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What can be said about this forgotten flick, which gratuitously uses Edgar
Allen Poe's name (on the British and home video release)in an attempt to
punch up it's marquee value, employs an actress who is 50 if she's a day as
the leading ingenue, and is lensed by Mexican filmmakers in what looks like
the American Northwest? Quite a bit.
The movie concerns a mother and daughter who have come for the reading of a will to the mother's brother's house. Soon the daughter becomes possessed by the spirit of her dead cousin and all sorts of weirdness happens. We learn from the faithful housekeeper that her former employer was a Union Commander and left his daughter alone to go off to war. Unbeknownst to him, their was a renegade Confederate soldier hiding in his house, and his daughter had fallen in love with him. The soldier is recaptured (as he and the girl almost exchange wedding vows), the now-pregnant daughter is thrown out by her father when he learns of this, she loses the baby and her mind, the father goes crazy and dies, and the daughter dies. Whew! and that's the backstory! Certainly no plot deficiencies here!
In it's better moments, ONE MINUTE BEFORE DEATH(or ONE MINUTE BEFORE MIDNIGHT or THE OVAL PORTRAIT, take your pick)plays like a lesser entry in the Hammer Studios catalog. In it's worse moments, the movie comes on like a particularly overripe episode of DARK SHADOWS. The premise, concerning a deceased woman who possesses the body of a cousin, is rather weak and the film slips into weirdness near the end. The movie resorts to flying objects and mummified corpses to carry the last 30 or so minutes. The post-Civil War setting details are shakey; some of the dresses and hats the actresses wear look to be from a vintage some 20-40 years after the time of the setting. Still, there is some pretty scenery and some luxurious antebellum sets. Not high art, or even frightening, but clean and okay for passing an interminable Sunday afternoon.
While staying in an old house to hear the reading of a will, a woman
becomes haunted by the spirit of the deceased girl whose room she is
occupying. The kindly housekeeper advises her to leave the house
quickly, and supports this warning with what is possibly the longest
expository flashback sequence in film history.
This fly-ball ghost story is mostly a woebegone romance set during and shortly after the U.S. Civil War. Stir in some soap-suds melodrama and a fat pinch of horse-and-buggy chills of the "old dark house" variety, and there you have The Colonel's secret recipe for one divergent little movie. It's a noticeably insouciant project filmed almost entirely within a neo-Victorian styled house, and features some laughably unconvincing wardrobe and wigs. That said, it's also a fairly entertaining item which transcends somewhat the usual expectations for underprivileged cinema. The has-been female leads(Hendrix and Mackenzie) are commendable, if a bit outmoded in their old-school Hollywood histrionics, and are nearly Oscar-worthy in comparison to their less-distinguished support players. Truth is, there's actually very little to gripe about concerning this film's basic wherewithals...it's adequate overall, but suffers from directorial lassitude and yo-yo pacing.
Perhaps with a bit more elbow grease and imagination, this could have been something more than merely a passing fancy. 4/10.
Short overview first: This is a film that starts off strong and creepy,
bogs down in the middle for a long time, then picks up a bit at the
end. If you've read elsewhere that the pacing in this film is a little
off, then you've read right. That said, it is in no way a bad film and
worth a watch at least, especially if you're into those Gothic style
Haunted House films that were all the rage back then.
An old Major has died, and his family are turning up at his house for the will reading (I think). His niece immediately gets the creeps and starts seeing the spectre of a young girl around the place, and is also creeped out by the Oval Portrait of a lady on the wall. The niece starts wearing some old clothes she found in a cupboard which freaks out some guy called Joseph, and the housekeeper then goes into the backstory, which takes up the entire middle portion of the film! But not before the niece is possessed by the spirit inhabiting the portrait on the wall
The backstory concerns the girl in the portrait, the guy called Joseph, and the major, and is more of a civil war era costume drama/romance than a horror film. That said, even my wife, who has no patience for these sorts of b-movies and would rather have some semblance of a real life, did enjoy the film for what it was.
I saw this film as The Oval Portrait, late last night on the Paranormal Channel, a low down and little known channel on Sky that sporadically shows worthwhile old b movies. This film is certainly not the best that I have seen there but it was a reasonably good watch in a weird sort of way. The plot sees a woman becoming entranced and then possessed by a spirit lurking in a painting, the result of a Civil War tragedy from the recent past. The film begins in unsubtle fashion with whispered spirit voices and projected spirits, as well as some firmly low rent acting, before embarking on a lengthy flashback to explain the story. Unfortunately this goes on for at least a third of the films total run time and holds little that is surprising or even too exciting and so seems a wee bit superfluous. Eventually the film gets back to the present for a tacky supernatural showdown, before a left field, happily twisted finale just when it seems the film is about to end. The runtime given by IMDb for this film is erroneous, though it claims 68 minutes I would say its closer to 88. This turned out well for the film, for just when I thought things were going to end and it was going to be a forgettable mediocre timewaster the film corkscrews into bizarro Gothic territory with sufficient mad verve to make the whole affair a lot more worthwhile. I really didn't see the end coming, which was handy and put something of a smile on my face. The settings and location are quite nice to look at and the film moves at a decent enough speed, though the direction by Rogelio Gonzalez is perfunctory at best and the screenplay by Enrique Torres Tudela is hardly distinguished. Still, at the end I was relatively pleased to have watched this film, which seems to be very little known. In all, though a low rent and clunky affair and not one that is likely to raise scares, there are some bright spots, a cool finale and an overall feel of mild watchability and entertainment that make this slightly worth a look for obscurity fans.
The Oval Portrait is based on a short story by Edgar Allan Poe. Poe's
story is one of his shortest only two pages long. So to create a film
that is around 1 1/2 hours long must have been a difficult task but it
was done with this film - and beautifully I must add.
This is a film that has escaped me for years. I acquired a copy of this one from the Pure Terror 50 Movie Pack and I am pleased this film was added to the collection.
Overall this is a good film - especially if you are interested in movies that are based on the works of Edgar Allan Poe. I was not disappointed with this film adaptation.
Loosely based on a short story by Edgar Allan Poe, The Oval Portrait
opens in classic Gothic horror mode with a horse-drawn carriage drawing
up to a storm-lashed antebellum house, the passengersMrs. Buckingham
(Doris Buckinham) and her daughter Lisa (Wanda Hendrix)arriving for
the reading of a will. As the women approach the front door, Lisa sees
a ghostly apparition of a lady in white, which vanishes before she can
show her mother, who understandably dismisses the vision as a product
of her daughter's overactive imagination. Once inside the house, the
women meet housekeeper Mrs. Warren (Gisele MacKenzie), who shows them
to their room.
During the night, Lisa wakes to the sound of music and goes downstairs, where she sees a manwho we later learn is named Joseph (Barry Coe)playing the piano and talking to a woman called Rebecca. The next day, Lisa puts on a dress that she finds in a wardrobe, the sight of which sends Joseph into a hysterical state. In a prolonged flashback, Mrs. Warren explains the tragic story behind Joseph's strange behaviour: he was once a Confederate soldier in love with Rebecca, the daughter of a Union major, but as the couple were about to be wed in a secret ceremony, Joseph was arrested and taken away. On returning from the war, Rebecca's father discovered the truth about his daughter, who was pregnant with Joseph's baby, and threw her out of the house. When the war was over, Joseph returned to the house to find Rebecca dead, the young woman having fallen victim to a fatal illness.
Thus far, The Oval Portrait has been a pretty unremarkable Gothic tragedy with a narrative hampered by weak direction and sloppy editing (including gimmicky 'flickering' scene transitions that really grate). From here-on in, however, things get much more interesting
The flashback ends with a distraught Joseph digging up the corpse of his dead bride-to-be, after which the action switches to the present, with the reading of the will. Rebecca's spirit then possesses Lisa, and furniture and ornaments start to fly around the house. Lisa runs upstairs where she discovers Rebecca's corpse hidden in a wardrobe. And the craziness doesn't end there: the next evening, after most of the visitors have left, Joseph sneaks back into the house for one last dance with Rebecca. While he's waltzing round the room with his putrid partner, Mrs. Warren gets out of bed, investigates, and sees Joseph kissing the crumbly cadaver (which makes one wonder what else he's been doing with it). Clearly well off his rocker, the man approaches the housekeeper, who pulls a gun and fills him full of lead, finally allowing him to be united with Rebecca in death.
Director Rogelio A. González's handling of matters is just as shambolic as before, but the madness is far more entertainingafter all, there's nothing like a spot of necrophilia to pep up an otherwise mediocre movie.
4.5 out of 10, rounded up to 5 for IMDb.
How many horror movies have you seen where you whined about the poor,
Well here, every scene is brightly lit for you to see in all it's horrific glory.
That's what sucks. There's so much subtext, but the photography killed all nuance.
Not that this thing would have been a gem otherwise, but how many movies can you name that are ruined by its photography? Yep, this is the only one that I can think of.
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