Tag Archives: Boris Karloff

The Raven (1963)

raven 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: The search for Lenore.

Dr. Craven (Vincent Price) is a former sorcerer who one night is visited by a talking raven. The raven is actually Dr. Bedlo (Peter Lorre) who has been turned into a bird by the evil Dr. Scarabus (Boris Karloff). Craven manages to concoct a potion that allows Bedlo to turn back into his human form and in appreciation he tells Craven that he has seen Lenore (Hazel Court), who Craven was once married to and was thought to be dead, living with Scarabus in his castle. Craven decides to pay Scarabus a visit to see if this is true and brings along his daughter Estelle (Olive Sturgess) as well as Bedlo and Bedlo’s son Rexford (Jack Nicholson). When they arrive they are greeted by the conniving wizard who at first denies any wrongdoing, but it soon becomes clear that he is jealous of Craven’s powers and wants to attain them for himself, which leads to a climactic cosmic duel between the two sorcerers.

This film marked the fourth collaboration between writer Richard Matheson and director Roger Corman and for the most part it is an entertaining success. The two apparently had so much fun creating the comic story of ‘The Black Cat’ in Tales of Terror trilogy that they decided to do a feature length horror/comedy that is very loosely based on the Edgar Allan Poe poem. Despite being shot in only 15 days the film isn’t as limited by Corman’s usual low budget constraints and I was genuinely surprised how imaginative the special effects where and the overall impressive background sets.

The film’s biggest boost is clearly the three lead actors who are all at their absolute peak. I especially enjoyed Lorre who brazenly steals every scene he is in and ad-libbed many of his funny lines much to the consternation of his co-stars. In fact if Lorre wasn’t in this it wouldn’t have been half as enjoyable. A young Nicholson as his son is equally entertaining and the frosty relationship that the two characters have was apparently a carry-over from how they felt about each other from behind-the-scenes.

Some of the effects are clearly animated, which looks tacky and as the group arrive at Scarabus’ castle one can see that the place is merely a painting matted on the screen. The story also does have its share of lulls, but all of this gets forgiven by the climactic sorcerer’s duel, which is the film’s highlight.

raven

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: January 25, 1963

Runtime: 1Hour 26Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Roger Corman

Studio: American International Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Targets (1968)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: He kills his family.

In 1967 producer Roger Corman gave fledgling director Peter Bogdanovich the green light to make any movie he wanted as long as he followed two stipulations.  The first one was that he had to use footage from Corman’s earlier film The Terror and the second one required that he use the acting services of Boris Karloff as Karloff still owed Corman two day’s work per his contract.  This movie is the result of that agreement, which kind of works and kind of doesn’t and seems more like two movies rolled into one.

The first story deals with a young, clean-cut man starting to have homicidal urges. The second scenario involves an aging actor played by Karloff, who decides he wants to retire despite the appeals of his agent and film studio. He plans to attend a showing of one of his films (The Terror) at a local drive-in where the sniper is waiting to shoot him.

I enjoyed the scenes involving the sniper and felt it helped elevate this film from the typical exploitation fare.  The character is based very closely on Charles Whitman, an All-American ex-marine, who on August 1, 1966, climbed to the top of the clock tower at the University of Texas in Austin and shot 32 people, killing 14. It was one of the very first mass-shootings in American history and it caused worldwide headlines.

Tim O’Kelly, the actor who plays the gunman, looks almost exactly like Whitman. What I liked about these scenes is the way it follows the character around and shows his interactions with his family. Like in real life there were no indicators, or violent past.  It is creepy watching him say grace at the dinner table, or having wholesome conversations with his wife when you know what’s going to happen.  The film goes into almost meticulous detail with the build-up and I found it gripping despite the fact that there is little action, or music.

The shootings are uniquely done.  Like in the actual incident, he shoots his mother and wife first and then puts a towel over their blood stains while carrying their dead bodies back to their bedrooms so it would look more ‘tidy’ when the police came.  This is all done with a docu-drama approach, which heightens the impact and realism.

The scenes involving the sniper shooting at people while they drive in their cars along a busy roadway are excellent as well.  It was done on an actual freeway and the viewer watches the action from the killer’s perspective through the telescope of his rifle, which is chilling. The cars veering off the road and people getting shot are vivid.  The only fault here is that Bogdanovich had the killer climb up on top of an ordinary tank at an oil refinery to do the shootings.  The clock tower in the actual incident was a very distinct structure and it would have been stronger visually had they found another one that was similar to it.

The parts involving Karloff are weak and tend to be cluttered with a lot of uninteresting dialogue.  Bogdanovich casts himself as the screenwriter for Karloff’s next proposed project.  I always thought it was a bit weird for a director, especially one that at the time was young and unknown, to cast himself in his own movie.  I know Woody Allen and Spike Lee, as well as others have done this, but it always came off as a bit narcissistic to me. However, I saw Bogdanovich in person a few months ago and he hasn’t seemed to have aged a day.

The climactic sequence in the drive-in is poorly handled. The dark lighting makes it hard to follow the action.  The final confrontation between Karloff and the killer is dull and unimaginative.  The only good points here is that it gives you a chance to see both Randy Quaid an Mike Farrell in their film debuts playing two of the sniper’s victims.

The film ends with a bird’s-eye view of the drive-in’s empty parking lot taken the next day with the sniper’s car being the only one left.  It was shot during the early morning hours so the sunlight gives it a surreal quality.  It also has a moody feel because the only sound is of blowing wind as the credits scrawl over, which I liked. However, the police would certainly have impounded his car and gone through it for clues and not have let it just sit there.

Under the conditions that he was given I think Bogdanovich did a commendable job. It is hard to know what category to put this film into.  At times it seems like a horror movie and then at other points it’s a drama. Some may even argue that it is a sentimental tale dealing with an aging actor moving into the final years of his life. Personally I wished it had gone all out as a horror film because the ingredients were there except that the tension was inconsistent. Fans of Bogdanovich may want to check this out because it is radically different from any of his later works.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: August 15, 1968

Runtime: 1Hour 30Minutes

Rated R

Director: Peter Bogdanovich

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video