Directed by Various
Distributed by The Scream Factory
Our favorite genre has more than a few geniuses that might call horror their home. Authors, filmmakers, artists, actors, musicians – there are so very many brilliant artists who have added immeasurably to our culture with their dabblings in the dark. But when asked about the very best – who the “greats” are in our genre – who does our mind go to? John Carpenter, perhaps? Stephen King? Romero, Cronenberg, Clive Barker?
And what about actors? Who are our greats there? Boris Karloff? Bela Lugosi? Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing? Absolutely, all of those.
And then there is Vincent Price. With his silky baritone and ever-twinkling eyes, Price was the perfect fit to portray any number of suave, intelligent and/or tragic villains in numerous films (horror and otherwise) throughout the last half of the twentieth century. He had particularly noteworthy collaborations with Roger Corman and William Castle, and put in several iconic performances in various genre classics. With his incredible presence, mastery of his craft, and love of the genre, Price has left behind a legacy of wonderful films for fans to discover for untold generations to come.
Scream Factory has honored the man and his legacy with their newest release, a four-disc Blu-ray set titled The Vincent Price Collection. Featuring six of Price’s best films, the set also comes loaded with bonus features that will keep fans old and new grinning ear to ear as they (re)discover the films that made this actor a legend.
The first disc included in the set holds two of Price’s films with Roger Corman: The Pit and the Pendulum and The Masque of the Red Death. Both were American International Pictures adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe tales (from Corman’s wonderful run of “AIPoe” flicks), and are stunningly well-made movies. Each feature gorgeous photography, sumptuous costumes and sets, and pretty great performances throughout. However, while Pit has some fascinating artistic flourishes from Corman (particularly during the flashback sequences), Masque stands as a masterpiece for both Corman and Price.
The second disc includes two more films in Corman’s Poe cycle – The Fall of the House of Usher and The Haunted Palace. Fall was actually the first of the collaborations between Corman and Price, and was written by legendary novelist and “Twilight Zone” writer Richard Matheson (as were Pit and Masque). It’s a fine adaptation with typically beautiful photography, costumes and sets (along with, of course, a wonderful performance from Price). The Haunted Palace concludes this set’s interest in the Poe films, even though the movie isn’t actually based on one of EAP’s stories. Rather, it’s an adaptation of “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward”, a short story written by H.P. Lovecraft (the film is tenuously linked to the Poe by its title, which comes from one of his poems). Nevertheless, it’s easily one of the most beautiful films on this set (alongside Masque), and features a grim story (scripted by Matheson’s fellow TZ writer Charles Beaumont), snappy direction from Corman, and a set of great Price performances (he plays both the hero and villain).
Disc Three is devoted solely to The Abominable Dr. Phibes, a 1971 shocker directed by Robert Fuest and featuring Price as a vengeful organist employing Old Testament plagues to murder the surgeons he feels are responsible for the death of his wife following a terrible automobile accident. It’s a cool little chiller, featuring solid performances from Price and Joseph Cotton along with some nifty murder setpieces (the opening kill, featuring a large number of live bats, is positively cringe-worthy). This isn’t the strongest film of the set, as it lags a bit throughout, but Price is just great as one of his more iconic villains. If you enjoy this film, be sure to seek out its sequel – Dr. Phibes Rises Again.
The final disc holds one of Price’s best films – Witchfinder General. This 1968 period horror flick finds Price playing Matthew Hopkins, a truly evil inquisitor who travels the English countryside, abusing his power and condemning innocent villagers to death for “witchcraft”. Witchfinder General is the last of four feature films directed by then 24-year old Matthew Reeves, who showed great promise but sadly died at the age of 25. Witchfinder is a fine film, with a chillingly villainous turn from Price, who seemed to have no interest in trotting out his typically charming brand of villain. His Hopkins is as black-hearted as they come, and his performance in this film stands as one of his very best.
As is to be expected by this point, Scream Factory has done a bang up job with bringing these films to Blu. Every picture looks stunning (particularly Masque and Palace), with incredible detail and beautiful colors. Each print does bear the occasional flaw (usually just some minor speckling), but these must easily be the best presentations these films have ever had. Each film boasts a 2.0 DTS-HD Master audio track, giving each movie a crisp, solid soundtrack (again, likely “best ever” presentations here).
And then, the bonus features. Criminy, where to begin? Each film comes with their respective theatrical trailer and a photo gallery (featuring stills, posters, lobby cards, etc.). There is even an additional trailer gallery of various other Price films included on Witchfinder’s disc.
There are numerous audio commentaries, including: two from Roger Corman (for Pit and Fall); two from Lucy Chase Williams, the author of The Complete Films of Vincent Price (with Richard Heft on Palace, and Pitor Michael portraying Price as a commentator on Fall); and several more from film historian Steve Haberman (on Masque), author Tom Weaver (Palace), author Justin Humphreys (Phibes), director Robert Fuest (Phibes), and actor Ian Ogilvy and producer Philip Waddilove (Witchfinder General).
Scream has also included: two interviews with Price (an audio interview on Fall and a filmed interview on Witchfinder, both with historian David Del Valle); two interviews with Corman (on Masque and Palace); and an interview with Victoria Price, Vincent’s daughter.
Pit’s disc also features a rare prologue (which makes that film’s ending a thousand times more bleak), while Witchfinder’s Blu has a twenty-five minute featurette with various contributors commenting on the film’s making and its legacy. But perhaps the coolest bonus feature on this set is the option to run five of the six films with both an introduction and “final words” from Price himself. These intros/outros are taken from “The Vincent Price Gothic Horrors”, a series taped in 1982 for Iowa Public Television that featured the actor introducing and speaking about his films in a grand, gothic home. The show itself is discussed in Introductory Price, a brief featurette which looks at the show’s origins and production. The inclusion of these marvelous bits might very well make this the Blu-ray set of the year for this reviewer.
Topping all that off is a gorgeous slipcase, and a twenty-four page booklet featuring photos, artwork, and an essay by Del Valle.
And there you have it. Beautiful transfers, great audio, and a veritable treasure trove of bonus features which will delight Price fans and keep them busy for hours and hours (and hours). If you love the actor (and you should), buy this set. If you’re only vaguely aware of the man and his legacy of great films and brilliant performances – buy this set (it’s the perfect jumping on point). Either way, this set is the very definition of “must own” for fans of classic Gothic cinema.
Love of the genre, dedication to the craft. It’s these virtues that make us look back at the man and declare Vincent Price one of the greats. Given their own love and dedication they’ve displayed over the course of their first year in existence, one wonders if film fans of the future will look back one day and declare Scream Factory one of the greats as well.
FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER
THE HAUNTED PALACE
THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH
THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM
THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES