Giants used to roam the silver screen, back when it was still silver. In celebration of this bygone age, several major studios are re-opening their vaults. Warner Bros, MGM and others are making digital masters of their rarest archival prints and offering them to us undeserving pukeoids on DVD. And Vault of Secrets is here to assess a sampling of ‘em twice a month, new and old, good and bad:
THE LAST RUN – Remastered Edition
Dir. Richard Fleischer / 1971 / Warner Archive
Inimitable rectangle George C. Scott stars as Harry Garmes, a retired getaway driver lounging in a Portuguese fishing village. His son has died, his wife has left and Garmes is doing his best to evaporate into the surroundings. Suddenly, he’s struck with the desire to make a final run at the Old Life, in the hope that it’ll remind him that he’s breathing. Garmes unveils his showy custom roadster and sets off to the border, where he picks up escaping young killer Rickard (Tony Musante). The two dislike each other immediately, and the friction only increases when they pick up Rickard’s ladyfriend (Trish Van Devere) and drag her into an ever-increasing hurricane of gunfire and double-crossing.
Though this isn’t the most memorable work from all the participants (director Fleischer had helmed Fantastic Voyage just five years earlier), it’s a solid, bleak crime movie, unabashedly influenced by the European underworld films of the time. Fleischer was brought in halfway through the shoot after initial director John Huston (!) became frustrated with the project -- and its star -- and stormed off the set.
Musante’s neurotic quasi-villain character is perfectly unsavory, and a great counter to the crumbling masculine impenetrability of George C. Scott as Garmes. Throughout his entire career, Scott was incapable of putting in anything but a perfect performance and this is no exception. Here, he’s constantly berated as “an old man” by the other characters even though he was only 44 at the time of filming. 28-year-old Van Devere must not have felt he was so feeble, as she married him shortly afterwards. This probably didn’t sit too well with the film’s only other actress, Colleen Dewhurst, who was cast as a tired prostitute and was still married to Scott when production began.
DOCTORS BLOOD’S COFFIN
Dir. Sidney J. Furie / 1961 / MGM Limited Edition Collection
I love low budget fright films as much as anyone, but movies like this sometimes work better on the marquee than they do on the screen. Few will disagree that Doctor Blood’s Coffin is one of those titles that reverberates with the type of cobwebbed haunted satisfaction that characterizes the very best classic horror. Unfortunately, this UK quickie doesn’t put its money where its blood is.
Turns out the main character is just named Dr. Peter Blood (start laughing if you’re 12), and though he doesn’t actually show up with a coffin, he’s extremely interested in death. After being kicked out of medical school for conducting inhuman experiments on the dying, the young doctor (Kieron Moore) returns to his seaside hometown to work under his general practitioner father. But by cover of night, the unholy research continues. The local law attempts to uncover the source of various disappearances, and eventually trace Blood back to secret subterranean catacombs, where the film finally kicks in some of its expected atmosphere. Overall, recommendable only to the most tea-sipping terror devotee.
FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE
Dir. Kevin Connor / 1973 / Warner Archive
In the early ‘70s, the British just couldn’t get enough horror anthologies. The queen and her lil’ buddies just went straight bananas for Amicus Studios creepies like Asylum and the original Tales from the Crypt. Each of these featured an array of gleefully underdeveloped jolters, usually patched together, post-gothic short stories by celebrated spook-writers like R. Chetwynd-Hayes and Algernon Blackwood. The craze lasted a full decade, ultimately detonating with the self-aware masterpiece The Monster Club in 1981.
From Beyond the Grave takes itself a little more seriously, for better or worse. The requisite framing segments feature the iconic Peter Cushing as a curio shop owner who may or may not be Satan, and who delights in passing on his lethal antiques to unsuspecting customers. It’s a brilliant method to dish out a patchwork selection of stories, and one that was later “borrowed” for the misleadingly titled Friday the 13th TV series.
The first tale follows superhumanly gifted actor David Warner after he purchases a bloodthirsty haunted mirror. Later, a businessman pockets a snuffbox with an invisible demon inside and a Victorian ghost stirs up some serious discord. But the best segment of the four involves genre mega-legend Donald Pleasence as a war veteran-turned-beggar who invites a henpecked upper-cruster home for dinner. There, the blustery suburbanite is entranced by the beggar’s daughter, played with unblinking reptilian weirdness by Pleasence’s actual daughter Angela. This story takes an unanticipated turn every five minutes, culminating with a left-field whammy that leaves the rest of the film face-down in the dirt.
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…That’s it for now, with a rundown of Warner’s recent releases of Buster Keaton talkies coming up in two weeks. If you don’t know who that is, feel free to turn off your computer and go take a bath with your toaster.