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Vincent Price Collection II, The
Shout! Factory, through their Scream Factory horror specialty imprint, follows up their first Vincent Price Collection with this second batch of classic horror films starring one of the most iconic genre stars of all time. The seven films in the set are spread across four discs as follows.
Directed by Roger Corman in 1963 and written by Richard Matheson (obviously, though very loosely, based on the famous poem by Edgar Allan Poe), The Raven stars Vincent Price as a man named Erasmus Craven, the son of a powerful sorcerer now deceased. When we meet him, he's given up his own practice in magic and is instead pining away for his lost Lenore (Hazel Court). Shortly thereafter a large black raven appears to him and speaks to him about his plight (voiced by Peter Lorre). It turns out he's actually Doctor Adolphus Bedlo and he's been turned into the bird by a rival sorcerer named Doctor Scarabus (Karloff). Bedlo would like Craven's help in turning him back to his previous human form. There's more to it than that, however, as Bedlo tells him that Lenore is not dead as Craven believes but actually living in Scarabus' creepy old castle.
Of course, Craven and Bedlo wind up teaming up in an attempt to win the day, but Scarabus may yet prove to be the better magician.
Corman and Matheson don't really adapt Poe's poem in the literal sense so much as they simply take some of the characters from it and run with it. Play as much for laughs as anything else, this is definitely one of the more comedic entries in the Corman/Price Poe run and it's quite a bit of fun. The cast really make it work. Price is excellent as ever in the lead while Peter Lorre and Boris Karloff both prove to be every bit his equal. All three veteran horror stars do a great job with the material, finding that right balance of humor and horror throughout the film. Throw in the beautiful Hazel Court as the love interest and an amusing supporting role from a young Jack Nicholson as Bedlo's son and it's hard not to have a good time with this movie.
The comedy, mostly satirical in nature, is pretty effective throughout but Corman still manages to create some nice, eerie atmosphere in the film. Lots of gothic trappings and fun period dress keep the visuals interesting while the effects used in the magic scenes have their own quirky charm, particularly at the film's finale when Craven and Scarabus effectively go toe to toe. It really seems like everyone involved in making this film was having a great time, and that comes through in the quality of the product. The Raven may not be a masterpiece of terror and suspense, but it is a lot of good fun.
The Comedy Of Terrors:
Made shortly after The Raven and directed not by Corman but by Jacques Tourneur, The Comedy Of Terrors was once again written by Richard Matheson with Price, Karloff and Lorre in the lead roles. Set in Victorian era New England, Price plays an undertaker named Waldo Trumbull. While he's not above simply burying bodies after taking them out of coffins already paid for, his business is still struggling. Yet Trumbull has expenses, not just his lodging, but there's his wife, Amaryllis (Joyce Jameson) and the alcohol needs to deal with her as well! Not to mention the matter of her old, deaf father, Amos Hinchley (Karloff). He simply must do something about this, and so he does.
As he owes a large amount in back rent to his Shakespeare-obsessed landlord, John Black (Basil Rathbone), Trumbull and his assistant, Felix Gillie (Lorre) attempt to kill off the old man completely unaware that he suffers from a bizarre medical condition that often puts him in a state very close to death.
Very snappy in its pacing and really benefitting from Tourneur's assured skills behind the camera, The Comedy Of Terrors understandably has a lot more in common with The Raven than with the horror classics the director made for producer Val Lewton and for which he remains best known. Matheson's script allows for the cast to play towards high camp, and they do, particularly Price, but the performances are excellent across the board. Price really shines here in one of his best comedic outings, displaying the eloquence for which he was known and filtering it through his character's acerbic wit, particularly in how he deals with his wife. Lorre's work alongside him is an interesting point of contrast, he's the simple man compared to Price's intelligent lead and some of their banter and back and forth is quite hilarious to watch, especially once Lorre's Felix starts making advances towards the lovely Mrs. Trumbell! Karloff is great here too but it's Rathbone, not an actor particularly known for his comedy work, who really steals the show. His performance here is a perfect mix of just the right style of line delivery and a physical, body language intensive acting and he's a kick to watch.
Like The Raven, the actors all seem to be really enjoying themselves on this film and again, it is infectious. Visually this film has much in common with the Poe films while obviously the tone is much lighter. It works, and it gives the leads, all icons of horror, a great chance to show their lighter sides.
The Tomb Of Ligeia:
The final collaboration between Price and Corman was once again a ‘Poe picture' but this time around Corman wanted to do things differently and shoot large stretches on location rather than in a more controlled soundstage environment as he'd done on their earlier work together. As such, the film is very different looking than those earlier efforts, but The Tomb Of Ligeia succeeds as an interesting and atmospheric testament to their collective strengths.
Price plays a man named Verden Fell who is distraught over the recent passing of his beautiful wife, Ligeia (Elizabeth Shepherd). Some days later he makes the acquaintance of Lady Rowena Trevanian (Shepherd again), a dead ringer for his dearly departed. They fall fast in love and are soon married and off on their honeymoon together. When they return to Fell's mansion home, the arrival of a black cat and simultaneous disappearance of her husband causes Rowena to become quite afraid, a matter not helped by the arrival of recurring nightmares shortly thereafter, nightmares in which her husband turns into his deceased wife and murders Rowena!
Rowena isn't the only one affected by whatever it is that's haunting the home. Verden tends to disappear for long stretches of time and return to the home as if in a trance. An attempt to help things with hypnosis ends poorly and eventually Rowena's former beau, Christopher Gough (John Westbrook), teams up with Fell's servant, Kenrick (Oliver Johnston) to try and get to the bottom of things.
While the interiors are shot on a studio set, the outdoor sequences shot in the English countryside really help to give this final Poe film a strong, gothic atmosphere. Like the best Poe work, there's a very obvious romantic streak running through the story, and the locations chosen for the outdoor scenes compliment this quite well. Price's leading role is in tune with the film's visuals, he is far more restrained here than in The Raven or The Comedy Of Terrors and his Verden Fell is so far removed from the Egghead character he was playing on the Batman TV series around this same time that he almost seems like a completely different actor. The fact that he's heavily made up to look quite a bit younger than he was helps here too, but Price plays this all completely straight and as such, garners all the pathos from the audience needed to make the story work as well as it does. Elizabeth Shepherd is also very good here in her dual role, equal parts frightening and frightened depending on what the scene calls for.
The Last Man On Earth:
Based on Richard Matheson's classic novel I Am Legend, 1964's The Last Man On Earth stars Price as a man named Doctor Robert Morgan. When we meet him, it seems he is the only survivor left on Earth after a plague whipped out much of the population and turned everyone else into nocturnal vampire/zombie like creatures. In order to survive he's had to become quite resourceful, placing mirrors in opportune locations (they do not like to see their own reflection, his narration tells us) and hanging cloves of garlic near entrances to his home. By day he disposes of new bodies by burning them in a giant pit and looks for supplies while by night he does what he can to defend his home when the hordes inevitably come for him.
Things change for him when he comes across a contaminated woman named Ruth Collins (France Bettoia) he uses his own blood to save her which leads him to come into contact with a group of survivors, but they see him not as a help, but a hindrance.
This one has a lot in common with George A. Romero's Night Of The Living Dead though it was made a few years earlier. The black and white cinematography combined with Price's deadpan but completely appropriate narration really helps to give this post-apocalyptic chiller a seriously impressive sense of dread and co-directors Ubaldo Ragona and Sidney Salkow do a great job keeping the tension strong and the pacing effectively deliberate. The Italian locations used for the shoot are generally ‘destroyed' and ‘abandoned' looking enough that, thankfully, we never really stop to think that this is a European nation standing in for America (the film was an Italian-American co-production, though it was initially intended to be made by Hammer Films who passed on it).
Price is the real reason to watch this one, however, as he's great in the part. Integral to the movie is how he tries to maintain a sense of normalcy in his life even though everything has gone to Hell around him. He is a very routine based man, and this seems to give him some peace even while he's obviously still upset about the loss of his family. Price plays the role straight, never hamming it up but bringing a palpable sense of loss and sadness to the role. Of course, the fact that Matheson's screenplay is as strong as it is on this picture certainly helps here a lot too. The author's writing and Price's acting turn out to once again be a great combination. This one holds up well as a low budget but genuinely eerie take on how it could all go wrong…
Dr. Phibes Rises Again!:
The 1972 sequel to The Abominable Doctor Phibes was made very quickly and hit theaters only a year after the first film proved a box office success. While it doesn't stray too far from the concepts explored in the first movie, it definitely ups both the bloodshed and the intentional camp value aspects and it proves a very worthy follow up.
When the movie begins, a narrator tells us how three years after the events in the first movie, Phibes (Price, reprising the role) has arisen from his death trance to once again attempt to bring life to his wife Victoria (an uncredited Caroline Munro) who is being kept in suspended animation until such a time as he can complete his quest. His assistant, Vulnavia (Valli Kemp, taking over for Virginia North from the first movie) is on hand as he schemes to find the rumored ‘river of life' believed to be located underneath a mountain in Egypt.
However getting to it may well prove difficult not just geographically but logistically as well. Phibes finds himself competing with a rival scientist named Biederbeck (Robert Quarry) who has not only already stolen some of Phibes Egyptian scrolls but is out to beat him to the punch... and then there's that pesky Inspector Trout (Peter Jeffrey) to contend with too.
Once again directed by Robert Fuest, this sequel is pretty over the top and, at least in terms of style if not content, all the better for it. Price really throws himself into the role, hamming it up and just going for it. The concept is ridiculous of course but so committed are both Price and Fuest that you can't help but love it. Quarry is no slouch here either, he brings a zealous enthusiasm to his role as Phibes' foe while the beautiful Valli Kemp is a lot of fun as Phibes' trusty resurrected assistant. Throw in Caroline Munro in a small role and a quick cameo from none other than Hammer horror legend Peter Cushing and it's easy to see why this one turns out to be as much fun as it is.
Plot wise, it does feel at times like this was put together with less care than its predecessor. The murder set pieces are, not surprisingly, the stand out moments in the film and they definitely do impress, but the story is a bit disjointed at times. Without the whole ‘Ten Plagues' theme that the first film used to tie everything together, there is instead quite a bit of convenient circumstances that aren't as well defined. Regardless, the film has loads of garish style and some great effects, sets and costumes. If it's not as good as the first movie, it is still loads of entertaining fun.
The Return Of The Fly:
Another sequel to a successful Price headliner, 1959's The Return Of The Fly takes place fifteen years after the events in the first film as we catch up with Philippe Delambre (Brett Halsey) and his uncle Francois Delambre (Vincent Price). While obviously the experiments started by Philippe's deceased father in the first movie failed, Philippe remains unaware of what actually happened to his father. After his mother passes away, he demands to know the truth and once he finds it out, he decides to follow up where his father left off. It seems he has become quite a talented scientist and Francois is onboard to keep an eye on his young nephew who goes about his work quite diligently with some help from his assistant, Alan Hinds (David Frankham). Of course, this won't end well…
Made in black and white where the original was color, this was obviously made on a lower budget and it does tend to recycle the same basic concept but The Return Of The Fly proves a solid horror movie in its own right. There's also some welcome black humor injected into the script that director Edward Bernds (who directed quite a few comedies prior to this picture) handles quite well. The romantic angle that was a big part of the original film isn't really here and instead we get a more straight forward story of science gone too far.
The movie is quite nicely shot by cinematographer Brydon Baker who would later go on to work on the sixties incarnation of the quirky Canadian kids TV series The Littlest Hobo! What does that have to do with Vincent Price? In a tenuous connection, when the series was revived in the early eighties actor Billy Van would appear in two episodes. Price fans, particularly Canadian ones, should know that Van was the man behind The Hilarious House Of Frightenstein, a series made in Hamilton, Ontario in the early seventies and on which Vincent Price starred as a narrator and provided the voice over for the opening credits.
Getting back to The Return Of The Fly, however, the movie is fairly well acted. Price is in fine form here while the younger Brett Halsey also does fine work. The effects set pieces and costumes used for the sequences in which the determined Philippe works out some of the quirks in his experiments are quite well done. Of course, we all know what will go wrong here, the title of the movie makes that painfully clear, but this is a solid follow up and at eighty-minutes in length, it moves at a very quick pace.
House On Haunted Hill:
In one of William Castle's coolest horror movies, Vincent Price plays a strange wealthy man named Frederick Loren who, along with his fourth wife Annabelle (Carol Ohmart), offers five seemingly unrelated strangers $10,000 each if they can spend an entire night in a creaky old house. This isn't just a normal old house, however, as it's been the site of seven separate murders.
The five people that Frederick selects, all of whom arrive to the house in a hearse, are a pilot named Lance Schroeder (Richard Long), a newspaper writer named Ruth Bridges (Julie Mitchum), the house's owner Watson Prichard (Elisha Cook Jr.), a psychiatrist named Dr. David Trent (Alan Marshal) and one of Loren's employees, Nora Manning (Carolyn Craig). Each invitee is given a pistol and at midnight, the doors are locked meaning that no one can get in our out until morning breaks. Annabelle warns all involved that her husband is quite mad, but there's no way they can contact anyone outside the house as there's no electricity and no phone connection.
Beautifully shot, the black and white cinematography makes the most of the shadows in the house where the vast majority of the film is set. The house, itself a central character in the film in many ways, has an odd, eerie atmosphere to it that gives the film a welcome ambience that the later big budget remake could never hope to recapture. Castle moves the action at a brisk pace, taking just enough time with the set up before getting on with the show, while the script from writer Robb White (who also wrote The Tingler, 13 Ghosts and Homicidal for Castle) gives the cast plenty to work with in terms of clever dialogue and fun plot twists.
Speaking of the cast, it probably goes without saying that Vincent Price really does steal the show here. He's got that suave sense of menace going on that only he could bring to a role. At times both sinister and charming, it's a part that's perfect for his style and he makes the most of it. Supporting performances from Julie Mitchum (Robert Mitchum's sister) and the beautiful Carol Ohmart are lots of fun as is the dashing and more heroic work from leading man Richard Long. Alan Marshal brings brains to the group while Elisha Cook Jr.'s hard drinking property owner rounds things out nicely making for a diverse group of party goers who each want the money but trust no one.
At a quick seventy-five minutes, the film is pretty lean and wastes no time at all getting right to the meat of the story. Once we're there, a few memorable set pieces and loads of atmosphere keep us entertained throughout. The film has a bit of a reputation for being campy but there are a couple of truly creepy moments in the film that will stick with you. The low budget shines through sometimes but Castle and company do a really rock solid job with this film, a classic that never fails to entertain.The Blu-ray:
The Raven: AVC encoded 1080p 2.35:1 widescreen, color.
The Comedy Of Terrors: AVC encoded 1080p 2.35:1 widescreen, color.
The Tomb OF Ligeia: AVC encoded 1080p 2.35:1 widescreen, color.
The Last Man On Earth: AVC encoded 1080p 2.35:1 widescreen, black and white.
Dr. Phibes Rises Again: AVC encoded 1080p 1.85:1 widescreen, color.
The Return Of The Fly: AVC encoded 1080p 2.35:1 widescreen, black and white.
The House On Haunted Hill: AVC encoded 1080p 1.78:1 widescreen, black and white.
The four color pictures in the set typically look very good. The outdoor scenes in Ligeia show a little less detail compared to the scenes shot in more controlled environments but even here we see good depth and dimensionality. Colors look excellent across the board, particularly in the Phibes, while skin tones look nice and natural in each movie. There isn't any obvious edge enhancement to note and there weren't any obvious compression artifacts even on the double feature discs. These don't looks as good as a series of more modern bigger budgeted movies might, but given their roots and age, they looks very good in high definition. As to the three black and white pictures in the set, they also look pretty good and like the color transfers show considerably more depth and stronger detail than their DVD counterparts. The Last Man On Earth could have used a bit more cleanup work as there is some obvious, albeit fairly mild, print damage noticeable throughout the movie. Mostly just specks and the like rather than big nasty scratches but it's there and it's noticeable.Sound:
The audio for each one of the films is presented in English language DTS-HD Mono with optional subtitles provided in English only. Audio quality is fine for the most part. There are some scenes throughout each film that may sound a bit flat by modern standards but all in all, clarity is good and levels are properly balanced. There wasn't any obvious hiss or distortion anywhere and dialogue remained clean and clear throughout. The films' respective scores demonstrated some decent depth and sound effects had good presence.Extras:
Each of the movies in the set includes its original theatrical trailer (except for The Last Man On Earth) and a still gallery along with some classy menus that offer set up options and chapter selection. Additionally, The Raven, The Comedy Of Terrors and The Tomb Of Ligeia all include some fun optional introductory and final word segments featuring price originally shot for a retrospective series of television screenings conducted by PBS in the 1980s (the exception being Phibes, which does not feature the PBS material). The trailers are all presented in widescreen and in high definition, which his nice to see, while the PBS material was shot on tape. The still galleries are made up of behind the scenes shots and promotional materials and they're reasonably extensive.
The rest of the extras are spread across the four discs in the set and are movie specific. Here's the rundown:
For The Raven we get a mix of old and new extras features, starting with an exclusive newly recorded audio commentary track with author/film historian Steve Haberman. This is an informative dissection of the film that's a good mix of historical insight and trivia balanced with some astute critical observations. He talks about the leads quite a bit, placing this film in context along some of their other pictures, and does a fine job of talking up how the production came to be and why. Fans who have seen this movie multiple times may find that this is a great way to revisit it.
Carried over from the previous DVD release is the six and a half minute Richard Matheson Storyteller: The Raven featurette where the late writer talks about his feelings on how the three leading men delivered the lines he wrote for them and provides some thoughts on the effectiveness of the movie. Also carried over from that DVD is Corman's Comedy Of Poe, an eight minute piece in which Roger Corman talks about Nicholson and Lorre's relationship on the film, the effects set pieces, working with Price and Karloff and the success of the film. Last but not least, we also get a Raven Promotional Record bit which is an audio recording of Karloff and Paul Frees delivering a promotional reading while a still gallery of related ephemera plays out on screen.
The Comedy Of Terrors:
Aside from the aforementioned extras for The Comedy Of Terrors we also get another nine and a half minute piece with the writer in the form of Richard Matheson Storyteller: The Comedy Of Terrors (carried over from the past DVD release). Similar to the piece included on The Raven we once again get some welcome input from the late writer in regards to why he was credited as an associate producer on the film, his thoughts on the performances delivered by all of the principal actors involved in the film and a sequel to the film that never happened.
The Tomb Of Ligeia:
For The Tomb Of Ligeia Shout! Factory carries over the original audio commentary from the previous DVD release that was delivered by producer/director Roger Corman. Like most of Corman's tracks, it's a good discussion with a fair bit of emphasis on the technical side of things. Of course, he expresses his admiration for what Price was able to bring to the role and he talks about the differences in this picture in regards to its style when compared to some of the other Poe films that they made together. New to this set is an audio commentary with actress Elizabeth Shepherd, moderated by Roy Frumkes. Shepherd has plenty of pleasant memories of this shoot, having quite enjoyed working on the film from the sounds of things. Here she shares some great stories about working with Price and Corman both. It doesn't deliver scores of new information but getting to hear things from the actress' point of view as opposed to the director's documents the film from a different and equally interesting perspective. Also new to this disc is a third audio commentary, this time with film historian Constantine Nasr. It's quite a thorough overview of the film and a mix of criticism and historical background with a lot of emphasis on Price's work on the picture. There's some repetition between the three tracks, there almost has to be in a way, but between the three we wind up with a very detailed history of the film and those who made it.
The Last Man On Earth:
Exclusive to this set is a new audio commentary with film historian and Vincent Price expert David Del Valle and author Derek Botelho. There are very few people out there as knowledgeable about Vincent Price as Del Valle is and he and Botelho do a great job of explaining the history of this film, how and why it came to be shot in Italy, how it compares to the source material and quite a bit more. Carried over from the previous MGM DVD release is a featurette called Richard Matheson Storyteller: The Last Man On Earth. In this six and a half minute piece the man who wrote the book and the screenplay for the film talks about his feelings on the picture and it's never been much of a secret that he's not all that enamored with it.
Dr. Phibes Rises Again:
The only extras for this film are the original theatrical trailer and a still gallery.
The Return Of The Fly:
Del Valle returns to moderate another all new audio commentary, this time with the film's star, Brett Halsey. Del Valle shares some impressions of the film as the two discuss how and why certain characters and performers from the original film returned and some did not. They talk about what it was like for Halsey to work with and interact with the different cast and crew members assembled for the production and along the way he shares some amusing anecdotes and fond memories of his work on the film. Del Valle keeps him on target and provides plenty of historical information and background information on the film and those who made at as the discussion plays out. Additionally, Shout! Factory has included a TV spot for the film here as well.
The House On Haunted Hill:
New for this set's release is an audio commentary with author/historian Steve Haberman who does a great job of providing a lot of welcome background information on this film. Obviously there's a lot of talk about Price's work on the picture and about his performance but Haberman provides a lot of welcome information about William Castle's work on the film not just in a production capacity, but in a promotional capacity as well. It's a good track, well-paced and a lot of fun to listen to.
Carried over from the MGM Screen Legends boxed set collection are a few featurettes, starting with Vincent Price: Renaissance Man, a twenty-seven minute long piece that contains interviews with Christopher Wicking, Stephen Jones and Kim Newman and Richard Squires that cover not only his work in film but on stage as well. The twelve minute The Art of Fear piece covers how Price wound up working on some of the films included in this set while Working with Vincent Price, which runs just over fifteen minutes, includes interviews with many of the same experts about some of the actors and actresses that Price worked with throughout his career. Most fans, or at least those who bought that boxed set release, will have seen this material before but its inclusion here is certainly more than welcome. The Introductory Price: Undertaking the Vincent Price Gothic Horrors featurette, new to this release, clocks in at just over thirteen minutes. In this segment, former Iowa Public Broadcasting executive Duane Huey is interviewed about how and why those great featurettes in which Price provides intro's and outro's to the ‘gothic horrors' came to be when his station wound up broadcasting numerous American International Pictures presentations in which Price was involved. The behind the scenes footage included here is fantastic to see and fans should definitely appreciate how this material has been handled.Final Thoughts:
Shout! Factory's Vincent Price Collection II Blu-ray boxed set is seriously great stuff. This is, like the first release, an excellent selection of some of Price's best and most enjoyed films presented with a very strong array of supplements old and new. The high definition transfers offer substantial upgrades over previous DVD versions in all the ways you'd want them to and the lossless audio is strong as well. There's no reason Vincent Price fans shouldn't snatch this up. Highly recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.