Vincent Price may have appeared in virtually all the American International-Edgar Allan Poe movies known to man (except for that contractual snafu that allowed Ray Milland to sneak onto the set of The Premature Burial and steal his spot in that one), but even Price couldn’t be hornswoggled into starring in this stiff about some killings afflicting a troupe of actors in France (filmed entirely on location in Spain which is apparently a lot cheaper than France).
Jason Robards was drafted to replace Price and the way that Mr. Robards conducts himself for the duration of this exercise in slasher tedium, “drafted” would appear to be an apt description of his enthusiasm in playing the director of the acting company besieged by a vengeful Herbert Lom.
Now, there’s a lot of times in life when we have to do stuff we don’t want to do. Writing this review for example. But part of being a true blue American is to roll up your shirtsleeves and get things done as half-assed as possible without people noticing. We’ll Mr. Robards, we noticed your less than half-assed attempt in this film!
In fact, an interview conducted with director Gordon Hessler and included on the DVD, reveals that even he could tell you were stinking up the joint with your bad attitude! He’s talking about how you were cold and distant and that you didn’t really seem to take a liking to the genre (embarrassingly cruddy horror movies). He’s pretty much calling you out for phoning it in! And remember, this is coming from a guy who’s worked with Sho Kosugi! Twice!
I didn’t come here though to tinkle all over Jason R.’s grave. Sure, he telegraphed how horrible the movie would be right from the get go, but it wasn’t like his disdainful attitude at having to appear in it was the cause of the problems. The story, which was as ratty and nasty as the ape costume in the movie, has to step forward and accept the blame for that.
First of all, this is one of those Edgar Allan Poe movies where it’s an Edgar Allan Poe movie because they used the title of one of his stories. Perhaps AIP realized that while Poe is an acknowledged master of scary stories, they know much more about making bad movies and so decided that instead of filming a version of The Murders In The Rue Morgue, that they would film a story about a bunch of murders happening to a cast that is performing The Murders In The Rue Morgue, thus accidentally adapting The Phantom Of The Opera instead of anything related to Poe.
Well, that sure sounds like a dumb idea, though maybe not as dumb as basing a “Poe” movie around a line or two of his verse as in War-Gods Of The Deep and The Conqueror Worm, but just to make sure it’s not any good, they added some flashbacks to let us in on the motive the killer had (no surprises there) and even worse than that, they fattened this thing up with flash-forwards! Thus we are given a break from the boring goings on at the theater and at Robards’ house to watch the boring, slow motion dreams of his wife where some guy swings an axe around and falls from the rafters in the theater to the stage below.
There is no mystery surrounding the killer and he has no memorable traits beyond the standard black clock and little flesh-covered mask covering his scarred-up face. The identity of the person who scarred him and set all this into motion is obvious right from the start and by the time it all plays out, you’re left with no one that you have any interest in and are left wondering just what heinous crime it’s going to ultimately take to get this stupid play to shut down, at least for a day or two.
Dragged down by inane and artless arty dream sequences, the movie positively crawls along, hindered by Robards’ pathetic performance, the leading lady’s inability to register much of anything beyond looking tired, and Herbert Lom just showing up and dumping acid on people whenever he feels like it, whether or not the police and big crowd are standing right there beside him.
The only thing preventing this from being a total loss (and make no mistake – it’s as close as they come) is the presence of Michael Dunn. Midget lovers everywhere will recognize him as Dr. Miguelito from TV’s Wild Wild West. He doesn’t really get to do much, though he connects with the audience more than anyone else in the movie does when he tries to stab Robards. Fans in search of a Poe movie with a guy in an ape suit and midget should skip this one and stick with The Masque Of The Red Death.
© 2016 MonsterHunter