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November 6, 2013

Movie Review: The Vincent Price Collection (Blu-ray)

Vincent Price is one of those rare breeds of actor that simply put - is bigger than life. His versatility and scene-eating prowess made the majority of his features so engaging to fans of genre that has undoubtedly put him at horror legend status. Whether it was his work on Roger Corman's Poe titles or his other AIP excursions, his involvement was almost a sure thing that what you were about to see was something truly special. The folks at Scream Factory have been hard at work on preserving Vincent's legacy with their four Blu-ray set that includes six of his finest contributions to genre - The Pit and the Pendulum, The Masque of Red Death, The Abominable Dr. Phibes, Witchfinder General, The Haunted Palace and The Fall of the House of Usher. All titles have been restored for the glorious high-definition format and, yes, like previous Scream Factory releases it's loaded with extra features both new and ported from the MGM DVD releases

The set kicks off with two of Price's crowning achievements on disc one - The Pit and the Pendulum and The Masque of Red Death. The Pit and the Pendulum marked Price's second foray into the world of Edgar Allen Poe with Roger Corman. Here Price plays, Nicholas Medina, the husband of the recently deceased Elisabeth (Barbara Steele, Black Sunday). Following her death, Elisabeth's brother takes a trip to visit Medina's castle to find out a little more about what happened. The plot thickens pretty quickly as Medina, while the showing facade of depressed widower, he's actually hiding plenty of secrets - one being a giant swinging pendulum in his torture device filled basement. Price is excellent here as Medina and no doubt plays this "tortured" individual well. Corman is also at the top of his game along with the very welcome storytelling strengths of Richard Matheson.

As stunning and haunting as The Pit and the Pendulum may look, Corman's most beautiful film (and possibly best) is The Masque of Red Death, again with Price playing an even more hideous creature than Medina with his turn as the evil Prince Prospero. With the threat of the "Red Death" sweeping a countryside, the inhabitants flock to Prospero's Castle for safety and even a party with the guests adorning masks. Prospero makes a fool out of most of these folks as he as some ulterior motives. This could come back to bite him as the Satan-loving madman could be the one to crash his own party. Visually "Masque" is breathtaking to look at with the use of rich colors on display and is all the more tantalizing to the eyeballs with Scream Factory's fantastic restoration.

The second disc in the set starts off with The Haunted Palace, directed by Corman again and written for the screen by the always reliable Charles Beaumont. The Haunted Palace's story is VERY loosely based on Poe as it's actually more so based on the story The Case of Charles Dexter Ward from another wonderful genre scribe, H.P Lovecraft. Price is here in dual roles, first as the revenge-seeking warlock Joseph Curwen and as his relative 100 years later, Charles Dexter Ward. Before being burned at the stake for being a warlock, Curwen threatens "necromancy" on the town of Arkham. This doesn't bode well for Ward as he moves into the same manor where Curwen lives. Rich with atmosphere and boasting some surprisingly ghastly make-up FX on the cursed townsfolk, The Haunted Palace works as a fine piece of gothic horror even though it's not really Poe.

 The Fall of the House of Usher is the second half of the double bill and many would argue this film is Corman's finest entry into Poe territory (it's also his first). Price plays Roderick Usher, a middle-aged, white-haired man whose family has an unfortunate problem: the Ushers have been cursed for decades. The dedication to the part of Roderick was very evident by Price as the actor's choice to color his hair white became very crucial to a character who has never left his house. Although The Fall of the House of Usher is primarily a one-location film there is an impressive use of cinemascope that may surprise some expecting this to be wasted. The house was to be the star, and it is. The extra features have Corman elaborating on how it was initially a tough sell for for the director. AIP was wondering "where's the monster", Corman convinced them the House was the "monster".

Prices ability to do comedy should never be doubted especially after seeing his portrayal of Dr. Phibes in William Fuest's hilariously ghastly The Abominable Dr. Phibes which is by itself on the third disc. When organ enthusiast, Dr. Anton Phibes' wife dies the operating table he brings forth a very interesting form of revenge towards the doctors who let her die. Phibes utilizes biblical plagues as his way of getting back them. The character of Phibes is essentially zombie who wears a mask of his old skin. Watching Price go through the film with this "mask" of his own face, lips barely movie as he talks will make it hard for anyone not to chuckle a little bit. It's intentional as he's supposed to look like a bad ventriloquist when he speaks. Long before so many of the fine slashers of the 80's were using creative body counts, Phibes stacked up a fine amount of ingenious kills that make this black-comedy thoroughly entertaining.

The final disc in the set contains the notorious, often censored Witchfinder General (aka Conqueror Worm). Scream Factory has provided fans with the first stateside release of Witchfinder General completely uncut. This is not your average Price movie. So much of Price' stuff are films that you can share with your kids, not this surprisingly shocking feature from a then very young Michael Reeves.

 Loosely based on Poe's Conqueror Worm, Witchfinder General follows the "witch" torture and killing exploits of a real life monster, Mathew Hopkins. While I caution some of the more jaded folks to be ready for some pretty strong stuff I also must point out that Price has never portrayed, in all his films that I've seen a more cold, despicable man. No humor here folks, but you get Price at the top of his game showing so his immense talent working with some really tough subject matter. This is a great film that is actually watchable now with Scream Factory's fine restoration work.


FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER-- Vintage and rare Introduction and final words from Vincent Price
 --Audio Commentary with Roger Corman
 --Vincent Price Retrospective Commentary with author Lucy Chase Williams featuring Pitor Michael as the voice of Vincent Price
-- Audio interview with Vincent Price by historian David Del Valle

 --Vintage and rare Introduction and final words from Vincent Price
-- Audio Commentary by author Lucy Chase Williams (The Complete Films of Vincent Price) and Richard  Heft,
-- Audio Commentary by author Tom Weaver,
--A Change of Poe- an interview with director Roger Corman

 --Vintage and rare Introduction and final words from Vincent Price,
 --Audio Commentary by author Steve Haberman,
 --An interview with Roger Corman

 --Vintage and rare Introduction and final words from Vincent Price
-- Rare Prologue
-- Audio Commentary with Roger Corman

 --Vintage and rare Introduction and final words from Vincent Price
-- Audio Commentary with producer Philip Wadlove and actor Ian Ogilvy
 --Witchfinder General: Michael Reeves’ Horror Classic
 --Vintage Interview with Vincent Price conducted by film historian David Del Valle (1987)
-- Vincent and Victoria: an Interview with Victoria Price
 -- Additional Vincent Price Theatrical Trailers

--Audio Commentary with director Robert Fuest
-- Audio Commentary with author Justin Humphreys (Names You Never Remember, With Faces You Never Forget)
 --Introductory Price: Undertaking “The Vincent Price Gothic Horror

It’s nice to see all of the MGM commentaries and extras back but it’s some of the new stuff that Scream Factory has unearthed that will give fans a big thrill. The supplements are nothing short of fantastic. Having an audio commentary for each film (Phibes and The Haunted Palace have two) is most certainly a plus. Scream Factory goes beyond though by adding new material like rare introductions by Vincent Price for each movie. Vincent also pops up at the end of each film too so don't turn off the movie right when the credits hit. These are definitely a joy. The quality is good for these originally produced for public television pieces and there's even a documentary on the making. Not surprisingly, the producers say Vincent was super easy to work with and in many cases hit is lines with just one take.

If you hadn't heard the Roger Corman commentaries from the original MGM DVD issues I strongly urge you to have a listen.  Corman has obvious admiration for Prices work ethic and professionalism. At one point he quotes Stanislavski with his impression of Price by saying "There are no small parts, just small actors". It really didn't matter for Price because he wasn't like other actors, he delivered 100% whether it was comedy, drama or what he's best known for, horror films.

The extra features on the Witchfinder General disc definitely entertained as well. The Michael Reeves/ Price relationship is mighty interesting for anyone not familiar with the behind-the-scenes. Actor Ian Ogilvy and producer Philip Wadrove and writer Steven Haberman put together a nice audio commentary track where they elaborate plenty on just that. Wadrove also talks about an event where Price seemed to have gotten hurt from a fall in a scene but refused medical attention. It took legendary producer Sam Arkoff to intervene and tell Price that it would be wise for the production's sake (and lawyers) to have a doctor look at it. I also was quite pleased with Vincent Price historian David Del Valle's contribution to the supplements which was in the form of a couple of rare interviews with Price. The excellent booklet of liners penned by Del Valle that come along with the disc is another bonus to this treasure trove of extra goodies.

The Vincent Price Collection is easily one of the best box-sets of the year from top to bottom with its rich array of extra features and top notch Hi-def presentations for every film. Scream Factory has done a superb job in putting together this fine collection and I look forward to what they have in store for us if we're lucky enough to get another installment. Highly Recommended

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