Starring Vincent Price, Charles Bronson, Nancy Kovack, Elizabeth Bergner
Directed by William Witney, Roger Corman, Reginald Le Borg, Kenneth Johnson, Gordon Hessler
Distributed by Scream Factory
When it comes to legends of horror cinema, there are only a few names that occupy the upper echelon; stars such as Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee and the inimitable Vincent Price. What sets Price apart from the others – and everyone else – is that he never really had a signature role; he was a journeyman of the genre, portraying dozens of characters that were nefarious or noble (often both). In many ways he is the quintessential horror actor (though he’d probably dislike that assertion), with a mellifluous voice that was equal parts soothing and sinister. Price has a magnetic on-screen presence, and his inclusion to any cast instantly commands my interest. To be fair, there are unquestionable classics, average thrillers and total turkeys in his filmography – they can’t all be winners, especially when you are so prolific – but I can honestly say if Price is in a movie then I am going to watch it.
After having released two glorious collections already (the first of which is out of print), Scream Factory has come through for Price fans yet again with “The Vincent Price Collection III”. This four-disc set contains five features – Master of the World (1961), Tower of London (1962), Diary of a Madman (1963), An Evening of Edgar Allan Poe (1970), and Cry of the Banshee (1970). While the first two sets feature more of the “prestige” titles in Price’s oeuvre, the inclusions here are no less worthy of fans’ time. All have seen release on DVD in the past, either through the now-defunct Midnight Movies line or MGM’s Limited Edition Collection on DVD-R, but even buyers who own those editions will be pleased with the high quality of both the video & audio that Scream Factory has presented here. Additionally, each film features a nice bounty of extra features, including classic television shows starring Price, alternate cuts, extensive interviews and much more.
The first picture in the set, Master of the World, was guaranteed to command my attention because it stars two of my favorite actors of all-time: Vincent Price and Charles Bronson. Do I even need to continue? For those unfamiliar with the film, think of it as a Disney adventure epic as done by American International Pictures. This Jules Verne tale, produced seven years after Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954), has a similar production design and aesthetic to that picture, only slightly less refined and a bit more intense thanks to AIP’s trademark styling and a diminished desire to appeal to kids. Verne’s two novels “Robur the Conqueror” and “Master of the World” were used as the basis for the script, which was written by the great Richard Matheson.
Price stars as Captain Robur, a 19th century inventor who has created the ultimate flying airship, the Albatross, which he built with the intention of using it to stop all wars. His construction and on-board voice amplifier have drawn the attention of some Philadelphia locals who have commandeered a hot air balloon to fly over the crater in which he houses his skyward behemoth. The surveyors – U.S. government agent John Strock (Charles Bronson), Prudent (Henry Hull), Prudent’s daughter Dorothy (Mary Webster), and her fiancé Phillip Evans (David Frankham) – are shot down by Robur and taken aboard his ship as “guests”. Once the Albatross is airborne, Robur fills his captive audience in on his plans for “peaceful” world domination – this ship, constructed with specially processed paper, will instill peace through superior firepower. Robur will demand the armies of every nation thrown down their weapons or else face his wrath, and he has a small squadron of like-minded sycophants to enact his plans.
The irony of Robur’s plan appears lost on the man, leading to many impassioned discussions between he and his guests. Everyone is against Robur’s methods, though Strock seems like he may be siding with him, leading to conflict between he and the other guests. What the others don’t realize is Strock is trying to gain Robur’s trust, to expose his weaknesses, and when the time is right he intends to enact a plan that will destroy the Albatross and save humanity from further reprisal by Strock and his steadfast crew.
Ostensibly an airborne adventure film, Master of the World tackles some deep, difficult topics that highlight the lack of clear boundaries between good and bad. Robur’s ambition is, at its core, rather noble, but his method of achieving peace calls for acts that are the antithesis of his end game. Like any good villain (if you can even call him that), Robur believes in his heart that he is right; that his plans will finally bring about global peace. After all, what are thousands of lives when the end of all war means sparing millions? His arguments with Prudent are intense and well scripted, brimming with authenticity.
As much as I loved seeing Bronson in action here, long before his turn as an ‘80s aging action hero, I’ll agree with Matheson that he was woefully miscast. Bronson is supposed to be playing a cultured man, yet he comes across like a Pennsylvania coal miner – which is exactly how he told Matheson he was going to be playing the role. Miscast or not, however, he’s a powerful force on screen.
Second in this set is Tower of London, a fictionalized account of Richard III’s rise to power. Legendary filmmaker Roger Corman was hired to direct this picture, after having success with his Poe adaptations, once again working with Price to bring storied lore to the big screen. Price hams it up here as Richard, duke of Gloucester, who takes great umbrage with his dying brother King Edward IV’s (Justice Watson) wishes to have George, Duke of Clarence (Charles Macaulay) named as Protector of the Realm. Richard was really hoping to score that gig, so, naturally, he figures the best way to get it is to kill George and anyone else who stands in the way of the throne. Never mind that most of them are family… Richard’s plans all seem to go accordingly, that is until he begins seeing visions of the spirits of those he has killed, tormenting him endlessly and assuring him his own demise will be forthcoming soon enough. But Richard, deranged and filled with hubris, sees himself as untouchable, a folly that will not serve him well during the infamous Battle of Bosworth, where he is destined to fall.
Corman tried to make much out of little, and Tower of London practically feels like a filmed stage play due to the limited environments and lack of any major set pieces. Corman, who is famously frugal, even repurposed footage from 1939’s Tower of London to avoid shooting a costly Battle of Bosworth on his own. Cheesy as the sequence is, the point is made all the same. Price carries this picture wholly, chewing scenery with reckless abandon. Richard is a juicy character for Price, allowing him to sink into an overflowing pool of madness. Richard is so paranoid he would probably wear a crown of tin foil if it had existed at that time. Even when his power seems assured, he is of the “no half measures” variety, wiping out every blood relative that could challenge his claim to the throne, as well as those who refuse to kowtow to his capricious demands. Despite being a fairly stiff film overall Richard is made out to be such a sniveling jerk that his eventual comeuppance does bring with it a reasonable sense of satisfaction.
Produced the following year, the third film in this set – Diary of a Madman – is a similarly paranoid feature, though it plays much better than Tower of London. Based on Guy de Maupassant’s short story “Le Horla”, Price plays a magistrate, Simon Cordier, who is dead when the film opens. His funeral party uncovers a secret diary that outlines Cordier’s last days, and they read it aloud in hopes of learning what happened to the man they all admired. Turns out, he had been beset upon by a horla, an evil entity hell-bent on ruining his life and forcing him to do its bidding. Cordier inherited the horla after coming into contact with a condemned prisoner, whom he accidentally kills. Soon after, the horla attempts to use Cordier as a vessel for evil, but the magistrate fights his mental oppressor and sees a psychologist, who suggests he take up his old hobby of sculpture.
Cordier agrees, and soon finds his muse in Odette (Nancy Kovack), the wife of a local, penniless artist. Simon’s advances – and considerable wealth – woo Odette to the point that she is ready to leave her husband. But where Simon sees a sweet woman who loves him for his personality, the horla suggests Odette is nothing more than a gold digger. And, really, it’s more or less right on the money. This leads to the horla forcing Simon to make some very poor decisions that haunt him, leading to an eventual final confrontation between the magistrate and the enigmatic entity that has overtaken his mind.
Diary of a Madman is no different from dozens of other Price films in that were the star someone else the picture would not be nearly as memorable. The concept is interesting, suggesting some primordial disembodied villain is capable of steering the direction of a person’s life toward evil, though it is a touch too vague. Cordier seems like a strong-willed individual, yet the horla seems to have no problem overtaking his mental faculties. Was Cordier a prime candidate simply because he came into contact with a criminal who was under the horla’s spell? Seems so. The story also makes suggestions about Cordier’s previous wife, who seems to have died under mysterious circumstances, though it drops any attempt at illuminating the details of her death. This is a film that works almost entirely due to Price’s efforts.
Also of note: keen-eared viewers might pick up on some dialogue from the priest during the film’s opening which was used on “Return of the Phantom Stranger” from Rob Zombie’s “Hellbilly Deluxe” album.
Fourth in this collection is a rather unique entry: An Evening of Edgar Allan Poe. Essentially a stage play filmed for television, Price takes on the onus of success all his own by performing four short stories as written by Poe. As the only actor on the stage, Price powerfully carries each segment, reading aloud Poe’s words verbatim while delivering some of the finest acting I have ever seen from him. His only accouterments being various wigs, costumes and a single room dressed appropriate to the story. The four stories read here are “The Telltale Heart”, “The Sphinx”, “The Cask of Amontillado”, and “The Pit and the Pendulum”. Price imbues each tale with such fierceness and bravado that it is impossible not to be sucked into his one-man tour de force. The high point among the four is easily “The Telltale Heart”, where Price absolutely rips into the material and lays waste to any who have recited this story before or after. True Price aficionados appreciate his many small screen appearances just as much as his large scale cinematic endeavors, and this “film” is arguably among his best simply because he carries it all so effortlessly. A true talent.
Finally, we come to the last film of the collection, Cry of the Banshee. Viewers have the option of watching either director Gordon Hessler’s cut (the preferred version) or a truncated AIP version, which is nice to have included as a curiosity. Price once again plays a magistrate; unlike his character in Diary of a Madman, however, this one is truly diabolical and deranged. Lord Edward Whitman (Price) rules over his township with the notion of keeping his residents safe, yet he achieves this “safety” by casually branding dissenters witches and having women burned, whipped and killed with little care. Even his own wife isn’t spared from savagery when she speaks her mind. Whitman and his guards come across a coven of witches performing a black mass in the forest. He orders several of them killed before banishing the rest, including their leader Oona (Elizabeth Bergner), instructing them never to return to these woods or his town. Oona is extremely upset by Whitman’s carnage, so she performs a ritual intended to bring about death to all in the Whitman house. The purveyor of death is to be a “sidhe”, a demon spirit that uses the body of a normal person as host. Too bad the person it chooses is Roderick (Patrick Mower), one of the only respectable people in town.
As the sidhe begins to kill of Whitman’s family members one by one, Lord Edward becomes desperate to find Oona and end this madness. His efforts see him continuing his torturous ways, though he fails to understand that nothing will stop the sidhe from carrying out its orders. Even when it appears Whitman and his comrades are successful in vanquishing the conjured evil, the Lord gets a rude awakening when it is revealed nothing will stop what is coming for him.
This is one of Price’s more entertaining efforts from his Gothic horror period, thanks to capable direction from Hessler and a rousing performance by Price. Things kick off splendidly with an awesomely warped title sequence created by Terry Gilliam. The titles then segue to a scorching opener – literally – as Price orders a suspected witch branded with the letter “H” (“for heretic!”). The scene of a black mass in the forest feels very ancient and evil, as does the conjuring of the sidhe. The beast itself is a bit of a letdown – the creature is akin to a werewolf, but the clearly limited make-up effects left Hessler little choice but to shoot the beast swathed in shadow. The film never offers a clear view of the monster… which is probably a good thing. This film came two years after Price’s most memorable witchcraft picture, Witchfinder General (1968), arguably the superior of these two similarly themed films. Still, Cry of the Banshee has a mostly solid script, one that gives more sympathy to the witches than most films of this ilk. Additionally, the balance between characters is decidedly lopsided, with Price’s devious actions being relentless, making him out to be the perfect villain. There is a bit of sagging during the second act, but thankfully things ramp up in the third heading toward a climax that ends with Price heading out on a trip he would certainly rather not be taking.
The video quality can vary quite a bit between each title, so rather than attempt to use some blanket statements to describe the overall look here are some cursory comments on each:
Master of the World features a 1.85:1 1080p picture that is emblematic of AIP productions, coming from a “new high-def master from the inter-positive”. After a rough, grainy B&W opening the picture settles in and displays a wide range of colors, which are occasionally faded a bit but accurate, and definition that goes in and out of sharpness sporadically. Sometimes the level of detail can go from crisp to muddy within a single scene. Stock footage looks pretty rough, too, but some of the rear and front projection looks surprisingly decent. The print displays damage as well, with cigarette burns and scratches a common occurrence.
Tower of London is framed at 1.66:1 and was shot in black and white, with this being a “new high-def master from a fine grain film print”. The print used here is very clean, with minimal damage present, and a fine grain structure in place. Contrast is very good and details are quite apparent. Shadow delineation is average – never too poor for images to be obscured.
Diary of a Madman is also framed at 1.66:1 and it looks quite stunning given its vintage. This release features a “new high-def master from the inter-positive film element”. Colors are richly saturated, practically dripping off the screen. Price’s bright red magistrate robe is vibrant and bold. Definition is strong, too, with many minute details apparent in close shots. The print itself looks virtually flawless, with almost no instances of damage or debris. Grain looks excellent as well.
An Evening of Edgar Allan Poe was shot in standard definition for television, so don’t expect much out of the 1.33:1 image, although this release does see the use of a new master as created from the original 2” tape masters. It looks like something your parents recorded off TV back in the ‘80s.
Cry of the Banshee, presented at a ratio of 1.85:1, features two cuts of the film, each culled from different sources. The director’s cut comes from an inter-positive, while the AIP theatrical cut was sourced from the only surviving element in MGM’s vault, which was a color reversal intermediate. The director’s cut is not only worth watching because Hessler’s original vision is intact, but, geez, is it ever gorgeous in hi-def. The film looks far more recent than its 46-year age might suggest. Colors are vivid and bounding off the screen, depth of the image is considerable, details are razor sharp and black levels are mostly rock solid. There are a handful of shots that look out of focus, mostly wide shots, and occasionally the black levels can be a bit inconsistent, but overall this is easily the hands-down winner for best picture quality in the set.
Now, unlike the video, the audio here can be covered with a few statements that are applicable across the board… with a couple of exceptions. All of the films are presented with an English DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono track, other than Master of the World which is in stereo. Dialogue is discernible and well balanced for each film, with sound effects and score mixed together nicely. There is some minor hissing present on Tower of London, and there is some very noticeable hissing and ringing on An Evening of… (no shock given the television roots). Other than those two issues the tracks here capably deliver dialogue and Foley effects while pumping out their respective scores – most of which have a classical flair – with great fidelity. Subtitles are available on each film in English.
DISC ONE: Master of the World
Actor David Frankham delivers an audio commentary track full of fond memories and vivid recollections. It sounds a bit prepared at times, though that’s usually better than trying to go off the cuff.
“Richard Matheson: Storyteller – Extended Cut” – The venerable writer sits down to discuss his career as a teller of stories non-specific to any genre, a word he detests. He’s also got a great story about Bronson from the set of “Master of the World”. This piece was chopped up and included on various DVD editions, but now it is presented fully uncut. Any fan of Matheson’s work should absolutely watch this.
A theatrical trailer and two photo galleries – one featuring posters, lobby cards and behind-the-scenes shots, the other featuring photos from David Frankham’s personal collection – finish off the extras on this disc.
DISC TWO: Tower of London
“Interview with Director Roger Corman” – I could listen to Corman talk all day long about absolutely anything. Here, having him talk about working with Price on this feature is a real treat. The only shame is it’s so short.
“Producing Tower of London – An Interview with Producer Gene Corman” – Corman goes over his own history in the business a bit before delving into the details behind how this production came to be.
A photo gallery shows off the usual ephemera.
Awesome bonus alert: two episodes of “Science Fiction Theatre” (1956) are included, both starring Vincent Price: “One Thousand Eyes” and “Operation Flypaper”.
DISC THREE: Diary of a Madman/An Evening of Edgar Allan Poe
Diary features an audio commentary with film historian & author Steve Haberman who, as usual, is ridiculously prepared with all manner of scholarly information on the production and its history.
There is also a photo gallery and a trailer.
An Evening With… also features an audio commentary with Haberman, which is another avalanche of information.
“Interview with writer/producer/director Kenneth Johnson” – Johnson, who is an industry vet, tells some great tales of his early days in the biz, meeting Price, working with the man and how this project came together.
A photo gallery is also included.
DISC FOUR: Cry of the Banshee
Once again, Haberman is here to deliver an audio commentary track. Expect to hear much of his usual banter, which comes quickly and packed with factoids.
“A Devilish Tale of Poe – An Interview with Director Gordon Hessler” – Hessler, an industry vet who learned from Hitchcock, discusses his career and the events that led him to direct Price in this film.
The theatrical trailer, TV spot, radio spot and photo gallery conclude the bonus features.
Also included with this set is a full-color 12-page booklet, filled with promotional photos of posters, lobby cards, and more.
MASTER OF THE WORLD Special Features:
- NEW High Definition Master from the inter-positive
- NEW Stereo Soundtrack created from the original 4-track mag
- NEW audio commentary with actor David Frankham
- NEW Richard Matheson: Storyteller: Extended Cut (72 minutes)
- Theatrical Trailer
- Posters, Lobby Cards and Behind-the-Scenes Photo Gallery
- Photo Gallery of images from David Frankham’s personal collection
TOWER OF LONDON Special Features:
- NEW High Definition Master from a fine grain film print
- NEW interview with director Roger Corman
- Producing Tower of London – an interview with producer Gene Corman
- Two episodes of Science Fiction Theatre: One Thousand Eyes and Operation Flypaper (1956) both starring Vincent Price (in Standard Definition – 52 minutes)
- Posters, Lobby Cards and Behind-the-Scenes Photo Gallery
DIARY OF A MADMAN/AN EVENING OF EDGAR ALLAN POE Special Features:
- NEW High Definition Master from the inter-positive film element (Diary of A Madman)
- NEW master created from the original 2” tape masters (An Evening of Edgar Allan Poe)
- NEW Audio Commentary with film historian and author Steve Haberman (on both features)
- NEW Interview with writer/producer/director Kenneth Johnson (An Evening of Edgar Allan Poe)
- Theatrical Trailer (Diary of A Madman)
- Poster and Lobby Card Gallery (Diary of A Madman)
- Behind-the-Scenes Photo Gallery (An Evening of Edgar Allan Poe)
CRY OF THE BANSHEE Special Features:
- NEW High Definition Master of the director’s cut from the inter-positive
- NEW High Definition Master of the American International Theatrical Cut from the only surviving element in MGM’s Vault, a Color Reversal Intermediate
- NEW Audio Commentary by film historian Steve Haberman (Director’s Cut)
- A Devilish Tale of Poe – an interview with director Gordon Hessler
- Theatrical Trailer
- TV Spot
- Radio Spot
- Posters, Lobby Cards and Behind-the-Scenes Photo Gallery
- One-Eye ROAD GAMES is great. Although it's no secret Curtis had a bad experience shooting in Australia, so I guess that colours her memory of the film.
- Christopher Parker Howard I'm curious what people found so scary, or even original about this film. It's a 2 hour family drama with 15 minutes of supernatural horror all at the end. There was some great disturbing imagery for...
- Andrew Lyall I love stuff like this, keep em coming!
- Dread Central I kind of need to read this now.
- One-Eye I had the game on the venerable Commodore64 and it was shit. I could just never figure out how to play it and I got killed every time.
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