Vincent Price is without a doubt an actor that falls easily into my top 5 favorite actors of all time. From the moment I first watched a VHS tape of House of Wax at my own Halloween party age 12, I have been addicted to the man and his works, and although like many of his fans my favorites are his horror pictures, Price worked in a variety of genres from Western (The Baron of Arizona) to film noir (Laura), and gave his all to each and every role.
It took quite a bit of time for Vincent Price's horror work to make it's way to Blu-ray. WB released an excellent 3D Blu-ray of House of Fax, then Fox dropped a Blu-ray of the Fly. However, it was Scream Factory that gave us a motherload of Price on Blu-ray last year when they released the first installment of the Vincent Price Collection. The first set was 6 films, 4 of which were Corman-Poe films, it was concluded with Witchfinder General (aka Conqueror Worm), and the Abominable Dr. Phibes.
It is one year later, and Scream has now brought us The Vincent Price Collection 2, a more diverse collection of the actors horror titles including 2 more Corman-Poe films (The Raven and the Tomb of Ligeia). The classic William Castle haunted house film The House on Haunted Hill, a pair of classic Price sequels Return of the Fly and Dr. Phibes Rises Again. We also get the first cinematic adaptation of Richard Matheson's I Am Legend in the Price starring Last Man on Earth.
The Raven (3.5/5)
Roger Corman's Poe series may be the director's finest achievement, it wasn't a very diverse series of films, but always well acted, and very stylish. Out of all the entries in the Poe series, The Raven may be the film that is furthest from it's core literary concept. The Raven is basically a Poe film in title alone, and unlike the Haunted Palace (which was based on the work of H.P. Lovecraft, and only the use of the poem by Poe in it's titles connected it to Baltimore's finest)it is not a horror picture, but more of a fantastic comedy. The film is about a trio of dueling wizards played by Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, and and Boris Karloff, and while Price's character connects to the source material by lamenting for a lost Lenore, this film otherwise has nothing to do with Edgar Allan's most famous work.
The film regardless is a fun time, and I found it much more enjoyable than the similarly titled (although completely different) recent film starring John Cusack. In this we have a trio of horror's finest actors playing off each other, and truly hamming it up, and on top of that we get an early performance by Jack Nicholson, and an appearance from one of the Glamours of Hammer Hazel Court. The Raven is truly the epitome of a Sunday afternoon horror show film.
The Comedy of Terrors (3.5/5)
The second feature on the disc is the Jacques Tournier (I Walked with a Zombie) directed Comedy of Terrors. This film makes an excellent pairing with the Raven, and feels, at times, similar in it's approach to the earlier film with it's blend of comedy and horror. AIP had successfully been blending the two elements since their inception, successfully bringing in a youthful audience with as many laughs as screams, but these 2 Vincent Price films certainly feel of a certain different quality to the earlier AIP pictures. In the case of Comedy of Terrors that could be from the inclusion of director Jacque Tourneur (I Walked With a Zombie) who injects the film with a more classical approach to the material, the resulting film has a certain tone that mixes the sensibilities of a 50’s British comedy in 60’s horrorland.
The film features much of the primary cast of the prior AIP Poe films Tales of Terror and the Raven including starring roles for Price and Peter Lorre. The film also features Basil Rathbone, and Boris Karloff. Vincent Price stars as Waldo Trumbull the cheapskate owner of an unsuccessful funeral parlor. Alongside his assistant Felix Gillie, he begins to create his own clientele when business is slow, and his landlord (Basil Rathbone) begins to demand the rent.
The Tomb of Ligeia (5/5)
The Tomb of Ligeia was my main point for wanting this Blu-ray set. Not to say I don't love a lot of the other films included, it just so happens that Tomb of Ligeia is not simply my favorite Corman-Poe film, but possibly my favorite of all of Roger Corman's horror output (from the position of director). The film being the 8th film and final Poe film, there was certain to be redundancies between this and the others, as the series did grow to be quite a bit repetitive over time. However, for this film Corman brought in fledgling screenwriter Robert Towne (who would eventually go on to write such classic cinema as Chinatown for Roman Polanski), and changed location to the U.K. countryside. Also, where the prior entries were studio bound, Corman decided to use the natural rural locations to help create a wonderful atmosphere for the film. And though the role was written for a younger man than Price, the actor certainly brings what could be considered his finest performance of the entire series for the final installment.
Vincent Price plays Verden Fell, a man traumatized by the premature death of his first wife Ligeia. While on her death bed, Ligeia cursed God, and claimed to refuse death. This traumatized Verden who tended to avoid contact with the outside world for many years, that is until he meets Rowena, a young woman to whom he feels an instant connection, and falls in love. They quickly get married, and move into the abbey where Fell lives, but he cannot put Ligeia behind him, feeling that her curse still hangs over him, and the abbey. His increasing madness begins to interfere with his new marriage to Rowena, or is it not madness, and Ligeia simply will not let go?
The Last Man on Earth (4/5)
Quite possibly the most simply elegant of the film's in the box set, and maybe in total of all of Price's horror pictures. The Last Man on Earth is an Italian lensed adaptation of Richard Matheson's classic novel I Am Legend, and the only such adaptation of the work to be adapted by Matheson himself. Matheson, sadly, was not pleased with the result, and took his name from the finished product, which is strange in it's own way, as the film is certainly the finest adaptation of the material. Last Man on Earth also certainly has the distinction of being one of the most desolate, realistic depictions of an undead apocalypse pre-Night of the Living Dead.
The film stars Vincent Price as Robert Morgan, the titular Last Man on Earth who has survived a plague that has wiped out the whole of humanity, turning those not staked and burned into vampires. Morgan spends his days meticulously combing the city section by section trying to eliminate the vampire menace, while also maintaining the food and supplies he needs for his survival. The film is frightening, but not so much due to it's supernatural elements, but because of it's human elements depicting how far one will go to survive, and to an extent, the sadness and tedium of survival when one is the Last Man on Earth.
Doctor Phibes Rises Again (3.5/5)
We have now entered the sequel portion of our program. There are two films in the collection, and both are sequels to previous Price hits. The Abominable Doctor Phibes was one of Price’s last truly great films, and also one of his last successes in the horror genre. The 1971 film was so popular with audiences that a sequel was immediately demanded, and exactly one year later it was released to the public.
The rule of sequels especially in the horror genre is that they are typically sub par to the original film. In most cases, including this one that is true. Doctor Phibes Rises Again has had a reputation for longer than I’ve been aware of it’s existence of being a lesser film in the shadow of it’s excellent predecessor. It has been that perspective that has kept me long from a revisit, but it has been 15 years or so and every film deserves a second chance, and I am fully willing to admit when I’m wrong, so here goes.
Doctor Phibes Rises Again is still a lesser film in comparison to the original, but it is in no way a bad film. It is an absolutely fun horror film that outside of a few continuity issues at the beginning feels very much like an excellent continuation of the material that came before it. The direction from Robert Fuest is stylish and evenly paced and keeps things moving nicely, and the death scenes are quite memorable and fun. It still implements the art deco style of the original, and offers the viewer some nice eye candy in the process. The performance from Price is excellent as is to be expected, and we get some awesome cameos from Caroline Munro (Dracula A.D. 1972, Star Crash, our banner), and Peter Cushing (The Creeping Terror, Horror of Dracula).
The film takes place 3 years after the original Dr. Phibes wakes from his death like sleep with the same unending desire to resurrect his wife from the dead. He does this by traveling the world attempting to secure a papyrus scroll with a detective in pursuit.
Return of the Fly (3.5/5)
Once again a lesser sequel to a classic Vincent Price film, this one is 1959’s Return of the Fly. The Fly concludes with one of the most terrifying scenes of horror every crafted, and could still be considered scary to this day. However, the rest of the film plays out much differently from typical horror films with the film playing more in a dramatic sandbox, and only truly creeping into our beloved genre into the third act. This truly helps separate the original Fly from its contemporaries, and is one of the reasons why the film can still justifiably considered a genre masterpiece.
Conceptually the film leaves itself open for a sequel, and there is no way it can use the same conventions as the original successfully, so it does what the best sequels do. It takes the successful elements of the original, and ramps them up to create something both like and unlike the original piece. In the case of Return of the Fly we are left without much of the dramatic tension that made the original so interesting, but what we have is something more akin to a Universal monster picture of the thirties and forties, to further separate the two the sequel was shot in black and white instead of the color format of the original.
The film takes place 15 years after the original Fly. Helen Delambre has just died, and her son Phillippe (Brett Halsey) approaches his Uncle Francois about continuing his Father Andre’s experiments from the original film. Francois is reluctant to allow Phillippe to continue with the experiments. However, Phillippe’s determination wins over Francois, and the experiments are allowed to continue. Having spent time reviewing his Father’s notes Phillippe believes that he has worked out many of his Father’s problems with the original experiments, or so he thought. Add in some traitorous thieves who are trying to steal his technology for a rival company, and things are certainly not going to run smoothly for Phillippe.
The House of Haunted Hill (4/5)
Andre De Toth's 1953 effort House of Wax brought Vincent Price to the attention of horror fans around the world, and 1957's the Fly certainly gave viewers a reminder of the man's genre skills. However, it was most certainly William Castle's 1959 film The House on Haunted Hill that cemented Price in the minds of horror fans worldwide as one of the greatest actors to grace the horror silver screen. The film is a wonderfully tense haunted house thriller, with some excellent atmosphere, and wonderful scares courtesy of Castle. Price's performance is on par with his very best, and would open the floodgates for the next phase of his career.
The film stars Price as Frederic Loren an eccentric millionaire who invites employees of his corporation whom he has never met to a haunted house party alongside himself and his fourth wife Annabelle. If they stay the entire night they will each be rewarded handsomely with $10,000. However, the house has a reputation for hauntings, and as the night goes on strange and scary things begin to happen in the house, and to the partygoers.
Almost all of the films in the set are presented in a 1080p AVC encoded transfers in at 2:35:1 ratio. The only exceptions to this are Dr. Phibes Rises Again at 1:85:1 and The House on Haunted Hill at 1:78:1. The transfer provided to Scream look excellent for the most part, and better than I’ve ever seen these films look. The detail is vastly improved from prior versions, where color is applicable it practically burst from the screen, and there are healthy levels of grain. The black and white transfers in the set have excellent contrast, solid blacks, and also excellent fine detail. I did not notice a lot of source damage through the transfers, the film with the most prominent was the Comedy of Terrors with light speckling throughout.
This film is worth every single penny, however, for the HD transfer for House on Haunted Hill (provided by WB) and Last Man on Earth (provided by MGM), these have been provided in nice widescreen transfer previously during the DVD era, so both studios took these public domain films, and did show them attention, but I have never seen them look as beautiful as they did here. If you are even slightly a fan of these 2 films, this is a must buy set.
Scream Factory has put together an excellent slate of extras for their Vincent Price Collection II release. Included in the package is a booklet of elaborate liner notes by Vincent Price expert David Del Valle. Outside of that each disc in the set comes with its own mix of extras including commentaries some new and some ported over from prior releases. A lot of interviews, documentary featurettes, and my absolute favorite from this collection, and the last the Introduction and Closing Words from the Iowa Public Broadcasting airings included with select films in this set. These are shabby looking with a lot of VHS artifacts on them, but they are so much fun to watch before and after the films they are included with.
If it wasn’t for next week’s Nightbreed 3 Disc Release, Scream’s Vincent Price Collection II might be the horror release of the year. That being said it just has to be complacent tying for the number 1 spot in my horror loving heart. The Blu-ray’s look and sound fantastic, the extras are entertaining and informative, and I couldn’t have asked for more. Oh wait, I could… bring on Volume 3! HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!