Tuesday, October 07, 2008

THE VERY MINOR VINCENT PRICE FILM "DIARY OF A MADMAN" (1963) was brought to you by the very same company who brought you Vincent Price's TOWER OF LONDON. But not the classic Universal TOWER OF LONDON starring Basil Rathbone, Boris Karloff and a young Vincent Price locked in a tot of Malmsey. This is the 1962 TOWER OF LONDON brought to you by Roger Corman and his brother Gene. The company was called Admiral Pictures and, if you've ever seen 62's TOWER OF LONDON you probably know what to expect of DIARY OF A MADMAN. And that is not much. While TOWER was uninspiringly directed with boredom by Roger Corman, DIARY is just as blandly directed by Reginald LeBorg (responsible for those late 50's shoestring productions VOODOO ISLAND and THE BLACK SLEEP as well as several entries in Universal's Lon Chaney Jr. INNER SANCTUM MYSTERIES series and THE MUMMY'S GHOST also with Chaney). DIARY OF A MADMAN is about on par with those 50's flicks and not as much fun as the earlier Universal's (which themselves were second tier). DIARY OF A MADMAN is, of course, meant to mimic the AIP Poe pictures Price made with Corman but it's the palest of imitations. While the sets are cheap but workable, the film is entirely overlit. Instead of resembling the moodily-lit, atmospheric Poe films at AIP, DIARY instead looks much like the similarly AIP-apeing TWICE TOLD TALES. But be warned -- I'll tell you this up front -- by the end of this review I will have BUSTED WIDE OPEN an unknown fact about this film which ALL reference sites have gotten wrong wrong WRONG! Wait for it! But, until then...
Basically, the film is based on the Guy de Maupassant story of "THE HORLA" but there is really only one reason to watch it. And you know what that is. Yes, Vincent Price. Always interesting and always capable of drawing the eye, Price here is the "subdued" version and not the over-the-top PIT AND THE PENDULUM Vincent. Even so, he captures your interest the moment he walks on the screen; and his absence is even more acutely felt when he's not up there. Because that leaves us with the blandest collection of supporting players you'd ever want to ignore. All, that is, except the rather interesting Nancy Kovack who acquits herself rather well with Price and actually manages to be quite watchable. Not just a pretty face, Flint Michigan's favourite daughter (OK I'm making that up) can also be seen as Medea in the Ray Harryhausen classic JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS as well as the first Dean Martin Matt Helm movie THE SILENCERS. Kovack was also a familiar face in many 60's TV shows from BATMAN and BEWITCHED to THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. and STAR TREK (the episode "A Private Little War" featuring those pesky Klingons klinging all over the place). Kovack here plays a rather grasping gold-digger but manages to instill her character with a likeability rarely evident in such a character. The little twinkle in her eye also shows what a perfect casting choice she was to appear next to Vincent Price; she has been quoted as thinking very highly of Price (who didn't?) and tells that the well-known actor was very respectful of this relative unknown actress. They also got along famously. Kovack reveals that right before shooting the scene where Vincent is supposed to murder her, he playfully tickled her with the knife and reduced everyone to giggles.
Back to Maupassant. "THE HORLA" (DIARY'S original working title) is an invisible evil entity which can take over people and cause them to moider! Magistrate Vincent Price visits a condemned murderer and, when the formerly mild-mannered fellow tries to kill him, Vinnie accidentally kills the moiderer. Of course, the Horla had possessed the crook and, now dead, it needs ANOTHER host -- and that would be Vincent. First the Horla causes Vincent to moider his pet canary Kiki (thank GOD!) and then he moves up to people. Vincent's 12-years-dead wife killed herself because he blamed her for the death of their son. A former sculptor, Vincent comes across artist's model Nancy Kovack and asks her to pose for him as he restarts his sculpting. Kovack unfortunately is a money-grubbing ho (but charming) and she's already married to a poor starving artist (almost invisible himself Chris Warfield. However, smelling money Nancy leaves the starving artist after Vincent proposes marriage to her. Who can blames her with a drip like Chris Warfield. Maybe THAT'S why we are somewhat sympathetic to her character?!? Anyway, Warfield confronts Price with a patented "That's My Wife!" speech and the Horla compels Price to knife Kovacks to death and place her decapitated head inside the clay bust he had sculpted of her. The one and only stylish (or memorable) scene in the film is when the amnesiac Price follows a trail of blood droplets to scrape away the clay from the sculpture revealing the dead woman's staring eye.
Naturally, Kovack's artist husband is arrested for her murder and Price wages a battle of wills against the Horla's mental control.
Things go on pretty much as you'd expect -- right down to the traditional "Vincent Price-in-an-AIP-Poe-picture" final fiery conflagration. Any special effects, such as they are, amount to the usual cheap "invisible being moving objects around the room" variety. But at least the wires don't really show. In fact, that's somewhat of a miracle in such an obviously low-budgeted film. There is also a green light superimposed over the eyes of anyone (usually Vincent) possessed by the Horla. Think Lugosi in technicolor.
And as for my controversial new information about the film??? Well, long-time voice actor Nelson Olmsted is credited in every reference work I've ever seen about this film as Dr. Borman while still-working actor Joseph Ruskin (his most recent appearance was on the TV show BONES) is credited as the voice of the Horla. This is absolutely incorrect. Ruskin, as far as I can tell, is not known for voice work -- in fact, he is the ONLY actor to appear on screen in four separate STAR TREK series as well as the movies (Majel Barrett did voice work only on some of 'em, remember). However, Nelson Olmsted is known primarily as a voice actor -- much in the mold of Paul Frees -- and the voice of the Horla in this movie is unmistakably Olmsted's. I known Olmsted's voice very well. I've had his LP record TALES OF TERROR (in which he reads various scary stories by Poe, Bierce, Stevenson etc.) since I was a little kiddie-winky. And it seems rather obvious to me that, since the Horla is a vocal performance only, Nelson Olmsted would be the man to do it. And, like I say, that's Olmsted's voice whenever the Horla speaks. No mistake about it. So, you heard it hear foist. All the reference books (and imdb) are wrong. And now that I've cleared up this burning question, you may go back to your regularly scheduled October.

7 comments:

Weaverman said...

You must admit that while none of the Admiral Price trio were classics and DIARY was the blandest, the b/w TOWER OF LONDON was very funny for all the wrong reasons from the totally OTT Price Richard Crookback to the accents of the actors such as Bruce Gordon as the "Dook" of Buckingham and Michael Pate. The best of the trio was TWICE TOLD TALES perhaps because of the short story format

Cerpts said...

I'll have to watch TOWER again because I don't remember getting any enjoyment from it vis a vis giggles. I just seem to remember "enduring" it.

Terry Frost said...

Haven't seen Diary of a Madman but it looks interesting. I used to have a really bad VHS copy of "Souls For Sale" which is as weird a Price movie as ever I've seen. Half of his voice-over sounds like beat poetry.

Cheekies said...

Yeah, I too just recently watched this movie and was a bit disappointed although Nancy Kovack is very attractive and I seemed to pay even more attention to her than I did Vinnie himself, which is saying quite a bit. Other than that I have nothing to add to your review other than to say the scene where the grave for the head filling itself back in was actually pretty good for the time or at least I thought it kinda was.

Cerpts said...

I will admit the "filling in of the grave by itself" was a fun special effect in a low-budget AIP-type of way. It gets the job done effectively, you're quite right!

Also I wonder if anybody can explain to me exactly what that phrase written in the dust ("HATRED IS EVIL") is supposed to mean?!?!? I haven't got a clue. I think it's supposed to sound menacing from the Horla but I just scratched my head and thought someone should buy the Horla a better thesaurus.

Cheekies said...

I think the Horla was a little bit of a dislexic as the original message was supposed to be "Evil is a Red Hat"

Cerpts said...

I knew that Travelocity gnome was trouble!!!