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JOSEPH CROSS, BRIANA EVIGAN,
Special Effects Make-Up
A SIERRA NEVADA
(MICHAEL MADSEN & JOHN SAVAGE).
A few years had passed since Roger Corman and Richard Matheson parted company with Vincent Price (THE FLY, THE RETURN OF THE FLY, THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL, THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER, THE TOMB OF LIGEIA, THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM, TALES OF TERROR, THE LAST MAN ON EARTH, THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES, DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN!, EDWARD SCISSORHANDS) and their series of Edgar Allen Poe movies. Vincent respected Roger and Richard, but never felt that any of the Poe movies he made hit just the right note. Somewhere out there was the Poe movie he was born to play and he wanted to find it. So four years later, induced by a hefty paycheck from American International Pictures, Price got together with Producer and Director Gordon Hessler (SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN, CRY OF THE BANSHEE, MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE) and belted out his second series of Poe movies.
THE OBLONG BOX joined American Horror movie icon, Price with British Horror movie icon, Christopher Lee (HORROR HOTEL, TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA, DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE, THE WICKER MAN, GREMLINS 2, SLEEPY HOLLOW, THE LORD OF THE RINGS [all], CORPSE BRIDE, ALICE IN WONDERLAND) for the first time. What would be the result?
The movie begins with a bunch of black people in tribal dress, performing some kind of ceremony that results with the crucifixion of some white guy. Whether it's VooDoo or HooDoo I can't say: I'm no expert. It does have a Witchdoctor (Danny Daniels: WOMAN OF STRAW, VOODOO BLOOD DEATH, PREHISTORIC WOMEN).
In any case, the black folks clearly want the white guy to suffer, but only after much dancing (performed by the Oh! Ogunde Dancers), merriment, and a goat. I don't know if the goat is for sacrifice or one of the guests. I'm not experienced with these kind of parties, having only been to a couple (I'm the kind who ducks out early the second I have a "date". Why run the risk of staying and having my new partner find someone more interesting?).
The party, as such, is witnessed by a concerned Baron Julian Markham (Vincent Price), who is quickly captured by a couple of guys outside (every party has those couple of guys outside - or should). They bring him inside so he can see what he's missing and apparently Julian is sorry he bothered.
A cut to opening credits and we're back to a mansion, sans desolate fog enshrouded landscape overlooking the sea. Well I can't blame Roger Corman for this one.
Inside the house, Julian is trying to get Edward (Alister Williams: THE BRAIN, THE GORGON, THE DEADLY BEES, THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES) to control himself. Edward won't hear of it, so Julian binds him with chains. We don't actually see Edward so the idea is that he is disfigured in some way. The fact that Edward is inarticulate lends itself to this idea.
In town, amidst the merriment of prostitutes, three men are up to something nefarious. One man does it for gold, but winds up with Guineas instead. The other two men? We don't know their purpose yet or who the target of their scheme is.
Now back to Julian. He looks out over his magnificent property and broods in luxury. He is doted upon by his wife-to-be Lady Elizabeth (Hilary Dwyer: WITCHFINDER GENERAL, THE BODY STEALERS, CRY OF THE BANSHEE), a woman young enough to be his grand daughter. Yet even she knows he dreams of Africa. Holy crap what a spoiled bitch! Julian not Elizabeth: Liza is young, hot, desirous, with a proper British accent, and Julian ignores her? Yes, because his brother Edward has no peace. Edward's maimed facial deformity and loneliness is affecting his mind.
One of the plotters from town, Attorney Trench (Peter Arne: MYSTERY ON BIRD ISLAND, THE ATOMIC MAN, THE BLACK TORMENT, BATTLE BENEATH THE EARTH, STRAW DOGS, AGATHA) has come bearing good news for Edward. "It" will be ready in two days. Edward is so happy with the good news he nearly strangles Trench to death in his joy (which says something about Edward's current mindset).
Two days later, under the dark of night, Trench and the third man return. The third man is N'Galo (Harry Baird: THE WHISPERERS), a witchdoctor of some repute. This night, some devilment is afoot to restore Edward, without the knowledge of Julian.
Soon Edward is seemingly dead and a forlorn Julian sends for Trench. Julian blackmails Trench into finding a proper, handsome body, for a dignified funeral. After all, the Markham family is old nobility. The people must not see the real, deformed Edward lying in state. To sweeten the deal, Julian offers Trench 1,000 Guineas. So Trench blackmails his partner, Mark Norton (Carl Rigg: THE BODY STEALERS, CRY OF THE BANSHEE, LIFEFORCE) to assist him.
Soon a conspiracy is woven involving everyone who serves Julian's family. This means, among others, the town physician, Dr. Newhart (Christopher Lee). A fly in the ointment comes about when Trench decides to snatch a body by killing someone rather than digging them up.
However, Julian may have more at stake besides trying to preserve the family honor. What really happened back on the African plantation? How did Julian escape what his brother did not? Also, Trench and Mark already had other plans underway involving Edward. What's more, there may be other conspiracies beneath and besides these two. Dr. Newhart has his own plans for Edward's body and his own network of people performing his skullduggery. In the words of Frank Herbert regarding conspiracies, "Wheels turn within wheels" (the competition keeps them honest).
As the blackmail and double crosses fly, the story gets more intricate and more interesting. The multiplicity of crashing conspiracies muck everything up and everyone is now scrambling to hide their tracks. Edward winds up being buried alive in the Oblong Box and, nearly at the point of death, dug up again by the paid henchmen of Dr. Newhart. Neither the grave robbers or Newhart have any idea that the grave belonged to royalty (another mistake in a series of mistakes).
The main point of all of this is Edward returns from the grave and the Oblong Box, but remains disfigured. With paranoia running high among the hoity-toity of this England town, his enemies will suspect each other but never him. This gives the deformed Edward, who now wears a red mask, the chance to have his revenge. He has some debts to pay and some to collect. He wants the promised restoration that he paid Trench for. Most of all, Edward wants to know what he did to deserve his torture and maiming at the hands of the witchdoctor. What the hell, man?
Only now does the story of the Oblong Box begin! Everything I told you only leads up to it! Holy shit!
From the adaptation by screenwriter Lawrence Huntingdon to the Production and direction by Gordon Hessler, THE OBLONG BOX remains a powerful, creep filled movie.
Does anything, can anything go wrong with such a powerful movie? Yes!
The make-up special effects of the period let it down (more a pre-ratings distributor fear over censorship than make-up technology and art of the time) disastrously! The problem is, with this kind of movie there is an urgent need for the make-up effects. They cut the feet off of every scene that features them and nearly every scene ends with them. but
Otherwise, a damn good movie! And, since it is based on an original tale by Edgar Allen Poe, it remains ripe for a remake.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not about remakes. At the same time, no author should be confined to having their work cinematically interpretated by a single director or even studio. How could that ever be fair?
Three Shriek Girls.
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