Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Vincent Price Collection (Fall of House of Usher / The Pit and the Pendulum / The Haunted Palace / The Masque of the Red Death / Witchfinder General / The Abominable Dr. Phibes) Blu-ray Review

Just in time for Halloween, classic film aficionados, horror fans and collectors have the chance to relish the 4-Disc Blu-ray release of The Vincent Price Collection from Scream Factory.  An essential collection for every home entertainment library, this extraordinary collector’s set brings together six Vincent Price masterpiece classics, featuring the first-ever Blu-ray movie presentation of Fall of the House of Usher (1960), The Haunted Palace (1963), The Masque of Red Death (1964), The Pit and the Pendulum (1961), Witchfinder General (1968) and The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971). Brimming with a bevy of chilling bonus content including interviews with producer/director Roger Corman, audio commentaries, original theatrical trailers, still galleries and archival materials, this Blu-ray collection also includes a 24-page Collector’s book.

Films  (4 out of 5 stars)

As someone who doesn't like slasher films, it may seem odd that I couldn't wait to get this box of some of Vincent Price's movies, but these aren't the usual gory slash-fest that I despise.  I don't need to see someone's eyes snatched from their head, or to see them get impaled, disemboweled, or any other gruesome fate.  For me, I love movies that focus on building suspense and atmosphere, where someone is running for their life down rain slicked cobblestone streets lit by gas lamps as the killer follows behind them.  The prey runs down the dark streets while the wispy fog enshrouds the city like a malignant presence as the killer comes even closer.  It's scenes like these that I love, and Vincent Price's Gothic horror movies deliver that in spades.  

Vincent Price didn't start off being known for horror films but he was perfectly suited for it.  In 1953, Vincent Price was a well known stage actor and a frequent supporting actor in films who was usually cast as a handsome cad in movies like Laura. When Price was offered the leading role in House of Wax, he faced a difficult choice between deciding between a theater career or trying to become a movie star. When he chose to do movies, that career path would completely change his life as the House of Wax was a major hit that if it was adjusted to today’s gross, it would have made more than $401 million, which would have placed the film in the top 100 highest grossing films of all time. 

That kind of success doesn't go unnoticed by Hollywood and Price soon began a new career as our preeminent scarer.  What made Price unique was not only his incredible acting, but also the approach he took to his many macabre roles.  While some actors would have looked at their roles with some disdain and camped it up to show that they were in on the joke with the audience, Price treated his roles (even the super crazy ones) with respect but he also always had a twinkle in his eyes. 

It always seemed to me that he gave off a let's all have some fun together vibe as if we were all friends joining together for a fun ride.  I hadn't seen a movie of his for years before I got this set, but once I started watching his introductions for the films in this set, I realized that even in his later years, that twinkle was still there along with THAT voice.  The same voice that thrilled audiences worldwide and music lovers as well, thanks to his incalculable contribution to Michael Jackson's song "Thriller."  I also realized after watching the movies in the set, that I liked his introductions a lot more than the movies themselves so I guess that means I'm more of a fan of Vincent Price himself than of the movies in this set.  

Not that these are bad movies at all, because they all have aspects that I enjoyed for different reasons, but I just don't think any of them really did his singular talent justice.  I really liked his House of Wax (which isn't in this set), but I also liked The Pit and the Pendulum, The Haunted Palace, and Fall of the House of Usher.  I think The Pit and the Pendulum is the best Edgar Allen Poe adaption of the set and I thought it was really well done.  The Haunted Palace has a lot of spooky atmosphere that I really liked as did Fall of the House of Usher.  None of these movies offer a lot of believability but that's part of the fun.  I also prefer the Edgar Allen Poe adaptions more when they weren't trying to also cram H.P. Lovecraft into the same story.

Although I thought The Masque of the Red Death had some amazing production design and some good performances, it was just too over the top and weird for my tastes.  I think it represents a missed opportunity as the concept was good as was Price, but it just got to psychedelic for me.  I really loved the dark humor in The Abominable Dr. Phibes, but it too was really weird and having seen it, I think the Saw movies completely ripped it off or at the very least were heavily influenced by it.  There's no question that Dr. Phibes created elaborate death traps intended to teach lessons way before Jigsaw ever did.  It's too bad that the sequel, Dr. Phibes Rises Again isn't in this set as I'd be interested in seeing just how the franchise continued after the original's seemingly definitive ending.  
Every one of these movies had some cool elements that makes each of them special in different ways, but the one constant between them is the awesome Vincent Price, who always found new ways to portray his characters that managed to combine menace with fun.  Price was an accomplished actor and you can see how much care and thought he put into his performances. Whether he was portraying madness, possession, insanity, sadism, or just evil incarnate, Price was always fantastic whatever the role.  This incredible set from Shout Factory! is a great way to be introduced to people that haven't seen a Vincent Price movie.  Here are the movies that you will discover in this set:

Fall of the House of Usher 

Based on Edgar Allen Poe's chilling tale about a family driven to savage bloodlust by a power beyond their wildest fears, this terrifying story proves that there's no place like home... for horror! Vincent Price is the last male in the ill-fated line of Ushers, haunted by the crimes of his ancestors and obsessed by the idea that only the complete annihilation of himself and his sister can end the Usher evil.  Convinced that his family's blood is tainted by generations of evil, Roderick Usher (Price) is hell-bent on destroying his sister Madeline's wedding. But when Madeline's fiance arrives at the haunted castle to claim his lovely bride, he soon discovers that, for this family, their house is more than just a home... it's their TOMB!

The Pit and the Pendulum

Happily-ever-after goes under the knife in this saga of murder, madness and forbidden desire. Starring Hollywood horror great Vincent Price, this tale is full of razor-sharp terror! Haunted by horrifying childhood memories, the son (Price) of the Spanish Inquisition's most notorious torturer teeters on the brink of insanity. But when his adulterous wife fakes her own death to drive him over the edge, she soon discovers that betrayal cuts both ways - as the man she wants to destroy becomes not only her judge and jury - but also her executioner!

The Abominable Dr. Phibes

Meet Doctor Phibes: a one-time concert musician who's now an all-time crazed murderer. In this clever, crypt-kicking classic, horrormeister Vincent Price plays a diabolical doc seeking the ultimate in revenge with precision creepiness and surgical wit. After a team of surgeons botch his beloved wife's surgery, leaving her for dead, the emotionally distraught Dr. Phibes creatively concocts a fatal prescription for revenge. Using the Good Book as his guide, Phibes unleashes a score of Old-Testament atrocities - from a plague of locusts to an attack of rats - on his enemies that climax in what may be one of  strangest yet seen!

The Masque Of The Red Death

Death and debauchery reign in the castle of Prince Prospero (Vincent Price), and when it reigns- it pours!While the plague rages outside in the small Italian province, the Satan-worshipping prince stays confined to the sanctuary of his castle with his aristocratic guests. Prospero has only one excuse for his diabolical deeds - the devil made him do it! Inside, all is revelry and cruelty until, during the great masque which crowns the prince's entertainment, the "Red Death" enters the dance and the guests succumb to the by one. Based on the classic tale by Edgar Allan Poe.

The Haunted Palace

In an 18th century New England village an evil warlock (Vincent Price) is burned at the stake. A century later his great-grandson arrives in the village to reopen the ancestral home along with his wife. Soon the grandson (Price in a dual role), is taken over by the spirit of his ancestors, and aided by warlocks, plans to sacrifice his wife.

Witchfinder General 

Vincent Price plays a Hopkins, a 17th century witchfinder who is a corrupt public servant who tortures and blackmails female victims for money, power and sex.  As superstition and fear sweep the Middle Ages, Hopkins wanders from town to town proclaiming to be an official witch finder. Town leaders play him to accuse and then execute - usually innocent - suspects. But when a brave soldier returns home to find his sweetheart on the rack, ready to burn, Hopkins realizes he may have whacked his last witch!
Video (4 out of 5 stars)

Each of these movies look very good for their age and their transition to Blu-ray is a huge improvement over their previous releases.  Movies like House of Usher and The Masque of Red Death benefit hugely by the upgrade and their colors pop off the screen like never before.  The black levels are suitably dark and solid and The Haunted Palace, The Pit and the Pendulum, and The Abominable Dr. Phibes take advantage of that.well with their constant dark interior and exterior scenes.  Overall, I would say that Witchfinder General looks the best of the bunch but it also suffers from a few soft looking shots and some graininess here and there.  Considering the age of the films, I would say that Shout Factory has done an excellent job restoring these films for the Gothic horror fans of the world.

Audio (4 out of 5 stars)

Much like the video quality, every movie that is part of The Vincent Price Collection is equally good as each of their DTS-HD Master Audio Mono 2.0 mixes sound far better than you'd expect.  I'd be hard pressed to pick the best of the group as they all presented the various sounds of terror well, whether it's the giant scythe whooshing through the air above its helpless victim or blood-curdling screams in the night, these tracks all sound excellent.  The dialogue is clear and easily understood and the various scores all come through very well.  One of the musical standouts of this set is the massive organ that Price plays maniacally in The Abominable Dr. Phibes which sounds great and as big as it should.

Extras (4 out of 5 stars)

There's a lot of great extras here but I think my favorites are the Vincent Price introductions and the interviews with the man.  Since he's the primary reason of my love for the movies, I guess that's not too surprising. Most of the good extras are on the Witchfinder General disc.

  • Vincent Price's Introduction and Final Words for The Fall of the House of Usher - Excepted from the "Vincent Price's Gothic Horrors", which was an Iowa PBS broadcast that featured all of Vincent Price's Gothic horror films that offered Price introducing the film and more of his thoughts after the film ended.  I think I may love these even more than the films themselves!
  • Audio Commentary by Producer and Director Roger Corman - Before he started making the Dinocroc movies, he was actually a fairly impressive director who knew how to capture a mood and create an atmosphere for his movies.  Here he talks about making the film in an impressive commentary that he recounts with a lot of detail including spending his own money to make the ending even better.
  • Audio Interview with Vincent Price Conducted by Film Historian David Del Valle - A very cool audio interview between film historia Del Valle and Price.  I prefer the hour long interview between the two on the Witchfinder General disc.
  • Vincent Price Retrospective Commentary with author Lucy Chase Williams fea­tur­ing Pitor Michael as the voice of Vincent Price - We hear from Lucy Chase Williams who wrote a book about Price gives us some background info on Price and his career.  Words from Price are delivered by a Price impersonator named Pitor Michael who's ok but he's no Vincent Price.
  • Theatrical Trailer 
  • Still Gallery 
  • Vincent Price's Introduction and Final Words for The Haunted Palace - Excepted from the "Vincent Price's Gothic Horrors", which was an Iowa PBS broadcast that featured all of Vincent Price's Gothic horror films that offered Price introducing the film and more of his thoughts after the film ended.  I think I may love these even more than the films themselves!
  • Audio Commentary by Author Lucy Chase Williams and Richard Heft - Price author Williams and Heft talk about the film in this entertaining commentary.
  • Audio Commentary by Tom Weaver - Here's a bonus commentary with Tom Weaver who spends his time talking primarily about Roger Corman but also about the making of the film itself.
  • A Change of Poe: An Interview with Producer and Director Roger Corman - Roger Corman talks about the film and how it primarily an H.P. Lovecraft tale that was modified to appear as an Edgar Allen Poe story because of American International Pictures' and Vincent Price's long association with the author.  Corman talks about how they tried to blend the two properties together.
  • Theatrical Trailer 
  • Photo Gallery 
  • Vincent Price's Introduction and Final Words for The Masque of the Red Death - Excepted from the "Vincent Price's Gothic Horrors", which was an Iowa PBS broadcast that featured all of Vincent Price's Gothic horror films that offered Price introducing the film and more of his thoughts after the film ended.  I think I may love these even more than the films themselves!
  • Interview with Producer and Director Roger Corman - Roger Corman spends almost twenty minutes talking about the film and how proud he is of it.  It's easy to see why he would think so as it's one of his big budget films that looks incredible thanks to some fantastic production design that included sets used for bigger movies.  Not to mention Nicolas Roeg's work as the film's cinematographer!
  • Audio Commentary with Steve Haberman - Haberman is the author of "Silent Screams: The History of the Silent Horror Film" and he speaks very enthusiastically about this film. He also offers a lot of interesting information about the film which is definitely worth listening to. 
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Still Gallery 
  • Vincent Price's Introduction and Final Words for The Pit and the Pendulum - Excepted from the "Vincent Price's Gothic Horrors", which was an Iowa PBS broadcast that featured all of Vincent Price's Gothic horror films that offered Price introducing the film and more of his thoughts after the film ended.  I think I may love these even more than the films themselves!
  • Pit and the Pendulum: Rare Prologue - Offers a rare intro to the film featuring featuring Luana Anders.
  • Audio Commentary by Producer and Director Roger Corman - Corman talks about the film and the difficulty in expanding Edgar Allen Poe's short story.  Lucky for him, Richard Matheson did a great job creating a back story which added extra time. 
  • Theatrical Trailer 
  • Still Gallery 
  • Vincent Price's Introduction and Final Words for Witchfinder General - Excepted from the "Vincent Price's Gothic Horrors", which was an Iowa PBS broadcast that featured all of Vincent Price's Gothic horror films that offered Price introducing the film and more of his thoughts after the film ended.  I think I may love these even more than the films themselves!
  • Witchfinder General: Horror Classic - There's a collection of experts who spend twenty-five minutes talking in depth about the film.
  • Commentary with Producer Philip Waddilove and Star Ian Ogilvy - This is a pretty cool commentary that's hosted by Steve Haberman, who is joined by producer Waddilove and one of the film's starts, Ian Ogilvy. They share stories about making the film and the conflict between Price and the film's director Michael Reeves which is pretty entertaining.
  • Interview with Vincent Price - Over an hour of Vincent Price goodness as he gamely answers all of David Del Valle's questions in this vintage interview that was conducted in 1988.  Del Valle asks a lot of good questions but he has a tendency to interrupt Price which I found annoying.  Price should have give him "the look" to set him in his place.  This is a great interview that fans of Vincent Price will love! 
  • Vincent and Victoria - An Interview with Victoria Price - This was an unexpected bonus as we get to hear from Price's daughter Victoria who funnily enough hates horror movies and can't even watch them. She talks about being his daughter, his love for life and Disneyland, how kind and appreciative he was towards his fans, and how proud she is of her Dad.  This was a nice addition to the set.
  • Alternate Opening and Closing Credits for The Conqueror Worm - In an attempt to tie the film into an Edgar Allen Poe story, American International renamed this film for U.S. audiences and this is the footage that incorporates that title. 
  • Additional Vincent Price Trailers - We get trailers for other movies that didn't make it into this set like House of Wax 3D and The Fly.  This is a cool collection of trailers from his career that can be included due to them not being copyrighted by the other studios. You can use these trailers to decide what the next Vincent Price movie will be to watch!
  • Trailer
  • Introductory Price: Undertaking the Vincent Price Gothic Horrors - A thirteen minute look back at just how the Iowa PBS station was able to get Price to do their intros and final words for each episode.
  • Commentary with Robert Fuest - Author Marcus Hearn (Names You Never Remember, With Faces You Never Forget) hosts this commentary along with the film's director Robert Fuest.  According to Fuest, Price told him that he was the best young director he had worked with.
  • Commentary with Justin Humphreys - Humphreys talks about the film especially about the really dark humor in it. 
  • Trailer
  • Still Gallery
Summary (4 out of 5 stars)
There's only one Vincent Price and this set from Shout Factory is a great way to be introduced to him.  If you like dark atmospheric Gothic horror films that don't dwell on goriness, then these are the movies for you.  Shout Factory has done a great job on this set as each of the movies offers excellent video and audio quality and the extras are also very very good. Now I want a volume 2 that contains the rest of his well known movies that weren't included here.  I highly recommend this set and it could provide the perfect accompaniment for Halloween!

Order your copy today!

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