A Very Vincent Price Halloween

Vincent Price was a man of many talents— noted actor of stage and screen, art historian, gourmet chef, and all-around bon vivant (and one-time guest on “The Dating Game”). But Price will always be remembered for his body of work in the horror genre, with his debonair mustache and cultured poise providing the elegance that bolstered his authority as a hero in movies like The Fly and The Tingler and served to conceal the outward villainy of characters such as Theater Of Blood’s vengeful actor Edward Lionheart and the baroque Dr. Anton Phibes. Scream Factory has delivered a new volume of Price classics in The Vincent Price Collection II, following up on last years initial, Roger Corman/Edgar Allan Poe adaptation-heavy installment. This year, we get the lighter side of Poe, along with two sequels to popular Price favorites and a couple of standalone features available in hi-def for the first time.  


The first disc brings us 1963’s The Raven and its follow-up, 1964’s The Comedy Of Terrors, both handsomely-crafted, Richard Matheson-scripted horror comedies which take a much more playful approach to the genre than earlier films such as The Pit And The Pendulum. The Raven, another Poe adaptation from Roger Corman,is better known for its supporting cast, including Boris Karloff, a hammy Peter Lorre and Jack Nicholson in one of his first roles, than its rather ramshackle plot, but Matheson strings together a fun narrative involving rival wizards — with Price serving as the straight man in the feud between Karloff and Lorre —and it’s clear everyone involved is having as good of a time as the audience. The Comedy Of Terrors is a lesser film if only because the broader, more slapstick nature of the piece — involving Price as an undertaker (and Lorre as his assistant) getting in trouble for re-using coffins in a cemetery — gives the actors less freedom and Jacques Tourneur, best known for 1940’s supernatural classics like The Cat People, seems less comfortable letting the actors run free with the material. Still, it’s good to see Price and Lorre as a Mutt-and-Jeff undertaking team and Basil Rathbone and Boris Karloff clearly enjoying themselves. The two films feature strong transfers, with copious extras— including segments of “Richard Matheson: Storyteller” and “Introduction And Parting Words By Vincent Price,” recorded for Iowa Public Television back in 1982.

  The Raven_Poster2

Disc two presents a darker, drearier combination of Corman’s Poe 1965 adaptation The Tomb Of Ligeia  and The Last Man On Earth, filmed in 1964 but not released until two years later. The former is Corman’s last of eight Poe adaptations, a dark film based on the Poe poem “Ligeia,” where Price’s Verden Fell is plagued by the spirit of his late wife Ligeia, who has now taken the form of a sinister black cat. Filmed on location in England and written by Robert (Chinatown) Towne along with an uncredited Paul (The Man Who Fell To Earth) Mayersberg, the tone is grim and melancholy and Price delivers one of his best performances, even though the part was written for an actor nearly half his age. The Last Man On Earth is the first adaptation of Richard Matheson’s seminal I Am Legend, later made as The Omega Man with Charlton Heston in 1971 and the clunky Will Smith vehicle I Am Legend in 2007. Price’s Dr. Robert Morgan finds himself the sole survivor of a plague which has turned society into undead, vampire-like creatures, which are more like zombies than conventional bloodsuckers— George Romero has stated that the film was an inspiration for Night Of The Living Dead.  For years found only in dupey public domain copies, this hi-def transfer looks fantastic and the film, while not perfect (Matheson used a pseudonym for his screenplay), captures a sense of bleak sadness as the focus is more on Price’s character and his alienation from the destroyed world around him and less on the rather threadbare, shot-for-cheap-on-Italian soundstages apocalypse outside. Extras on the disc include “Introduction And Parting Words By Vincent Price” and separate audio commentaries by Roger Corman and co-star Elizabeth Shepherd on Ligeia and a “Richard Matheson: Storyteller” segment and an audio commentary with authors David Del Valle and Derek Botelho on Last Man.


The third disc gives us two sequels— one, Dr. Phibes Rises Again, sublime; the other, Return Of The Fly, less so. Phibes is the 1972 follow up to The Abominable Dr. Phibes, one of Price’s more outlandish offerings, a trippy film about a murderous genius avenging himself against the doctors who wronged him. In this piece, directed by Robert Fuest, returning from the first film, Phibes — who disappeared at the conclusion of the first film — returns to awaken his dead wife Victoria (Caroline Munro) and fights a seemingly immortal rival (Robert Quarry of Count Yorga, Vampire fame) as they both search for the River Of Life. It’s not as broad as the original, but equally inventive, with Price’s Phibes a tragic figure who trapped between his own desires for revenge — the murders he commits all have Egyptian themes — and his love for his late wife. Return Of The Fly is not particularly awful, but it’s a decidedly cheaper and more teen-oriented follow-up to the original Kurt Neumann classic, rushed out quickly to capitalize on the success of the original. Here, Brett Halsey takes over the tragic half-man/half-fly role — playing the son of the character played by David Hedison in the original — with Price’s top billing hiding his nature as a bit player. It’s an able horror piece — plot elements involving animal experiments gone awry later turn up in the remake’s sequel, The Fly II — but there’s little of the drama of the first film and director Edward Bernds, best known his classic shorts with The Three Stooges, is more able than artistic. Extras are slim, which is unfortunate (the Arrow UK Phibes contains audio commentaries and more), with Fly containing and audio commentary by actor Brett Halsey and historian David Del Valle.


The last disc saves one of the best for last— William Castle’s 1958 classic House On Haunted Hill, showcasing Price in one of his most iconic roles, as Frederick Loren, a millionaire who throws a party in a fancy modernist house (actually Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous Ennis House in Los Angeles) with a twist— the five guests there must stay the night in this haunted house— and will receive $10,000 as a reward. Loren begins manipulating the guests, but are the supernatural events real or all a ruse? The film is a lot of fun, with Castle and his regular screenwriter, Robb White, making the most of the scenario and actors (including character actor Elisha Cook Jr.), with Price’s Loren being both affable and oily at the same time. It’s the perfect Vincent Price film, encapsulating a career that walked the line between being charismatic and sinister, and the hi-def transfer (of what was often a public domain title) is the best it’s ever looked. Extras include an audio commentary by historian Steve Haberman, and three featurettes, including the illuminating “Vincent Price: Renaissance Man,” which takes a holistic look at Price’s entire career.


Two similar titles – perfect for a eerie Gothic night in — have also dropped from Scream Factory: Freddie Francis’ period thriller The Doctor And The Devils and Stuart Gordon’s Dolls. 1985’s The Doctor And The Devils, had it been made a decade (or two) earlier, would have clearly starred Price— instead, we get a pre-Bond Timothy Dalton, Julian Sands, Jonathan Pryce and Stephen Rea in a variation of the “Burke And Hare” story involving grave robbers (Pryce and Rea) who turn to murder to provide fresh corpses for 19th-century anatomy professor Dalton. The piece is more a Gothic thriller than a horror movie, but Francis, a cinematographer (The Innocents, The Elephant Man)-turned-director responsible for such films as The Evil Of Frankenstein and Dracula Has Risen From The Grave, knows how to push an audiences’ buttons and the film slowly gets under our skins. In addition to a solid transfer, extras include a commentary with film historian Steve Haberman and interviews with producers Jonathan Sanger and Mel Brooks (yes, that Mel Brooks), who details the production from start to finish.


Dolls (1987) — out November 11 — is a more visceral affair, but still a subdued entry in the filmography of director Stuart Gordon, best known for his over-the-top H.P. Lovecraft adaptations Re-Animator and From Beyond, delivers a dark fairy-tale involving a group of hapless travelers who stumble upon the mansion owned by the elderly Guy Rolfe (of William Castle’s Mr. Sardonicus fame) and Hilary Mason (Don’t Look Now) and the myriad porcelain dolls they’ve created. Needless to say, the dolls turn out to be something more than they appear, the travelers — including a little girl, her parents, some punk-rock kids and a sleazy salesman — begin disappearing one by one. Filmed after Re-Animator but not released until after From Beyond, Dolls is a more old-fashioned film enlivened by some new-fangled gore. Gordon and writer Ed Naha have fun with the living-doll convention and take the film into pretty dark territory. The film is more spooky than scary, but delivers the goods— enough that it will give you pause before touching another Punch-and-Judy doll again. A solid upgrade from the MGM special edition DVD, this piece retains the previous version’s extras and includes the extensive “Toys Of Terror: The Making Of Dolls” documentary.


All Hallow’s Eve may be coming to a close, but between The Vincent Price Collection II (and can Collection III with titles like Theater Of Blood and Tales Of Terror be far behind?), The Doctor And The Devils and Dolls, you can be sure that the chill in the air isn’t just because the temperature is dropping (cue ghoulish Vincent Price-esque laugh).

You can purchase The Vincent Price Collection II directly from Shout Factory or from Amazon.

You can purchase The Doctor And The Devils directly from Shout Factory or from Amazon.

You can purchase Dolls directly from Shout Factory or from Amazon.

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