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06 October, 2007


Year of Release—Film: 1968

Year of Release—DVD: 2003

DVD Label: Paramount


When you think of the films of Roger Corman, this probably isn’t the first one that comes to mind. In fact, most fans would be hard pressed to identify this as one of Corman’s (famous for ultra-cheap creature designs and period Poe adaptations…) titles. However, not only does it belong to him, it just might be the best movie to list “Roger Corman” anywhere in the credits. Though the film is far from the typical Corman production, how it came about is vintage Roger.

With Boris Karloff under contract for two days worth of work, Corman told Director Peter Bogdanovich that he could make whatever film he desired, as long as he: One, used up the time left on Karloff’s contract, and two, used stock footage from THE TERROR (1963) to save money. Bogdanovich came up with this, an excellent film and Karloff’s finest performance of latter portion of his career.

The plot is layered and complex, based in part on the Charles Whitman case in Texas. On August 1st, 1966, Whitman, a deranged Architectural student at the University of Texas in Austin climbed to the observation deck of the University Clock Tower with a stockpile of weapons, food, and ammunition and proceeded to kill 14 people, while wounding 30 or so. Police and armed citizens finally stormed the tower, killing Whitman. Bogdanovich skillfully weaves this plot thread with one concerning the decision by an elderly Horror star (Karloff, in a perfect performance…) to retire from public life, following one last live appearance at a southern California Drive-In. The two threads run in their paths, seemingly unconnected until brought together at the last.

This is a great movie, and it easily qualifies as Karloff’s best work since 1945’s THE BODY-SNATCHER. It should, as he was basically portraying himself. It’s difficult not to draw parallels between Karloff’s Byron Orlok, and John Wayne’s John Bernard Books in his final film, THE SHOOTIST. Both men are in the end portraying, if not themselves, then the public’s perception of who they are, or rather, were. There’s a poignancy to both performances, a sadness that transcends the events of the movies themselves. We, the viewers, know that both men, both icons, will soon be gone, and this time there will be no director yelling “Cut, print!” and setting up for the next shot.


The Paramount DVD is the high-quality offering you’d expect from a major distributor, and really is without flaw. The transfer is beautiful and clear, presented in anamorphic widescreen. There are even subtitles; always a factor in my enjoyment of a disc. Overall, it’s a great DVD treatment.


Though the list of special features is not long, what’s there is well-done and informative. There’s an introductory documentary featuring the screenwriter / director, Peter Bogdanovich, discussing the making of the film, and while there’s nothing earth-shattering in the short, it is an interesting look at one of this troubled director’s earliest works.

Likewise the commentary, also by Bogdanovich, contains little that might be revelatory. While it’s interesting enough, listening to a one-person commentary, no matter how informative, can be too much like attending a film-school lecture to be truly enjoyable.

Personally, I would have enjoyed a few deleted scenes, or maybe reminiscences from cast and crew about working with the Master himself.


Though this is not the usual type of film that I review, I felt it was important enough to discuss it here, especially in light of it’s historical context. Few will argue that Boris Karloff, in his prime, was the brightest star in the Horror firmament. He certainly was one of the most gifted actors to ever work in genre films, and this performance does much to confirm that opinion. With a $9.99 list price (Deep Discount DVD has it for as low as $5.99…) you can’t afford NOT to own this one.

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