This film is the last of Corman's “Poe cycle” and the one that many (including Martin Scorsese) consider the best. Oddly, I have to say that I love Vincent Price's sunglasses in this film, the ones that protect his sensitive eyes from that horrible sunlight. Price could make just about any accessory look cool, but these shades are a signature item that stand out in this film. If you remembered nothing else from the movie you could say, "Hey, what's the one with Vincent Price and those groovy specs, man?" and any cinephile worth his or her salt would immediately know what film you're talking about. Some other notable things about Ligeia include the fact that it was written by future academy award winner Robert Towne (Chinatown (1974), Shampoo (1975), The Last Detail (1973)) and was the first of the Poe films to not be bound to a set for its shooting locations. Ligeia was apparently a collaborative idea between Price and Corman in that they wanted to use a real location as an actual place in the film (in this case, the unforgettable ruin where they film many scenes).
After an ambiguous demise at the end of the first Phibes movie, this film begins with Vincent Price awakening three years later. The disfigured and psychotic Phibes is on a mission to resurrect his late wife and he needs some stolen papyrus scrolls to do so. He chases down and dispatches the thieves rather creatively. One could compare Phibes to later horror icons like Freddy Krueger in terms of his murderous creativity. In the first Phibes film, Price's wife is played by the gorgeous cult actress Caroline Munro. In Dr. Phibes Rises Again, she was replaced by an Australian model named Valli Kemp (who later had roles in Rollerball (1975) and The Great Muppet Caper (1981). No offense to Miss Kemp, but she ain't no Caroline Munro (few gals are). Also interesting is that this film was directed by Robert Fuest, who also did British films like The Final Programme (1973) and And Soon The Darkness (1970). This movie should also be remembered as the one where Vincent Price sings "Over the Rainbow."
Richard Matheson is one of my favorite writers of all time. His I Am Legend (2007) is one of the greatest pieces of fiction every put to paper. Matheson is also the screenwriter of The Legend Of Hell House, which is based on his own novel. This novel was called, "one of the most brain-freezingly frightening haunted house novels of the 20th century" by the great Stephen King, who was a gigantic fan of Matheson and often cited him as one of the greatest influences on him as a writer. Matheson was responsible for many great stories over the years and many of them were made into movies and TV shows, with good reason. Though the material he wrote was not explicitly "R-rated,” I have sometimes felt he could have benefitted from film adaptations that were. There were not many of them, though, and The Legend Of Hell House is a good example of what his material can do even without an R-rating (it was rated PG). I certainly enjoy a good haunted house film now and again, but few of them truly freak me out. There are only four that have left a truly lasting impression on me. They are The Haunting (1963), The Innocents (1961), The Uninvited (1944), and The Legend Of Hell House. The advantage Hell House may have over those others is its freedom to be more intense and scary because that it came out a little later and was allowed to be more intense. The neat thing that Hough does with Hell House is that he alludes to a lot of horror without actually showing it. It is a fairly well-known method of scaring people to leave as much to their own imaginations as possible. The human mind has a tendency to fill in the gaps with stuff that is much more terrifying than most filmmakers could ever capture. I've always admired the skill with which certain directors can lead a viewer to believe they saw something or to create a horrifying image merely through the power of suggestion, editing, and other filmmaking techniques like sound design.
As new-agey as it might sound, I have this strange belief in energy that exists out in the world. When I imagine the amazing power behind the life force of a human being, it's hard for me to conceive of it completely ever going away. Sometimes, it would seem a fair assumption that it just "hangs out" in a place. That said, there are also people and places that just seem to have a "bad energy" about them. I know I must sound like a complete hippie here, but suffice it to say that I like the idea of places in movies that are inherently evil. Whether it be because mass murders were committed there or some horrible rituals were performed or whatever it might have been, I am intrigued by the presence of these "evil places" in films. The haunted house in this movie (known as Belasco House) has the reputation of being the "Mount Everest of haunted houses." A physicist (Clive Revill) is called upon to investigate a house and brings his wife and two mediums (Roddy McDowall and Pamela Franklin) along to aid in the task. It's kinda like a "guys on a mission" movie (or in this case "guys and gals") with a very evil house. That premise alone should intrigue you to want to check it out if you haven't. John Hough makes it especially memorable by way of the film's wonderfully creepy atmosphere. Would make a lovely double feature with the previously mentioned The Haunting (1963). Among my favorite British horror films.
Evilspeak was a film that had completely passed me by as a kid. My fascination with Rock 'n' Roll High School (1979) (and in turn, Clint Howard) wouldn't start until I was in college, and by then, Evilspeak was not as common in the video stores I frequented. It first came to my attention when it was shown as part of the "Terror Tuesday" series at The Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, Texas by genius horror-programmer extraordinaire Zack Carlson. Zack's track record with Terror Tuesday was quite phenomenal, and though I was never able to fly out to Austin to catch one of his events in person, they were regaled throughout the land as amazing spectacles which were fantastically curated and introduced by the man himself. If Zack endorsed a film like this, then it must be something quite special indeed. After hearing about it, I immediately tracked down the old Anchor Bay DVD release and gave it a look. Well, of course when you see it you realize that it's one of those movies that has a cult fan-base for many reasons. It's got some very dated and silly stuff with computers, devil worship, and evil pigs, as well as Clint Howard, who is something of an icon at this point. On top of all that, it's a revenge movie and I think we can all appreciate a good revenge picture. Like myself, I expect most people were bullied or picked on a bit at some point in their lives, so it's obviously cathartic to see Clint get back at his tormentors. Bullying is of course a very prevalent thing, especially today, which may go a long way towards helping this film continue to connect with new audiences. What's memorable about Evilspeak is the methods by which Clint Howard's character enacts his revenge in the movie. It really goes into WTF territory with killer pigs, ritual sacrifice, and gore—which is absolutely the big reason it's cult item. It's really memorable, to say the least, and kind of a “love it or hate it” proposition. A quick note for fans though: this cut of the film apparently has lots of gore put back in, which had been cut out previously. It's a bloody mess and you'll love it.
Like a lot of horror movie fans, I've got a full-on case of zombie fatigue. I even burned out on The Walking Dead early on in season two (though I know it gets better and I may jump back in at some point). The zombie genre is justifiably greatly maligned because there have been (and continue to be) so many mediocre to bad zombie movies made. Horror films in general have always been a cheap and easy thing to do, and within that, zombie films are relatively straightforward in terms of production. All you need is a little green makeup and some boarded up windows right? What if you crossed a zombie movie with David Gordon Green's All The Real Girls (2003)? That's kind of a little bit of what The Battery is like. I know it can be annoying to reduce a movie to a combination of other existing things or styles, but I feel like this kind of shorthand is: a) fun to think about, and b) helpful in catching people's attention and perhaps piquing their interest in seeing a film they might not have been inclined to see before that.
As I was saying to my son in regards to The Battery, sometimes I like it when films show you the less exciting, more mundane bits of life that are often left out of the story. Early on in The Battery, there's a short scene of the two guys (Ben and Mickey) standing in a driveway, brushing their teeth. Now that's not a scene I've seen in too many zombie movies. In fact, it's not really fair to the film to call it a zombie movie. I mean, yes there are zombies in it, but The Battery seems to me to be more of a meditation on loneliness and isolation. In a remarkably realized, low-key observational way, the movie lets us slowly get to know the two main characters and how they got to be where they are. It really is such a refreshing little film. The dialogue between the two guys feels quite real and grounded. They feel legitimately like two dudes who've been stuck together for a long time. They have a shared camaraderie, but they also have a tendency to get on each other's nerves. The movie subtly delves into the psychological toll that this situation would have on these two guys. My son (15) turned to me at one point whilst watching the film and said, "This movie is kinda depressing." I had to agree with him, but I pointed out that it's not the worst thing in the world to watch a depressing movie from time to time. I warned him at the outset that this movie wouldn't be like Shaun of The Dead (2004) (which he is a big fan of) and that it may be a little more in line with The Walking Dead (which he also likes).
The Battery is it's own thing though. It has humor, scares, and pathos. It is a very unique and excellent little movie. What's more remarkable is that it's all that it is and was made on a budget of around $6,000. That's a damned miracle. It really hangs on the performances of writer/director Jeremy Gardner (who plays Ben in the film) and Adam Cronheim (who plays Mickey). The movie lives or dies by their interactions and they totally pull it off. There are some long dialogue scenes that could easily leave the actors out to dry if they weren't as capable as they are. I was quite impressed with the movie and you will be too.
When I first heard the announcement that Scream Factory was bringing this film out on Blu-ray I was immediately excited. What a match made in heaven this is. I've certainly enjoyed the fact that Scream has not only dedicated themselves to putting out remarkable Blu-ray editions of horror cult classics and genre favorites, but they've also made a nice effort to put some new horror films out in the world via their brand. And The Battery is without question the best of these new movies. Along with their collaboration with longtime filmmaker Larry Fessenden on the Scream Factory release of his film Beneath (2013), this is my favorite new film from Scream. I am excited for more like these and I hope Scream will continue to be on the lookout for wonderfully talented people like Jeremy Gardner. This film has set me up to look forward to anything he does in the future.
Brian Saur is a podcaster and blogger from Los Angeles that specializes in cult and classic films. He is co-host of the Pure Cinema Podcast and also produces and hosts another show called Just the Discs, which focuses on Blu-rays. He has run the Rupert Pupkin Speaks website since its inception in 2009 and continues to highlight obscure cinematic gems there on a regular basis. Follow him on Twitter (@bobfreelander, @justthediscspod, @purecinemapod), Facebook, or Instagram for more film recommendations.