Roger Corman

Wicked Wednesday: Not of This Earth (1957)

A Roger Corman movie is like a warm hug. His early sci-fi and horror films are low-budget and often a bit kooky, but they contain a certain charm that is unique to him.

Not of This Earth is a late 50s sci-fi movie involving an alien in dark glasses who drinks the blood of his victims. Probably not what fits until most people’s description of something that is charming, and yet it is.

“Mr Johnson” is an alien from Davanna, a planet experiencing a strange blood disease that is killing them off. He’s been sent to Earth to find a cure for his people. Donning black glasses, a trilby and a briefcase, Mr Johnson isn’t exactly inconspicuous. But he has the powers of mind control on his side.

He arrives at a doctor’s office one day, demanding that he be given a blood transfusion while forgoing a blood test. The nurse, Nadine, insists it isn’t possible. However, after working his powers on Dr Rochelle, Mr Johnson gets the blood he needs. He also insists that Nadine come to live with him as his live-in nurse who can give him regular transfusions.

Nadine arrives at Mr Johnson’s house later, a bit bemused by her new working situation. She learns that Mr Johnson has employed a young ruffian named Jeremy as his chauffeur. Both kids are suspicious of their employer’s strange habits and rules, including not entering this cellar.

One day, Nadine gets the opportunity to break that rule. When Mr Johnson and Jeremy leave one day, she heads into the cellar. Little does she know that the furnace is burning a body alive. She quickly grabs a jar, which she later brings to Dr Rochelle.

Dr Rochelle studies the compound in the jar and realises it contains vitamins both known and unknown to humans on Earth. Realising that people are onto him, Mr Johnson knows he must go on the attack.

But his plans are interrupted by the arrival of another alien from Davanna. She tells him of the desperate situation back home, which he feels compassion for. He helps her get a blood transfusion. But he unwittingly gives her the blood of a rabid dog, and she soon dies.

Panicking, Mr Johnson sends an alien to kill Dr Rochelle. He also kills off Jeremy and forces Nadine under his control. He convinces her that she must send herself to Davanna as a subject for their blood tests. She’s nearly at the portal when Mr Johnson dies in a car crash during a chase.

During his funeral, Nadine and her boyfriend debate whether or not they feel any sympathy for the alien. And it’s the moral that viewers are left with. While something might seem horrific, who wouldn’t do anything to protect the ones they love?

One of the strengths of this B-movie is the actors. Leads Paul Birch and Beverly Garland are great. Birth doesn’t give a one-note alien, he allows us to feel sympathy for a villain. Garland is just a fantastic heroine to root for. Also, Dick Miller has a cameo (of course) as a door-to-door vacuum salesman that is just excellent. He can’t help but steal the show every time he’s on screen.

Of course, this isn’t a perfect movie. It shows its budget. The cheap effects don’t bother me. I love them, in fact. But certain areas of the editing are a bit clunky, like we’re watching an extended TV episode. But the runtime isn’t much longer than one, so it’s a good pairing with the film it was originally distributed with, Attack of the Crab Monsters.

Wicked Wednesday: Tales of Terror (1962)

Hollywood is made up of great pairings. Fred and Ginger, Scorsese and DeNiro, Rebane and Wisconsin, and, of course, Corman and Poe.

I grew up with classic gothic films on television. And Corman’s Poe cycle movies were always on at some point. I love them. I love the drama, the gorgeous colours, and Vincent Price’s face around every corner. My husband bought me a collection of Corman and Price’s Poe movies for Christmas this year. So it’s been a blast revisiting them. But one I couldn’t recall as well as the rest was the anthology Tales of Terror. 

Four of Poe’s stories are adapted here into three short films. Poe’s work is prime for adapting into an anthology. He only wrote one full-length novel, and his short stories are much more beloved and well known.

Interestingly, two of the stories here (“The Black Cat” and “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar”) were both used in the Dario Argento/George Romero co-production Two Evil Eyes. While I adore all three directors, I think Corman was much more successful at his attempts.

The first of the shorts, “Morella”, follows a young woman as she returns to see her father for the first time in over two decades. Her ornery father (Price) is cold towards her, believing her to have ‘murdered’ her mother in childbirth. It isn’t until the daughter reveals that she is terminally ill that her father warms to her. But it’s too late for them both, as she dies to have her mother’s corpse (which is lying on its deathbed) revived.

Traditional, horrific family fun. A body (corpse) swap for the 1800s.

The second story combines two of Poe’s most well-loved, “The Black Cat” and “The Cask of Amontillado”. It’s easy to see why they’ve been combined here, both original stories end with people bricked up into walls. But screenwriter Richard Matheson and Corman add a humorous, almost farcical twist to the story.

Resident drunk Montresor Herringbone (Peter Lorre) and his wife Annabelle are in a loveless marriage. She tries to hide the money from him. He insists on spending it all when he can find it. But one night, after a wine-off with a famous wine-taster, Montresor has to be carried home. The wine-taster in question is Fortunato Luchresi (Price, again). Fortunato and Annabelle quickly fall in love.

But when their relationship is discovered, Montresor bricks them both up in his basement walls with Annabelle’s black cat. And like many of Poe’s stories, the insanity that comes with guilt only leads to dire consequences for our villain.

The last of the stories, “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar”, is easily the strongest. It’s a technicolour one-two punch.

M. Valdemar (Price, one more) is unwell, dying from a horrible disease. Hypnotist Mr Carmichael (Basil Rathbone) puts him under hypnosis. Even though Valdemar is somewhere between living and dying, Carmichael refuses to release him from hypnosis. This is, of course, to both torture Valdemar and steal his wife. Thankfully, seemingly even almost-death and hypnosis can’t stop a person from protecting the ones they love.

Tales of Terror isn’t Corman’s best work. But it is fun.

For me, the comedy didn’t work in the second segment. I know Corman enjoyed it, as he later used the same tone in The Raven (another adaption that doesn’t break into the favourites list). I do appreciate that it certainly prevents the movie from having a monotonous tone, but for the love of God – did the make-up artist really have to do that to the actors?

My favourite of Poe’s short stories is probably “The Cask of Amontillado”. I love its sinister, dark underground tones mixed with the jubilation of Carnival. And I have yet to find an adaption that is satisfying. While natural to mix it with “The Black Cat”, it’s still disappointing that it wasn’t given more use in the story.

As always, it’s worth watching these Poe Cycle films for the enjoyment of watching giant mansions in total desolation while Vincent Price crosses the screen in great costumes. If you’re a beginner, I wouldn’t start here (I would suggest House of Usher).

If you have any non-Corman adaptions of Poe that you love, please share! His grim tales are timeless and still are haunting to this day.