Saturday, December 10, 2005


I just finished reading a fairly good book about Vincent Price and his horror movie career ("Vincent Price: The Art of Fear"), and next up on my reading list is the Tab Hunter autobiography, so the arrival of this movie, which co-stars Price and Hunter, from Netflix was fortuitous, though sadly it came too late to include in my October horror-themed blog entries. Technically, this is one of American International's Poe movies, based loosely on, or more accurately, inspired by a poem called "City in the Sea," a lush description of a dead undersea city. The movie is set in a Cornish seaside village; when a girl (Susan Hart) is kidnapped, American engineer Tab Hunter and British artist David Tomlinson go in search of her and wind up sucked down through a small whirlpool into an undersea castle, part of a mostly abandoned city on the sea floor which is currently being lived in by Vincent Price and his band of smugglers. They have been there for over one hundred years, their lives extended through an odd mix of elements in the air (pretty lame reasoning for a plot gimmick which isn't even really necessary to the narrative). Some "gill-men," decayed, Lovecraftian descendents of the city's original occupants, also live there, and one of them was responsible for kidnapping Hart, whom Price believes is a reincarnation of his dead wife. However, a nearby undersea volcano threatens the existence of the city and Price gets Hunter to try and find a way to stave off the inevitable. Naturally, the volcano explodes and our intrepid trio manages to escape at the last minute. The low-budget film looks pretty good--the cityscape, though obviously a miniature or a matte painting, is very cool, the sets are fine, and the color scheme of saturated reds and greens works nicely. Price, playing a Captain Nemo type, isn't at the top of his game, and Hunter, handsome as he is, doesn't give a single line reading that rings true (for that matter, neither does Hart). Most critics don't care for Tomlinson's work here (he's best known as Mr. Banks in MARY POPPINS), but given that it's a comic relief role and nothing else, he throws himself admirably into the part and I think he's actually one of few bright spots in the film, though I did get tired of him carting around his pet chicken. The gill-men are shabby cut-rate versions of the famous Creature from the Black Lagoon and aren't really scary for a second. Nevertheless, the movie does work up some occasionally interesting atmosphere, and the print on the MGM disc is in great shape. The last feature film credit for great genre director Jacques Tourneur. [DVD]

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