"Look, Father, an open tomb. Let's see what's inside."
cookieman108 | Inside the jar... | 03/29/2004
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Ahhh, American International Pictures, exploitation be thy name...here are two more tales, one with perennial AIP star Vincent Price, and the other without. Just a little background on these movies and others of their ilk...AIP would come up with an idea and a title for a movie, and then sell the concept before even one bit of film was shot, promising a specific release date. Once the idea sold, production was thrown into gear, and was required to be finished in a short amount of time, usually a few weeks. Throw in a well known star, i.e. Vincent Price, and the formula worked, even though the movies tended to be more or less cinematic pulp fiction (as director Hessler puts it), focusing on the more lurid and sensational aspects of the particular stories.
Cry of the Banshee (1970) certainly isn't one of the better films in the series of horror releases by AIP, but it did have its' merits. Having Vincent Price certainly made it watchable, despite a rather lame plot, in my opinion. One thing about Mr. Price is he always put forth a worthy effort, despite being saddled with less than desirable material and disliking being confined to a particular genre. Price is Lord Edward Whitman, a cruel and sadistic English magistrate whose main goal seems to be to root out witchery, even if there is none to be found. Once convicted a suspected witch would be paraded around town, while being tied to the back of a cart and flogged for the amusement of all. After this the woman would be locked in a stockade and pelted with various bits of rotten vegetables, dirt clods, and horse apples. Trouble begins when Lord Edward and his group find a real coven of witchery practicing the 'old religion', proceed to wipe out half the group, but neglecting to kill the main witch, and thus raising her ire and a curse being placed on the Whitman house. Soon, various members of the Whitman clan begin to fall prey to a monstrous beast, thought to be a mad dog, but instead being a more sinister creature. A hunt is put forth to destroy the mad dog plaguing the vicinity, and a beast is caught, but it does not stem the demise of the Whitmans. What is the true nature of the beast? Can it be stopped? As I said before, this isn't one of the better efforts, but it's not all bad. Price is usually always fun to watch, despite the story losing focus a few times, getting mired in muddy plot contrivances. It does find its' way, and we are provided with a pretty good ending. There is more nudity in this film than I would have though, but the gore is played less for quantity and more for subtle restrain, which was much appreciated.
The second film here, Murders on the Rue Morgue (1971) stars Jason Robards as Cesar Charron, owner of a performing company with a startling secret. Also in the film are German actress Christine Kaufmann as Cesar's young wife Madeleine, Herbert Lom, from the Pink Panther movies, as Rene Marot, and Adolfo Celi, the main villain Largo in the James Bond movie Thunderball (1965), as police Inspector Vidocq. The story involves a series of murders in Charron's performing company, murders caused by various members getting doused with vitriolic acid. Turns out all the people killed have a common denominator in their past, one which has recently re-surfaced, and is out for their blood. Will the past be uncovered before it kills again? What awful secret has came back to haunt the living? While watching this movie, one may wonder why Price wasn't in it, as it seemed like a role tailor made for him. I believe his contract with AIP had expired prior to the making of this movie, and I suspect he probably out priced himself on purpose in an effort to move away from the genre. Hence the appearance of Robards, who looks utterly bored and fairly disappointed to be starring in a film of this caliber. Christine Kaufmann spent most of the movie with a far away look on her face, as if one who was in a stupor, but given the excessive number of dream sequences her character, along with the audience, had to endure, I probably had the same look by the end of the film. There is no mystery as to who the killer is, but the secret of why is the meat of the story. This is revealed slowly, and didn't provide any great shockers when finally exposed to the audience. Without Price to buoy the film, it tends to sink under its' own weight into a morass of boredom and predictability. The following line from the film sticks out in my mind, Rene Marot: As I once begged for your kisses, now you will beg for your death. Begging? Yeah, I was begging the end of the film to come quickly...
I will say the prints used in this release look really sharp and clear. MGM, not especially known for there special features on their Midnight Movies series, shocked me by not only including trailers for the films, but also including a interview for each movie with director Gordon Hessler. The pieces, while short (about 18 minutes for Cry of the Banshee and 10 minutes for Murders in the Rue Morgue), are really interesting an informative, with Hessler talking about his experiences in films, how he got started, and speaking specifically about each of the two films here. He does well illuminating many aspects of making films for AIP, and almost giving one a different, more softer critical eye on the movies based on the information Hessler provides. He's not making excuses for the quality of the work, by any means, but does offer much we may not have been aware of before.
"RUE MORGUE" DIRECTOR'S CUT A GREAT MIDNITE MOVIE!
SwellBooks | Park Ridge, IL | 04/16/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This is another great "MIDNITE MOVIES" double feature DVD from MGM. The crown jewel of this pair is the B-side feature "MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE" (1971) with Jason Robards and Herbert Lom. When originally released in the 70's, AIP cut 11 minutes from the film and tinted the dream sequences. Here, at last, is the original director's cut that played last year on cable. And, while not being a lost classic, it is a very good film. It is well directed by GORDON HESSLER and superbly acted by Herbert Lom, Michael Dunn and Lilli Palmer. Jason Robards isn't right for the part he's playing, but he's ok, too. The tranfer on the DVD is wonderful. Picture and sound are superb. As for the main feature, "CRY OF THE BANSHEE", it is a dull, plodding tale of witches and witchfinders. It seems every male horror star made at least one of these sort of films in the 70's including Christopher Lee ("NIGHT OF THE BLOOD MONSTER"), Peter Cushing ("TWINS OF EVIL"), and Herbert Lom ("MARK OF THE DEVIL"), while Price did two, this dog and the earlier (far superior) "WITCHFINDER GENERAL" (aka "THE CONQUEROR WORM"). Price is ok here, but its the supporting players I found more interesting, such as Essy Persson as Price's quiet wife Patricia who eventually goes mad; Hugh Griffith as a wondering goofball; and Elisabeth Bergner as the head of the witch's coven Oona. Too bad the screenplay wasn't more interesting, this could have been a better film. And its a good thing the title beastie is kept mainly in the shadows so we don't really see it clearly, in the publicity photos I've seen of the film it is a most risible creature. Again, the transfer is a good one with a nice clear picture and fine mono sound. Both sides feature an interview with director Gordon Hessler ("SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN", "GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD"), about 17 1/2 minutes for "BANSHEE" and 9 minutes for "MURDERS", and the original theatrical trailer. All in all, a very nice addition to the MIDNITE MOVIE line, although it is too bad they didn't release "MURDERS" on a disc all by itself, with perhaps the shorter, edited version as a bonus feature so we could compare the two. -George Bauch."
GOOD DOUBLE FEATURE....
Mark Norvell | HOUSTON | 04/17/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"MGM has done it again with two good horror films for a low price. And both films are pristine in picture quality. 1.) "Cry of the Banshee" from 1970 stars Vincent price as sadistic witch-hunting Judge Whitman in 16th century England who runs afoul of witch Oona (30's actress Elisabeth Bergner) when he slaughters some of her followers---her "children"---and she curses Whitman and his dysfunctional family. She summons a demon to kill them all. The demon happens to be in the form of his daughter Maureen's (Hilary Dwyer) lover. Excellent period atmospshere and costumes with brutal scenes of young women being tortured for "witchcraft". The second feature is 1971's "Murders in the Rue Morgue" about a Grand Guignol theatrical group in 1800's Paris who do Poe's tale on stage. They are being stalked and killed with vitriolic acid by a mysterious man in black (Herbert Lom). Jason Robards is the play's star and the beautiful Christine Kaufman is Madeline, Robards' wife and the heroine of the play. She's having bizarre nightmares of a masked "axeman" stalking her. Her nightmares eventually foretell and explain the mystery surrounding the murders. Sometimes confusing story is played out well in gorgeous Gothic style. Vivid Parisian atmosphere is beautifully captured (although shot in Spain) and the costumes are sumptuous. Kaufman's ethereal and fragile beauty are perfect for her role as Madeline...a damsel in constant distress, on stage and off. In summary, these two films are a fun package and you can't beat the price. They're both beautiful to look at and enjoy for a macabre double treat on DVD ."
Not the best...
R. Gawlitta | Milwaukee, Wisconsin USA | 05/21/2003
(2 out of 5 stars)
"I've admired the MGM "Midnite Movies" series a lot for presenting some forgotten oldies in double-feature format at a good price. The quality and sound of this DVD is fine, but the films really aren't worth it. The better of the two, "Cry of the Banshee" is faux-Poe, and a histrionic Vincent Price is adequately mean. These MGM double-features usually have a common thread, this one being director Gordon Hessler. In "Banshee", the most interesting character is Oona, the witch, played by the once-great and still-commanding Elisabeth Bergner (an Oscar nominee for Best Actress in 1935 for "Escape Me Never"), another example of the grand old dames finding an outlet in "horror" films. There is definitely style, and great use of color, though the photography is a bit foggy on this DVD. "Murders in the Rue Morgue", on the other hand, is a bit of a complexity (for me, anyway). The great Jason Robards had won back-to-back Oscars only 4 years before. Did he really need this film so bad? Herbert Lom has been involved with re-makes or sequels most of his career ("Mysterious Island" as Nemo and 1962's "Phantom of the Opera"), and, though a truly gifted actor ("El Cid", 1961 & others) fell victim to the second-rate horror genre. (I actually liked his Phantom very much.) This film, I'm sorry to say, is just plain boring. Both films are presented in a decent 1.85:1 Widescreen, and I still admire the "Midnite Madness" series for reviving these films, as trivial and silly as they are, because they've done well with previous endeavors. I still want to know what Poe had to do with either one (except for the title). For that matter, what did Poe have to do with any of those movies "based" on his writing ("House of Usher" was close). If you're a collector, like myself, or even curious, these films are worth a look. Don't expect a lot, except the bitter end of the Poe film series."
Jeffrey Leach | Omaha, NE USA | 07/28/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Here's yet another one of those wonderful MGM double feature DVDs. The studio with the roaring lion has seen fit to release a bunch of low budget, obscure films in this format. For the cheese cinema lover, it's nice to see MGM doing something right for a change. How many times have you watched a MGM disc only to discover nothing more than a trailer as an extra? Sure, it's nice to get that nifty, crystal clear widescreen picture transfer, but where are the behind the scenes stuff or the commentary tracks? I can't say I would listen to or watch any of these extras if the movie tanks, but extras should appear nonetheless. MGM almost never includes extras on its discs, so the double feature is one way to overcome this mediocrity. But wait! For once MGM actually decided to throw a bone to the viewer! Included with "Cry of the Banshee" and "Murders in the Rue Morgue" are two interviews with director Gordon Hessler. I did a double take when the menu screen popped up; I initially thought my eyes deceived me when I saw MGM actually included an interesting extra. My subsequent experiences with MGM discs have turned up other films now boasting a few extra features. Perhaps a sea change is in the works?
First up is "Cry of the Banshee," a 1970 effort starring the indomitable Vincent Price in yet another Edgar Allan Poe inspired role. On this outing Price hams it up as Edward Whitman, the patriarch of a powerful aristocratic family in 16th century England. Price's character presides over the local population as its benevolent magistrate, which means he possesses the power to torture and murder anyone he deems guilty of witchcraft. We learn right away how the law works in this village as we see a young lady dragged through the muddy streets of the town on her way to the stocks. It seems the fear of witches weighs heavy on the village, as both the nobles and the rabble are always quick to condemn their fellow man or woman. Events come to a head when Whitman and his lascivious family-including college boy Harry (Carl Rigg), daughter Maureen (Hilary Dwyer), and other son Sean (Stephen Chase)-launch an all out assault on the local coven headed up by the mangy Oona (Elisabeth Bergner). Edward unfortunately allows this witch to live after he slaughters her flock, a decision never adequately explained, which leads to a retaliation of monstrous proportions. Expect to see cheesy set pieces, histrionic performances, bodice ripping, and occasional bloodshed in this immensely entertaining low budget schlockfest.
I also liked "Murders in the Rue Morgue," Hessler's 1971 follow up to "Cry of the Banshee." This very loose adaptation of Poe's classic story takes place in Paris at the Rue Morgue theater where owner Cesar Charron (Jason Robards) stages elaborate plays filled with gruesome carnage. The show really packs in the public despite a few niggling problems. For example, Charron's young wife Madeleine (Christine Kaufmann) keeps having these horrible dreams about a man falling out of the theater's scaffolding. Her visions usually precede a screaming fit, a few of which occur during the show. As the movie progresses we learn that Charron once had another wife, an actress (played by Lili Palmer) who passed away soon after a tragedy on stage claimed the life of another member of the troupe, the unbalanced Rene Marot (Herbert Lom). Now a maniac is knocking off people around Charron, and the police suspect the theater owner knows more about what is going on than he is willing to admit. Well, things aren't quite what they seem, obviously, and it's up to Charron and his friends to get to the bottom of the series of gruesome crimes. Best part of the movie? Describing a bottle of acid as "vitriol" during one of the troupe's grisly performances.
You simply cannot expect to find anything other than one cheesy scene after another with these two films. Both movies came from American International Pictures, a sort of Cannon of the early 1970s. Of the two films, I would say "Cry of the Banshee" is the better picture. Let's face it: any film starring Vincent Price always provides a couple of hours of high-grade entertainment and amusement. Even on an off day, Price runs rings around nearly anyone else in the horror biz. Heck, the guy made a career out of creepy, and no one ever overacted as effectively, or as consistently, as he did. I miss the guy. "Murders in the Rue Morgue" isn't as effective as "Banshee" because the script plods and the kills aren't as entertaining. Robards, usually a reliable actor, seems inexplicably aloof here. So does Herbert Lom in what is essentially a retread of his earlier performance as the Phantom of the Opera. And why so many dream sequences? The movie must have shown that guy falling out of the rafters a hundred times. Worse, we know right from the start who's responsible for the crimes unfolding in and around the theater. No suspenseful denouement in this picture. Oh, there's an attempt to startle, but it doesn't quite come off as it should.
The picture transfers of both movies simply stun the eye. Colors leap off the screen as though the movies were made in the last couple of years instead of three decades ago. I don't even recall seeing grain or scratches in the prints, which is amazing for two ancient, low budget pictures. Lovers of cheap cinema will want to check out what MGM has done for these two films. For those unaccustomed to schlocky movies, well, you may want to stay away. You have to work your way up to this type of film, you know; you might suffer mightily if you dive in unprepared!