Release Date(s)1959-72 (October 21, 2014)
Studio(s)Various Studios (Scream Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: See Below
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: B
- Overall Grade: B
Last year, I encouraged all of you to rush out and pick up a copy of Scream Factory’s Vincent Price Collection. Apparently enough of you did just that because here we are one year later (almost to the day) taking a look at The Vincent Price Collection II! While the focus is still primarily on Price’s AIP movies from the early 60s, Volume II casts a slightly wider net, rounding up seven movies spread over four Blu-rays and showcasing Price in an even greater variety of roles. Let’s take a look what they’ve got for us this time.
Having already made four films based on the work of Edgar Allan Poe, it’s little wonder that Roger Corman wanted to try something completely different. So for The Raven, based on essentially the title of the famous poem and nothing else, Corman decided to make an out-and-out comedy. Price is the good guy in this one as Dr. Erasmus Craven, the son of the former head of the Brotherhood of Magicians. Peter Lorre is Dr. Bedlo, who comes rapping at Craven’s chamber door after being turned into a raven by Dr. Scarabus (Boris Karloff). Bedlo tries to enlist Craven’s help in his fight against Scarabus but Craven is reluctant until he learns that his lost love Lenore (Hazel Court) may still be alive and a prisoner of Scarabus. And so, together with Craven’s daughter (Olive Sturgess) and Bedlo’s son (Jack Nicholson), they ride off to confront the great old master magician.
Switching gears like this was a fairly big risk and The Raven could have very easily been an embarrassing disaster. But it works surprisingly well, thanks in large part to Price’s effervescently charming performance. He and Lorre make a terrific comedy team. Karloff’s appearance is just the cherry on top. Both Karloff and Lorre looked pretty miserable in some of their later films but here, all three stars appear to be having a great time. The Raven is no classic but it’s light-hearted, consistently entertaining fun and a real treat to see this team of old pros at work.
The Raven receives a very respectable HD transfer, with vivid colors and a nice level of detail throughout. The DTS-HD audio is, as it is on all seven of these films, perfectly serviceable. New extras include an interesting audio commentary by film historian Steve Haberman and Price’s introduction and closing remarks from Iowa Public Television (a real treat, as you may remember from the previous collection). Previously released extras include a 6-minute video interview with screenwriter Richard Matheson, an 8-minute featurette with Roger Corman and the 5-minute promotional record. The trailer and a still gallery are also included.
Film Rating: B+
THE COMEDY OF TERRORS
American International Pictures never met a successful formula that they didn’t try to replicate. So after The Raven clicked with audiences, producers Samuel Arkoff and James H. Nicholson naturally got the gang back together for another stab at a horror-comedy. Jacques Tourneur took the directing reins and Basil Rathbone was added to the core group of Price, Lorre and Karloff. But with Richard Matheson again writing the script, The Comedy Of Terrors is very much a spiritual sequel to The Raven.
This time, Price is conniving undertaker Waldo Trumbull and Lorre is his hapless assistant, Felix Gillie. Trumbull’s the kind of undertaker who has no qualms about dumping a body in a grave so that he can recycle the same coffin for the next funeral. Whenever money runs short, Trumbull and Gillie drum up some business by killing off some new clientele. Trumbull seems to hit the mother lode when his rich landlord (Rathbone) kicks the bucket. Only trouble is the old guy won’t stay dead.
Comedy isn’t quite in the same league as The Raven, although Price is spectacularly good as Trumbull. Karloff gets a much reduced role as Price’s ancient father-in-law, after turning down Rathbone’s more physically strenuous part. I’m sure he appreciated the rest but it seems like a bit of a waste of his talents. Rathbone steps up admirably and it’s fun to watch him butt heads with Price. Lorre seems a little less engaged this time out, although he lends some pathos to the bedraggled Gillie. The comedy is a little broader in this one (comedian Joe E. Brown even pops in for a random cameo) but it’s still a fun little picture.
Not as many extras for this one. Iowa Public Television provides Price’s intro and closing remarks, the previous DVD gives us a 9-minute interview with Matheson, and you get the trailer and a still gallery.
Film Rating: B-
THE TOMB OF LIGEIA
It was back to business as usual for Corman’s final Poe picture. Price plays Verden Fell, an imperious widower still held in the thrall of his late wife, Ligeia. Rowena (Elizabeth Shepherd), a young lady from a neighboring estate, is fascinated by the enigmatic character in the dark sunglasses. Fell resists her at first but soon falls in love and marries her. He plans to sell his abbey and move on with his life but the sale is held back when Fell’s solicitor (John Westbrook) discovers that the home is in Ligeia’s name and no death certificate was ever produced for her. With Fell’s behavior becoming increasingly erratic, Rowena fears for her life and begins to question what really happened to Ligeia.
Tomb Of Ligeia is a moody, quietly perverse movie overflowing with Gothic atmosphere. Price is good as the tortured Fell, although we’ve seen him do this kind of thing plenty of other times. The real surprise is Shepherd as one of the more interesting and complex female characters in the Poe cycle. She has a remarkable vocal range that she uses to great effect, bringing it down to a smoky whisper and up into a higher, more innocent tone. She’s really the key to sustaining our interest because honestly, not a whole lot happens for most of the movie’s running time. But between her performance and the movie’s brooding tone, it’s enough to keep us engaged.
The picture quality on Tomb seems just a hair below that of the other movies in this collection, although that may just be the difference between Corman’s carefully controlled studio lighting and the natural location light here. It’s not bad, just a little flatter and more lifeless. Price once again provides an introduction and conclusion and the disc includes no less than 3 audio commentaries. The first, by Corman, is carried over from the previous MGM DVD. The other two (one featuring Shepherd in conversation with Roy Frumkes, the other with film historian Constantine Nasr) are new to this release. All three are worth checking out. They’re packed with info and good stories and, surprisingly enough, they keep the repetition to a minimum. The disc also includes the trailer and a still gallery.
Film Rating: B
THE LAST MAN ON EARTH
The first attempt to adapt Richard Matheson’s classic novel I Am Legend for the screen, The Last Man On Earth is one of the strangest (and certainly one of the bleakest) movies of Price’s career. Price plays Dr. Robert Morgan, sole survivor of a plague that decimated the planet, transforming its victims into vampire zombies (or, if you prefer, zombie vampires…take your pick). His days have turned into a routine of basic survival skills and hunting down the creatures while they sleep armed with a satchel full of homemade stakes. His nights are spent barricaded in his house listening to records, mourning his family, and trying not to go completely insane.
Shot in Italy by Ubaldo Ragona (although Sidney Salkow is the credited director), Last Man On Earth is particularly jarring in contrast to the Corman Poe films. Price was so comfortable in period pieces that it’s surprising to see him as a modern-day man of science. But it isn’t just the setting that gives Last Man its modern feel. The creatures’ unrelenting nature was an admitted influence on George Romero’s Night Of The Living Dead and makes the film feel ahead of its time.
This is one of three black and white movies in this set and while the print isn’t completely flawless, it’s a fine HD transfer. The audio commentary is by authors David Del Valle and Derek Botelho and it’s full of interesting background information. Carried over from the MGM DVD is another 6-minute interview with Richard Matheson. The writer wasn’t thrilled with this version, taking his name off the screenplay and using the pseudonym Logan Swanson, but unfortunately he doesn’t really say here why he didn’t like it. No trailer this time but there is a still gallery.
Film Rating: B
DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN!
As a bona fide, card-carrying Phibes Phanatic, it should come as no surprise that this is my favorite movie in this collection. Yes, it is a perfect example of a sequel that’s essentially a carbon copy of its predecessor. I do not care. I don’t want Dr. Anton Phibes to reinvent the wheel. I just want him to keep on doing what he does so well: killing people in elaborately stylish ways and trying to revive his late wife, Victoria, alongside his comely assistant, Vulnavia (played by Valli Kemp this time).
The setting has changed to Egypt, making the dogged pursuit of Inspector Trout and Superintendent Waverly (Peter Jeffrey and John Cater) somewhat improbable, albeit still amusing. But the formula is intact with Price continuing to have a grand old time as the flamboyant Dr. Phibes. Director Robert Fuest once again fills the screen with brightly colored Art Deco décor and fun cameos (highlighted by Peter Cushing and Terry-Thomas). It isn’t as good as the original and viewers less forgiving than I (which in this case is probably most of you) may be sorely disappointed. But I’ll take all the Phibes I can get, so I’m cheerfully willing to overlook the movie’s shortcomings.
However, I’m less inclined to overlook the disc’s shortcomings. Don’t get me wrong, the movie looks terrific in HD. It’s a very good transfer, the audio is fine and it includes the correct “Over The Rainbow” music at the finale. Unfortunately, there are no extras apart from the trailer and a still gallery. This is a real bummer, especially considering the UK release from Arrow Video includes a commentary by Tim Lucas, among other extras not available in either of Scream Factory’s Price collections. If you’re only interested in the Phibes movies (and you’ve got a region-free player), I’d recommend picking up Arrow’s Complete Dr. Phibes set instead.
Film Rating: A-
RETURN OF THE FLY
Perhaps the most inessential movie in this collection, Return Of The Fly was released just a year after its predecessor but takes place over a decade later. Andre Delambre’s son, Philippe (Brett Halsey), is all grown up and working alongside his uncle Francois (Price) in the Delambre electronics company. After his mother’s death, Philippe forces Uncle Francois to finally reveal what really happened to his dad. Naturally, Philippe is eager to rebuild his father’s disintegrator/re-integrator device, despite Price’s protests. But he doesn’t know that his assistant Alan (David Frankham) is really a British criminal named Ronnie Holmes who plans to steal the plans and sell them to the highest bidder.
Despite its many flaws, The Fly II, the sequel to Cronenberg’s remake, justified itself by having Seth Brundle’s son inherit his fly-brid traits. Return Of The Fly doesn’t have that luxury. In his defense, writer/director Edward Bernds does the best he can to explain how exactly the fly returns. But no matter how you slice it, it’s still pretty hard to swallow. The movie isn’t helped by the giant fly mask which, if anything, only got more ludicrous in the year since the last movie. The movie has its moments but nowhere near enough of them.
Despite his top billing, Price has even less to do in Return Of The Fly than he did in the original, making this an odd choice for inclusion in this set. On the other hand, this is probably the only way this movie would have ever made it to Blu-ray since I doubt very much Fox would have bothered to release it on its own. The black-and-white Cinemascope image looks very good and extras include a pretty good new commentary by star Brett Halsey with film historian David Del Valle. You also get the theatrical trailer, a TV spot and a still gallery.
Film Rating: C+
HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL
The final film in the set is Price’s first collaboration with Master of Gimmicks William Castle. Price stars as millionaire Frederick Loren. Loren invites five guests to an isolated (and naturally very haunted) mansion, offering each one $10,000 if they spend the night and survive. Is the house really haunted or is Loren just a psychotic nutjob?
House On Haunted Hill remains one of Castle’s most entertaining pictures, even when seen without the miracle of “Emergo” (a skeleton shot out over audience’s heads on a wire in the film’s original release). This is Price at his most devilish, clearly relishing the opportunity to play the sinister host. It’s great fun watching he and Carol Ohmart (as his wife Annabelle) trade poison-tongued barbs. Castle was first and foremost a showman but House On Haunted Hill stands up as a crowd-pleasing delight.
Video quality on this title is a marked improvement from any other version of the film I’ve seen. It would almost have to be, considering there are about a zillion low-quality public domain releases out there. Still, this is a fine transfer. Extras include an interesting commentary by film historian Steve Haberman, the trailer and a still gallery. This disc also rounds up a number of other previously released extras, including the featurettes Vincent Price: Renaissance Man, The Art Of Fear and Working With Vincent Price. It also repeats Introductory Price, a featurette on the production of the Iowa Public Television series that originally appeared on Volume 1. Finally, the disc includes a collection of trailers for other Vincent Price movies.
Film Rating: B+
The Vincent Price Collection II isn’t quite the home run that its predecessor was. The lack of extras on Dr. Phibes Rises Again is the biggest disappointment and the collection in general doesn’t seem quite as cohesive. For instance, I don’t really understand the logic behind pairing Phibes with Return Of The Fly on the same disc. Even with these slight reservations, this is a worthwhile package and another treat for Price fans. And there are still enough movies out there to warrant a third and even a fourth volume, especially if Scream Factory is going to continue including movies from outside the AIP library. I’m casting my vote for The Tingler in the next set.
- Adam Jahnke
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