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MGM Studios DVD presents
Vincent Price: MGM Scream Legends Collection (1962-2007)

"Nine killed her. Nine shall die! Eight have died, soon to be nine. Nine eternities in doom!"
- Dr. Anton Phibes (Vincent Price) from The Abominable Dr. Phibes

Review By: Rich Rosell  
Published: November 30, 2007

Stars: Vincent Price
Other Stars: Sebastian Cabot, Brett Halsey, Beverly Garland, Richard Denning, Joyce Taylor, Peter Lorre, Basil Rathbone, Debra Paget, Joyce Jameson, Diana Rigg, Ian Hendry, Harry Andrews, Coral Browne, Robert Coote, Jack Hawkins, Michael Hordern, Arthur Lowe, Robert Morley, Dennis Price, Peter Cushing, Robert Quarry, Joseph Cotten, Hugh Griffith, Terry-Thomas, Virginia North, Beryl Reid, Ian Ogilvy, Rupert Davies, Wilfred Brambell, Robert Russell, Nicky Henson, Hilary Dwyer
Director: Sidney Salkow, Roger Corman, Douglas Hickox, James Clark, Robert Fuest, Michael Reeves

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (horror violence)
Run Time: 11h:23m:56s
Release Date: September 11, 2007
UPC: 027616087805
Genre: horror


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A B+BB- B+

DVD Review

He may not have gotten the proper reverential treatment over the years that he deserved, but there's little denying Vincent Price as one of the most distinctive faces and voices in the horror genre. This Scream Legends Collection gathers up seven up his classic genre titles, and an eight disc with over an hours worth of supplemental material, all inside of a nice-looking box featuring a very menacing looking Price on the cover.

Let's take a peek inside at the creepy goodness:

Tales Of Terror (1962)
Directed by Roger Corman
01h:28m:47s

What better way to start a Price collection than with one of his better Edgar Allen Poe/AIP titles, this one directed by B-movie master Roger Corman. Tales Of Terror is a trilogy of Poe stories, all connected by a narrative from Price, and filled with supporting performances from the likes of Basil Rathbone and Peter Lorre. As a Poe sampler platter, Corman took the neatly condensed Richard Matheson (The Legend of Hell House, The Twilight Zone, The Night Stalker) screenplay adaptations of Morella, The Black Cat (which also marries elements of The Cask of Amontillado) and The Case of Mr. Valdemar. The results are effectively moody and full of period style—especially noteworthy given the limited budgets Corman had to work with—no doubt due in part to the strength of the original source material, no matter how it was tweaked by Matheson.

There's a whole lot of Vincent on display here, ranging from the dark humor of his encounter with Peter Lorre in The Black Cat to the film's strongest and most chilling segment, the story of Mr. Valdemar (Price) and his unfortunate dealings with a hypnotist, played by Basil Rathbone. The ghost story themes of Morella work slightly less effectively when compared to the other two segments, though Corman succeeds in creating that look, that level of stylized production design that could suddenly make a cheap film look like it cost a million bucks.

A neat Poe primer from one of the undisputed great B-movie directors, and also one that allows Price to give a little variety in his performances.

Twice Told Tales (1963)
Directed by Sidney Salkow
01h:59m:46s

Instead of Poe, this time it's Nathaniel Hawthorne who gets the trilogy treatment, with three adaptations from screenwriter Robert Kent (Hot Rods To Hell) for Dr. Heidegger's Experiment, Rappaccini's Daughter, and The House Of The Seven Gables. There's not quite the same degree of traditional horror in Hawthorne's works as there is in Poe's, so right out of the box the spooky factor is diminished, though director Sidney Salkow (The Last Man on Earth) tries to bring out the creepy. The themes may not all be pure horror-based, but Price once again shows his ability to make his line reads sound ominous when needed.

Salkow employs Sebastian Cabot, Beverly Garland, Brett Halsey and Richard Denning in key roles, who all play well against Price, though Twice Told Tales often seems more like a pale pretender to the Poe titles it tries to emulate. The problem is that the material is never quite as frightening as it needs to be, even dressed up with a bit of blood, poisonous plants and the occasional dead body. This was one of those films that was likely sold better with the lurid poster art, no doubt attracting audiences with promises of something that was never quite delivered.

At two hours, Twice Told TalesThe House Of The Seven Gables is nearly worth the wait.

Witchfinder General (1968)
Directed by Michael Reeves
01h:26m:43s

He may have died in 1969—within a year of this film's theatrical release—but young director Michael Reeves left an indelible mark on the genre with Witchfinder General. Part historical drama/part violent thriller, this dark story is all about fear and power, as Price runs elegantly evil through this one as one-man judge and jury Matthew Hopkins, ridding villages of witches in 1645 England. Hacked and chopped into a number of different versions over the years, all of the original elements have been reinstated—including a restored Paul Ferris score—and the result is an opportunity to revisit not only a highwater mark for Price, but for Reeves, as well.

Price plays off the very human monster of the real-life Hopkins as a cross between a sociopath and a guy just doing his job for a handsome fee, until he royally pisses off Ian Ogilvy as a noble English soldier seeking revenge. It's a tale that theoretically could only go one way, but Reeves stirs things up just before the final credits roll, enough to have kept movie geeks speculating for years on what type of horror films he might have unleashed had he lived longer. And though Price was not his first choice for the role of Hopkins, Reeves still managed to pull a terrific performance from his lead.

Content wise this is a match of the single disc release, and the only feature in this set (aside from the bonus disc) to be single-sided and have disc artwork. For some odd reason, however, this version still has disc art that refers to it as Edgar Allan Poe's Witchfinder General.

The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971)
Directed by Robert Fuest
01h:34m:33s

The first of two Robert Fuest-directed Phibes features has Price giving life to a role that probably had the most profound effect on me as an 11-year-old. The freaky, disfigured and very mad Dr. Anton Phibes is seeking murderous revenge on the medical team who let his wife die on the operating table, and he unleashes a series of clever Old Testament-style plagues as punishment. The alluring Virginia North is Phibes' faithful assistant Vulnavia, and as a youngster Miss North caused weird dual flutters of attraction and fear in me as she helped with the crimes, and I recall being stunned that a bad guy could have such a pretty henchwoman. Weird, I know.

There's a wry sense of dark humor in the Phibes films, and Price pleasantly goes more for caricature than depth here. Yet it all gels well, as the Phibes character is maniacal and methodical, plotting sometimes ridiculously complex deaths, all building to a diabolical confrontation with Joseph Cotten at the secret Phibes lair. Production values hold up solidly after 30+ years, and the most important thing is that the story is told with such a deft mixture of tone that it never becomes either too dark or too light.

It scared me as a kid and has remained a thoroughly entertaining film for me to revisit well into adulthood. Of all Price's works this rates very highly on the imaginary list in my head.

Dr. Phibes Rises Again! (1972)
Directed by Robert Fuest
01h:29m:23s

Fuest returned to direct this sequel, with a Price-as-Phibes rising up out of suspended animation and trotting off to Egypt, dead wife in tow. This time his evil plans involving the Scrolls of Life, and naturally more clever and nasty murders. Peter Jeffrey reprises his role as the inquisitive Inspector Trout, while poor Virginia North as Vulnavia is nowhere to be found (understandable if you saw the original). However that didn't prevent the introduction of a new Vulnavia, played here by Miss World contestant Valli Kemp, who while certainly attractive could not come close to the eerie and sexy finesse of Virginia North.

Familiar faces abound here, with Robert Quarry, Terry-Thomas (who was also in the original, though as a different character) and the great Peter Cushing filling in around another masterfully high-camp performance from Price. And that's not meant as a slap, because Price gives Phibes a natty blend of overwrought dramatic pomp and downright evilness, becoming the kind of villain that seems like he fell out of a comic book. And I mean that with all due praise.

Not as consistently strong as The Abominable Dr. Phibes, this one still works more often than it doesn't, making it a serviceable sequel and yet another chance for Price to have scared me silly as a kid.

Theater Of Blood (1973)
Directed by Douglas Hickox
01h:43m:56s

This fun little Phibes variant has Price as grand Shakespearean actor Edward Lionheart, who exacts revenge on the critics who he blames for stalling his career, killing them in ways that would make The Bard proud. If you think Price camped it up a little as Phibes, his Edward Lionheart gets the luxury of being even more extreme, almost to the point of parody. Almost, mind you, because even as Price pushes things, he's able to keep Lionheart somewhat centered, so that his vain and pompous character never seems all that absurd (except for all the killing), especially if you've ever been around smug theater types.

The funny has been turned up much more here than in the Phibes films, however dark, and Price retains that commanding cool that he seems to always exude. Another childhood crush of mine shows up here—Diana Rigg as Lionheart's daughter Edwina—but at the time I was still pining for Virginia North to return somehow as Vulnavia. The big King Lear climax is a neat showcase, presenting an opportunity for things to get back on the serious track ever so briefly and to give Price a chance to really emote. And there's bonus points for Shakespeare fans, who will no doubt be tickled by all the sly references.

Hardly a flawless film, but immensely entertaining.

Madhouse (1974)
Directed by James Clark
01h:31m:26s

The promise of Price, Peter Cushing and Robert Quarry together again looks better on paper than it ultimately does here, as Madhouse limply borrows loosely from the Phibes format. This time Price is veteran horror actor Paul Toombes, who suffers a crippling nervous breakdown—which would be bad enough—but then actors start dying the same way characters did in some of Toombes old films. Neat (if somewhat familiar) idea, but the presentation gets bogged down with far too many clips from old Price AIP titles that begin to look more like filler than backstory.

The presence of Quarry and Cushing add to the curb appeal of Madhouse, and while sorely underused they help take the weight off of Price to have to carry this one alone. There is something fundamentally askew when these three genre greats can't salvage a title more so than was done here, and the reliance on old film clips soon becomes a tired crutch more than a cool gimmick. This should have been a great B-movie (simply based on Price, Quarry and Cushing) but instead becomes an uneven film with enjoyable small moments.

Nice concept, but not executed terribly well, making this the weakest entry in this collection.

If you already own the single disc versions of any of these titles you aren't going to find anything new here, but the boxset presentation make this a no-brainer for Price completists.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: B+

 

Image Transfer

 OneTwo
Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyesyes
Anamorphicyesyes


Image Transfer Review: The seven films in this collection are presented in an array of aspect ratios: Tales Of Terror (anamorphic 2.35:1), Twice Told Tales (nonanamorphic 1.66:1), Witchfinder General (anamorphic 1.85:1), The Abominable Dr. Phibes (anamorphic 1.85:1), Dr. Phibes Rises Again (anamorphic 1.85:1), Theater Of Blood (nonanamorphic 1.66:1) and Madhouse (nonanamorphic 1.66:1).

All transfers appear to match the previously issued single disc versions, some of which are better than others. Witchfinder General and the Phibes films score the highest marks, with the weakest of the lot being Theater Of Blood, sporting the most noticeable example of poor color reproduction and frequent grain. The remaining titles fall somewhere in between those two extremes, with the expected age-related issues.

Image Transfer Grade: B

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, French, Spanishyes
DS 2.0Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: All features have been issued in their original mono (some with optional French or Spanish dubs), though the bonus Disc Of Horrors is presented in 2.0 stereo. No major issues with any of the mono audio, all of which are clear with no measurably distracting hiss or distortion.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-

 

Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 128 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
6 Original Trailer(s)
3 Documentaries
1 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Philip Waddilove, Ian Ogilvy, Steve Haberman
Packaging: Box Set
Picture Disc
5 Discs
8-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: This set contains a bonus fifth disc entitled Disc Of Horrors, which consists of three separate Price-centric features: Vincent Price: Renaissance Man (27m:27s), The Art Of Fear (12m:14s) and Working With Vincent Price (15m:25s). Utilizing a mix of clips and comments from film historians like Steve Haberman, the three segments cover everything from the actor's early years on through the critical disdain Price films received (despite being appreciated by fans). At just 66 minutes overall, this content here is satisfying (albeit a bit cursory), though the footage and anecdotes are quite fun.

All of the individual titles—with the exception of Witchfinder General—are two-sided discs, with one film per side. Each feature (and oddly all except Witchfinder General) includes a grainy tell-all trailer, as well.

Matching the single-disc release, director Michael Reeves' classic Witchfinder General gets the most additional supplements. Producer Philip Waddilove and actor Ian Ogilvy deliver a wonderfully informative commentary track, moderated by writer Steve Haberman. Covering a number of topics, from the original novel to locations, as well as the development of the somewhat controversial ending, Waddilove and Ogilvy are gently prodded by Haberman to produce a set of fascinating remembrances; Ogilvy proves himself to really enjoy the process of looking back on the project, providing a wealth of background info, some of it even more inside due to his close friendship with director Michael Reeves. Waddilove's contributions are just as worthwhile, offering some surprisingly comical anecdotes and engaging production info. Witchfinder General: Michael Reeves' Horror Classic (25m:01s) is new mini-doc that looks not only at the film's wobbly history, but at director Reeves, as well. Those looking for a compact rendition of the various pitfalls that befell this title will find much to like here, and the quirky assortment of speakers prevent this one from being just a dull history lesson.

All discs are packaged inside thin Scanavo cases which are housed inside of a thick cardboard box.

Extras Grade: B+

 

Final Comments

Not a bad deal, getting 7 Vincent Price titles, plus a bonus disc of supplemental material, all for less than $30. Classics like Witchfinder General and the two Phibes films make this make this a bargain, and the cool cover art on the box add to the vintage hipness.

Highly recommended.

 


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