Appellate Judge Tom Becker believes every form of Price has its refuge.
Our reviews of The Abominable Dr. Phibes (published March 15th, 2001), The Fall Of The House Of Usher (published July 16th, 2001), Vincent Price: MGM Scream Legends Collections (published October 8th, 2007), and Witchfinder General (published September 21st, 2007) are also available.
Get ready for six chilling tales!
Every holiday comes with a price; fortunately, for Halloween, it's—wait for it—Vincent Price! Shout! Factory's Scream Factory line continues its stellar release streak with The Vincent Price Collection (Blu-ray), a set of six Price classics making their high-def debuts.
Four of the films are part of Roger Corman's "Poe Cycle," the eight films Corman made for American International Pictures in the '60s based—albeit loosely—on the works of Edgar Allan Poe. Price starred in seven of those eight films (as well as another AIP Poe adaptation, The Oblong Box, which wasn't directed by Corman). The Corman/Poe/Price films on this set are The Fall of the House of Usher, Pit and the Pendulum, Masque of the Red Death, and The Haunted Palace.
The Poe adaptations follow a template: a blandly handsome—but stalwart—hero, a beautiful woman (or two, or three), and a showcase villainy role for Price. Thanks in no small part to Corman's moody direction and Price's grandiose acting, the formula never gets old.
The Poe films are significant. They were low-budget horror with a big-budget look, classy, atmospheric, and—for all the liberties taken with the Poe source material—literate and intelligent thrillers. Well-received critically, they established Corman as something more than a quickie hack director. Price had earned his horror cred with films like House of Wax and William Castle's fun-but-cheesy House on Haunted Hill and The Tingler; the Poe films were not just an upgrade in quality, but they gave Price the opportunity to really cut loose, embodying dastardly villains who never became cartoonish. In three of the Poe films on this set, he played men who were driven to evil, and so he got to play sympathetic as well as villainous.
The other two films in this set show Price at the extreme ends of his Poe personae. Witchfinder General offers a strikingly serious Price in a strikingly serious film about an evil and opportunistic 17th Century witch hunter; in The Abominable Dr. Phibes, Price sends up his villainous image in a campy horror comedy about a mad scientist seeking revenge on the doctors who failed to save his wife.
While all these films have already seen at least one DVD release, Scream Factory makes this set worth a purchase as it upgrades not only the tech, but the supplements. Each film has many of its old, SD supplements ported over, and the set also includes new bonus material.
The six films are spread across four discs: Pit and the Pendulum and Masque of the Red Death on Disc One; The Haunted Palace and The Fall of the House of Usher on Disc Two; The Abominable Dr. Phibes on Disc Three, and Witchfinder General on Disc Four.
The transfers are uniformly quite good, with vibrant colors, detail ranging from acceptable to excellent, and solid contrast. There are a few nicks and blemishes, but with one exception, nothing terribly distracting. It doesn't look like Scream Factory did much DNR, so the images retain their film look. The audio for each is a remastered DTS Mono track, and they sound great; I noticed no hiss or distortion.
All the films except for The Abominable Dr. Phibes include an optional intro/outro with Price that was recorded in 1982 for "The Vincent Price Gothic Horrors," a film series for Iowa PBS. Needless to say, these are utterly charming.
The Fall of the House of Usher
Despite being ordered to leave, Winthrop stays on, trying to convince Madeline to come with him. But as determined as Winthrop is to save Madeline, Roderick is even more determined that she should never leave the decaying House of Usher.
The Thoughts: The first of the Poe films, The Fall of the House of Usher beautifully set the standard for what would follow: chilly, atmospheric, and downright creepy. Richard Matheson's intelligent screenplay sticks closely to Poe's story, making this one of the most faithful Corman/Poe adaptations. The film takes place almost entirely in the foreboding house, and although it's supposed to be a mansion, it comes across suitable claustrophobic. There are some genuinely shocking sequences, and the film holds up very well.
The Disc: While there's some pronounced print damage near the end of the film, this is quite a good transfer, with excellent detail and contrast. A clip on the menu screen gives away one of the film's surprises, which is unfortunate for first time viewers. For supplements, we get a commentary with Corman that's been ported from an earlier release; an audio interview with Price by David Del Valle from 1988, which I don't think has been released before; and a second commentary, also new to this set, by Price biographer Lucy Chase Williams. Called "A Vincent Price Retrospective Commentary," this is not specific to the film, but rather gives an overview of Price's life and career. Williams has an actor, Pitor Michael, imitate Price's voice at various points, which I actually found to be a little on the cheesy side. This commentary runs just over half an hour.
Pit and the Pendulum
Medina's sister (Luana Anders, Night Tide) is at the castle, helping take care of her own brother, who is not doing well. He's convinced that Elizabeth has come back from the grave, and he confesses that the "blood ailment" story was made up. It seems that the Medinas father was torturer for the Inquisition and had a nice array of implements locked away in the castle's dungeon; Elizabeth became entranced with these and eventually, overwhelmed, died of fright.
Francis thinks Nicholas is crazy, but he wants to get to the bottom of what actually happened to his sister. Madness, betrayals, and murder ensue—with plenty of twisted twists.
The Thoughts: Pit and the Pendulum might be the most famous of the Corman/Price/Poe films, thanks to the iconic scene near the end that employs the pendulum of the title; stills from that scene routinely turn up in books about horror films, and the scene itself has been shown in other films, including You're a Big Boy Now, by Corman protégé Francis Ford Coppola. It's a great film, and if I were reviewing a stand-alone release, I'd probably be much more enthusiastic about it; however, with all the excellent films in this set, Pit and the Pendulum ends up being the weakest by a hair. It's great fun—Price is an evil hoot, the final shock is a stunner, and anything with Barbara Steele and Luana Anders gets a recommend—but it's just a tad less ambitious, and perhaps because of its reputation, less surprising, than the other films included here.
Like The Fall of the House of Usher, Pit and the Pendulum features a small cast—six, as opposed to Usher's four—and a single setting, the Medina estate. Of course, within the Medina estate are many rooms, including the crypt, and most important, the torture chamber. Even for someone completely unfamiliar with the film or its origin story, it should be no spoiler that someone's going to end up subjected to something fiendish—and someone does, in a justifiably lauded scene of pure suspense.
The Disc: A commentary with Corman is ported from an earlier release. New to this release is a prologue that was added for the film's TV debut to pad the running time. The film looks great, but given its place in the Corman/Poe canon, I'm a little surprised to find such a light supplemental package.
The Haunted Palace
A century and change later, Curwen's great-great-grandson, Charles Dexter Ward (also Price) and his wife, Ann (Debra Paget, The Ten Commandments) arrive in Arkham; they have just inherited the Curwen house. Thanks to Ward's resemblance to his relative, the townspeople greet them with hostility. Curwen's curse has apparently been effective, given the number of deformed descendants that populate the town.
At the palace, the Wards meet Simon (Lon Chaney, Jr., Spider Baby), who says he's the caretaker. Charles and Ann decide to leave and put the place up for sale…until Charles, under the influence of his late relative, has a change of heart.
And the village of Arkham is again beset by evil.
The Thoughts: When is a Poe film not a Poe film? When it's origin story is from an H.P. Lovecraft novella, and its only connection to Poe is the title—something AIP execs did to cash in on the Poe/Corman popularity, but which infuriated Roger Corman so much, that he intentionally misspelled Poe's name on the credits. AIP did the same thing with Witchfinder General, renaming it The Conqueror Worm; at least "The Haunted Palace" makes sense as a title.
Whatever Corman's misgivings about the marketing, this is an excellent film, filled with atmosphere, bloody deaths, and genuine horror; it's really a great, goose-pimply watch, perfect for a chilly night. The script by Charles Beaumont (The Twilight Zone) is intelligent and unsettling; Corman's direction stylish, as always; the make-up effects, showing the cursed, deformed villagers, is effective; and the cinematography by Floyd Crosby (High Noon) haunting. Debra Paget is both beautiful and formidable as Price's leading lady; unfortunately, this was her final feature film. It's also fun to see great character actors such as Frank Maxwell, Elisha Cook, Jr., Leo Gordon, John Dierkes, filling the roles of townspeople—and of course, Lon Chaney, Jr.
The Disc: An interview with Corman, "A Change of Poe," has been ported from an earlier release. There are two audio commentaries, both new. The first opens with a reading of Poe's poem, then gives us Lucy Chase Williams again, this time speaking specifically about the film. About half an hour in, writer Richard Heft takes over, talking about the source material. The entire commentary runs about 40 minutes. The second commentary features author and horror historian Tom Weaver.
Masque of the Red Death
Prospero has learned that the plague of the Red Death has struck the village, but he believes his estate to be safe. He's invited a bunch of lesser nobles for a party, and in exchange for his protection from the plague, he humiliates and abuses them.
Prospero is also a Satanist, as is his companion, Juliana (Hazel Court, The Curse of Frankenstein), who is eager to become Satan's bride.
When Prospero tells his guests that he will throw a masquerade ball that night, he insists that no one wear red. But a stranger in red does show up—is it Satan, as the delighted Prospero believes, or is it the one thing Prospero fears?
The Thoughts: Corman's awesome art/horror hybrid owes an obvious debt to Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal, but this is no low-rent rip-off.
In Masque of the Red Death, Corman ladles on a combination of horror, perversion, and philosophy to create what might be his most intellectually ambitious work. Working from a script by Charles Beaumont and R. Wright Campbell (Hells Angels on Wheels), this moody, unsettling work is easily one of Corman's best (and my personal favorite in this set).
While every film on this set showcases Price at the top of his game—a game that, extraordinarily, ran something like 40 years—the unbridled evil he brings to Prince Prospero is really unmatched. A scene in which he gleefully embarrasses the other nobles by making them imitate animals is as terrifying a set piece as Corman or Price would ever do. Hazel Court's Juliana—who maims herself as a tribute to Satan—is another horrifying creation. The final 20 minutes—including the unmasking at the ball and Corman's Bergmanesque finale—are beautiful, unnerving, and strangely moving.
This is a top-flight film in a set filled with top-flight films.
The Disc: An interview with Corman is ported from an earlier release. New to this disc is a commentary by author Steve Haberman (Silent Screams: The History of the Silent Horror Film).
The Thoughts: Price gives one of his best performances as a corrupt 17th Century "witch hunter" in Michael Reeves' outstanding final film. Witchfinder General is kind of the odd madman out on this set. Neither gleefully gothic like the Poe films nor sardonically silly like Phibes, Witchfinder General is a downbeat, disturbing film that features scenes of realistic violence. It also wasn't an AIP production, though the company did invest in it and distributed it in the U.S.—under the title The Conqueror Worm, the name of a Poe poem, to make it seem like this was another Price/Poe project. The review of an earlier release of the film is in the sidebar.
The Disc: Ported from the 2007 release are a commentary and a featurette, "Witchfinder General: Michael Reeves' Horror Classic." New to this set are a recent interview with Price's daughter, Victoria, which runs about 45 minutes and is really pretty charming; an interview Price did with David Del Valle circa 1987 (they talk about The Whales of August); and the opening and closing credits for the AIP'ed version of Witchfinder General, The Conqueror Worm, which really is just Price reciting Poe's poem for no apparent reason.
The Abominable Dr. Phibes
The Thoughts: By the mid-1960s, Price had fully embraced his campy side. He appeared on Batman as the villain Egghead, and he made the wretched Dr. Goldfoot comedies. In the '70s, he found high-quality vehicles that played up his floridly sinister persona for its dark comedy possibilities: The Abominable Dr. Phibes, its sequel, Dr. Phibes Rises Again, and the outstanding Theater of Blood. This set contains the original Dr. Phibes outing, which is macabre, chilling, and great fun. Director Robert Fuest (The Devil's Rain) offers a grisly and fun art deco nightmare, with enough grue to satisfy connoisseurs of the genre, wonderful visuals, and plenty of black humor. A full review of an earlier release of the film is in sidebar.
The Disc: A vast improvement over the SD release, Phibes contains a pair of commentaries: One with writer Marcus Hearn (The Hammer Story) and director Robert Fuest (who passed away in 2012), the other with Justin Humphreys, author of Names You Never Remember, With Faces You Never Forget, a book of interviews with popular character actors. In addition, there is an interview with Duane Huey, who "curated" the Iowa PBS series "The Vincent Price Gothic Horrors," which yielded the intros and outros on the other films. These are all new supplements. A stills gallery and trailer round out this excellent presentation.
Additionally, there's a handsome booklet with an essay by David Del Valle and poster art from the films.
With so many Tribute sets and Collections being nothing more than a bunch of previously released discs repackaged or tech upgraded, it's great to see Scream Factory go the extra mile and include new and meaningful supplements, giving fans a compelling reason to pick up the set.
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Scales of Justice, The Fall Of The House Of Usher
Perp Profile, The Fall Of The House Of Usher
Studio: Shout! Factory
Distinguishing Marks, The Fall Of The House Of Usher
Scales of Justice, Pit And The Pendulum
Perp Profile, Pit And The Pendulum
Studio: Shout! Factory
Distinguishing Marks, Pit And The Pendulum
Scales of Justice, The Haunted Palace
Perp Profile, The Haunted Palace
Studio: Shout! Factory
Distinguishing Marks, The Haunted Palace
Scales of Justice, The Masque Of The Red Death
Perp Profile, The Masque Of The Red Death
Studio: Shout! Factory
Distinguishing Marks, The Masque Of The Red Death
Scales of Justice, Witchfinder General
Perp Profile, Witchfinder General
Studio: Shout! Factory
Distinguishing Marks, Witchfinder General
Scales of Justice, The Abominable Dr. Phibes
Perp Profile, The Abominable Dr. Phibes
Studio: Shout! Factory
Distinguishing Marks, The Abominable Dr. Phibes
• IMDb: The Fall of the House of Usher
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