VINCENT PRICE COLLECTION III: Taking Home A Legend

Scream Factory has been killing it on the home video front ever since the company was founded. From the underappreciated, or nearly forgotten, like The Phantom Of The Paradise, to the all-time greats and cult classics like Army Of Darkness, the label has immortalized an astonishing array of sci-fi and horror titles in peak-quality. That focus on the legendary genre filmmaking of the past, however, hasn’t compromised their view of the present cinematic landscape. Every year, Scream Factory distributes one or two of the most buzz-worthy works from a modern director, making it one of the most valuable home-video companies for fans of genre filmmaking.

For this fan, the label shows much of its worth in releasing as many Vincent Price movies as possible. I have had the honor of covering several here at Cinapse, and five more, flanked by unprecedented special features, have materialized in the form of Vincent Price Collection III. I reviewed II a couple years back, and though it and its predecessor lacked such favorites as The Tingler and House Of Wax, both collections offered great B features and classic performances from the late star. With VPCIII, I still find this series lacking. Again, those specific titles are missing (and that may be out of Scream Factory’s hands), and sadly, much of the work they did include is not on par with Price’s better-known films. Thankfully, the supplements included make this collection what it ultimately is: a must-own for Vincent Price fans.

MASTER OF THE WORLD

Richard Matheson was lucky enough to spend most of his earlier career as a screenwriter working with Vincent Price. His scripts were all over the Roger Corman Poe Cycle (as was Price’s face), and in 1961, AIP commissioned him to pen Master Of The World. A combination of two Jules Verne novels, the film was meant to hoist the studio into the world of high-budget epic cinema. The venture didn’t exactly pay off. It wasn’t a smash success at the box office, and the film was nothing more than mediocre. Between the cheap effects, clumsy dialogue, and predictable story, there is practically only one element left to love: Vincent Price. As Robur, the actor is in top form (possibly his best performance in this collection), and although he is hardly playing a character more distinctive than “Captain Nemo of the sky”, he brings his classic magnetism to the tyrant. Charles Bronson is strangely miscast as an American government agent. He plays the John Strock with so much leather-faced stoicism (you know… like Bronson), it almost feels like he is in some other movie, separate from the slight B-hammy-ness of his co-stars. Little more than a remake of 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, this one is hard to recommend, and that’s coming from a guy who is a total sucker for this kind of thing. Imagine a Ray Harryhausen picture without the fun script or naturalistic effects of Dynamation.

TOWER OF LONDON

With this 1962 work of historical fiction, Corman directed Price in a lively, gothic take on the rise and fall of Richard III. Admittedly, I don’t know much about the character as an historical figure, nor as a figment of Shakespeare’s famous imagination, but I was thoroughly intrigued by him as portrayed in Tower Of London. Richard is ruthlessly killing his way into a formidable reign, but for all the evil he commits, he is a man of too much conscience to maintain his rule, or sanity. Haunted cruelly by his every victim, they speak to him as negative voices in his head, highlighting his most painful anxieties. This is not a great film, but again, watching Price wildly vacillate from hateful and threatening to pathetically vulnerable is a delight. The hunchback king may appear more human through Price than ever before.

AN EVENING WITH EDGAR ALLEN POE

In 1970, a green TV director/producer landed the resume-builder of a lifetime. That inexperienced artist would go on to create V, and The Incredible Hulk, The Bionic Woman, and the television adaptation of Alien Nation. His name was Kenneth Johnson, and he had the extraordinary opportunity to direct Vincent Price in five performances of Poe short stories for a special TV broadcast. Among the most notable were The Telltale Heart and The Pit And The Pendulum, and watching the veteran master perform them is nothing short of astonishing. Some of the design is dated and hokey (television in the 70s), but I can’t understate the seminal importance of preserving something like this! I had no idea this ever happened, and although it has seen several home video releases, this ancient televised production could never have been rendered so sharply or powerfully than on Scream Factory’s next-best-thing-to-HD transfer.

DIARY OF A MADMAN

“The most terrifying motion picture ever created” may be the least-deserved promotional tagline in cinema history, as applied to 1963’s Diary Of A Madman. Is it just me, or do some director’s confuse suspense with… nothing happening in the screenplay? We still need incident. We still need character. We still need intrigue, and although the winsome flirtations between Price and his co-star, Nancy Kovack (as a gold-digging model) are fun at first, the film spends far too much time setting up the concept of its demonic villain. There is endless, dull conversation with the unseen Horla, who opens doors and gingerly knocks over knick-knacks like a neglected invisible housecat. Terrifying! We know he is coming to do wrong, but he takes so long to do it, that even severed heads buried in clay busts aren’t thrilling enough to save this boring film by the time they arrive.

CRY OF THE BANSHEE

The collection is concluded by a film, which in retrospect, I might have misjudged. In fact, I hated it. It’s a miserable viewing experience, and what with its taking place in misery of dark age brutality and torture, perhaps I should respect the effect. Witchcraft is on the paranoid mind of a corrupt magistrate (Price), and it seems more and more of his subjects are practicing. He and his cronies are on a merciless assault, but the supposed devil-worshipers might have conjured a demonic champion. This one is a tough watch, dominated by high-pitched screams and non-consensual bodice ripping; Banshee plays weirdly erotic in its shoddy construction. There could have been something interesting here, but it seems studio interference made a mess of things. Both the director’s and theatrical cuts are included here, but what is left of Gordon Hessler’s vision is rather cold and haphazard. At least you are treated to Vincent Price spitting lines like, “Get out of here you gypsy vermin!”.

THE PACKAGE

These films are all presented in superb HD fashion. As I mentioned earlier, even the standard definition TV program looks considerably crisp. Every feature film is a brand new transfer, and they all look stunning.

There are far too many badass supplements for me to mention here, so here is an abridged version featuring the most nerdy delights:

RICHARD MATHESON STORYTELLER: 72 minutes in-depth interview with Matheson on his career and relationship with Vincent Price.

NEW TOWER OF LONDON COMMENTARY WITH ROGER CORMAN

TWO EPISODES OF SCIENCE FICTION THEATRE: each starring Vincent Price in a fascinating and humorously dated TV show that applied real science to fictional stories.

3 NEW AUDIO COMMENTARIES WITH FILM HISTORIAN STEVE HABERMAN

NEW INTERVIEW WITH KENNETH JOHNSON: a wonderful and lengthy interview with a long-time friend of Price.

A DEVILISH TALE OF POE: interview with Banshee director Gordon Hessler.

ENDLESS PROMOTIONAL/BEHIND THE SCENES STILLS

One more beef of note, however… no essay, no interview, no write-up of any kind in the included booklet. SHAME! DORK SHAME!

Get it at Amazon:
Vincent Price Collection III[Blu-ray]

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the author

Ryan Lewellen has loved movies ever since he was programmed that way by his creators from a universe parallel to, but reachable from, your own. He knows he shouldn’t be telling you that, but in 3 years, 2 months, 29 days, 16 hours, 30 minutes, and 55 second’s time, your awareness of our existence shan’t factor, for it is your fate and fate is inescapable, human. Enjoy your final moments reading his movie blog.