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The Vincent Price Collection Blu-ray ReviewBlu-ray MGM Shout Factory
Oct 22 2013 11:43 AM | Richard Gallagher in DVD & Blu-ray Reviews
- Studio: MGM
- Distributed By: Shout! Factory
- Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
- Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1, 2.35:1
- Audio: English 1.0 DTS-HDMA (Mono)
- Subtitles: English
- Rating: Not Rated
- Run Time: 8 Hr. 41 Min.
- Package Includes: Blu-ray, Other
- Case Type: Blu-ray Flipper Keep Case
- Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
- Region: A
- Release Date: 10/22/2013
- MSRP: $79.97
The Production Rating: 4.5/5Vincent Price was a genuine Renaissance Man - actor, author, art collector, and gourmet cook. Over the course of his long acting career he moved easily among various film genres, ranging from serious drama to film noir to westerns and to comedies. However, he will be best remembered for his appearances in horror movies, where his imposing presence always added gravitas to the proceedings. Shout! Factory has now released on Blu-ray The Vincent Price Collection, which contains no fewer than six of Price's well-known horror films: Pit and the Pendulum, The Masque of the Red Death, The Haunted Palace, The Fall of the House of Usher, The Abominable Dr. Phibes, and Witchfinder General (aka The Conqueror Worm).
The six films in The Vincent Price Collection are spread across four Blu-ray discs. They are discussed in the order in which they appear.
Pit and the Pendulum (1961)
This film often is listed in film guides as The Pit and the Pendulum, but the title actually is just Pit and the Pendulum. It is an adaptation by Richard Matheson of the Edgar Allan Poe short story "The Pit and the Pendulum" and is atmospherically directed by Roger Corman. As Vincent Price mentions in an introduction to the film which he made many years later, Poe's story is just the third act (the story is only 13 pages long in a Poe collection which I own), and Matheson had to create the first two acts to set the stage for the horrifying climax.
The film opens with Francis Barnard (John Kerr) arriving at the castle of his brother-in-law, Nicholas Medina (Vincent Price). The castle sits on a rocky bluff overlooking the rugged coast of Spain. Barnard is there because he has received word that his sister, Elizabeth (Barbara Steele) has died. Nicholas, whose father was reviled as a brutal torturer during the Spanish Inquisition, tells Francis that Elizabeth died from a blood disease, but this vague explanation does not seem to make sense. Nicholas’ sister, Catherine (Luana Anders) supports her brother's story, but Francis begins to doubt that they are telling the truth. His suspicions seem to be confirmed when he meets his sister's physician, Dr. Leon (Anthony Carbone), who confides to him that Elizabeth actually died of fright. During his visit Francis begins to discover that the castle holds many secrets which Nicholas and Catherine are hiding from him.
Price is chillingly menacing as Nicholas Medina and Barbara Steele is beautiful as the tragic Elizabeth. Pit and the Pendulum starts out at a deliberate pace, but it picks up steam quickly and the castle's torture chamber is a set which the viewer will never forget.
Pit and the Pendulum has a running time of 80 minutes.
The Masque of the Red Death (1964)
The Red Death had long devastated the country. No pestilence had ever been so fatal, or so hideous. Blood was its Avatar and its seal - the redness and the horror of blood. There were sharp pains, and sudden dizziness, and then profuse bleeding at the pores, with dissolution. The scarlet stains upon the body and especially the face of the victim, were the pest ban which shut him out from the aid and from the sympathy of his fellow men. And the whole seizure, progress, and termination of the disease, were the incidents of half an hour. But the Prince Prospero was happy and dauntless and sagacious. - Edgar Allan Poe
Director Roger Corman continued his series of films based upon Edgar Allan Poe stories with The Masque of the Red Death. This time it was Charles Barton who adapted a Poe story to the silver screen. The setting is an unnamed country in medieval Europe. As the film opens an old woman meets a mysterious person clad in a red cloak who is shuffling Tarot cards. He hands her a white rose, which then turns blood red.
Prospero (Vincent Price) is the prince who rules over the area, and when he visits the village where the old woman lives he is confronted by two angry, starving villagers. Prospero is unmoved by their plight and in fact sentences them to death for their impertinence. Francesca (Jane Asher), the daughter of one of the villagers, makes a plea to Prospero for mercy. Prospero learns that the old woman has become infected with the Red Death and he orders that the village be burned to the ground. He then abducts Francesca and orders the nobles in the area to his castle. Prospero instructs his consort, Juliana (Hazel Court), to teach Francesca how to dress and act like a lady.
While the countryside is being ravaged by the Red Death, Prospero treats his guests to a grand ball which incorporates elements of another of Poe's short stories, "Hop-Frog." We learn that Prospero is a Satanist, and many bizarre and frightening incidents ensue, one of which is punctuated with an exceptionally weird dream sequence. Things changed dramatically when the mysterious figure in the red cloak appears at the ball.
Price turns in one of his best performances as Prospero, and many critics regard this as the best of Roger Corman's Edgar Allan Poe adaptations. The film is enhanced thanks to the exquisite cinematography by Nicholas Roeg.
The Masque of the Red Death has a running time of 88 minutes.
The Haunted Palace (1963)
The Haunted Palace borrows its name from a poem by Edgar Allan Poe but it is actually based upon "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward" by H.P. Lovecraft. It also is directed by Roger Corman. This time the locale is 18th century New England. The superstitious residents of Arkham believe that Joseph Curwen (Vincent Price), who lives in a palatial house which overlooks the town, is a warlock. One night during a storm a young girl from the town wanders up to the palace, where she is taken in by Curwen and his wife. She is brought to a dungeon where she takes part in a strange ritual. When the girl is released the people of Arkham are convinced that she has been bewitched by Curwen. They form a mob and storm the palace. Curwen is captured and burned to death, but before he dies he places a curse upon the descendants of the men who have executed him.
Thirty years pass before Charles Dexter Ward (also played by Price) and his wife, Anne (Debra Paget) arrive in Arkham to take up residence in the palace. Charles is a descendant of Joseph Curwen and he has inherited the property. He is surprised when he and his wife are greeted with hostility by the locals, and he cannot help but notice that many of them are terribly deformed. He also is stunned to discover that he immediately knows his way around the palace, even though he has never been there before. Charles and Anne are advised by the local doctor to leave Arkham, but Charles feels compelled to remain.
The Haunted Palace is a notch below Pit and the Pendulum and The Masque of the Red Death, but it is still an entertaining film with a nice script by Charles Beaumont. It also is handsomely produced, with fine cinematography by Floyd Crosby.
The Haunted Palace has a running time of 93 minutes.
The Fall of the House of Usher (aka House of Usher) (1960)
Apparently The Fall of the House of Usher was also released in theaters as House of Usher, but the longer title is the one which we see on this print. It is the first Roger Corman film which is based up an Edgar Allan Poe story. The opening sequence is similar to that of Pit and the Pendulum. Philip Winthrop (Mark Damon) arrives on horseback at the decaying estate of the Usher family, somewhere in New England. Philip has ridden from Boston to see his fiancée, Madeline Usher (Myrna Fahey). As Philip approaches he observes that the landscape is desolate, dotted with dead trees and void of vegetation. His knock on the door is answered by Bristol (Harry Ellerbe), the doorman/servant. Bristol informs Philip that Madeline is confined to her bed and that no one is allowed to see her. Philip then insists upon speaking with Madeline's older brother, Roderick (Vincent Price).
Roderick is none too pleased to have a visitor. He beseeches Philip to speak softly, because Roderick is afflicted by a condition which causes his senses to be heightened. Loud noises are like daggers thrust into his brain. His skin can tolerate only the softest of fabrics, and his taste buds are so sensitive that he can abide eating only the blandest gruel. Roderick informs Philip that he cannot marry Madeline because has an affliction of her own which is so serious that she will never be allowed to leave the House of Usher. He insists that Philip depart at once, but then Madeline appears, stunned but pleased to see her betrothed. She implores her brother to allow Philip to stay for the night.
As the day progresses, Philip discovers that the house is decaying not only in appearance, but structurally. The building periodically shakes and groans, and Philip notices that a large fissure is growing on one side. When Philip is called to dinner, the house begins to shake again and a large chandelier falls from the ceiling, nearly landing on him. Philip realizes that something is very wrong, but neither Roderick nor Madeline will give him a reasonable explanation why she cannot return to Boston with him. He is determined to take her away the next day. However, a horrific series of events conspires to thwart his plans.
Roger Corman had a limited budget to work with (the success of this film enabled him to get larger budgets for his other Poe-based movies), but the interior of the Usher house is quite evocative and chilling. He also created a wonderful dream sequence which is very frightening. Mark Damon and Myrna Fahey are adequate in their roles as the doomed lovers, but from beginning to end this is Vincent Price's film. Harry Ellerbe also does a fine job as Bristol, a servant who knows that bad things are happening but who remains faithful to his master.
Richard Matheson's script takes some liberties (in Poe's story the protagonist is Roderick's childhood friend), but he remains true to the essence of the story. Afterwards you may ask yourself why Philip knew so little about the background of his fiancée's family, but that really is neither here nor there.
Fans of the film will be pleased to discover that this presentation opens with the film's evocative original overture by composer Les Baxter. The overture has a running time of 3 minutes, 13 seconds.
The Fall of the House of Usher has a listed running time of 80 minutes, but I timed it at 82 minutes and change with the overture included.
The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971)
The last two films in The Vincent Price Collection were not directed by Roger Corman. The director of The Abominable Dr. Phibes is Robert Fuest, who certainly demonstrates a flair for this type of film while also injecting some dark humor into the proceedings. We quickly learn that this is a tale of revenge. The film begins with Dr. Anton Phibes (Vincent Price), his body shrouded by a cloak, playing dramatic music on an organ at his home in England. He then steps away from the organ and begins to "conduct" his "orchestra," a collection of animatronic mannequins called "Dr. Phibes' Clockwork Wizards." This faux orchestra pretends to play pre-recorded music whenever Phibes throws a switch. Then a silent young woman in white named Vulnavia (Virginia North) appears and beings dancing with Phibes. Afterwards they set out in a car until they reach the home of a man who is reading in bed. After the man falls asleep Phibes opens a skylight, lowers a cage to the floor, and then pulls the empty cage back up through the skylight. The man in bed awakens, vaguely aware that something is wrong. Then, to his horror, he discovers what was in the cage.
We learn that Phibes was horribly disfigured in an accident, but his lust for revenge is actually motivated by the death of his wife (Caroline Munro), which he blames on the doctors who treated her. He decides to exact his revenge by going on a killing spree which is inspired by the Ten Plagues of Egypt from the Old Testament. The unlucky man in bed is was one of those doctors, but he is far from the last. As the body count of doctors mounts, Inspector Trout of Scotland Yard (Peter Jeffrey) concludes that they are not isolated incidents. In the meantime, Phibes has reserved his most insidious method of retribution for Dr. Vesalius (Joseph Cotten).
The Abominable Dr. Phibes benefits from a clever script by James Whiton and William Goldstein, as well as a wonderfully campy performance by Price. The art deco sets and musical score combine to effectively evoke the spirit of the 1920s. The film was followed by a sequel in 1972, Dr. Phibes Rises Again!
The Abominable Dr. Phibes has a running time of 93 minutes.
Witchfinder General (aka The Conqueror Worm) (1968)
Witchfinder General is the final film in the brief but promising career of director Michael Reeves. Following the success of Witchfinder General (released as The Conqueror Worm in the United States) Reeves was signed to direct The Oblong Box, but he died at the age of 25 of an accidental barbiturate overdose during pre-production.
Witchfinder General takes place in 1645, during the English Civil War. While the country is torn apart, the ambitious and unscrupulous Matthew Hopkins (Vincent Price) travels from village to village offering his services as a man who can identify and prosecute witches. The film is a mostly fictional account of the activities of the real Matthew Hopkins, a con artist who falsely claimed to have been appointed Witchfinder General by Parliament. Superstitious villagers were taken in by his claims, and over the course of three years Hopkins and his associates were responsible for executing approximately 300 women who were accused of witchcraft.
In the film Hopkins is accompanied by his equally depraved assistant, John Stearne (Robert Russell). They travel from village to village, identifying women suspected of being witnesses and torturing them until they confess. Local magistrates pay them for their services. Their reign of terror continues unabated until Richard Marshall, a soldier who fights for Parliament in the war, returns to his home village to visit Sara (Hilary Dwyer). The local priest, John Lowes (Rupert Davies), is Sara's uncle, and he gives the couple permission to get married. He ominously warns them that trouble is coming to the village and he encourages them to leave as soon as possible. However, Richard has to return to the war and he has to leave Sara behind.
Hopkins and Stearne arriving in the village and immediately focus their attention upon John Lowes. They subject him to torture until Sara intervenes and offers Hopkins sexual favors if he will release her uncle. Hopkins accepts her offer, but when he is summoned to another village she is raped by Stearne. When Hopkins learns about the rape he will have nothing further to do with Sara and he orders Stearne to resume the torture of Lowes. When Richard Marshall learns about what happened to Sara and her uncle, he is determined to kill Hopkins and Stearne.
Vincent Price gives a surprisingly understated performance as the vicious witch hunter, and Robert Russell and Hilary Dwyer are attractive as the young lovers. The literate script is based upon the book "Witchfinder General" by Ronald Bassett. The film benefits from some beautiful location filming in England by cinematographer John Coquillon.
Withfinder General has a running time of 87 minutes.
All of the films in this collection are American-International productions, but the MGM lion appears prior to the opening credits for each film. The American-International logo appears in the opening credits.
Video Rating: 4/5 3D Rating: NA
All six films are presented in 1080p utilizing the AVC codec.
Pit and the Pendulum is presented at 2.35:1 and overall looks very good. There are occasional minor specks, but they are so infrequent that they do not detract from the viewer's enjoyment. Colors are very slightly faded but nevertheless are generally pleasing. Fine detail is evident and the picture is pleasingly film-like. This Blu-ray presentation is a significant upgrade over the 2001 Midnite Movies DVD release.
The Masque of the Red Death also is shown at 2.35:1. It is the most colorful of the films in this collection, and the Blu-ray presentation delivers the bold hues without any bleeding or video noise. The film was made with wonderful sets, and the superb cinematography by Nicholas Roeg shows them off to the best possible advantage. Sharpness is very good overall and this too is a notable upgrade over the 2002 Midnite Movies DVD release.
The Haunted Palace also is presented at 2.35:1. It is a solid presentation, although it demonstrates a few more issues than the other films in this set and is the weakest overall. Flesh tones are somewhat inconsistent and the elements show a bit more damage, although none of it is serious enough to detract from your enjoyment of the film. There is some significant mosquito noise in a few scenes. When Vincent Price and Debra Paget leave the tavern during their first night in Arkham, for a few seconds their faces appear to be dotted with black spots.
The Fall of the House of Usher is framed at 2.35:1 and is close to being a flawless transfer. Apart from a few speckles here and there, the picture is nearly pristine. Fine detail is evident, flesh tones are excellent, black levels are solid and shadow detail is very good. This is not a colorful film by any means, but the color palette appears to be accurate. There is no evidence of excessive DNR or edge enhancement. This film has never looked better.
The Abominable Dr. Phibes is shown in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The picture has some minor speckling, but overall it is a very strong presentation. Fine detail is evident and colors are strong and accurate. The wonderful art deco sets are shown off to their best advantage. An appropriate level of film grain has been retained to give this movie a natural, film-like appearance.
Witchfinder General also is presented at 1.85:1. Although it has some shortcomings in terms of consistency, that may be attributable to the fact that the production had a fairly modest budget. There is noticeable softness is some shots, and there are some day for night scenes which could have been clearer. These actually are minor quibbles because overall the film looks quite good and easily surpasses the Midnite Movies DVD which was released in 2007.
Audio Rating: 4/5All of the films in this collection have been released with DTS-HD MA mono audio, and generally the sound is very consistent from film to film. Dialogue is clear and understandable, and the musical soundtracks have excellent fidelity considering the limitations of the original recordings. Each film offers optional English subtitles.
Special Features: 4.5/5Each film in this set includes an impressive array of extras.
Pit and the Pendulum can be viewed with our without an introduction and final words about the films by Vincent Price which were produced by Iowa Public Television for a series of Price's horror films which were being aired weekly. Price's comments are macabre, amusing and informative. These are shown in standard definition and have a combined running time of about five minutes.
An audio commentary by director Roger Corman is very entertaining and informative.
A five-minute prologue, which apparently was not shown in theaters, features Luana Anders as Catherine Medina. It is shown at 1.85:1.
Also included is the theatrical trailer and a photo gallery.
The Masque of the Red Death also can be viewed with or without an introduction and final words by Vincent Price.
There is no Roger Corman commentary track, but there is an interview with the director in which he displays obvious enthusiasm for the film.
The audio commentary here is by film historian Steven Haberman, who obviously knows a great deal about the production of the film and he offers many pertinent insights.
Also included are the original theatrical trailer and a photo gallery.
The Haunted Palace has two commentary tracks, one with Lucy Chase Williams (author of "The Complete Films of Vincent Price") and Richard Heft, and the other by horror film scholar Tom Weaver.
"A Change of Poe" is an interview with producer/director Roger Corman in which he discusses how the studio want him to make a "Poe" film even though the story was not based upon one of Poe's works. It is shown at 4:3 with letterboxed film clips.
The theatrical trailer and a photo gallery are the remaining extras.
The Fall of the House of Usher enables the viewer to watch the film with our without the introduction and final words which Vincent Price made for Iowa Public Television.
There are two audio commentaries, one by Roger Corman and the other a retrospective commentary focusing on Vincent Price by Lucy Chase Williams.
There also is an interesting audio interview with Vincent Price by film historian David Del Valle which was recorded at Price's home in 1988. The other extras are a photo gallery and the original theatrical trailer.
The Abominable Dr. Phibes has two audio commentaries. The first, by director Robert Fuest, drives home the point that Fuest had a very good working relationship with Vincent Price and that Price was quite complimentary of Fuest's work. The second commentary, by author Justin Humphreys, is more informative and goes into great detail about the film's sumptuous set design.
"Introductory Price: Undertaking the Vincent Price Gothic Horrors" is a 13-minute featurette about the series of Vincent Price films which aired on Iowa Public Television.
The film's theatrical trailer and a photo gallery also are included.
Witchfinder General can be viewed with or without the introduction and closing comments which Vincent Price made for Iowa Public Television.
Author Steve Haberman hosts an audio commentary by cast member Ian Ogilvy and producer Philip Waddilove. Waddilove amusingly recounts how he started out as the film's location manager. He then was promoted to associate producer, and when he first saw the final product he discovered that he had been elevated to producer. They discuss the fact that Vincent Price had a very contentious relationship with director Michael Reeves, particularly after Price was thrown from a horse which was spooked due to a decision made by Reeves.
"Witchfinder General: Michael Reeves' Horror Classic" is a 25-minute featurette which goes into considerable detail about the making of the film.
There is an extensive (62 minutes) interview of Vincent Price by David Del Valle which was filmed in 1987 when the movie The Whales of August was released.
The Price interview is followed by a fascinating interview with his daughter, Victoria Price, which has a running time of approximately 47 minutes. How great it was to have Vincent Price as your father!
A nice touch is the decision to include the opening and closing credits for the film when it was released in the United States as The Conqueror Worm.
Another unexpected treat is 18 minutes of trailers from other Vincent Price films - House of Wax, Tales of Terror, The Raven, Tomb of Ligeia, The Tingler, The House on Haunted Hill, The Fly, and The Return of the Fly.
Finally, there is the theatrical trailer for Witchfinder General and a still gallery.
Fans of these films will also enjoy the original and unusual menu pages. This Blu-ray set also includes a booklet with numerous photographs and an essay by David Del Valle.
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