DirectorRoger Corman, Robert Fuest, Michael Reeves
Release Date(s)1960-71 (October 22, 2013)
Studio(s)American International Pictures (Shout!/Scream Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: See Below
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: A+
- Overall Grade: A
THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER
Corman’s first Poe movie is also one of the most modest, basically a four-character chamber drama set against the crumbling backdrop of the House of Usher. Mark Damon plays Philip Winthrop, who arrives at the house demanding to see his fiancée, Madeline (Myrna Fahey). Her brother, Roderick (Price, clean-shaven with bleached hair) informs Philip that she is too ill to leave the house, the Usher blood is cursed you see, and urges him to leave immediately. But he stays on and schemes to take Madeline away, a plan that’s never carried out after her seemingly sudden death.
Despite a fine claustrophobic mood and some nice visuals, Price is really the whole show in Usher. Damon and Fahey just aren’t up to his level, especially Damon who seems ill-at-ease in a period movie. Harry Ellerbe is fine as the sympathetic butler, Bristol, but he doesn’t have a lot to do. Fortunately, Price keeps the movie going with his always interesting, slightly perverse performance. If he’d been given a more worthy adversary, the movie would have been much improved.
Usher looks very good, with source material that seems just the tiniest bit more worn than some of the other prints here. The film also includes an overture. I’m not sure if that was included on previous DVD incarnations but it was news to me. There are two commentaries, one by Corman from the MGM disc and a new “Vincent Price Retrospective” commentary by Lucy Chase Williams. It packs a lot of information and includes Piotr Michael as the voice of Price whenever he’s quoted. Surprisingly, that’s less annoying than it sounds. The disc also includes a 1988 audio interview with Price conducted by David Del Valle that clocks in at around 40 minutes. It’s a treat, especially the moments that sound more like a casual conversation than a formal interview. Finally, you get Price’s Iowa Public Television wraparounds, the trailer and a photo gallery.
Film Rating: B
THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES
I’ll be honest, I have a critical blind spot when it comes to The Abominable Dr. Phibes. It may not be a perfect film. In fact, it probably isn’t. But if it has flaws, I can’t see them. It’s one of my favorite movies of all time.
I don’t remember if Phibes was the first Vincent Price movie I saw but it was the one that made me a die-hard fan. I was probably around 11 or 12 the first time I saw it and it hit the perfect sweet spot, blending the macabre with the dry British humor I was beginning to be obsessed with. I loved the movie’s stylish deco-inspired look, I loved the movie’s wit, and I loved Phibes. He’s one of Price’s most bizarre characters, horribly disfigured in an accident that killed his wife and now forced to wear a mask and can only speak by hooking himself up to a gramophone. He vows revenge on the doctors he holds responsible for his wife’s death, killing them one by one in the most outlandish ways imaginable, each one inspired (more or less) by one of the Old Testament’s Great Plagues of Egypt. It’s funny, it’s horrific, it’s weird and it’s inventive. In short, it’s everything I want movie to be.
Phibes also gets two great new commentaries. The first is by director Robert Fuest (who passed away last year) in conversation with film historian Marcus Hearn and it’s full of warm remembrances and good stories. The second, by author Justin Humphreys, provides considerably more information as well as some interesting analysis and appreciation of the film. Phibes wasn’t included in the Iowa Public Television series but the disc includes a brief but fascinating featurette about the program called Introductory Price: Undertaking The Vincent Price Gothic Horrors. Duane Huey, who wrote Price’s material for the series, explains how it came about and relates some lovely stories about working with the actor. It also includes some wonderfully candid behind-the-scenes footage. I loved hearing Price tell the young crew, presumably toward the end of the long day, “All right, come on kids. We’ve got to get that drink soon.” Once again, the disc also includes a photo gallery and the trailer.
Film Rating: A+
Price’s most evil role was as Matthew Hopkins in British wunderkind Michael Reeves’ Witchfinder General. With England torn between Oliver Cromwell’s forces and the king’s royal army, Hopkins roams the countryside torturing confessions out of suspected witches for fun and profit. He arrives in a small village and captures the local priest (Rupert Davies), torturing him for his knowledge of witchcraft in the area. But the priest’s niece (Hilary Dwyer) intervenes, offering herself to Hopkins in exchange for her uncle’s release. It works briefly, until Hopkins’ assistant (Robert Russell) forces himself on the girl, then all bets are off. When the girl’s fiancé, one of Cromwell’s soldiers (Ian Ogilvy), learns what’s happened, he sets off determined to kill Hopkins.
Reeves was a fascinating, troubled figure who died far too young at the age of 25, not long after the release of this film. He and Price did not get along at all but Price knew good work when he saw it and later admitted that Reeves was able to get him to do some of his best work in years. It’s a grim, violent movie with a chilling finale you won’t soon forget. It was very underrated for many years, possibly because it wasn’t easy to see, especially in the US. Not that it’s been more widely available, there’s a danger of overrating it. The movie is by no means perfect but Price’s performance is impeccable. Reeves’ talent is undeniable and, had he lived, he may well have been one of the most interesting and influential directors of the 1970s.
The disc boasts another superior transfer and another good mix of old and new bonuses, starting with the very interesting commentary by producer Philip Waddilove and actor Ian Ogilvy and a solid 24-minute featurette on the making of the film, both from the previous MGM DVD. Scream Factory had originally hoped to include the complete American cut, retitled The Conqueror Worm, alongside the U.K. version but they weren’t able to swing it. However, the alternate opening and closing credits from the U.S. version are included as a bonus.
You also get David Del Valle’s classic 1987 interview with Price for his Sinister Image program, a marvelous hour-long conversation that covers a wide range of bases, from his early career to his TV work up through to The Whales of August. It’s the kind of interview you don’t want to end. Victoria Price sits down for another lengthy interview, over 45 minutes. It’s a warm, intimate conversation that shows another side of the star. You also get Price’s wraparounds, the trailer, a still gallery, and about 17 minutes worth of additional Price trailers, including House of Wax, the other Poe titles, his work with William Castle, and more.
Film Rating: A-
The Vincent Price Collection is a magnificent tribute to one of the genre’s brightest stars. If you love Price, you must have this. And if by chance you know some younger horror fans who don’t know who Vincent Price is, do them a favor and give this to them for Christmas. Now bring on Volume Two!
- Dr. Adam Jahnke
Be sure to read more of my reviews in this year’s Hell Plaza Oktoberfest! by clicking on the image below...