Vincent Price - MGM Scream Legends Collection
C+ Sound: C+ Extras: C+ Films: B
lots to quibble about and that's to come, but first, let it be said, for fans
of Vincent Price, this set is not only a must but it is a true joy. Even
though the set does not include some of most famous Edgar Allan
Poe adaptations starring Price
(The House of Usher, Pit and the Pendulum and The Raven), there are some real gems
from his later years. Theater of
Blood and Witchfinder General
alone are worth the cost of the box. But let's not get ahead of
Vincent Price box contains 7 full length feature films and a "Disc of
Horrors," which is comprised of three short biographical films about
Price, on a total of 5 discs. Four of the discs are double-sided,
with two discs with single features each. Which brings us to our first
quibble; why are Witchfinder
General and the Disc of Horrors,
which add up to 153 minutes, on separate discs, when The Abominable Dr. Phibes and Dr. Phibes Rises Again!, which total
184 minutes, on the same dual-sided disc?
A minor quibble perhaps, but reducing the set from 5 discs to 4 certainly
would have reduced the price.
themselves have been mostly brought up to respectable shape, though Dr. Phibes Rises Again! is
not of the same spiffed up quality as the original Dr. Phibes
feature. There is a general feeling of unevenness in MGM's treatment of
the films but, with this exception and one other, everything seems to be up to
better than average.
those thoughts out of the way, here are the movies, individually.
Terror is an anthology of three Edgar Allan Poe tales: "Morella," "The Black Cat" and "The Case of M. Valdemar."
Of all the Roger Corman/Vincent Price Poe collaborations, this is the one
that time has probably been least kind to. "Morella" is the strongest tale in
this set recounting the story of a man whose wife dies in childbirth and who
forever holds it against the child, Lenore.
This segment has a classic soundtrack, a touch of Great Expectations in
the set design and a serviceable Richard Matheson script. The Black Cat is a quaint tale whose
power has seen better days, though it is fun to see old friends Peter Lorre and
Price giving it a go. An unnecessary love theme has been added to the
original Poe story "The Case of M.
Valdemar," which already has the intriguing premise of
freezing someone at the point of death with hypnosis. Basil Rathbone is
the shady mesmerist who gets his comeuppance in a fairly predictable manner.
This is the only feature film in the box with a widescreen aspect ratio of
2.35:1 as opposed to 1.66:1.
office success of Tales of Terror
prompted a sequel of sorts in Twice Told
Tales, which ironically holds up much better than its predecessor. This
time round the stories are taken from Poe's contemporary, Nathaniel Hawthorne;
evidently, the producers felt they had tapped the Poe mine dry.
In any case, the Hawthorne tales are an excellent springboard for
fantasy/horror cinema. The first, Dr. Heidegger's
Experiment, tells a tale of a doctor's long unrequited love for his
fiancée who died 30 years ago, the day before they were to be wed.
The doctor (Sebastian Cabot) and his old friend, Alex Medbourne (Price), meet
to celebrate the doctor's birthday and, when a storm disturbs the nearby crypt,
they discover that she has not aged due to some mineral laced water that has compromised
the coffin. They experiment by drinking the potion and are given back
their youth and Sylvia, the doctor's fiancée, is brought back from dead. The
curse of long life works in mysterious ways, even for the recently revived, and
things get very messy, very quickly. In Rappacini's Daughter, Price plays a scientist who makes his
daughter immune to evil (aka sex) by injecting her with a plant concoction that
renders her touch deadly. There is an interesting allusion to Romeo and Juliet, along with an ending
about as cheerful. The final tale is The House of Seven Gables (the scale model house only
depicts two: perhaps there are 5 more on the rear?), Hawthorne's masterpiece
dealing with guilt, society’s and his own (his ancestor was one of the
judges) over the Salem Witch trials. Price, as Gerald Pynchon,
leads a strong cast in this somber tale of evil, ghosts, greed and a
hatred that destroys everything, including the house itself. The effects
here are primitive but the spirit of the piece is fine.
serious to sublime camp in the Dr. Phibes movies, which contain one of
Price's most inspired on screen characterizations. The
Abominable Dr. Phibes is a revenge tale literally of Biblical
proportions. After the loss of his beloved wife, Elizabeth, and his own accident racing
to her side in hospital, Dr. Anton Phibes devises a plan to kill
all those associated with the operation that cost her life. Modeling
the murders on the ten plagues of the bible, Phibes knocks off each victim
with style, camp, humor and, yes, a touch of horror: death by locusts,
bees, hail, rats & bats are just a sampling of what's to come.
and his assistant, the lovely Vulnavia, do not speak per say; Price
mimes the words that he broadcasts radio like through a variety of apparatuses,
his facial expressions harkening back to the silent film era.
Price's old friend Joseph Cotton plays the head surgeon responsible for
Elizabeth's death and lends an air of believability to the stylized
proceedings. The horribly scarred, miming Phibes is a hoot and a half and
his clockwork band is inspired madness. This is one of the top
ten of camp horror. The sequel, Dr.
Phibes Rises Again is nearly as good, this time the plot revolves
around resurrecting his wife Elizabeth and his race for the revivifying elixir
hidden in a tomb in Egypt. Once again Phibes comes up with elaborate ways
to knock off his rival's henchmen. Robert Quarry, Peter Jeffrey and Terry
Thomas reprise appearances in the original, and are joined by horror
legend Peter Cushing. Abominable!
has been beautifully restored and is crisp, clear and vibrant.
Unfortunately, that is not the case with Rises
Again, which is average; some scratches and marks from the original
print can be seen and the vibrancy is lacking.
of Blood may be the sleeper in this seven movie set. Edward Lionheart was
a role made for Price if ever there was one. Lionheart is a second
rate Shakespearean actor who becomes unhinged when he does not receive a
critical award he expects. Seeing Price playing Shakespeare
badly is simply glorious. Years after supposedly committing suicide
(while trilling Hamlet's "To be or not to be" soliloquy), the critics
who voted on the awards panel begin to die horribly, one by one, each in a
death drawn from a Shakespeare production in Lionheart's final season.
The death scenes from Romeo and
Juliet, Julius Caesar, Othello and the Merchant of Venice are fairly
predictable (if gory) but Cymbelline,
Henry VI Part I and Richard III are inspired if
obscure. The coup de grace or icing on the cake, if you will, is Titus Andronicus: what's baked in the
pies is a culinary horror of, well, pseudo-Shakespearean
proportions. A veritable plethora of glitzy co-stars include Diana
Rigg, Robert Morley, Jack Hawkins, Diana Dors and Milo O'Shea. The
films appearance is average and the sound is occasionally spotty, but all-in-all,
it is passable.
effective film of the lot is Madhouse. Once again, murders begin to pile
up surrounding an actor, Paul Toombes, whose wife is brutally murdered,
resulting in a nervous breakdown. When he comes out of the asylum, he is
reluctantly convinced into once again starring as "Dr. Death," this
time on TV, and the series of heinous murders, mimicking deaths from
his old movies, begin. The plot is tired and the writer's seem to
realize it and, so, there is a twist. Be
forewarned, however: any film that ends with a line about 'sour cream and red
herrings' is liable to elevate the old blood pressure in ways neither
anticipated nor desired. Once again, Cushing and Quarry co-star. In an
interesting, if cost cutting maneuver, clips from Price's old American
International films are used in a retrospective of 'Dr. Death's' films, so
there are brief "appearances" by Boris Karloff (The Raven) and Basil Rathbone (Tales of Terror, above) and scenes from
The Pit and the Pendulum. In
fact, the later brings the most dramatic tension to Madhouse that can
be managed with a intercutting of The Pit's most dramatic scene with the
Madhouse's own denouement.
crosses the line between homage and outright theft, albeit picking one's own
pocket. For British TV buffs, there is an "interview" scene
with Paul Toombes with a young Michael Parkinson from the now renowned
legendary interview show, Parkinson. Unfortunately, in the end, all these
gimmicks can not rescue Madhouse from its continuity problems: see 'red herrings',
above. Though the weakest film in the box for a variety of reasons,
all in all it is a bit of flawed fun, with an appearance and sound that are
feature film is Witchfinder General and it is close to best of box. This
film's legendary status can almost work against it; those who've waited
years to see it sometimes ask what's the fuss? It is at once a product of
its time and timeless. Its storied legend includes being billed in
Britain as Edgar Allan Poe's Witchfinder General, when in reality it was
loosely based on an historical novel of the same name by Ronald
Bassett. In America, it was released as The Conqueror Worm, in a slightly demented attempt to yet again
squeeze Edgar Poe dry, with Price reading the Poe poem over the opening
credits. The film itself is captioned Matthew Hopkins: Witchfinder General and this is probably the
proper title. The third film by auteur director Michael Reeves, whatever
you call it, it was one of the most violent films of its day. Reeves
was upset with the casting of Price as Matthew Hopkins and he let him know it;
there was no love lost between the two. Despite this, or perhaps, because
of it, Price gives one of the best performances of his career. Gone are
the camp and clichés attached to the Price franchise; no arching eyebrows, no
wicked smile, no metaphoric wink to the audience, and what remains is
the actor and he comports himself well, indeed.
years, Price admitted his distaste for Reeves and, tellingly, also acknowledged
that he felt it was one of his best roles. The extreme violence of
the film, tame in comparison to, say, today's torture/porn franchise Saw,
covers the full gamut, literally and metaphorically: sadism, torture,
rape, depravity and sexual exploitation.
Set in England in a time of political upheaval, Hopkins journeys from town
to hamlet in search of witches and the fee local corrupt officials will
pay him to flush them out. The turmoil throughout 16th century
England lets someone like Hopkins run amok in the name of social order and one
doesn't have to think long to see a very real connection to today's political
climate. In fact, this movie is more relevant than when I first
viewed it over 10 years ago and the irony is tragic, indeed. The horror
here is all too real and one would be justified to categorize this as more
a violent historical film than true horror. The film shifts
dramatically about halfway through to a vengeance film, with leading man Ian Ogilvy
(of Return Of The Saint, playing
Richard Marshall) going all out to avenge his slain fiancée, so much so that he
becomes that which he pursues. Perhaps most chilling of all are the
scenes of the crowds passively witnessing the hangings and burnings, at one
point even cooking potatoes in the same fire that has just consumed a
supposed witch. The film has been cleaned up considerably since my own
previous viewings and this adds dramatically to its power. The
original, eerie score has been restored in all its glory.
In a tale
so bizarre as to be seemingly fictional, a truly horrific moog score was
substituted for the original in the 80's when Orion, who had bought AIP, sold
the rights to the music to a beer company for a commercial.
disc consists of three biographical extras, totaling just over 60 minutes: Vincent Price: Renaissance Man, The Art of Fear and Working with Vincent Price. Along with Witchfinder General: Michael Reeves' Horror
Classic featurette on the Witchfinder
General Disc, 3 of the 4 extras are obviously taken from the same set of
interviews and divided up, with The Art
of Fear done separately. They are all mildly informative and interesting,
covering Price's life and career from a variety of viewpoints, including fellow
actors, critics and friends.
It is, of
course, fair to say that none of us are perfect and neither is The Vincent Price Scream Legends
box. But all things considered, this is a generous selection of
great material of one of the screen's finest purveyor's of chills: the
gracious, thrilling, one-of-a-kind "scream legend," Vincent Price.
- Don Wentworth