaker, but some of his films were a little rough around the edges, which may have to do more with how films were made at the time. Now that’s not a knock at all on Whale since with the first two Frankenstein films he crafted two of the all time greats. And while Son of Frankenstein might be the best made it does lack the James Whale touch. Son of Frankenstein gets off to a quick start and Rowland Lee does a great job at setting up the story, but around the middle things do slightly slow down however with an excellent script and an excellent director, Lee is always able to keep the film moving at a steady pace even if a little slow as Rowland Lee manages to get the most out of every scene. Son of Frankenstein does lack the eerie feel of the original and the fun campy tone of Bride of Frankenstein, though this down have some light moments, but never plays up to camp factor. While Son of Frankenstein might lack overall in terms of suspense it’s made up for in just being a great film, but the film act is great and drivers some truly great scenes of suspense.

About the only complaint I have is the way the Frankenstein Monster was used. Unlike the first two the Monster really doesn’t have the same impact as he wasn’t as crucial to the story. The Monster doesn’t enter the film until about 30-minutes in and doesn’t really do much until the hour mark. Boris Karloff plays the Monster for the 3rd and final time and I find his performance here very underrated. While Karloff was better in the first two, but James Whale also was a big reason for that, but here the Monster wasn’t as sympathetic and in some ways more of the villain. A lot of people label the Monster a villain, but that wasn’t true. The only time he killed anyone was either an accident, he was scared of provoked. All he really wanted was to be accepted, but here he is a little more villain like. The one thing we know is the Monster can be manipulated and Ygor very much manipulates the Monster for his personal revenge.

Boris Karloff still shines though when given the chance such as when he sees his own reflection in the mirror and these scenes were truly brilliant and nobody except Karloff could have pulled this off. While the Monster may not be as sympathetic, but this was the scariest he’s ever been. In the final act when the Monster finds Ygor dead (though some how is alive in Ghost of Frankenstein), but when he finds Ygor, the Monster lets out this scream and goes on a rampage. The rage and anger Karloff showed was quite creepy. In the film the Monster often visits Wolf Von Frankenstein’s son. All of this is off camera, but the child tells how he gave the Monster a fairy tale book. In the final act, the Monster looks at the book and he gets this even grin and takes off for the kid to get his revenge. This was truly brilliant and Karloff was nothing short of amazing, which is why I said his performance was greatly underrated. The Monster wasn’t as crucial to the story this time around, but Karloff still pulls it off. Many actors have replaced other actors in roles and while some were better others inferior and some ok, but nobody ever came anywhere near the level of Karloff as the Monster. Karloff’s Monster isn’t mindless and doesn’t lumber around. Lon Chaney would take the role over in the next film Ghost of Frankenstein and Chaney would be my 2nd favorite, but he’s a very, very distant 2nd to Karloff.

Basil Rathbone as Wolf Von Frankenstein is excellent and while some thought he was a bit over the top I for the most part disagree. There are times he might ham it up a bit, but for the most part I didn’t think so. As great as Colin Clive was in the first two he was over the top. Rathbone delivers a wonderful performance. Bela Lugosi as Ygor was great and there are some that consider this his best performance and while I would go with Dracula a case however can be made for Ygor being his best performance. However Lionel Atwill steals the show. Atwill starred in a number of Monster films and like Edward Van Sloan he’s sort of the forgotten made, which is unfortunate since Lionel Atwill was an excellent actor and steals the show here.

Son of Frankenstein was a great film and once again should be held in higher regard than it is. Despite its classic status it doesn’t get as much attention as it should. The first two Frankenstein films may be better, but this can stand proudly with them. At 99-minutes this was the longest of the series since most ran between 67-75 minutes. And while it could have perhaps lost a few minutes Son of Frankenstein is a great film nonetheless.

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