When I started digging into Vincent Price’s films for It’s All Connected, I wondered if I’d get burned out. I mean, I fully expected to watch more Brian De Palma flicks earlier in this process, but they were all hitting a lot of the same buttons. With Price’s movies, though, I’m having a great time watching one of the best actors of all time plying his craft in a variety of roles ranging from the very serious to the delightfully silly! And with 1962’s Tales Of Terror, you get all of that in one package!enter, if you dare…
In a delightful bit of It’s All Connected kismet, I got my copy of the Scream Factory re-issue of the original Vincent Price Collection on Blu-ray right after finishing the second Phibes movie! I missed the original version of this set when it came out a few years back and always regretted it. I would go on to get the second and third installments, but this one always stuck in my craw. Then, just a few months ago, I saw that they were re-releasing it with a few changes. I was ecstatic, but still managed to get the best deal I could find over on DeepDiscount.com.
Listen to the episode here!
Even though I wasn’t 100% invested in The Last Man On Earth, it did have several things going for it that I did like. First off, you’ve got Vincent Price, one of my all time favorite actors. Secondly, the film is based on Richard Matheson’s book I Am Legend, which I haven’t read, but I did really like The Omega Man which is also based on that same story. And third, as I mentioned in my Omega Man review, I really dig when movies include scenes of large cities completely devoid of people. That’s no small feat.
All of these elements played pretty well for me. We open with Price long into an existence where he believes himself to be one of the few survivors of a plague that either killed people or turned them into zombie-vampires (they’re called vampires and can be killed with stakes, but act a lot more like zombies). He goes out for supplies, sharpens stakes, takes dead zombie-vampires to a giant fire, etc. The movie even does a good job of explaining how all this happened, the toll it took on Price’s character and why he’s still alive and not a zompire.
After that, things get a little complicated. First he finds a dog which was well kept, but carries the virus (he was a scientist working on a cure when the poo hit the fan). He later comes upon a woman who seems to carry the virus but isn’t all zombie-like. She explains SPOILER that she’s part of a group that was infected, but has a serum flowing through her veins that keeps them human. She and her people intend to destroy the zompires and restore humanity. Price discovers that his blood can completely cure them, but then the woman’s people show up and a chase ensues, one that does not end well for Price.
As if the layers of confusion weren’t enough when it came to the woman’s true identity, there’s just a lot of “huh” moments in the last reel. Price could have hidden and gotten away completely, but he does a few things that bring him back to the group’s attention. He also steals a gun and fires wildly at them. Why didn’t he just try to explain himself? Worse yet, there’s a scene where Price breaks into the police station’s armory and only grabs smoke bombs (or maybe tear gas?) so you’re treated to scenes of a 53 year old man running hunched over and tossing these seemingly useless bombs. It makes little sense, especially when he had so many guns he could have picked.
This film actually shares a lot with The Omega Man, but doesn’t really nail the whole point of I Am Legend as far as I know it to be. Like I said, I haven’t read it, but I’ve talked to people who have and the point is that the protagonist has been running around killing these vampires and is actually a legendary bad guy to them and their society. Price doesn’t do a lot of killing in this book, more like cleaning up (unless the ones lying on the ground aren’t actually dead, but just asleep?). So, while the message of the original might have been lost and the end was kind of jumbly, I still enjoyed my time with this film, though more so the first part than the last.
Around the new year, I was seeing a lot of Steven Spielberg in interviews and on TV. Considering he had two movies coming out–Adventures Of TinTin and War Horse–it makes sense. But, it got me thinking about how many of his movies I’d scene. Of course there are the obvious ones like Jaws, ET and Raiders of the Lost Ark that I know I’ve seen. After checking out his IMDb page, though, I realized I had seen about 50% of his movies. That didn’t seem right considering he’s not only one of the best, but most prolific and diverse directors around. I decided then that I would start at the beginning and watch all of his movies from Duel on to War Horse (when it comes out on DVD). I’ve got some of them in my private collection, a few are on Netflix Instant, but everything else is on regular Netflix, so I’ll be good to go.
On paper, Duel should be a ridiculously slow and boring movie. It’s about a tanker truck that torments a man because he passed him. Their cat and mouse game leads them across some desert territory and one of them triumphs. Those are the basics I knew going into the movie (as well as a fairly good idea about the ending which I saw on one of those “Scariest Movies Ever” TV specials back in college). I mean, how scary can a truck be, right?
Pretty friggin’ scary, you guys. There are two very simple elements that make this a movie that doesn’t only not drag but also sucks you in like nothing else I’ve seen and that’s the script by Richard Matheson (I Am Legend the novel and several Twilight Zone episodes including “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”) and the nascent genius of Spielberg who had directed a few hours of television up to this point as well as some shorts and student films, but nothing this long (it was originally a TV movie that had some scenes added and was theatrically released across the pond).
So, while much of the tension was already ingrained in the script by one of the best writers around, Spielberg made a number of choices that really added to it. There’s a featurette on the DVD where he talks about a lot of the things he did, some of which I noticed while watching and some I didn’t. First off, the truck is legitimately scary looking. It’s big and huge and dirty and gross and dangerous looking. He chose that particular truck because it’s cab stuck out like a face instead of being flat. He also had the crew apply dirty and grease every day to make it look worse and even put dead bugs in the grill. He also did some amazing things with cameras, getting angles that really put you into the movie. Some are mounted on the corners of the car while others seem like their right there next to the wheel. In the featurette he explained that he mapped out the entire movie so he’d always know where he was–the whole thing was shot in 12 or 13 days, he couldn’t remember) and that he would use multiple cameras, a car designed specifically for chase/auto scenes and all kinds of lenses to make things look faster and more dangerous than they are. I had heard that he was a kind of a geek when it comes to the tech side of filmmaking, but hearing him talk about it, he really knows his stuff and more impressively, knew it back then when he was 25 years old!
But, it should also be added that Dennis Weaver who plays the main character–David Mann–absolutely kills it. The movie is about a man being pushed to the edge by ridiculously dangerous circumstances and SPOILER overcoming them. Weaver does an excellent job of keeping his character in check and unleashing the rage and fear that comes from this kind of situation, especially towards the end.
You might notice that I labeled this as not only a horror movie, but also gave it the Slasher and Monster tags. While I don’t think anyone could argue against the idea that Duel is a psychological horror film, I think the arguments for the others could be equally made. The truck (or the driver who we never see) is like a slasher in that it is always exactly where it needs to be to give Mann trouble. It stalks him like a slasher–or a monster–at all turns, attacking when it needs to, even going so far as to make it’s evil presence known to other people. At the same time, it’s a big, hulking, ugly monster that wants nothing more than to kill Mann. Why? Because he passed the truck. Or maybe it’s a random selection along the lines of The Strangers (Why us? Because you were home. Why me? Because you were on the road.). Spielberg says in one of the featurettes that the license plates that adorn the front bumper of the truck represent previous victims, something I hadn’t noticed or thought about. In my head, this dude just snapped today, but I like that just well.
In a lot of ways, Duel is, as other people have described it before me, Jaws with automobiles. That’s true to an extent, but it also feels limited to me. This movie is very Hitchcockian, something that Spielberg say in the short story itself, but also something reflected in the score–which is more noise than music. There are definitely times where it sounds like the shrill violins from Psycho make an appearance, though they seem even more primal. In addition to Hitchcock references, there are also ones that Spielberg would go back to. I didn’t catch these, but he mentioned them. The old woman who runs the gas station/snake farm plays a gas station attendant in 1941 (which I haven’t seen) while the old folks who stop and don’t give Mann much help towards the end are on the helicopter in Close Encounters Of The Third Kind. But that’s not all, he also used the same exact dinosaur sound that he used as the SPOILER truck exploded at the end when the shark gets blown up in Jaws. He explained that he’s both sentimental and grateful, like these little nods are way to say thank you to Duel for spawning his career. Which it did. This movie got him Sugarland Express which lead right into Jaws.
I have to say, I was shocked at how much I liked this movie. If you’re a Spielberg fan, you want it to be awesome, but like I said above, you don’t know about a movie that features a truck as a bad guy. I figured it might be like going back and getting the first indie record of that band you really like and realizing it’s alright, hints at greatness, but doesn’t really life up to the classic ones. In this case, though, he started his feature career at the top of his game. To be able to make such a taught, absorbing TV movie that still holds up 41 years later, is nothing short of amazing. If you haven’t seen it, absolutely, positively go out and get a copy of Duel. I’d also recommend checking out the extras that include a few interviews with Spielberg as well as one with Matheson. Awesome stuff.