Historical horror from the master of low budget movies Roger Corman’s Tower of London is actually a curious amalgamation of 1939 film of the same name alongside plot elements from Shakespeare’s famous Richard III and Macbeth.
This barmy blend of classic theatre and 60’s schlock horror makes for an enticing experience made all the more wonderful by the legendary Vincent Price who plays Richard, the duke of Gloucester a devious deformed despot determined to rule all of England once his dying brother King Edward IV (Justice Watson) departs this earthly realm.
His machinations are frustrated when his other brother the wise and studious George, Duke of Clarence (Charles Macaulay) is named interim monarch and protector of Edward’s young sons the rightful heirs to the throne. It is a complication he quickly dispatches of by stabbing his brother in the back gaining the role of temporary ruler and setting about a larger more intricate plot to take the crown for good.
From here on in Richard tortures and kills any and all in his way be they man, woman or child. This spree of slayings does not go unpunished on his already fractured psyche however as he begins to see the eerie apparitions of his victims starting with his brother George who gives him some portentous and cryptic warnings for Richard’s dark future.
Galloping along like a trusty steed in the middle of a battle field Tower of London packs in a lot of story and horror for its short running time ending in an epic war montage and keeping the viewer regaled throughout with the constant clash between Richard and his minions and the powers of good led by dashing young Sir Justin (Robert Brown) and the mystical physician Tyrus (Richard Hale).
Allegedly shot in fifteen days director Roger Corman does wonders with the limited budget offering up sumptuous sets, costumes and reasonable special effects for the time including some gory make up during the particularly titillating torture chamber scene where poor innocent Mistress Shore (Sandra Knight) is whipped and stretched on the rack by Richard and his mute torturer.
A longtime Corman collaborator most famously on his Edgar Allan Poe adaptation’s Vincent Price revels in the macabre storyline and embellished faux Shakespearian dialogue obviously enjoying every exchange and soliloquy and it seems a shame he had to wait another 11 years before doing the real thing in the brilliant Theatre of Blood.
Taking up most of the screen time he is immensely watchable playing the Richard as wicked and warped in his mind as he is in his body and keeping it just the right side of ridiculous as only he can. Considering he is such a devious character Price still manages to imbue him with a degree of pathos especially during the scenes where he is haunted by the dead.
Here the film cleverly remains ambiguous as to whether the visitations on the treacherous tyrant are real or only in his mind leading to some fine set pieces most notably his encounter with Mistress Shore which results in him strangling his own wife Anne (Joan Camden) to death.
Entertaining and way more engaging than a standard Shakespeare text if Corman and Price could have adapted all the great bards work this way I am sure we would all have paid way more attention in English class.