October 31, 2013

A Preternatural Poster Parade for Halloween

Like a good trailer, sometimes the luridly cheesy (or cheesily lurid) B movie poster promises thrills and chills that are strikingly absent in the movie itself.

Can a great poster redeem a bad movie? Doubtful, but who cares? Enjoy them for what they are -- an art form unto themselves. For this year's Halloween post, I've picked some outstanding (and downright bizarre) examples representing the good, the bad and the ugly of horror and sci-fi cinema.

(Click on the caption to see a high resolution version on the Wrong Side of the Art! website. A word of caution: the site also features some R-rated exploitation content, so browse at your own risk.)

Poster - 13 Ghosts (1960)
You can't tell the ghosts without a scorecard!

Poster - The Astounding She Monster (1957)
Jazz hands!

Poster - Attack of the Puppet People (1958)
Man's best friend, but not a puppet person's.

Poster - The Beast with 1,000,000 Eyes (1955)
Warning! There's no Chinese dragon with a million eyes in this movie!

Poster - Black Sabbath (1963)
The Headless Horseman of... oh wait, that's another movie!

Poster - The Brain Eaters (1958)
This is your brain on B sci-fi movies!

Poster - The Brain from Planet Arous (1957)
Can you believe this man was married to Shirley Temple?

Poster - The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
Too much information. It's just a poster, damn it!

Poster - Dead of Night (1945)
Edward Gorey (or someone very much like him) does "Dead of Night."

Poster - Donovan's Brain (1953)
In his eyes was muurrrderrrr!!!!

Poster - Dracula's Daughter (1936)
Don't look her in the eyes! Uh-oh...

Poster - Eyes without a Face (1960)
Oh crap, there are those eyes again!

Poster - The Haunting (1963)
Trapped in the maze of Hill House!

Poster - House of Dracula (1945)
Don't be knocking at this house on Halloween!

Poster - I Vampiri (1956)
Eye, eye, Vampiri!

Poster - It Came from Outer Space (1953)
Some people obviously can't handle 3D.

Journey to the Seventh Planet (1962)
Journey to the Planet of the BEMs (Bug Eyed Monsters)

The Lair of the White Worm (1988)
Even a movie with Hugh Grant in it can't spoil a great poster.

Poster - The Land that Time Forgot (1975)
Okay, so I like dinosaurs. You got a problem with that?

X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes (1963)
The Ray (Milland) with the X-ray eyes.

The Masque of the Red Death (1964)
Don't look too long into this face -- there lies madness!

Poster - Monster on the Campus (1958)
Big monster on campus.

Poster - The Mummy (1959)
It's hard to wreak vengeance on tomb defilers on an empty stomach.

Poster - Not of This Earth (1957)
"What? My coupons have all expired?!"

Poster - Queen of Blood (1966)
Oh what a web we weave, when we practice to deceive (and drink blood)...

Poster - The Reptile (1966)
"Does this snake skin make me look fat?"

Poster - Them! (1954)
Okay, ants don't have eyes like that, not even giant ones...

This Island, Earth (1955)
"That blowed up good... real good!"

Poster - Tomb of Ligeia (1964)
Tomb of the Evil Cat Lady

Poster - Voodoo Woman (1957)
You better wake up before you hit the ground!

Voyage to the End of the Universe (1963)
Don't take a trip on a starship built by the lowest bidder.

Poster - World Without End (1956)
The first B movie poster designed by a Cubist painter (or so it seems)...

October 21, 2013

Hammer Horror Lesson #13: Don't Accept Dinner Invitations from Devil-Worshipping Vampires

Poster - Kiss of the Vampire (1963)
Now Playing: Kiss of the Vampire (1963)

Pros: Startling pre-title sequence; Good cast; Nicely crafted simmering suspense
Cons: Some annoying plot inconsistencies; An ambitious finale is done in by bargain basement effects

This post is part of the Hammer Halloween Blogathon hosted by the Classic Film & TV Café. Click here for the complete blogathon schedule.

About a week or so ago as I was searching the internet for the meaning of life, a pop-junk business article caught my eye: "12 Jobs on the Brink: Will They Evolve or Go Extinct?" I don't why it resonated with me, since at the moment I have no job, evolving, evolved, extinct or otherwise. (On the other hand, I am rapidly going extinct as a person -- or should I say expiring? -- and all those applications of Just for Men's Touch of Gray™ don't seem to be slowing down the process any.) It was one of those slideshow thingies for time-pressed and literacy-challenged people who prefer clicking on arrows and looking at captioned pictures versus scrolling through paragraphs and paragraphs of **SHUDDER** black and white text.

What really caught my eye was the pic that accompanied the article teaser. It was of a woman with a stack of books in one arm holding her index finger to her lips in the stereotypical librarian shushing pose -- although in this case, the woman was fairly young, attractive, and did not have her hair done up in a bun. Having been a librarian for many years, the old, hoary notion of librarians as shushers and killjoys drives me absolutely nuts, but I was nonetheless intrigued by the mixed messages conveyed by the picture. Against my better judgment I clicked on the link, prepared to be outraged at the lies and slanders that some insouciant twenty-something business writer would no doubt spew about my former profession. Of course, Librarian was first on the list of 12 jobs on the brink, but to my astonishment, the verdict of the profession was "evolved"… apparently in the Google age there's still room for people who know their way around the digital information landscape, and who are "savvy with searches, keywords and helpful websites."

Other jobs like video store clerk and newspaper deliverer got the brutal extinct judgment. Still others, like travel agents and supermarket cashiers were said to be evolving, but librarians, at least according to this one business writer, are not just evolving, but fully evolved. Huh. While the final bit of advice to workers was particularly weak -- "Watch big picture trends, update your skills and direction as necessary, and get personal" -- it did get me thinking about other occupations that are rapidly going extinct. Take the various homicidal maniacs, devil worshipers and assorted monsters that lie in wait until such time as they can "get personal" with unwary travelers. With GPS as standard equipment in almost every car and cellphone these days, fewer travelers are getting lost, and even if they do get stuck on a deserted road, chances are they can call for roadside assistance instead of hiking up to that creepy old house or castle to get help. Sure, there are plenty of cellular dead zones, and there's still a chance that a chainsaw maniac or decrepit vampire might snag a lost tourist here or there, but it's becoming an increasingly hard way to make a killing.

Fortunately for horror fans, Hammer's Kiss of the Vampire is set in a time long before GPS and cellphones, in the early automobile age when horseless carriages were sputtering, noisy curiosities that had a tendency to break down on lonely roads next to decaying castles swarming with vampires. Needless to say, there was no AAA around to bail you out. After an eye-opening pre-titles sequence (more on that later), the 1903 De Dion Bouton model Q motorcar belonging to honeymooners Gerald and Marianne Harcourt (Edward de Souza and Jennifer Daniel) does just that. (According to IMDb trivia, the car was loaned to Hammer by the National Motor Museum). Handsome Gerald good-naturedly blames his new bride's poor map-reading skills for their being lost and without petrol (that's gas for us Americans), then sets out for the nearest village for help after telling Marianne that she'll be safe in the car (which is completely open to the elements and wandering wolves and vampires… yeah, right…)

Isobel Black as Tania, Kiss of the Vampire (1963)
"Little Red Riding Hood, what big teeth you have!"

When hours go by and Gerald still isn't back, Marianne gets antsy and starts down the road herself, only to be intercepted in the twilight by the severe, mysterious bearded man we saw in the pre-titles segment, who gruffly warns her to get back to the motorcar. Meanwhile, the breakdown and Marianne's encounter are being watched via telescope by another mysterious man in the nearby castle. Gerald finally returns with a local and his horse-driven wagon, who tows the motorcar and the Harcourts into the nearby village.

The couple end up in a village that seems devoid of people, in front of a run-down hotel that looks like it hasn't had a guest in years. Without any other options, Gerald manages to secure a room from the reluctant innkeeper and his dour wife. Bruno the innkeeper (Peter Madden) brightens up when, in retrieving the couple's bags, he sees rice in the nooks and crannies of their belongings and concludes that they're newlyweds. He unsuccessfully tries to cheer up his wife Anna (Vera Cook), who seems to be harboring a deep and abiding sadness.

That evening, a carriage arrives at the hotel with an invitation for "the English couple staying at the hotel" to join Dr. Ravna (Noel Willman) and his family for dinner at the castle. Although Gerald doesn't understand how anyone knows they're staying at the hotel, Bruno encourages the couple to accept the invitation, telling them that Ravna sets one of the finest tables in all the country, and explaining that while his wife is a good woman, her cooking is not so great.

The Harcourts agree to go, and find themselves in a magnificently appointed and well-lit abode that belies the castle's creepy, rundown exterior. Dr. Ravna is an elegant, if somewhat foppish middle-aged man. He introduces the Harcourts to his beautiful daughter Sabena (Jacquie Wallis) and handsome son Carl (Barry Warren), who seem much more normal than their patrician father. Ravna is an odd duck, admitting to the couple that he spied on them with his telescope. He also explains cryptically that he was a scientist who made a "mistake," and was forced to give up his position and move to his ancestral castle in the hinterlands. When he starts in on the ugly origins of life's pleasures -- how the excellent wine they had with dinner started out as grapes mashed by dirty peasant feet, and the duck they feasted on was first strung up by hunters, Sabena judiciously cuts him off. Recovering his pleasant demeanor, Ravna offers to send for petrol, but tells the couple they'll have to stay over for another night.

Jennifer Daniel as Marianne Harcourt, Kiss of the Vampire (1963)
Marianne (Jennifer Daniel) is mesmerized
by Carl's dark, brooding music.
Carl treats the guests to one of his compositions on the piano. The dark, haunting music practically puts Marianne into an hypnotic state. Coming back from the dinner party, Gerald and Marianne hear Anna crying softly in a nearby room. Being busybodies, they quietly open the door and see Anna sitting on the floor next to a cabinet, clutching a white dress and a framed photo. They softly close the door before the distraught woman can see them. When Gerald tries to pump the hotel's only other guest, Prof. Zimmer (Clifford Evans) for information, he gets rebuffed. (Zimmer's the same man who gruffly warned Marianne to get back to her car. The audience knows a bit more about what's wrong with the village from an earlier scene in which Zimmer intercepts a red-hooded vampire woman from the castle trying to dig up the latest convert from her grave. Zimmer gets bitten on the wrist for his troubles and has to soak the wound with alcohol and set fire to it to sterilize the undead cooties.)

After breakfast, Sabena and Carl show up at the inn with some good news and some bad news. The bad news: it will take several more days to get the petrol. The good news: the family is hosting a grand party at the castle with music, dancing and food brought in from Paris, and Marianne and Gerald are of course invited. When Zimmer appears and grimly announces to the Ravna siblings that the weather seems to be getting better and the sun is coming out, the pair seem panicked and rush to their carriage (but not before getting the Harcourts to agree to come). Later, as the Harcourts prepare to go back to the castle, a visibly distressed Zimmer warns Marianne to be careful.

The dance scene in Kiss of the Vampire
Marianne and Carl dance as an assortment of
upper-crust gals and ghouls looks on.
Ravna's party is a fancy one, but also a bit peculiar. The ladies wear dainty eye masks, while the gentlemen sport an assortment of grotesque over-the-head masks. Gerald is given a bright-red devil mask, while Carl takes Marianne off to the dance floor. All eyes are on the pair as they swirl around, Marianne seemingly entranced (or hypnotized) by her partner. Meanwhile, Sabena is plying the unsuspecting Gerald with alcohol. After the dancing, Marianne is lured to the upper floor of the castle by a man in a devil mask that she at first assumes is Gerald. At the moment she realizes the man in the mask is not her husband, Carl, leering, tears the mask off, shoves her into a spacious room and locks the door. There she encounters Dr. Ravna lying in a coffin-like enclosure off the main room, blood dribbling from the corner of his mouth. Uh-oh!

Later, Gerald wakes up from his alcoholic blackout and finds the castle deserted. When he asks Carl where Marianne is, the now very hostile young man claims that he he's never heard of a "Marianne," that Gerald came to the castle alone and has worn out his welcome. Carl is unceremoniously dumped outside by a hulking henchman. When he stumbles back to the hotel, Bruno too pretends to have never heard of or seen his wife. Gerald is astonished to find that all of Marianne's clothes and effects have disappeared from their hotel room.

Just when Gerald thinks he's going out of his mind, Zimmer matter-of-factly tells him that Marianne is being held at the castle. It seems Zimmer has been tracking Ravna and his followers for some time, and now that the moon is full and Saturn is lined up with Capricorn (?!), he has a plan to turn evil against evil (or something like that). Will the scheme succeed before Marianne is completely absorbed into Ravna's macabre den of iniquity?

With the exception of the opening sequence (yes, yes, I'm getting to that), Kiss of the Vampire takes its time to develop an atmosphere of dread rather than letting the technicolor blood flow like Hammer's vampire offerings featuring Lee and Cushing. Ravna and his family first seem no more than eccentric at the dinner party, then by the time of the masqued ball, we know something's really, really wrong with these people.

Noel Willman as Dr. Ravna and Edward de Souza as Gerald Harcourt
Gerald (Edward de Souza) enjoys a glass of wine
while Ravna (Noel Willman) ogles Marianne.

is probably most effective in a first viewing, provided you're in a tolerant, "let it flow" frame of mind. With subsequent viewings (yes, I've seen it more than a few times) its inconsistencies and logical lapses pop up in the midst of the carefully constructed suspense like some joker wearing a tuxedo t-shirt to a fancy ball. If no one comes to the village any more, how do hotel keepers Bruno and Anna even make a living? How is it that no one who's left in the village (with the exception of Zimmer) seems to make the connection between the eccentric Ravna and the deaths and disappearances of so many of the area's young women? Why is Bruno so happy to send the honeymooners up to the creepy castle? Why does Zimmer, who knows better, refuse to talk when pressed by Gerald, and can only stir himself to warn Marianne to "be careful" when the couple get in the carriage to go to the castle? And when he does take action, why does Zimmer recommend waiting until night (?!) to try to rescue Marianne after she's been kidnapped?

These pesky "huh?" moments are more than compensated for by the film's masterful building of tension and some original touches. Without going into too much detail, Kiss of the Vampire's opening scene takes the horror movie cliche of the somber cemetery burial and adds some bloody red technicolor spice to it. This scene contributed to one of my Most Memorable Early Movie Moments™. I was nine or ten, watching it at the drive-in (of course!), and when the unexpected thing happened, I literally hid my eyes with my hands. Still, it was a good frightful feeling, and Kiss of the Vampire has been one of my favorites ever since.

Although I suppose you might call Kiss' cast a sort of Hammer vampire B team, it's a very good B team. Dashing Edward de Souza (Gerald) was already a veteran of Hammer's underrated The Phantom of the Opera (1962, with Herbert Lom; this would be one of de Souza's last features before TV took over the rest of his career). Clifford Evans had been working in movies and TV for nearly 30 years, and had appeared in Hammer's Curse of the Werewolf (1961) before joining the cast as the grim, determined Zimmer. Jennifer Daniel (Marianne) has worked mostly in TV over the course of her decades-long career -- most notably (at least for horror fans), in such shows as One Step Beyond (1961), Suspense (1962), and Brian Clemens' 70s series Thriller (she also appeared in Hammer's 1966 shocker The Reptile).

Dr. Ravna (Noel Willman) sleeps the sleep of the undead
The supposedly classy Dr. Ravna is a drooler and
sleeps with his eyes open. Eeewwwwww!!!!
In their book The Hammer Story: The Authorised History of Hammer Films, Marcus Hearn and Alan Barnes report that Noel Willman was initially dubious about the role of Dr. Ravna. He supposedly confided to co-star de Souza, "I intend to play this part without changing my expression once." Dubious or not, Willman is very effective as the sinister patrician vampire and devil-worshipping cult leader. Early in the film, when he greets the naive honeymooners for the first time in his castle lair, he channels Bela Lugosi as he walks slowly down the darkened steps: "You expected the inside of my house to be as unattractive as the outside, is that it? If it were, I could not live here. I like only to be surrounded by beautiful … things." The hitch in his voice as he says "things" recalls Lugosi's famous line from the 1931 Dracula, "I never drink… wine."

In his Hammer film debut, Australian director Don Sharp manages to build a nice, atmospheric chiller with little bits of business like this. Another understated yet effective scene is the great masqued ball at the castle. As Carl and the beautiful Marianne whirl around the dance floor, the camera pans the row of guests who have stopped their dancing to watch. The women are normal enough looking with their simple eye masks, but the men are all wearing hideous, disturbing masks. It's as if the dancers are being observed by an assortment of demons and ghouls.

According to Hearn and Barnes, Sharp was largely responsible for Kiss' emphasis on atmosphere over blood and shock scenes. They quote Sharp:
"What worried me was that, as Hammer progressed, the goal seemed to be for each picture to top the one before it and they were becoming satiated with violence. So I persuaded [producer] Tony [Hinds] that it was better to suggest 'is it going to happen?' and give the audience a little touch of it, and go on and really get your big shock in the end." [Ibid.]
Ravna's creepy castle
It's two-for-one bat night at Ravna's castle.
Sharp's less-is-more philosophy works throughout most of the film -- until the "big shock" at the climax. Again, without giving away everything, bargain basement special effects in the form of rubber bats reputedly purchased from a local Woolworth's store (?!) almost turn the shock ending into an unintentional laugh fest. Instead of conveying a feeling of terror, some of the characters grapple with the cheap bats as if they were clumsy parents fumbling with particularly irksome Halloween decorations.

Still, don't let the rubber props spoil your enjoyment of this above average Hammer film. It may not kiss like a French person, but its subtleties and slow-building suspense make for a great horror movie date nonetheless.

Where to find it:
Available on DVD

Oldies.com (2 DVD Hammer Horror Series)

"A spine-chilling drama of two young people who strayed by chance into a nightmare, in a twilight world of terror!"

October 15, 2013

A Kinder, Gentler Psycho for the Small Screen

DVD cover art - How Awful About Allan (1970)
Now Playing: How Awful About Allan (1970)

Pros: Good, veteran "suspense" cast; Effective (but brief) dream sequences; Clever allusion to Psycho at the very end
Cons: Perkins' character is hard to sympathize with; Unmasking of the culprit is anticlimactic

Note to my readers: After recently reading director Curtis Harrington's very entertaining memoir, Nice Guys Don't Work in Hollywood (more info below), I wanted to review one of his movies sooner than later. Harrington's Queen of Blood appealed, since, a.) I haven't reviewed any sci-fi in awhile; b.) it's also a nifty horror story, and so fits right into the Halloween high season; c.) I hadn't seen it for some time; and d.) it was readily available through Amazon Instant Video. Or so I thought. I fired up my networked Blu-ray player, searched for Queen of Blood, and promptly got a "Video currently unavailable" message. It had been there just a week ago when I checked. Being just a dumb, naive consumer who wants to watch what he wants to watch, I am getting soooo tired of these licensing follies (as are quite a few other folks out there). At any rate, I'm nothing if not flexible, so I quickly pivoted to a backup, How Awful About Allan, a pretty decent thriller and perhaps even more fitting for Halloween. You're welcome.

Joan Hackett and Anthony Perkins
A thoroughly bummed-out Allan (Anthony Perkins)
succumbs to hysterical blindness.
The story. In an effectively disturbing pre-title sequence, Allan (Anthony Perkins) awakens to the sight of a strange orange light flickering under his bedroom door and the crackling sound of fire. He rushes to the master bedroom, which is ablaze. His father (Kent Smith) is encircled by flames, pathetically calling for Allan's help. He's frozen at the door, uncertain about what to do (or is it that he's uncertain he wants to do anything?). Allan's sister Katherine (Julie Harris) runs up to the door screaming Allan's name, then plunges into the fiery room to try to save her father. As flames shoot out of the second story windows, a neighbor (Olive, played by Joan Hackett) calls the fire department, then runs over to the house just as a dazed Allan stumbles out the front door. Allan mumbles that his father is dead. "Where's Katherine?" Olive asks in a near panic. Just then, a good samaritan carries Katherine out of the house and lays her down on the front lawn. Katherine's head lolls to one side, and the spectators are horrified to see that the right side of her face is horribly blackened and burnt. As they stare down at the poor woman, Allan stares straight ahead. "Olive… I can't see… I can't see… I'm blind…" he says in a creepy monotone. Roll the titles.

Fast forward 8 months. Allan is ready to be released from the mental hospital. In a bit of exposition, Allan's doctor (William Erwin) reminds him that his blindness is psychosomatic, probably brought on by shock and guilt over his father's death and his sister's disfigurement. In his therapy, Allan has owned up to the doctor about his resentment of his sister's special relationship with his high achieving father, and in so doing has begun to deal with the guilt. The doctor reassures him that it was an accident-- of course he didn't mean to put the combustible paint so close to the heater in his father's room (hmmmmmm…..) And, he adds, Katherine has done well with her injuries-- the appliance she wears over her burn scars is "barely noticeable." Allan's eyesight has improved marginally -- he can see colors and shapes -- but he's still legally (if not somatically) blind. (In a shot from Allan's POV, we see the indistinct features of the doctor as he talks to his patient. The effect is like looking at someone behind a thick pane of leaded glass.) Allan listens stoically, if not quite believing everything the shrink is telling him. It's time to go home again…

Katherine picks him up from the hospital and drives him home. As they get out of the car, Allan pauses and looks up in the direction of the second story where the tragedy occurred. In a POV shot, only the indistinct outlines of the house are visible. Then it switches to a clear shot of the second story windows, which still bear the scorch marks of the fire. (If I'd been Allan's doctor, I think I would have recommended a change of scenery, but then, that's probably why I'm just a blogger, damn it!) As Katherine leads him up to the front porch, Allan stumbles against a sign in the yard, "Room for rent." "What's that?" he asks Katherine. "Oh, just a stick some neighbor kids left," she lies. Uh-oh, turbulence ahead!

Anthony Perkins - How Awful About Allan
Allan hears a shadowy figure whispering his name.
Later, the old sibling tensions reemerge as Katherine explains to her dour brother that she's had to take in student borders to supplement her meager salary at the university. At first Allan is alright with the plan, but the new student renter -- a young man who can barely speak above a whisper due to a throat injury -- starts to get on the vulnerable man's nerves. The student is like a ghost, disappearing in the morning and only coming back late at night. Soon, Allan's paranoia takes full flight when he hears a voice late at night calling his name and perceives a shadowy figure on the stairs.

Neighbor Olive (who we learn was once engaged to Allan) is, like Katherine, concerned for Allan's mental state. She persuades him to go along for a ride to the university (everyone in the small town seems to be employed there) to get him out of the musty house. Sitting in the car, Allan hears some students laughing on the library steps, and in his paranoid state, thinks they're laughing at him. Then, the creepy voice calls his name again and he sees a shape approaching the car window. Panicked, he takes the wheel, guns the car engine and drives off, running other cars off the road before crashing into a lamppost.

In the aftermath of the crash, Allan talks to Olive about the mysterious border no one ever sees, and the recent return of Katherine's former fiancee, Eric, who Olive has seen, but who Katherine claims moved to Australia and hasn't come back. Allan puts two and two together, and comes up with Katherine and Eric in a "secret living arrangement in a narrow-minded university town." Allan starts grilling Katherine about the student renter and Eric. But that night, when Allan is nearly pulled down the steep stairs by the dark figure whispering his name, it appears there's more at work than just two lovers living secretly together under Allan's nose. With Allan out of the way, the secret living arrangement might not have to be so secret.

Crash scene, How Awful About Allan
Three creepy men in black witness Allan's car crash.
A trio of red herrings, or something else?
After an intense conversation with Katherine about his relapse and possibly returning to the hospital, the paranoid man slips out of the house in the middle of a violent electrical storm and is promptly hit by a falling branch. In a subsequent delirium, he dreams of a much younger Katherine and his father holding a secret conversation in the study, then turning and malevolently laughing together at the young boy (Allan) standing in the doorway.

After this, Katherine and Olive tag team up on Allan to convince him to go back to the hospital. Allan is resigned to it, but before he can pack up, the shadowy figure strikes again. Who's trying to drive poor Allan mad, or worse yet, trying to kill him? The mysterious student boarder? Katherine's estranged fiancee Eric? What's a poor paranoid former mental patient to do?

In a way, this Aaron Spelling-produced TV movie is almost done in by its stellar cast. One could be forgiven for expecting great things of a production starring "Psycho" Anthony Perkins and Julie Harris of "The Haunting" fame. What you get is a competent, low-key thriller with some genuinely creepy moments, several dull stretches, and an effective music track by Laurence Rosenthal that keeps the viewer uneasy even during the dull parts.

To viewers raised on a diet of egregious TV gore like Dexter and The Following, How Awful About Allan no doubt will seem hopelessly staid and genteel. It's a slow-building neo-Gothic that features a "heroine" in the form of the gaunt, habitually nervous Anthony Perkins. There are no shocks to speak of, but rather just some well-crafted, dark-at-the-top-of-the-stairs spooky atmosphere for Anthony's character (and presumably the audience) to shiver at. The unease is effectively supplemented by POV shots from Allan's near-blind perspective. The dark at the top of the stairs is scary enough, but when all the figures you encounter, even in broad daylight, are indistinct shapes, even normal every-day life can get real scary real fast.

Jeannette Howe as the young Katherine and Kent Smith as Allan's father Raymond
In the fevered dream sequence, young Katherine (Jeannette Howe)
and Allan's father Raymond (Kent Smith) share a jolly, malicious secret.
Scary too are the bizarre, fevered dreams Allan has as he lies unconscious after his encounter out in the storm. In this too brief sequence, we get a taste for how disturbed Allan was over the bond that Katherine shared with her father, the "great" man and scholar. In his dream, a young Allan walks down the darkened corridors of the house and encounters a sister and father who have been transformed into leering, laughing, evil versions of themselves. Kent Smith of Cat People fame makes a brief but memorably malignant appearance in the sequence.

But even as we're tempted to sympathize with poor Allan, the character is at the same time maddeningly obtuse and unappreciative. As Katherine and Olive hover around him, fixing him meals, taking him on drives, and almost desperately trying to do right by him, he pouts and confronts and retreats to his room to spew his paranoid rants into his tape recorder. It gets to the point where even the most patient, forbearing viewer must be tempted to cheer for the shadowy figure to pull Allan's scrawny frame down the stairs and break his neck.

Given that there are only a handful of characters in the movie and the few red herrings are weak, the denouement is unsurprising and disappointing. But don't be tempted to shut it off before the end credits. The final minute or so is a wonderful, eccentric homage to Perkins' Psycho role, and saves the movie from what otherwise would have been a blah ending.

In addition to the star-power presence of Perkins and Harris, Joan Hackett is well cast as the kindly but unappreciated Olive. If you've seen any TV from the '60s and '70s, you've probably seen Joan. She was attractive without being Hollywood "beautiful," which allowed her to get roles that highlighted her versatility, from westerns to thrillers to sci-fi and everything in between. Tragically, she died of cancer in 1983 at the very young age of 49.

Book - Nice Guys Don't Work in Hollywood, Curtis Harrington
In his memoir Nice Guys Don't Work in Hollywood, director and ever-aspiring auteur Curtis Harrington said of the production, "This television experience was a relatively painless and even enjoyable one. I thought I was only killing time and making a few bucks between real work. If only I had known." (Curtis Harrington, Nice Guys Don't Work in Hollywood: The Adventures of an Aesthete in the Movie Business, Drag City Inc., 2013.)

Harrington is one of the more interesting directors that the average film fan has maybe-possibly-probably never heard of. His journey from a gangly middle class film buff, to experimental filmmaker, to hobnobber with such luminaries as Christopher Isherwood, Truman Capote and James Whale, to feature film director, to frustrated TV director, is an interesting one to say the least! Along the way, he made such fascinating and varied films as Night Tide (his ultra low budget feature debut with Dennis Hopper released in 1961), the Roger Corman-produced Queen of Blood (1966; with Hopper and Basil Rathbone), Games (1967; with Simone Signoret and James Caan), What's the Matter with Helen (1971; with Debbie Reynolds and Shelly Winters), and, to his everlasting regret, Devil Dog: Hound of Hell (TV movie with Richard Crenna and Yvette Mimieux; 1978).

How Awful was Anthony Perkins' first TV movie, and Harrington was worried that the actor would be uncomfortable with the rushed shooting schedule. But Harrington was relieved to find out that his leading man was the consummate professional. To achieve more realism, Perkins had opaque contact lenses made and wore them every day to the set, so that his blindness was authentic. Julie Harris and Kent Smith were also involved in scenes that were a little too authentic for comfort. In Harris' case, in a driving scene with a side-mounted camera, Julie forgot the camera was there and smashed it into a parked car. (Otherwise, Harrington noted, she was a "marvel of an actress and an angel of a person.")

Kent Smith, How Awful About Allan
Kent Smith does his own fiery stunt work in the opening scene.
And Kent Smith insisted on doing the dangerous fire scene himself. Harrington: 
"I was fascinated by the way the special effects men smeared the walls with rubber glue, which is highly flammable but easily extinguished. The set was designed so that as the flames seem to engulf him, Kent would fall to his knees and crawl out the bottom of the set. It looked so real I was terrified that something had gone wrong during filming. But Kent emerged from the flames smiling and unsinged." [Ibid.]
Harrington may have viewed How Awful About Allan as nothing more than a pleasant diversion between "real work," but it's a very competent, atmospheric thriller made all the more enjoyable with the presence of top-flight professionals Anthony Perkins, Julie Harris and Joan Hackett. Fortunately, it's widely available online and on DVD.

Where to find it:
Available online

Amazon Instant Video

Available on DVD


A "How Awful About Allan" sampler: