Monday, April 1, 2019

The Man in the Crimson Hood


Alister Williamson is doomed Edward Markham and Sally Geeson sexpot maid Sally in a promotional shot for this AIP release.

THE first film to co-star Vincent Price and Christopher Lee, Gordon Hessler's THE OBLONG BOX starts in Africa, where Julian Markham (Price) discovers that brother Edward (Alister Williamson) has been cursed by voodoo. Back in England, Julian keeps Edward chained in a remote room of the Markham estate, his mental and physical states disintegrating. However, Edward plans to escape with the help of Trench (Peter Arne), Norton (Carl Rigg) and witch doctor N'Galo (Harry Baird), drugging him to give the temporary appearance of death; once buried, Trench and Norton will exhume the coffin and grant him freedom. But Trench pockets his fee and Edward is actually dug up by grave robbers - replete with coffin - for the use of Dr Neuhartt (Lee). Wearing a crimson hood, Edward vows to repay "some very important debts" while staying with Neuhartt, blackmailing the physician for his liaisons with body snatchers.

Scripted by Lawrence Huntington with "additional dialogue" by Christopher Wickling, THE OBLONG BOX has the thinnest of connections to its source Edgar Allan Poe story (it all owes more to H.P. Lovecraft - with its arcane lore and a disfigured outsider - and Rudyard Kipling's The Mark of the Beast). Originally to be directed by Michael Reeves before his own premature death, to further WITCHFINDER GENERAL connections Price is reunited with Hilary Dwyer as his younger sweetheart Elizabeth, but the actor - originally to play both brothers - looks disinterested and tired. Although beautifully shot by John Coquillon, it is a picture of missed opportunities; Price and Lee only share one scene together despite their marquee value (in fact, Lee's death scene), and the reveal of Edward's condition results in what looks to be little more than a bee-stinged nose, particularly disappointing after its long build-up.

Vincent Price as the diseased Julian Markham. By this stage in his career the actor grew weary of the Edgar Allan Poe adaptations, particularly within the saturation of the late 1960s horror film market.

THE OBLONG BOX belongs to that horror subgenre - THE MUMMY, PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIESTHE REPTILE, THE GHOUL et al - that echo colonial guilt (remarkably, Hessler's film was banned in Texas for being "pro-Negro"). Julian laments his attitude ("we sinned out there in Africa all right, plundering their land - and we're still stealing their wealth, though they're too innocent to know it") and is revealed to have been the intended recipient of the curse. There is a quiet justice to the conclusion, as Edward bites the hand of his brother, passing on the psoriasis-based condemnation. But ultimately the much re-worked and bloated script carries little gravitas, instead grabbing from more substantive works with no cohesive payoff. This unfocused starting point is further undermined by turgid pacing and padding (the tavern sequences in particular).