Halloween, Groupon, The Fly and The Vincent Price Collection

My loving wife bought me The Vincent Price Collection from Scream Factory for Halloween. Scream Factory is an offshoot of Shout Factory. Currently it’s a gasp-inducing $69.99 on Amazon but she bought ours on Groupon for $39.99.

Vincent Price Collection

The collection consists of Fall of the House of Usher, The Pit and the Pendulum, The Masque of the Red Death, The Haunted Palace, Witchfinder General, and The Abominable Dr. Phibes – all on Blu-Ray. They come in a nice plastic case with individual mounts as well as a nice booklet with photos and stories and a slipcover box.

The restorations on these movies are incredible. They are so beautiful in high-definition. I haven’t listened to any of the commentaries but one of the extras on five of the movies is a set of introductions and closing comments by Vincent Price. These were done for PBS back in the 80s and are simply wonderful.

I highly recommend this set if you are at all a fan of Vincent Price.

The Fly

I also picked up the Blu-Ray of The Fly (1958) at Best Buy for $9.99 ($4.99 after coupon). That transfer too is beautiful and has as an extra, A&E’s Biography of Vincent Price. What a wonderful Halloween.

Witchfinder General / Conqueror Worm

Witchfinder General is currently available on instant Netflix and Conqueror Worm (essentially the same film) is available on Amazon Prime.

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 fiancĂ© (Ian Ogilvy) decides to put an end to Hopkins’s sleazy practices and goes on a quest to seek vengeance.”

“They swim… the mark of Satan is upon them. They must hang.”

Witchfinder General is the British title. In America it is called The Conqueror Worm after the Poe poem. Other than the presence of Vincent Price, Witchfinder General has nothing to do with the series of Roger Corman / Edgar Allan Poe films. They throw in a few snippets of the poem to use Poe as a selling point but also the poem has nothing to do with the movie. The movie is instead based on the novel Witchfinder General by Ronald Bassett.

Witchfinder General was director Michael Reeves fourth and final film. He had previously directed the horror movies Castle of the Living Dead (1964 with Christopher Lee and Donald Sutherland), She Beast (1966 with Barbara Steele and Ian Ogilvy), and The Sorcerers (1967 with Boris Karloff and Ian Ogilvy). He was chosen to direct The Oblong Box but died at age 25 from an overdose of barbituates.

Reeves wanted Donald Pleasance for the titular role but American International Pictures insisted on a proven box office draw, Vincent Price. While I am sure that Pleasance’s take would have been interesting, this turned out to be Price’s best role in a long line of great roles.

Vincent Price believed his portrayal of Matthew Hopkins to be his finest performance and I concur. This is largely because all camp is removed from his portrayal. His Matthew Hopkins is real evil – a man who uses his office to go around the countryside killing people, settling scores, and taking advantage without actually believing in witchfinding. Vincent Price is ugly and chilling.

Our protagonist Richard Marshall is played by Reeves regular Ian Ogilvy. Ogilvy is a good and stalwart leading man here. He went on to play Drusus in I, Claudius and The Saint in the 1978-79 reboot of the television series.

While they may seem quaint today, Reeves’ scenes of torture and violence were very brutal for this time. It was clear that Reeves wanted to make as authentic feeling a film as possible. Although this story is fiction, there was an actual Matthew Hopkins who claimed to be a Witchfinder. In reality, Hopkins and Stearns tortured and hung Lowes as in the film.

This is another showcase for Price but it is not a fun film to watch as the Poe adaptations were. Watching the pre-credits sequence will give you a feel for whether you want to watch the rest of the film. I recommend this film both for what Reeves was trying to accomplish and for Price’s superlative performance – however this film is ugly and may not be for all audiences as it were.

People Watch: Margaret Nolan plays girl at inn here. She is better remembered as the Bond girl Dink and the golden girl in the opening credits in Goldfinger.

Price without Poe – Horror Movie Month

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 fiancĂ© (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.