The prolific and fun Vincent Price did not always star in Poe adaptations. I’ve previously discussed his performance in the delightful Theater of Blood as well as The Fly and House on Haunted Hill (all still on instant Netflix and recommended).
Madhouse (1974) – Rated PG
Down on his luck and trying to keep a grip on his precarious mental health, has-been horror-film icon Paul Toombes (Vincent Price) takes a stab at revitalizing his career by starring in a television series based on his famous silver screen persona, Dr. Death. But when people start dying in gruesome ways that resemble Dr. Death’s handiwork, Toombes suspects the evil character has completely taken over his mind. Jim Clark directs this thriller.
Madhouse isn’t bad and makes good use of some Price stock footage from the Poe movies. It is a bit heavy-handed and obvious but guest-stars a gracious Peter Cushing. Robert Quarry is here as well. Quarry was groomed to be a new horror star but his Count Yorga films never really caught on. Madhouse is a mixed bag – fun but not nearly as fun as Dr. Phibes Rises Again, which features much of the same cast.
Dr. Phibes Rises Again (1972) – Rated PG
The eminent Dr. Phibes (Vincent Price) awakens from several years of suspended animation and heads to Egypt with his mute assistant (Valli Kemp) and the corpse of his dead wife, determined to track down the stolen papyrus scrolls he needs to bring his spouse back to life. In this sequel to The Abominable Dr. Phibes, Phibes is up to his usual tricks, murdering people in strange and heinous ways; meanwhile, a team of inspectors is hot on his heels.
Both Dr. Phibes movies are fun with a capital F. The beautiful art deco set design, clockwork contraptions that would have been considered steampunk if they hadn’t predated the term, Campy, quirky deaths, and a wonderful turn by Vincent Price add up to fun, fun, fun. Peter Cushing has what amounts to a cameo here as do several other 60s stars. Robert Quarry is not as good as Joseph Cotten from the first movie but is adequate.
Witchfinder General (1968)
Set in 17th-century England, this chilling tale follows corrupt official Matthew Hopkins (Vincent Price), who claims an ability to discover witches. But he uses his power to gain money and favors from people he’s fingered in return for declaring them innocent. When he arrests and tortures Father Lowes (Rupert Davies), Lowes’s niece’s fiancé (Ian Ogilvy) decides to put an end to Hopkins’s sleazy practices and goes on a quest to seek vengeance.
Witchfinder General is a bit odd. It tries to say some important things about a particular era in English history while flirting with exploitation. This is actually Vincent Price’s best performance but I need to warn you that the film is not fun – it actually comes across as quite ugly, especially for the era. The other actors aren’t bad but this is another Price showpiece.
Last Man on Earth (1964)
A plague has wiped out most of mankind, and those who survived have become bloodthirsty vampires. The only “normal” human left on earth, Dr. Robert Morgan (Vincent Price) — who was spared by a twist of fate — spends his days methodically hunting down the undead mutants and his nights barricaded against their attacks. But when he meets the beautiful but contaminated Ruth, he discovers a secret that will unravel what’s left of his existence.
If this plot description sounds familiar, it is because it is based on Richard Matheson’s I am Legend and was later filmed as The Omega Man (also on instant) and I am Legend and I am Omega. Will Smith is great in I am Legend but the CGI is pretty goofy, Charlton Heston is good in The Omega Man but the movie is bizarrely groovy, and I am Omega is just plain bad.
Last Man on Earth is an Italian production and is very atmospheric. It is in black and white and Price gives a somewhat restrained performance as the titular character.