Blu-ray Review: THE VINCENT PRICE COLLECTION III

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More Vincent Price gems make their way to Blu-ray with this stunning set.

Scream Factory has long been sifting through the Sony/MGM vaults to license titles for their Blu-ray releases and, because MGM had acquired the American International Pictures library, they in-turn have been pigging out on the genre films of American actor, author and pop culture icon Vincent Price.

Indeed, AIP, due to the efforts of director/producer/visionary Roger Corman starting with his HOUSE OF USHER in 1960, were instrumental in cementing Price’s latter-life identity as a horror film icon. Sure, Price had made HOUSE OF WAX, THE FLY and a smattering of other domestic shockers in the 1950’s, but via AIP, Price would truly become a household name and that name soon became a hot commodity for horror around the world.

With the first two installments of their THE VINCENT PRICE COLLECTION, Scream Factory had all but exhausted their Price/AIP titles, trotting out a plethora of classics and a bulk of the Corman/Poe/Price gems as well as Internationally co-produced films like the Richard Matheson “I Am Legend” adaptation THE LAST MAN ON EARTH. Which makes their THE VINCENT PRICE COLLECTION III a real blast, as many of the pictures represented are not as frequently trotted out and a couple of them, especially the non-AIP titles, are woefully underrated slices of prime Price ham.

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1961’s MASTER OF THE WORLD, an adaptation of a Jule Verne tale directed by William Witney, is not a horror film, rather it is an opulent fantasy adventure, rich in detail and with Price in a wonderfully showy, morally complex but still villainous role. Price is Robur, a seemingly megalomaniacal lunatic who, in the waning days the 19th century, has built an amazing flying machine made of compressed paper and is driven by a self-made mission to destroy anyone and anything who trades in the art of war, thus saving mankind. His foil is a young Charles Bronson (who previously co-starred with Price in HOUSE OF WAX under his given name, Charles Buchinsky), who admires the man’s morality but rages against his brutal methods. The script, by Matheson himself, is typically literate and lively, the Les Baxter score is thundering and romantic and the production design rather astonishing, especially for such a modestly budgeted picture.

Supplements on MASTER OF THE WORLD include an interesting commentary with co-star David Frankham (who also shares photos from his archives) and a super-long version of the “Richard Matheson: Storyteller” mini-doc that was featured on a previous MGM release.

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1962’s TOWER OF LONDON is not an AIP film, but it sure feels like one. United Artists released this moody, black and white Roger Corman-directed melodrama that casts Price as Richard III and was produced by Corman’s brother Gene. Price had played another role in the 1939 TOWER OF LONDON, though there is no relation here to that historical film. This TOWER is an enjoyably pretentious attempt to refine Corman’s Poe film vibe into upper-crust Shakespearean grandeur and it sure is delicious to see Price orate endlessly, especially in crisp monochrome while torches burn and expressionist lighting reigns supreme. A very theatrical and underrated Price joint, but again, not a horror film.

Extras of note here include a new interview with Corman who, now well into his 90’s, is still as lively, witty and alert as ever, a previously released interview with Gene Corman and, coolest of all, two episodes of a TV series called SCIENCE FICTION THEATER that star Price.

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DIARY OF A MADMAN was based on the short story THE HORLA and was filmed as such, until either producer Robert E. Kent or distributor United Artists changed the title. Years later, rock legend Ozzy Osbourne would in turn borrow the film’s final handle for the title of one his most famous solo albums…

The movie stars Price as benevolent, turn of the century French magistrate Simon Cordier who, after visiting an inmate on death row, is possessed by the ancient evil spirit The Horla, a demonic force that causes its host’s eyes to glow green and commit murder most foul. Indeed there is much murder in DIARY OF A MADMAN and plenty of madness as well. Director Reginald Borg keeps things classy while spattering blood and making clay busts turn mean and other such weirdness. Price is magnificent as usual, sympathetic and, when under the influence of The Horla, terrifying. The transfer here is a stunner, with the color red (dig Cordier’s robe!) jumping off the screen like The Horla jumps at its hosts. A real gem of a Price pic.

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The curio on the set is the TV production AN EVENING OF EDGAR ALLAN POE, a wonderful and, considering the low-rent nature of the production, ingeniously staged and shot 52 minute special directed by producer Kenneth Johnson (V, ALIEN NATION), who also show up in the features in a new interview.

EVENING sees Price, in full costume, devouring the scenery doing dramatic readings of key Poe tales, including THE TELL-TALE HEART and THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM. Honestly, this thing is a stunner. It’s Price really strutting and is an absolute must for newly minted Poe readers to fully comprehend what these stories are all about. Like Shakespeare, Poe demands to be read aloud and man, does Price own the screen.

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The crown jewel in the set is Gordon Hessler’s underrated AIP gem CRY OF THE BANSHEE, a kind of amalgam of the studio’s Price hits THE CONQUEROR WORM (aka WITCHFINDER GENERAL) and Corman’s THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH. We recently devoted some space discussing the film , riffing on the 2 versions of the picture that exist and how radically different experiences they are. Here, Scream Factory have supplied both cuts of the film: the original British version with the Terry Gilliam credits sequence, ample nudity and violence and original score as well as the AIP cut (done against Hessler’s wishes) which removes the amazing Gilliam animation, pulls a scene from the middle to stick on the header, shaves off the sexuality, trims a few scenes here and there (including weird one in which Hilary Dwyer has a laugh-fest after Price nearly chokes her brother; the original scene goes on and on, but stops dead here) and uses a new, operatic Les Baxter score (I actually prefer the Baxter score).

Both cuts have their value and film historian Steve Haberman’s commentary on the director’s cut is fantastic in its detail revealing the differences and celebrating the film.

It’s a cliché at this point to rhapsodize about how fantastic an imprint Scream Factory is and moot to applaud their efforts in re-presenting classic films from the past in such delicious ways. But we’ll do it again, anyway.

Bravo.

THE VINCENT PRICE COLLECTION III is a majestic release.

Pick it up when it streets on February 16th.