Tag Archive for Vincent Price

Scream If You Believe In… The Tingler!

Venita Wolf and William Castle promotional photo

William Castle was born William Schloss, Jr. in New York City on this date in 1914. Schloss took the stage name Castle (translating “Schloss” from German to English) when he made his Broadway debut in 1922. At age 13, William was mesmerized by the Prince of Darkness himself, Dracula, played on Broadway by Bela Lugosi, just a few years before Bela reprised the role on film for Universal. On Lugosi’s recommendation, William Castle was given a job as an assistant stage manager, causing Castle to drop out of high school.

By 1941, Castle had acquired a knack for creative misrepresentation, having already posed as the nephew of famed Hollywood producer Samuel Goldwyn during his teenage years. With Orson Welles leaving his renowned Stony Creek Theatre in Connecticut to make Citizen Kane (1941), Castle seized upon the opportunity and convinced Welles to lease him the theater. Castle’s leading lady was the Berlin-born Ellen Schwanneke, but theater guild regulations dictated that German-born actors could only appear in plays originally performed in Germany. Castle responded by immediately conjuring up a fictional German play, Das ist nicht für Kinder (Not for Children). Ellen Schwanneke was invited to return to Germany by the Nazis, and this further fueled Castle’s hype machine. Promoting Schwanneke as “The Girl Who Said No to Hitler,” Castle used the telegram refusal as a press release of sorts. He even went so far as to secretly vandalize the outside of his own theater with swastikas to create additional controversy.

It was the first of what would become William Castle’s enduring legacy, promotional gimmicks that were often more memorable than the film they were designed to shill.

The Tingler (1959)

Movie Poster for "The Tingler" (1959)

Movie Poster for The Tingler (1959)

The gimmick at work in William Castle’s The Tingler is Percepto, a 4D film experience provided by $250,000 worth of surplus WWII airplane wing deicing motors. These were affixed to the undersides of seats scattered throughout the theater. At an appropriate moment in the film’s climactic sequence, the screen would go black and these motors would buzz, eliciting screams from startled patrons in the gimmicked seats.

The Tingler is the third of five collaborations between screenwriter Robb White and director/producer William Castle, following Macabre (1958) and House on Haunted Hill (1959). White was a world traveler, a pilot in WWII, and a prolific writer, leaving his engineering job with DuPont after selling his first story for $100. Of his 24 published novels, only one remains in print, the Edgar Award-winning Deathwatch (adapted for ABC television in 1974 as Savages).

So, what is a “Tingler?” Well, according to Dr. Warren Chapin (Vincent Price), the Tingler is a parasite that lives at the base of the human spine, feeding upon fear. If it grows too large, unabated, it will eventually crush your vertebrae, providing a physical justification for death by fright. Screaming relieves some of this tension and causes the creature to relent. This is, admittedly, questionable science at best, and probably more appropriate to a Frankenstein film set in the Victorian era than in the late 1950s, but we’re not exactly talking Watch Mr. Wizard here. This is just a couple years after The Amazing Colossal Man (1957) proposed that the heart is composed of one big cell. I guess movie-goers weren’t exactly up on grade school anatomy back then or they just cared a lot less about such inaccuracies.

Lobby Cards for
The Tingler (1959)
(click to enlarge)

Lobby Card for "The Tingler" (1959)
Lobby Card for "The Tingler" (1959)
Lobby Card for "The Tingler" (1959)
Lobby Card for "The Tingler" (1959)
Lobby Card for "The Tingler" (1959)
Lobby Card for"The Tingler" (1959)
Lobby Card for "The Tingler" (1959)
Lobby Card for "The Tingler" (1959)

For a film with such a hokey sci-fi premise, The Tingler manages to pack in quite a bit of subtext without being preachy or ham-handed. The most obvious juxtaposition in the film is the thin veil between the rational and the irrational, a line easily blurred by drugs, madness, or both. When Chapin is stymied by his inability to frighten himself, he resorts to LSD, providing the first depiction of acid use in a major motion picture. The resulting experience is surprisingly restrained, largely conveyed by the often underrated acting talent of Vincent Price. One can only imagine the gonzo directorial choices of a Dario Argento, Terry Gilliam, or David Lynch.

A particularly stylish demonstration of the irrational is accomplished by filming one of the signature scenes in color. A bathtub filled with garish red blood sits in striking contrast to a set painted in gray tones and an actress covered in ashen make-up to match. The visual effect is surprisingly seamless.

This use of color also highlights another of the movie’s main themes, that of changes in the film industry itself. Oliver and Martha Higgins (Philip Coolidge and Judith Evelyn) are the owners of a struggling revival theatre that shows silent films. Oliver seems to speak from William Castle’s own heart when he pines that “Some of these old silents are just as good as the movies they make nowadays even though the sound and the color and the screen’s a block wide.”

Chapin’s source of wealth involves another of the film’s themes, that of class divide. Chapin’s laboratory and research are funded by his father-in-law, as his unfaithful wife, Isabel (Patricia Cutts), is all to quick to remind him. Isabel cuckolds him with a heartless bravado more commonly seen in film noir. Cutts is delightfully vampish as the spoiled daddy’s girl. Check her out in the lusciously lurid red dress to the left.

Pamela Lincoln and Darryl Hickman round out the cast as Lucy Stevens and David Morris, Chapin’s sister-in-law and research partner, respectively. An accomplished child actor, Hickman had well over a hundred credits to his name before being recruited by Castle to play Lucy’s fiancé in the film. Reluctant at first, Hickman was convinced by Castle that it would help his real life fiancé’s career. Darryl even declined his salary for the role. Sharing scenes as a fellow pathologist alongside Price’s Dr. Chapin, Hickman was forced to wear lifts to bridge the gap between his 5’10″ height and Vincent Price’s towering 6’4″ frame.

The climax of the film takes place in the revival theatre, during a surprisingly packed showing of the silent film Tol’able David (1921). This provides a great opportunity for the film to build suspense without dialogue while the tingler makes its way through the unsuspecting audience in search of a prospective victim. The film comes close to breaking the fourth wall as the screen goes black when Dr. Chapin cuts the power. For theatrical premieres, a fainting woman (in actuality a planted shill) is taken out of the audience on a stretcher. After some verbal reassurances from Chapin to the in-film audience (which serves double duty as Price reassuring the “real world” audience), our film resumes for the grand finale.

The Percepto gimmick made quite the impression on many theater-goers. In his youth, cult film director John Waters would seek out a rigged seat to get the full effect while viewing. “Rumble-Rama” in the film Matinee (1993) and the character of Lawrence Woolsey (John Goodman) are clearly based on Castle and his ambitious promotional style.

Even without the dubious benefits of Percepto, The Tingler is a fun little monster movie, well worth your time. For this and his many other contributions to genre film, we give heartfelt thanks to William Castle. He was certainly one of a kind.

“YOU TOO will feel every shocking sensation!”

50 Years Ago Today…

Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon in a promotional photo for "Beach Party" (1963)

…Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello took to the beach for the first time together on film.

The initial script for Beach Party (1963) was a tale of typical teens getting into typical trouble, but Director William Asher agreed to helm the film on the condition that it be turned into a more lighthearted musical with trouble free teens. At it’s heart, it is a story of three couples, though they don’t all start that way. In this respect, it most resembles Shakespearean comedy or commedia all’italiana (the film’s initial inspiration). Our feature couple, and the first characters we meet, are Frankie and Dolores (Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello, respectively, but I hope I didn’t need to tell you that).

The single “Venus”, released in 1959, became Frankie Avalon’s first number-one hit on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, where it spent five weeks at the top and sold over a million copies. His musical success was fleeting, however, and by 1960, he transitioned to bit parts in films such as The Alamo (1960) with John Wayne. His first starring role was in Drums of Africa (1963), just one of many African adventure films using recycled footage from King Solomon’s Mines (1950).

By contrast, Annette Funicello was already a star. At age 12, she was personally selected by Walt Disney to be the last of the original “Mouseketeers” for The Mickey Mouse Club television show. Her work for Disney landed her high profile guest spots on both Make Room for Daddy and Zorro in February, 1959. Disney also transitioned her into feature films with supporting roles in The Shaggy Dog (1959) and Babes in Toyland (1961), both alongside Tommy Kirk, her future Pajama Party (1964) co-star. Beach Party was conceived with Funicello in mind, to play opposite teen heartthrob Fabian, but he was under contract to 20th Century Fox.

Banner for the Dynamic Duos in Classic Film Blogathon, co-hosted by Once Upon a Screen & Classic Movie Hub (July 13 - 14, 2013)

Banner for the Dynamic Duos in Classic Film Blogathon, co-hosted by Once Upon a Screen & Classic Movie Hub (July 13 – 14, 2013)

Being established properties, Bob Cummings and Dorothy Malone actually receive top billing on the promotional materials.

Charles Clarence Robert Orville “Bob” Cummings plays Robert Orville Sutwell. While Sutwell struggles to out-think the waves, Cummings was a surfer by hobby and Sutwell flies a plane later in the film, likely a reference to Cummings’ own aviation interests, fostered by his godfather, the pioneer Orville Wright. The first licensed flight instructor in the United States, Cummings was issued certificate #1. He briefly studied aeronautical engineering at the Carnegie Institute of Technology before the Stock Market Crash of 1929 and his family’s subsequent financial woes forced him to drop out.

Cummings transitioned into acting primarily because it afforded him a $14 per week salary while studying drama in New York City. He made his Broadway debut in 1931. Because British actors were in demand at the time, he traveled to England and learned to mimic the accent, eventually posing as an Englishman under the name of Blade Stanhope Conway.

After headlining the Ziegfeld Follies alongside Fanny Brice, he moved to Hollywood to begin a film career under the alias of wealthy Texan Bruce Hutchens. From the mid 1950s through 1962, he starred in a self-titled sitcom, first for NBC then CBS.

Dorothy Malone plays Sutwell’s assistant Marianne. Malone had been acting for twenty years before appearing in Beach Party. Mostly known for westerns, she took home a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her portrayal of a spoiled nymphomaniac in Written on the Wind (1956). She’s considerably more sedate here, and while playing clearly the most sexually experienced member of the cast, she doesn’t don a bikini or surf.

Harvey Lembeck played Harry “Sugar Lips” Shapiro in Billy Wilder’s Stalag 17 (1953). His Cpl. Rocco Barbella was right-hand man to Sgt. Bilko, on The Phil Silvers Show and Lembeck kept the role through all 4 seasons. Here, he’s leather-clad lout Eric Von Zipper.

Eva Six was already an established property in her native Hungary before appearing here as “Hungarian goulash” Ava. She made her film debut at age ten and was a national folk dance champion by fifteen. In 1956, she fled the new Communist regime with her husband, eventually opening a Hollywood deli where she was encouraged by Frank Sinatra to resume acting.

Six (real name Eva Klein) made just three movies, all released in 1963. After touting her as the hottest new Marilyn Monroe clone, AIP stuck her under a black wig for the surreal Operation Bikini, also with Frankie Avalon. She finished the year in the Rat Pack western, 4 for Texas, but, while stunning, was upstaged by fellow bombshells Ursula Andress and Anita Ekberg. By 1964, she was shilling Wate-On Condensed Food Tablets in magazine ads and disappeared from the scene shortly thereafter.

Beach Party (1963)

Movie Poster for "Beach Party" (1963)

Movie Poster for Beach Party (1963)

Our film begins with aerial photography of the coast which is subsequently revealed to be from a Piper Cub’s point of view as it lands on the beach. We then cut to Frankie and Dolores, en route to the beach for some sand, surf, and song, as described in the first musical number, the title tune “Beach Party”. Frankie is alarmed to find that their secluded beachside bungalow is inhabited by the entire gang, including “wall-to-wall girls”.

After some examples of fun and frolic, we’re introduced to Professor Sutwell and his assistant, Marianne. Sutwell is busy surveilling the beach goers for his new book, “The Behavior Pattern of the Young Adult and Its Relation to Primitive Tribes”. Marianne has a better title, “Teenage Sex”. She openly flirts with the professor, but he is predictably oblivious.

Sutwell’s activity would probably constitute a felony today, but it’s played here for giggles, and provides an excuse for another musical number, this one by the legendary Dick Dale and the Del-Tones (“Secret Surfin’ Spot”). We are party to the professor’s eavesdropping, witnessing the confidences of both Dolores and Frankie as they gripe to their respective peers. Frankie comes upon the dubious notion of making Dolores jealous by “putting her down” and making time with Eva at Big Daddy’s later that night.

The manager of Big Daddy’s, “Cappy” Kaplan (Morey Amsterdam), reads a poem that feels like it was ad libbed on the spot. For all I know, that was part of Amsterdam’s gimmick, but it seems suitably beatnik. While Dick Dale and the Del-Tones perform “Swingin’ and a-Surfin’”, I had to do a double take while Frankie and his boys pass around a joint. I don’t think that ever made it to television rebroadcasts. After all the swingin’ and shakin’, Frankie gets the attention of the waitress Ava and asks her for a dance during her next break.

With a look inspired by Marlon Brando’s signature style in The Wild One (1953), Eric Von Zipper arrives at Big Daddy’s with his motorcycle gang, the Rats, and their women’s auxiliary, the Mice. Not remotely menacing, Zipper’s crew are played for laughs, with Zipper himself frequently referring to one or more of his thugs as “you stupid”.

“The Samoan puberty dance all over again…”

Recording his observations under his breath, Professor Sutwell arrives overdressed in a suit, bow tie, and Panama hat. A roll of bongo drums and a round of applause bring Ava bouncing down the stairs for her big dance number. As Professor Sutwell describes, “Something’s about to uh… hrm.”

She spurns a handful of eager young men who try to accompany her, finally selecting Frankie per their prior arrangement. While they gyrate and seemingly defy physics, Frankie sings the catchy little ditty “Don’t Stop Now”. The song and dance routine seem to have their desired effect on a sour Dolores. Frankie quickly makes his way through a succession of female dance partners, eventually ending up shimmying along with a whole trio of blondes before getting reunited with Ava. It isn’t long before the whole joint is jumpin’ with the notable exceptions of the bikers and Dolores.

On her way to confront Frankie, Dolores trips and falls into the lap and mitts of Eric Von Zipper. Eric proves difficult to escape until Professor Sutwell politely intervenes. A punch from Eric manages to break Sutwell’s tape recorder and very nearly Eric’s hand as well. In a display of nerd respect long ahead of its time, Sutwell proceeds to humiliate the biker gang leader with a combination of “complex pressure point and applied force”, creating “time suspension”, or paralysis.

Sutwell offers to escort Dolores home. While the crowd oohs and aahs at Sutwell’s handiwork, Frankie is left fuming about his backfiring plan. Sutwell’s description of his research to Dolores sounds like innuendo, but she ends up charmed by his distinguished earnestness. Inexplicably, she name drops (albeit mispronounced) Nobel Peace Prize Winner Doctor Albert Schweitzer as a point of comparison.

In a clever reversal, Frankie and his boys listen in on their conversation from a nearby changing tent. The night ends with Dolores ecstatic for what she clearly believes to be a romantic rendezvous scheduled for noon the next day. Deadhead (Jody McCrea) suggests Frankie grow a beard to get Dolores back. McCrea’s simpleton character would prove popular enough to reappear (sometimes under the name “Bonehead”) in five more beach party films.

The next day, just as Marianne is about to convince Professor Sutwell to discard his academic distance and enter the wild world of romance, Dolores shows up in a bikini for their date. Her appearance here lays to rest the widely circulated myth that Disney did not permit Funicello to wear a bikini or bare her belly-button. His beachwear is not nearly as flattering, including a fireproof and waterproof kimono that was presented to him by the chief of the Tokyo Fire Department. Dolores tries to get him to refine his look, but only has limited success before Sutwell puts his foot down.

Dolores gives the professor a quick lesson in surfer jargon before they’re interrupted by a surfing tutorial from Frankie’s boys. Their attempts at embarrassing the old boy eventually backfire. After some calculations (remember to carry the two) and a few learning experiences, he proves to be a natural at “jazzing the glass”. In a combination of cultural reference and braggadocio, Sutwell makes an off-hand reference to having swum the Hellespont, a feat first performed by Lord Byron.

After his surfing stint, Sutwell chats with Cappy over at Big Daddy’s. He confides that he was the youngest professor at university and grew his beard to avoid being written off as a kid. Now, he’s having difficulty recapturing his youth. Frankie storms in and confronts the professor, accusing him of “brainwashing her” with his beard. He proclaims Dolores as his gal and demands that Sutwell steer clear.

Lobby Cards for
Beach Party (1963)
(click to enlarge)

Lobby Card for "Beach Party" (1963)
Lobby Card for "Beach Party" (1963)
Lobby Card for "Beach Party" (1963)
Lobby Card for "Beach Party" (1963)
Lobby Card for "Beach Party" (1963)
Lobby Card for "Beach Party" (1963)
Lobby Card for "Beach Party" (1963)
Lobby Card for "Beach Party" (1963)

Night falls, the bonfire’s lit, and it’s time for more shakin’ and groovin’. Frankie catches up with Dolores, who claims to love “Ol’ Pig Bristles” while Frankie only loves Dolores. As they kiss, reconciled, Ava interrupts and reminds Frankie that he said “I love you” to her first. With those three short words, Dolores and Frankie are quits once again.

Dolores heads to her room to pine and consider where she went wrong. “Treat Him Nicely” is her advice to herself, told in song to the mirror and cleverly harmonizing with herself.

Meanwhile, Professor Sutwell foolishly arranges for Marianne to observe and record his interactions with Dolores. She asks him who made his ridiculously elaborate straw hat, “Lilly Daché?” I have to admit I was forced to look that one up.

The boys prank Sutwell by lighting his hat on fire, much to the amusement of everyone except Dolores and the confused professor. She convinces him to shave off his beard to change his look then tells him a story of a “ghost plane” that was spotted landing on the beach. Sutwell takes her to see the “ghost plane”, his Piper Cub. Having never flown in a plane, Dolores makes him promise to take her for a ride, but at 3 a.m. when the beach will be otherwise deserted.

Marianne sings along with a recording of Funicello herself singing “Promise Me Anything (Give Me Love)” while listening in. When she hears his exchange with Dolores, she is hurt. Sutwell returns to their bungalow to find a note from her, “I’ve heard enough.” He seems delighted at the prospect of a jealous Marianne.

Eric Von Zipper runs into Ava, angry at Frankie for spurning her advances. They hit it off immediately, but Zipper has to take a rain check as he’s set on revenge against Sutwell. He accidentally crawls through Dolores’ window and promptly gets battered by her while she howls for help. Sutwell rushes to her rescue. The Rats and Mice flee from “The Finger” as he’s now known. Zipper tries to climb back out the window and manages to knock himself dizzy on a surfboard.

Frankie and the gang arrive to see Sutwell consoling Dolores and immediately think the worst. Dolores and Sutwell discuss the incident during their plane ride. He tells her about his stint as a flight instructor for the Army during World War II and the nature of combat aerobatics (both part of Cummings’ own background). A demonstration leaves Dolores literally green in the gills.

The next morning, Marianne chastises the professor for getting too close to his research. He cuts off her protests with a series of kisses initially designed to discourage Dolores upon her arrival. He continues his ruse well after Dolores’ furious departure.

When Dolores returns home heartbroken, Frankie and his boys set out to take “Father Time” to task. Frankie wants to know if Sutwell has plans to marry Dolores. Seeing the surveillance equipment, Deadhead accuses Sutwell of being a spy. Frankie reads some of the notes and gets to the truth of the situation. This gives Sutwell and Marianne time to flee the scene.

They take refuge at Big Daddy’s, where Cappy and Ava are conveniently setting out some cream pies to be served with beer later. Sutwell convinces Dolores to confess that she didn’t actually fall in love with him, that she was just spending time with him to make Frankie jealous, much as he was doing with the “Hungarian goulash”, Ava. With that sorted out, Eric Von Zipper shows up with his army of leather-clad goons.

Frankie responds with the dubious tactic of “Ring around the rosie, keep professor cosy, we will break your nosey with a rubber hosey.” A brawl ensues, breaking chairs and tables, and with the professor employing his paralyzing finger to great effect. When Ava proclaims “My hero” of Eric Von Zipper, Dolores has had enough. Ava is the first victim of a pie to the face, but certainly not the last, including a tour guide and businessman who wander into the fray.

Seeing his “army of stupids” stuck like statues, Eric Von Zipper calls for a “palaver”. He wants to learn the Himalayan Time Suspension Technique, and in demonstrating, manages to paralyze himself.

Big Daddy, whose identity has been obscured by his straw hat for the entirety of the film, is finally revealed to be none other than AIP icon Vincent Price! Big Daddy gives them the word, and the word is “The Pit”. “Bring me my pendulum, kiddies, I feel like swingin’.”

We catch up with the gang around the bonfire and our respective happy couples, even Ava and Eric Von Zipper, who vows to return. And he would, in five subsequent beach party films, seven if you count Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine (1965) and Fireball 500 (1966). While not beach party films per se, both featured Frankie Avalon and were heavily marketed to the same audience.

Frankie and Annette would team together for nine more films (Muscle Beach Party (1964), Bikini Beach (1964), Pajama Party (1964), Beach Blanket Bingo (1965), Ski Party (1965), How to Stuff a Wild Bikini (1965), Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine (1965), Fireball 500 (1966), Back to the Beach (1987)), some released mere months apart in summer. In a few instances, one made only a cameo in the other’s film.

Beach Party is surprisingly literate, with references to historical figures and some impressive vocabulary. The language of the film is likewise ambitious, boasting an average shot length of 7.1 seconds, comparing favorably with Romeo and Juliet (1968) at 7.2s versus Grease (1978) at 5.85s and That Thing You Do! (1996) at 4.99s. Sure, there’s some hokey bluescreening for the surf scenes and broad sound design, but it’s still hardly as lowbrow as one would expect.

The end credits finish with energetic go-go dancer Candy Johnson shaking her hips and special thanks to Vincent Price, “soon to be seen in Edgar Allan Poe’s Haunted Palace”, his next film for AIP, released just over a month later.

Our own special thanks to Aurora’s Gin Joint, the Classic Movie Hub, and all of the participants of the Dynamic Duos in Classic Film Blogathon. It sure was a swell time.

Remembering Peter Cushing –
 Dr. Terror, Tarkin, and Beyond

Peter Cushing in "Dr. Terror's House of Horrors" (1965)

We’re back for Day Two of the
Peter Cushing Centennial Blogathon with an overview of Mr. Cushing’s later works. After getting the ball rolling at Hammer Films, Cushing starred in a handful of non-horror swashbucklers in the early 1960s. In Sword of Sherwood Forest, he is Robin Hood’s perennial nemesis, the Sheriff of Nottingham. He plays the light-hearted legal counsel to the hero of The Hellfire Club (1961) and father to the hero of Fury at Smugglers’ Bay (1961). To avoid legal hassles with Disney, Cushing’s character in Captain Clegg (1962) (given the more horrific title of Night Creatures in the U.S.) was renamed Parson Blyss, but the film is an adaptation of Doctor Syn just the same. The story hinges on how he relates to the dread Captain Clegg and whether Blyss/Syn is hero or villain, so I won’t spoil that here.

Amicus Productions and Portmanteau Horror

Founded by American producers Max Rosenberg and Milton Subotsky but based in Shepperton Studios, England, Amicus Productions made a pair of teenage musicals before they decided to enter the horror market. The two had previously co-produced The City of the Dead (1960) (Horror Hotel in the U.S.) with Christopher Lee. Inspired by Dead of Night (1945), what Subotsky considered “the greatest horror film ever,” his scripts for a television series languished until he pulled them together to create his own horror anthology film.

Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (1965) features Peter Cushing in the title role, that of Doctor Schreck, translated as “Dr. Terror” from German. As the doctor himself explains, “An unfortunate misnomer for I am the mildest of men.” Dr. Terror serves as the erstwhile host in a framing device, a gimmick used in the controversial EC Comics of the early 1950s. Here, he uses a pack of Tarot cards to read the fates of a number of predictably doomed train passengers.

Peter Cushing as Arthur Edward Grimsdyke, risen from the grave, in "Tales from the Crypt" (1972)

Peter Cushing as Arthur Edward Grimsdyke,
risen from the grave, in Tales from the Crypt (1972)

Of the eight portmanteau horror films that Amicus produced, Cushing appeared in six: Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (1965), Torture Garden (1967), The House That Dripped Blood (1970) (with Christopher Lee), Tales from the Crypt (1972), Asylum (1972), and From Beyond the Grave (1974) (with Peter Cushing again hosting the framing sequence). Cushing also starred in The Uncanny (1977) a non-Amicus anthology where he plays a writer trying to convince the world about the evil of cats through a trio of tales. As someone who is horribly allergic to the fuzzy little buggers, I don’t need any convincing.

Cushing sadly turned down a few key horror roles in the 1970s. He was AIP’s first choice for Dr. Vesalius in The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971), the target of the tile character’s wrath, but he turned down the role due to his wife’s illness. Cushing never did go toe-to-toe with Vincent Price’s Abominable Doc, but they did manage to team up in Dr. Phibes Rises Again (1972).

He was also John Carpenter’s first choice to play Dr. Loomis in Halloween (1978). His second choice, predictably enough, was Christopher Lee, but both declined the role due to the lackluster budget and negligible pay. Donald Pleasence, Carpenter’s third choice, took the role for a meager $20,000.

Badge for the Peter Cushing Centennial Blogathon (May 25 - 31, 2013)

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the Peter Cushing Centennial Blogathon

Star Wars (1977)

Writer/Director George Lucas initially sought Cushing out for the role of space sensei Obi-Wan Kenobi, but decided his features better suited the villainous Grand Moff Tarkin. Tarkin may be the Imperial officer in charge of the Death Star, but the real power behind the throne is the Dark Jedi Master Darth Vader, voiced by James Earl Jones but played with physical presence by David Prowse. Prowse had previously played opposite Cushing as the title monster in Hammer Films’ final Frankenstein film, Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1974).

Though a towering 6’5″, Christopher Lee only wears a size 11 narrow shoe. Cushing, on the other hand, at just over 6′, has worn a size 12 since his youth. This ended up figuring into the direction of Star Wars, as wardrobe only had size 9 riding boots for Tarkin. They proved so uncomfortable that Cushing was able to convince Lucas to film him almost exclusively from the knees up to hide his soft plimsolls.

“Adored and idolized by young people and by people who go to see a certain kind of movie, I feel he will be fondly remembered for the next 350 years at least.” — George Lucas on Peter Cushing

House of the Long Shadows (1983)

Earl Derr Biggers’ novel, Seven Keys to Baldpate, had already been adapted to film six times before Michael Armstrong wrote the screenplay to House of the Long Shadows (1983). The film was promoted heavily as the only one to team horror icons John Carradine, Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, and Vincent Price, though it largely serves as a silly horror comedy vehicle for Desi Arnaz, Jr.

Movie Poster for "House of the Long Shadows" (1983)

Movie Poster for House of the
Long Shadows

Arnaz plays Kenneth Magee, a writer looking to compose a great Gothic novel in twenty-four hours. Looking for equal parts seclusion and inspiration, he sets up shop in a deserted Welsh manor. He gets plenty of the latter but none of the former as the house is still inhabited. Visitors arrive, murders start, and writing becomes nigh impossible.

The triple twist at the end will inspire more groans than smiles, but it does what it says on the tin, teaming these four horror legends together for the first and last time. Without them, the film would be justifiably forgotten, and certainly wasn’t the springboard for Arnaz that anyone hoped, since he went on to star in the ill-fated genre television show Automan later that year.

This was the last time Cushing and Lee worked together, and Cushing would only make a handful of films afterward. In 1989, he was honored (not knighted) as an Officer of the Order of the British Empire. Lee believed it “too little, too late.” Cushing passed from prostate cancer in 1994 at the age of 81. He is sorely missed.

Please join us again tomorrow as we’ll take a closer look at the birth of Hammer Horror in The Curse of Frankenstein (1957). Even if you’re a rabid Cushing fan and have seen the flick a hundred times, give us a chance. We hope to shed some new light on this classic and its treatment of the Baron. Thanks for visiting and we hope to see you again soon!

Let’s All Go to the Lobby…

Movie Poster for "Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine"

Let’s All Go to the Lobby…
Let’s All Go to the Lobby…
and Get Ourselves a Drink!

Some films are so bad they’re good. Some films benefit from a little liquid encouragement. Some people seek out such entertainment. We are such people, and we’re willing to share our discoveries with you.

Please remember to drink responsibly.

“Built part by part in the secret laboratory of the evil Dr. Goldfoot. It is part of a sinister plot to capture the wealth of the world. It has a KISS-BUTTON… a KILL-BUTTON, and a MYSTERY-BUTTON. Press the right button and it’ll GO-GO-GO!

Tonight’s Feature:

Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine(1965)

Produced by American International Pictures and Samuel Z. Arkoff, Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine is a spoof of popular spy films of its day, most notably the James Bond classic, Goldfinger, released just the year prior. To accomplish this feat, AIP pooled resources from two of its fading lines, the Corman-Poe cycle and beach party films. The result is neither fish nor fowl, but flamboyantly fun.

I purposefully omitted this little romp from our Super Spies of the Swinging Sixties
(1965 Edition)
because I knew I would come back to it here. Ain’t I a stinker?

Vincent Price in "Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs"

Vincent Price in the woefully unfunny Dr. Goldfoot
and the Girl Bombs
. That’s his henchman
"Hardjob" in the background there. Don’t ask.

Vincent Price

The venerable Vincent Price is the titular Dr. Goldfoot, the mad scientist inventor of the ultimate honey trap. Each of his robotic “bikini machines” is constructed to appeal to a chosen man of power and wealth. The victim is seduced by the sexbot and cajoled into signing his fortune away to the newfound lady love who is programmed to be unquestioningly loyal to the evil doctor. Price was disappointed that the film, originally intended to be a full-on musical, had all of the musical numbers cut. Most of them were utilized to promote the film on a special episode of the ABC musical variety show Shindig!, though, sadly, Price is still left without a song.

Susan Hart in "Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine"

Susan Hart in Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine

Susan Hart

Susan Hart (The Slime People) is Goldfoot’s latest creation, Number 11 or “Diane”. She has been constructed to target Todd Armstrong (Dwayne Hickman), the nation’s wealthiest and most elusive bachelor. Unfortunately, Dr. Goldfoot’s resurrected assistant, Igor, blunders and sends her to the wrong victim, who is quickly smitten and not willing to give up so easily.

Frankie Avalon in "Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine"

Frankie Avalon in Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine

Frankie Avalon

Beach blanket lothario Frankie Avalon is Craig Gamble, and he’s a SIC man. Sick with infatuation over Diane, but also SIC as in Secret Intelligence Command, the “West Coast Division,” to be exact. Craig reports to his exasperated Uncle Donald (Fred Clark) and has the unfortunate code number of “Double-Oh and a Half”. He’s not even allowed to carry a gun as yet, let alone a license to kill. Uncle Donald wants him to turn some red flags (denoting “trouble spots” on the operations map) into blue flags, “happy flags”. Unfortunately, his chance encounter with Diane has left him unable to focus on much more than her chassis.

To prepare for your mission, you must first “ante up.”

Ante: Any style of martini, shaken not stirred. My personal preference is “very dirty,” with a jalapeño-stuffed cannonball olive or two, but the possibilities are practically endless.

Now, once the feature has begun, pick your poison (beer, hard lemonade, etc.).
These are the few simple rules you must obey:

  • Rule # 1: Drink to each numbered “bikini machine” as they are introduced.
    If you have a poor or impaired memory, you are likely to end up taking unnecessary drinks. No risk, no reward.
  • Rule # 2: Any time someone says “Tchin Tchin” or “Chop chop”, drink.
  • Rule # 3: Drink any time a character climbs into or onto a vehicle.
  • Rule # 4: Drink any time a character accidentally bumps his or her head.

I recommend a 15-minute intermission about halfway through for smokes, restroom breaks, water (hangover-proofing), snacks, etc. Appropriate snacks include pita chips and hummus, veggies and dip, or cheese and crackers. Basically, go for beach blanket picnic food. In any case, I do NOT recommend drinking additional alcohol during intermission.

Beer BottleBeer Bottle
Difficulty Level:
Viewers will typically consume 29.5 oz.
(2.5 bottles at 1/2 oz. per drink, 12 oz. per bottle)
of alcoholic beverage if all rules are obeyed.

Running Time: 88 min. (+15 min. intermission)

If you want to check your work or just live vicariously through others, click Diane’s
“KISS-BUTTON” below for the official Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine debriefing scorecard:

Dwayne Hickman and Susan Hart in "Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine"

Dwayne Hickman and Susan Hart in Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine