Scream Factory follows up their essential 2013 Blu-ray set THE VINCENT PRICE COLLECTION with THE VINCENT PRICE COLLECTION II, again a must-have Halloween time item which pays tribute to no doubt the greatest horror film icon of all time.
The first film on Disc 1 is THE RAVEN, directed by Roger Corman. This is his fifth foray into Edgar Allan Poe territory for AIP, and it became one of the most beloved horror comedies of all time. After the apparent death of his wife, a kindly 15th century magician Dr. Erasmus Craven (Price) goes into retirement and seclusion. One night he is visited upon by a talking raven with the gift of speech and a taste for wine. It seems this black bird is actually another, albeit bumbling, magician named Dr. Adolphus Bedlo (Peter Lorre, THE BEAST WITH FIVE FINGERS) who was transformed into the creature by wicked, master sorcerer Scarabus (Boris Karloff, THE CURSE OF THE CRIMSON ALTAR), a former rival of Erasmus’ late father. After concocting a potion from some very unusual ingredients and several attempts to get it right, Erasmus is able to turn Bedlo back to his old self-centered self, but when Bedlo convinces his savior that his late wife Lenore (Hazel Court, DR. BLOOD’S COFFIN) is alive and well and living with Adolphus, it’s time to pay a visit to his secluded castle. Taking along with them Erasmus’ pretty daughter Estelle (Olive Sturgess, THE KETTLES IN THE OZARKS) and Bedlo’s fed-up son Rexford (a very young Jack Nicholson), several attempts to thwart their arrival, via black magic, are made before entering the home of Scarabus, who plays up to being a welcomed host but turns out to be as wicked as expected. The guests soon become prisoners, Bedlo is turned back into a raven, and Scarabus and Erasmus challenge each other to a “fight to the death” magician’s duel (with some great optical effects which still hold up well half a century later).
In his ongoing Poe film series, Corman dabbled with humor during “The Black Cat” episode of TALES OF TERROR which had Price and Lorre playing perfectly together for laughs, and now he would take it a step further with THE RAVEN. With only a short Poe poem as inspiration, writer Richard Matheson created an over-the-top story about egotistical wizards while incorporating the title figure beautifully (so we get to see a raven speaking with Lorre’s voice, and the actor sporting feathery black wings during a mid-transformation fail). The film might be played for laughs on a whole, but still has some gruesome moments such as a box of moist human eyeballs on display, Erasmus and Bedlo opening the crypt of Erasmus’ father (a crusty green-skinned corpse who warns beware) and the revelation of a horribly decayed female cadaver in the resting place where Erasmus’ wife was supposedly buried. Former Hammer scream queen Court adds more than a bit of sex appeal and is always seen in very low cut attire; one of the unforgettable attributes of the film for those of us who grew up watching it on TV.
The casting of Price, Karloff (the two hadn’t acted together since 1939’s TOWER OF LONDON) and Lorre ideally was perfect for the “all-star horror” billing, but all three are terrific and have great chemistry despite Lorre being quite ill at the time (Lorre also had a habit of improvising, much to Karloff’s disapproval). After THE RAVEN, Karloff was in fact signed to a multi-picture deal with AIP which granted fans a number of worthwhile genre performances in color in the years before his death (and as the story goes, Corman had Karloff under contract for a for more days during THE RAVEN’s shoot, so he quickly shot THE TERROR, also with Nicholson, using a lot of the same sets). Corman's usual production team worked on the film, including art director Daniel Haller, whose castle set designs (using mostly sets left over from the previous Poe movies) are most impressive and visually surpass the on-paper budget by miles. Floyd Crosby provides the lush Panavision cinematography and AIP house composer Les Baxter, who worked on most of the previous Poe films, gives us a memorable score with plenty of jovial overtones. One of the biggest moneymakers of all time for AIP, as a horror comedy, THE RAVEN stills stands alongside ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN and YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN as one of the greatest.
Also on Disc 1 is THE COMEDY OF TERRORS, which follows the tradition of THE RAVEN in that it’s another AIP horror comedy with the same central actors (with the added attraction of Basil Rathbone who was previously in TALES OF TERROR). In a 19th century New England town, undertaker Waldo Trumbull (Price) and his ill-treated assistant Felix (Lorre) make up for slow business by re-using coffins they’re supposed to be burying clients in. In their unhappy household is Trumbull’s neglected wife Amaryllis (Joyce Jameson, DEATH RACE 2000) and her aged and nearly deaf father Mr. Hinchley (Karloff), who originated the family mortuary business. As business is lousier than ever, the shrewd Trumbull implements a plan to kill off townspeople in order to get their funeral parlor business. With the landlord Mr. Black (Rathbone) demanding his rent, he is a natural target for such a morbid demise, but the Macbeth-quoting would-be victim proves near impossible to murder, especially given that he’s subject to cateleptcy.
COMEDY OF TERRORS was directed by veteran French-American filmmaker Jacques Tourneur, whose impressive credits include the classics CAT PEOPLE, I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE (both for producer Val Lewton) and NIGHT OF THE DEMON (aka CURSE OF THE DEMON), which is considered one of the masterpieces of British horror. Although the film was not a success at the time of its release, Tourneur does a decent job with what is an all-out spoof of the genre filled with sped up camera work, slapstick and various sight gags, and the veteran stars play it totally for laughs. A delightful Price carries the film and plays his part as a truly nasty character with no redeeming values, while sidekick Lorre plays his devious character with a bit more empathy, falling for the lovely but screeching Amaryllis (Jameson, rightly described in the trailer as “abundantly blessed”), who has delusions of being an opera singer. Rathbone is both hilarious and scene-stealing in the very physical role which Karloff was supposed to have played but couldn’t due to his persistent back and leg problems. Karloff, already of an advanced age by this time, is given make-up to look much older than what he really is and doesn’t have much to do but still has some precious comic screen time in the few scenes he’s in (with Price’s Trumbull constantly trying to poison the old man).
Also in the cast are Beverly Hills (aka Beverly Powers) as the shapely young wife of a murdered older man; she runs off to Europe rather than paying money-hungry Trumbull for the funeral (the actress would later appear in BRIDES OF BLOOD and INVASION OF THE BEE GIRLS). And likely due to his recent appearance in Billy Wilder’s SOME LIKE IT HOT, old-time comedy star Joe E. Brown appears as a crypt keeper with a heavy Irish accent. THE COMEDY OF TERRORS was again written by veteran screenwriter Matheson, a take-off on Shakespeare’s “Comedy of Errors” and the “Burke and Hare” legend, with the story providing continuous fun material which fit the actors’ personas, and he injects the screenplay with lots of humorous dialog (“he bit me, that son of a bit me!”) and although he wanted to do a follow-up with the same four male stars (which would add Tallulah Bankhead to the mix), the film did not do well enough for AIP to proceed. And back from THE RAVEN is Baxter doing the music, Haller on set design and Floyd doing cinematography.
Previously released together in 2003 as part of an MGM Midnite Movies double feature DVD, both THE RAVEN and COMEDY OF TERRORS are here transferred from MGM’s HD masters and both look quite splendid on Blu-ray. Both films are presented in 1080p in their original 2.35:! aspect ratios, showcasing exquisite colors and excellent detail. In fact, the somewhat muted colors on MGM’s 2003 edition of THE RAVEN are all but a memory now, and while COMEDY has some minor speckling on the source print, THE RAVEN’s picture is clean to the point where’s there’s no visible dirt or debris to be seen. The transfer of COMEDY presented here, like MGM’s DVD edition, is still missing a shot when Price and Lorre are seen sitting on top of Rathbone’s coffin, with Rathbone pushing the lid up so they go flying up onto the floor. Here, it just cuts to a shot of Price and Lorre hitting the floor for no apparent reason (the scene was last shown intact on the old Image Entertainment laserdisc edition). Both THE RAVEN and COMEDY feature solid mono DTS Master Audio tracks with optional English subtitles.
Extras for THE RAVEN include two featurettes (both produced for the 2003 DVD), one with screenwriter Matheson (who passed away in 2013) called "Richard Matheson Storyteller: The Raven" (6:37) where he expresses how well he felt the legendary actors handled his material, and one with Roger Corman entitled "Corman’s Comedy of Poe" (8:13), where Corman discusses the onscreen relationship between Lorre and Jack Nicholson, the climatic special effects, and other subjects. The entire program heard on a promotional recording for THE RAVEN (which was supplied by AIP fan Greg Krieger) is also included, while pictures of the record sleeve and other publicity material is shown on screen. The record features Karloff and voice artist par excellence Paul Frees, and yes, that is Frees doing a great Lorre impersonation! Even though it's not mentioned on the packaging, Steve Haberman does a very informative commentary for THE RAVEN. A theatrical trailer and still gallery are included, and another precious extra is the videotaped introduction showing Price hosting a series of his films (“The Vincent Price Gothic Horrors”) produced by Iowa Public Television in 1982. With these intros and outros accompanying nearly every title on Scream Factory’s first Price Blu-ray collection, it’s great to have more back on this collection, with Price here introducing and closing THE RAVEN. Here he tells how he and his co-stars played the film for comedy, and since the screenplay “didn’t make a lot of sense”, they made the comedy broader, ad-libbing a lot of the time. He closes with a story about the snake (seen around his neck during the climatic sorcerers’ duel) and how much he feared the reptile. Price is again present to open and close THE COMEDY OF TERRORS, hyping the film (that he had great fun making) as a horror spoof, and that AIP “created the animal”. Price also closes by showing his love and admiration for his late co-stars. Another featurette from 2003 is "Richard Matheson Storyteller: The Comedy Of Terrors" (9:35) where he reveals with a smile that his "associate producer" credit meant nothing really. He also talks more about creating characters for these larger-than-life actors, as well as his proposed follow-up which never came into fruition. Both features include their original theatrical trailers and still galleries.
The first film on Disc 2 is THE LAST MAN ON EARTH, which was a co-production between Robert L. Lippert’s Associated Producers and Italy’s Produzioni La Regina. In fact, Price worked for Lippert in 1959’s RETURN OF THE FLY (produced by Associated Producers and Twentieth Century-Fox) and Lippert would also produce CURSE OF THE FLY in 1965. THE LAST MAN ON EARTH was shot in and around Rome, Italy (although it's supposed to be set in California) from January to March of 1963. The movie’s genesis was with Richard Matheson’s classic 1954 novel, I Am Legend which also inspired Boris Sagal’s 1971 remake with Charlton Heston, THE OMEGA MAN. In the novel, Robert Neville finds himself the sole survivor of a nuclear war in which the resulting plague has either killed the world’s population or turned others into murderous, zombie-like vampires. By day, Neville goes through his daily ritual of driving wooden stakes into the sleeping vampires while restocking his fortress-like home with mirrors, garlic wreaths and crosses as a defense against the monsters. By night, he drowns out the frightening moans and taunts of the vampires outside his home with loud music and alcohol as he battles not only the vampires, but his own loneliness and deepening depression. The novel also scientifically attempts to explain why vampires are the way they are and why they react to garlic and mirrors and Neville seems to get used to his existence as the years go on until he meets a young woman who may not be as normal as she seems.
The film adaptation does follow the basic plot as Robert Morgan (Price) goes through his monotonous daily life driving stakes through the vampires’ hearts while restocking his home with supplies and at night watching old home movies of his long dead wife and child while drowning his sorrows in alcohol. Through a flashback (which is also in Matheson’s novel), the audience sees a happy Robert Morgan with a lovely home, his beautiful wife Virginia (Emma Danieli), a cute daughter named Kathy (Christi Courtland), a best friend named Ben Cortman (Giacomo Rossi-Stuart), and a job as a respected scientist at the Mercer Institute of Chemical Research. However, as the plague descends on the world (the movie’s plague just happens as there is no mention of a nuclear war or germ warfare), Morgan begins to lose everything he loves the most. First Kathy comes down with the plague and because of a health department/civil defense law that her body must be burned to curtail the spread of the plague, her body is taken from the family home and is thrown into a huge pit which becomes the final resting place for millions of other plague victims as their grieving relatives beg the army to let their loved ones be buried in peace. Next, Virginia succumbs to the disease and since Morgan wants her remains to avoid the horrible cremation of the burning pit, he does not notify the health department, but resolves to bury her peacefully in an open field near his home. Later that evening, Morgan hears a faint whispering of “let me in” and sees the doorknob turning very feebly. When he opens the door, he gets the shock of his life in a very effective and even Bava-esqe scene (which is also in Matheson’s novel).
The rest of the film deals with Morgan’s discovery of a woman, Ruth Collins (Franca Bettoja) who (as in Matheson’s novel) may not be all that she seems. At this point in the film, the plot veers sharply from the novel as Morgan gives Ruth a blood transfusion in a successful attempt to cure her of the disease. In the novel, Ruth is depicted as being a member of a “new society” and Matheson characterizes her as militant and ready to do anything and everything to make sure her society survives at any cost. In the film, Ruth is considerably softened during the last 10 to 15 minutes as is the film’s entire ending as compared to the pessimistic climax of the novel. Originally, Matheson wrote the script for what would eventually become THE LAST MAN ON EARTH for England’s Hammer Films in 1957. However, after the release of CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957) and HORROR OF DRACULA (1958), the British film censors constantly hounded Sir James Carreras about the content of his horror films and Matheson’s script of I Am Legend was immediately rejected as being too violent and frightening. It was later sold to one time Hammer collaborator Lippert and he originally envisioned releasing THE LAST MAN ON EARTH through 20th Century-Fox (they released it in Europe), but in 1964, Price’s name was firmly associated with AIP and they ended up purchasing the film to exploit their top star’s box office appeal. In May 1964, it was released as part of a double bill with the British science fiction film, THE UNEARTHLY STRANGER. Later in 1964, THE LAST MAN ON EARTH was re-released to some theaters with AIP’s GODZILLA VS. THE THING.
Although Matheson’s description of the novel’s Robert Neville is totally different than Vincent Price (Neville is described as sort of a nervous 36 year-old man…while Price was over 50 at this point…and far from nervous), Price does his usual professional job and if anything, tends to underplay Robert Morgan. It is hard to judge the rest of the all Italian cast because their voices are all post-dubbed even though they spoke English during shooting. The heavy Italian accents were not acceptable since the setting was supposed to be the United States. However, one familiar face for Italian horror film fans is Giacomo Rossi-Stuart as Ben Cortman. A very handsome and talented actor, Rossi-Stuart appeared in such cult classics as Antonio Margheriti’s SNOW DEVILS (1965) and PLANET ON THE PROWL (1966), THE NIGHT EVELYN CAME OUT OF THE GRAVE (1971) and Mario Bava’s KILL, BABY, KILL! (1966). He also appeared in some American productions filmed in Europe such as Robert Aldrich’s SODOM AND GOMORRAH and Paramount’s FIVE DESPERATE WOMEN (1960), playing the brother of Vera Miles (Mr. Rossi-Stuart died in 1994). Franca Bettoja as Ruth and Emma Danieli as Virginia are both beautiful actresses who do what they can with the rather underdeveloped roles written for them (Bettoja is the widow of noted Italian actor Ugo Tognazzi of LA CAGE AUX FOLLES fame). She also appeared in DUEL OF THE CHAMPIONS (1961), directed by Terence Young and co-starring Alan Ladd, and in SANDOKAN VS. THE BLACK WITCH (1961) which was released by AIP in 1962 and co-starred Don Megowan, as well as THE DEVIL’S CAVALIERS (1958) with Frank Lattimore. Danieli died in Rome in 1998 and her brief appearance as a vampire in THE LAST MAN ON EARTH is still very memorable 50 years later.
On the technical side, Franco Delli Colli’s eerie black and white photography is an asset in keeping the film very stark and atmospheric and even documentary-like at times. In particular, the opening scenes of a dead urban world are extremely chilling (especially the church sign: THE END HAS COME!). Also, the scenes with Vincent Price driving through the deserted streets are particularly well done. The actor later recounted that they had to go out early (5:00 am) on Sundays to film the deserted street scenes. He also remembered that there was an unseasonable cold spell in Rome during this January and February of 1963 and “we worked in a studio that was so cold that we used to put ice water in our mouths so the audience wouldn’t see our breath” and “that I would tip my driver a large sum to keep the car warm” while filming the outdoor scenes. In addition, the music by Paul Sawtell and Bert Shefter is particularly eerie and sets up the appropriate mood. Some of the musical cues are echoed from their scores for THE FLY (1958) and RETURN OF THE FLY (1959). Also on the creative staff was Giorgio Giovannini who was the art director for Mario Bava on BLACK SUNDAY (1961), THE EVIL EYE (1962), BLACK SABBATH (1964) and PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES (1965), and U.S. director Sidney Salkow handled Price’s scenes and the English dubbed version while Ubaldo Ragona handled the Italian version.
MGM previously released THE LAST MAN ON EARTH on a double feature DVD with PANIC IN YEAR ZERO! in 2005 as part of their Midnite Movies series, and then re-released it a few years later as a standalone release to cash on the most recent big screen adaptation of the novel, I AM LEGEND with Will Smith. MGM’s HD master translates well on this Blu-ray, presenting the film in 1080p HD and preserving its 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The black and white image looks crisper and of course better detailed than ever, with both the white levels being impressive and black levels being deep and there is excellent separation of shades. Grain is minimal, as is dirt and debris on the source material. The mono English audio comes in an excellent DTS Master Audio track with optional English subtitles.
Extras for THE LAST MAN ON EARTH include the featurette, “Richard Matheson, Storyteller” (6:24) which was first seen on the 2005 DVD. Matheson has never been fond of this adaptation of I Am Legend (he had even less kind things to say about THE OMEGA MAN) and one gets the sense that he never really softened his view after 40 years. A new audio commentary for this Blu-ray has been conducted with authors David Del Valle and and Derek Botelho who do an excellent job providing a lot of information even though very little is known about the production (and how much of the film Salkow actually directed) and they defend Price’s performance all the way (and point out how Matheson envisioned someone like Gregory Peck or Robert Taylor in the role) and of course the the influence the film had on on NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. A nice, lengthy still gallery rounds out LAST MAN’s extras.
The second film on Disc 2 is 1964's TOMB OF LIGEIA, the last of Corman’s Poe films and the second one to be shot in England. Corman certainly went out with style as this film is the most luscious, most beautifully photographed, and is better acted than any other film in this particular series. The screenplay by Robert (CHINATOWN) Towne is loosely based on Poe's short story and concerns a 19th century British nobleman, Verden Fell (Price) whose wife, Ligeia (Elizabeth Shepherd) has died and the grief he suffers because of it. A short time later he meets a beautiful and strong willed girl, Lady Rowena Trevanian who resembles the late Lady Ligeia (Shepherd plays Lady Rowena as well). Eventually, Fell falls in love with Lady Rowena and eventually marries her. On the very night of their return from their honeymoon to Fell's decaying abbey, Fell vanishes from the house while Lady Rowena is terrorized by a vicious black cat and on subsequent nights by terrifying nightmares. One of these vivid dreams frightfully ends with a vision of Verden transforming into Ligeia and smothering the life out of Rowena. Upon awakening, she finds Ligeia's dead pet fox upon her body, but when she alerts Verden and the servants, the fox has mysteriously vanished.
As time passes, it appears that Lady Ligeia's influence from beyond the grave is affecting everyone in the house. Verden disappears for hours upon end only to return in a hypnotic state while Rowena appears to become briefly possessed by Ligeia during an experiment with hypnosis. In addition, Rowena's nightmares become even more terrifying and the attacks by this particular black cat become even more violent and frightening. Eventually, Rowena's former suitor, Christopher Gough (John Westbrook) and Fell's servant, Kenrick (Oliver Johnston) team up to solve the mystery of Ligeia's secret. What is that secret you may well ask and will they be able to save Fell and Rowena from Ligeia's ghostly influence? Well... we’re NOT telling how it ends!!!
Corman decided right at the beginning of production in England during the summer of 1964 that TOMB OF LIGEIA would be his eighth and last Edgar Allan Poe adaptation. By this time, he had become tired of the formula and felt that he had already explored all the cinematic techniques to bring these short stories to life. As a result, Corman produced one of the most beautiful and entertaining films of the series with heavy doses of gothic flavor with a touch of romance to boot. Most of the beauty of the film comes from not just the great interior sets done at Shepperton Studios, but from stunning location photography filmed at the ancient abbeys, churches and castles in England. The director of photography was none other than long time Hammer Films photographer Arthur Grant.
Price delivers a very restrained performance as the tormented Verden Fell. By this point in his AlP career, Price had a couple of over-the-top performances (like THE COMEDY OF TERRORS) and this trend would continue with his participation in AIP'S DR. GOLDFOOT AND THE BIKINI MACHINE and DR. GOLDFOOT AND THE GIRL BOMBS and again with Fox's "Batman" series (as "Egghead"). However, in TOMB OF LIGEIA, he plays the romantic and gothic aspect well and the audience actually ends up caring for him and rooting for him as he attempts to break free from Ligeia's possession of him and be with Rowena whom he genuinely loves. On the audio commentary track with Roger Corman, he reveals that Mr. Price had heavier make-up than usual in order to make him look younger than his real life 53 years.
Other members of the excellent cast include Elizabeth Shepherd as Ligeia/Rowena and this gifted British actress does a great job with both roles. Even though Ligeia is mostly seen lying down dead, Shepherd brings an eerie and hypnotizing quality to Ligeia's face that suggests she could easily control Verden and Rowena from her grave. As Rowena, Shepherd brings a dignity and feistiness that makes the audience sympathize with her and hope that she too (along with Verden) will defeat Ligeia's influence and can live happily with her husband. Genre fans will recall Elizabeth Shepherd in a small, but memorable role as the doomed journalist Hart in Fox's DAMIEN: OMEN II (1978). John Westbrook is good as Rowena's jilted suitor, Christopher Gough, but he had a better role a few months earlier as "Death" in Corman's MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH. Derek Francis plays Rowena's father, Lord Trevanian and he will be easily recognizable from Hammer's RASPUTIN: THE MAD MONK (1965). Oliver Johnston is also good as Fell's loyal butler, Kenrick and he later appeared with Roddy McDowell in 1966's IT. However, in a very small role as Peperel, Lord Trevanian's butler is none other than British actor Frank Thornton who is probably best known in the United States as "Captain Stephen Peacock" in the long running British sitcom, "Are You Being Served?"
Previously released on a 2003 Midnite Movies DVD from MGM (paired with the telefilm AN EVENING OF EDGAR ALLAN POE), TOMB OF LIGEIA now gets new life via a beautiful HD transfer making one appreciate the film like never before. Presented in 1080p and preserving the original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, colors are nicely saturated (especially the red riding suits of Christopher and Rowena in the opening fox hunt and again in the blazing finale), black levels are deep and the image is so well defined it’s easy to detect the glue on Price’s forehead from where is black wig was stuck on. The transfer very much displays how beautiful a film LIGEIA is, and even when there some minor speckle seen on the source element, the image still looks quite impressive on a whole. This mono audio is presented in a DTS Master Audio with the dialogue, the excellent score by Kenneth V. Jones, and sound effects all coming off clear and distinguishable. Optional English subtitles are included.
The special features for TOMB OF LIGEIA includes a solid new audio commentary recorded for this Blu-ray with actress Shepherd, conducted by filmmaker Roy Frumkes. Shepherd is still very very fond of the film so many years later, and she remembers the making of it very well, relaying specific details about many key scenes, her cast mates and director Corman (as you’ll discover, the actress kept a diary when making the film). A second audio commentary track (originally recorded for the 2003 MGM DVD) features a solo Corman reminiscing about making the film. Corman, who is always a pleasure to listen to on these things with his soothing voice, makes some good and informative comments which are a treat for any genre fan and well worth revisiting even if you’ve heard the commentary years ago. A third and brand new audio commentary has film historian Constantine Nasr relaying just about everything you want to know about the film, exclaiming that it represents the best of Poe, Corman and Price. He compares LIGEIA to the look of a Hammer film due to the British crew and that an uncredited Daniel Haller worked as set decorator (along with Colin Southcott) shortly before directing DIE MONSTER DIE. Again from those great 1982 intros and outros, Price opens and closes the film, calling LIGEIA “splendid gothic horror” as he talks about his character and shares some factoids about the film and its use of natural locations. Price closes with a quote from a review of the film and mentions his old pal Roger’s then-current success with his New World Pictures. A still gallery and the original theatrical trailer round out the extras for LIGEIA.
Disc 3 offers RETURN OF THE FLY. After the enormous box office success of THE FLY in 1958, producer Robert L. Lippert and Twentieth Century-Fox hoped to strike gold once again and worked together on this hastily produced, but in many ways effective black and white sequel to a color hit. Approximately 15 years after Andre Delambre’s death, Helene Delambre passes away from “shock and grief” having never fully recovered after helping her husband commit horrible suicide. Philippe Delambre (played by little Charles Herbert in the 1958 film and now played as an adult by Brett Halsey) asks his Uncle Francois Delambre (Price, the only returning cast member from the original film) to explain to him the circumstances of his father’s tragic death. After relating the events from the previous film to Philippe, the young scientist decides to reconstruct Andre’s teleportation machine and prove that it can be used successfully. Against the wishes of his uncle who fears another experimental disaster, Philippe and his assistant Alan Hinds (David Frankham) begin revisiting Andre’s experiment. After realizing that Alan is actually a spy, Philippe calls the police, but before they arrive, Alan knocks Philippe unconscious and puts him in the teleportation booth with a fly. The resulting mutation is the body of Philippe Delambre with a gigantic head, arm, and foot of a fly. The rest of the film deals with Philippe’s spectacular revenge as well as the frantic search for him and the tiny fly with a human head.
Produced on a lower budget than the previous film, RETURN OF THE FLY still utilizes the Cinemascope technology and in some ways is more effective with its moody black and white photography by Brydon Baker. The fly costume is a bit more absurd than the first film with its gigantic head although the half-man/half-guinea pig mutant played by Patrick O’Hara is eerily done. Stuntman Ed Wolff portrays Philippe as the fly and not Halsey unlike David Hedison who wore the fly make up in the first film. British character actor David Frankham (who would later work with Price in 1961’s MASTER OF THE WORLD and 1962’s TALES OF TERROR) effectively portrays villain Alan Hinds as does portly Dan Seymour as his undertaker assistant Max Barthold. Halsey is good as Philippe and Price is his usual reliable self complete with the “velvet-voice” from the original film. He has often said that this film was not bad, but he did object to filming in black and white because the first one was in color and felt that both should be in color to keep the continuity. Director Edward L. Bernds (best known for The Three Stooges shorts) keeps the pace moving briskly for 80 minutes (about 14 minutes shorter than THE FLY).
RETURN OF THE FLY was first released on DVD by Fox in 2000, and then in a much improved version which showed up on their 2007 DVD set, “The Fly Collection” (for those wanting the original THE FLY on Blu-ray, Fox recently released it themselves as a standalone release). For their second Price Blu-ray set, Shout! Factory licenses RETURN OF FLY from Fox in a transfer called from a beautiful HD master. Presented here in 1080p, the film is presented in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio with the contrasts of the black and white image being perfectly balanced throughout, with blacks appearing nice and deep. Detail is very sharp and the image is very clean and void of excessive print blemishes. The mono DTS Master audio is likewise strong. Optional English subtitles are included.
David Del Valle (who first saw the film as a kid on a double bill with THE ALLIGATOR PEOPLE) moderates an all new audio commentary with star Brett Halsey. Topics cover the reason why Herbert Marshall from the original film did not appear here, the continuity between original and sequel, Halsey’s memories of Price (he also starred with him in TWICE TOLD TALES and has only nice things to say about him), Halsey’s memories of director Bernds, and a lot more. Del Valle covers much of the film’s background while Halsey remembers quite a lot from this period of his career as he was coming under contract for Fox (Halsey also talks a bit about his working with some well-known Italian horror film directors: Mario Bava, Lucio Fulci and Riccardo Freda). A trailer (narrated by Paul Frees) and a TV spot (as a combo with THE ALLIGATOR PEOPLE) are included, as is a still gallery.
Also on Disc 3 is DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN. Since THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES made a lot of money for AIP, DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN followed immediately the next year. The film uses the same formula, but is heavier on black humor and gore. Price once again does the morbid character great justice, now moving the setting to an exotic foreign land and still maintaining the same level of Art Deco design, making the film an outlandish and enjoyable continuation. The film commences with narrator Gary Owens (not Paul Frees as many believe) telling us that after three years, Dr. Phibes has risen out of his death-like sleep to continue his vow to restore life to his wife Victoria (an uncredited Caroline Munro, AT THE EARTH’S CORE), still in a state of suspended animation. And so emerges Vulnavia to assist him, this time played by the beautiful Valli Kemp (Virginia North's Vulnavia was drenched with acid and rushed to a hospital in the previous film). Phibes plots to revive Victoria through a secret elixir hidden in an underground chamber deep below a mountain in the Egyptian desert. At the same time, a determined rival scientific genius, Biederbeck (Robert Quarry, THE DEATHMASTER), mounts an expedition in search of the same wonder drug.
Produced by Louis M. “Deke” Heyward, DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN was written by director Robert Fuest and Robert Blees, and this time they're not restricted to the plagues of the Old Testament as inspiration for effective murders. Raising the camp value up a few notches, Biederbeck's manservant (Milton Reid, TERROR OF THE TONGS) has a spike protrude from a telephone (a clever nod to the deadly binoculars of HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM?), piercing him ear-to-ear. Here Phibes proceeds to eliminate members of Biederbeck's expedition while competing for the elixir. One member is stung to death by scorpions, another (Lewis Fiander, WHO WOULD KILL A CHILD?) is crushed by a "sausage machine," another ("Inspector Morse" TV star John Thaw) is devoured by an eagle and a fourth member (Gerald Sim, DR. JEKYLL AND SISTER HYDE) has his flesh extracted by a sand-blasting contraption. Biederbeck's assistant, Ambrose (appropriately played by boozy Oscar winner Hugh Griffith who appeared as a rabbi in the first film), is sealed inside a gigantic gin bottle and thrown overboard from the luxury liner en route to Egypt. And in probably the best on-screen murder, expedition member Stewart (Keith Buckley, VIRGIN WITCH) is caught in a crustacean sculptured spike trap and devoured by scorpions.
Returning from the first film and giving the sequel some nice, dry comic touches are Peter Jeffrey (COUNTESS DRACULA) as Trout and his superior, Superintendent Waverly (John Cater, whose character is now given way more screen time), who together follow Phibes to Egypt. Also back is Terry-Thomas who was a doctor drained of blood in the first film; this time he turns in an even more amusing, non-fatal cameo. Comic actress Beryl Reid (THE BEAST IN THE CELLAR) does a charming bit, and Peter Cushing (who was obviously added to the cast for marquee value) appears all too briefly as a ship's captain. Lovely starlet Fiona Lewis (THE FURY) plays Biederbeck's love interest, ultimately the reason why he goes through the lengths that he does.
Fresh from his highly memorable role as the bloodsucker in COUNT YORGA, VAMPIRE and its excellent sequel THE RETURN OF COUNT YORGA, Robert Quarry is superb in the role of Biederbeck. If Price tends to get too hammy for some, Quarry is the exact opposite, playing a no-nonsense, humorless individual, bent on finding the elixir of life. For once, Phibes has an adversary who can actually outwit him at times, as the police are always totally useless, and Quarry pulls this off with complete confidence. AIP obviously had big things planned for the actor, and his remaining films under contract for the company, while enjoyable, failed to make an impact (the rivalry between Price and Quarry has been well publicised over the years, and the two would later appear in MADHOUSE together, Price’s farewell to AIP and his succession of horror classics).
MGM first released DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN on DVD in 2001 with a far-from-perfect that has been repackaged a number of titles over the years (including a Midnite Movies double feature with the first film and a Price box set), and this is another title just aching for a Blu-ray release. Scream Factory uses MGM’s HD master for this Blu-ray presentation, in 1080p and preserving the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The transfer here is on par with the excellent presentation of the first film, as the image is crisp and colors are ever so vibrant. The DTS Master Audio English track is also nice and clean, and optional English subtitles are also included. Note that like the last DVD version, two bits missing from previous home video versions due to music rights issues (a scene where Phibes and Vulnavia waltz to the sounds of "You Stepped Out of A Dream" and Price's rendition of "Over the Rainbow" heard over the end credits) are again fully restored on this definitive Blu-ray edition. Extras are slim for this title, as there’s only a theatrical trailer and still galley on hand.
The sole feature film on Disc 4 is HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL, which has been released on DVD more times than I we honestly keep track of. Save for NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, we’d be willing to wager that it holds the record for the most released cult title. Since the theatrical release of its inferior remake in 1999, Warner Home Video, Alpha and Legend Films have all released HOUSE in stand alone editions, with the later colorizing the film. Both VCI and Diamond have issued the picture as a double bill with THE LAST MAN ON EARTH, as have several other budget discs releases, often pairing the film with Crane Wilbur’s THE BAT. At times triple billed and included in a variety of horror/public domain collections, if you’re a William Castle fan it would be safe to assume that you already own this title. But rest assured, HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL’s Blu-ray debut beats out all previous DVD editions by a landslide.
The very wealthy and somewhat eccentric Frederick Loren (Price) has invited five guests to attend a haunted house party, thrown in honor of his wife Annabelle (Carol Ohmart, SPIDER BABY). All five attendees, a psychiatrist (Alan Marshal as Dr. David Trent), a test pilot (Richard Long as Lance Schroeder), a newspaper columnist (Julie Mitchum as Ruth Bridgers), an employee of Mr. Loren’s (Carolyn Craig as Nora Manning) and the house's current title-holder Watson Pritchard (Elisha Cook Jr., BLACULA), have been told that if they can survive the night locked in the house on haunted hill, that they will each receive $10,000. Arriving in hearses, the guests appear to be complete strangers to one another, yet they all have one thing in common, they all desperately need the money promised by Mr. Loren. After introductions and a few drinks, each partygoer is presented with a tiny coffin within which contains a loaded pistol. Reiterating the night’s rules, Frederick gives his guests one last chance to back out of his generous, if not macabre offer before the clock strikes midnight and the doors lock them in until morning.
One of William Castle’s finest, HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL is a howl from beginning to end. Packed with decapitated heads, vats of acid and levitating skeletons, HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL still entertains even with the “Emergo” experience long retired. Vincent Price steals the show, as he is so often prone to do, in a role that provides him several devilishly decadent monologues with which to chew. The film’s initial exchange between him and Carol Ohmart is one of my favorite Price moments, providing for a fiendish banter between the two married enemies. Filled with thrills and chills, Castle pulls out all the old horror staples (doors closing by themselves, crashing chandeliers, ceilings that drip blood and plenty of jumps scares), playing them at a brisk 75 minutes that makes cheap look charming. For its initial theatrical release, Castle devised a gimmick called “Emergo”, in which a prop skeleton, hidden in box at the side of the screen would emerge during the film's climax and would be raised above the heads of the audience by wires, immersing them into the action onscreen. Castle would continue his affinity for attention grabbing devices with his second collaboration with Price, THE TINGLER. With "Percepto!”, electrical "buzzers" were placed under random seats of the audience that would vibrate at the appropriate time, giving a number unsuspecting attendees a quick jolt.
Assumed by the their logo which appears on the bottom of the back cover (along with MGM’s and Fox’s logos), Warner Bros. licensed HOUSE to Shout! Factory, thus making this Blu-ray official despite its public domain notoriety. Presented here in 1080p HD and in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio, the result is a transfer that looks pretty stunning compared to what we’re used to for this title. Detail is strong throughout (having far more depth than any previous home video version) and black levels are deep and consistent, with a nice compliment of grays, and contrasts are also steady. Any minor debris and ever so slight vertical scratches or hints of grain only help retain that filmic look here, and HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL has never looked better! Likewise, the mono DTS Master Audio is extremely clean with no detectable flaws, and optional English subtitles are also included.
Film historian Steve Haberman is on hand for an audio commentary where he shares much information about the film’s production, the Emergo gimmick, the cast and crew and Castle’s great sense of ballyhoo and how he got Price to star in the film, and that screenwriter Robb White never had anything good to say about Castle except for this very film. In 2007, MGM produced three excellent featurettes on Price (and featuring interviews from various film historians and authors and the late screenwriter Christopher Wicking) exclusively for their “Vincent Price: MGM Scream Legends Collection” and those are featurettes are present here: “Vincent Price: Renaissance Man" (27:20 ), "The Art of Fear" (12:13 ) and "Working with Vincent Price" (15:26). “Introductory Price: Undertaking the Vincent Price Gothic Horrors” (13:17) is a gem of a featurette, and tells the tale of the 1982 Price intros and outros found on both of Scream’s Price Blu-ray sets. Duane Huey, a former executive producer at Iowa Public Television, is interviewed, discussing how when the TV station had a package of Price AIP films, they were able to get Price to come in and do these precious on-screen wraps. Shot at the appropriately gothic Salisbury House (J. Eric Smith, the house’s executive director, is also interviewed), these wraps were written by Huey himself (based on old print interviews with Price), and here you’ll see even more rare Price footage, including some behind the scenes stuff and bloopers! As expected, Price was great on the set and had fun shooting his footage for the 11-week film series all in one long day. HOUSE’s original theatrical trailer, a still gallery and a Vincent Price Trailer Collection round out the extras on Disc 4. The set also includes a nice booklet with liner notes and a number of stills and artwork for the seven films presented. (George R. Reis and Joe Cascio)
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