'The Last Man on Earth' - When a disease turns all of humanity into the living dead, the last man on earth becomes a reluctant vampire hunter.
'The Comedy of Terrors' - Waldo Trumbull, an undertaker who hasn't had any 'customers' in a long time is forced the pay one year's back-rent. To get money he starts to kill people in order to get new clients.
'Dr. Phibes Rises Again' - The vengeful Doctor rises again, seeking the Scrolls of Life in an attempt to resurrect his deceased wife.
'The Tomb of Ligeia' - A man's obsession with his dead wife drives a wedge between him and his new bride.
'The Raven' - A magician who has been turned into a raven turns to a former sorcerer for help in this film loosely based on the Edgar Allen Poe poem.
'Return of the Fly' - 15 years after the events of "The Fly," Andre's son does some transportation experimentation of his own.
'House on Haunted Hill' - A millionaire offers ten thousand dollars to five people who agree to be locked in a large, spooky, rented house overnight with he and his wife.
In spite of its title having been purloined from Edgar Allan Poe's most famous piece of composition, Roger Corman's 'The Raven' has little, if anything, to do with the Master of the Macabre's lyrically-told supernatural tale. Or to be more precise: aside from the beginning, the 1963 movie is far from an adaptation of the original 1845 poem, opting for quirky, tongue-in-cheek references over a faithful take. In fact, it's barely even inspired by it. To be fair, however, it was never intended as a film version of Poe's elegantly structured narrative poem, which ironically is the charm behind Corman's production. And this is also not a remake of Lew Landers's 1935 horror flick, which starred legends of the genre Béla Lugosi and Boris Karloff. Rather, it's a pleasantly enchanting comedy with a dash of the bumbling slapstick, all of it centered on a trio of competitive sorcerers in the 15th Century circumstantially battling to be number one.
Marking the fifth in the Corman-Poe series of films, of which there were eight and four of which are collected in the first Vincent Price collection, the odd but delightful B-movie opens with celebrated horror favorite Vincent Price as Dr. Erasmus Craven, who retired his magical ways to mourn the death of his lost Lenore (Hazel Court). While pitying his loneliness alone in his locked study, he's visited by a talking raven. The reference to Poe's famous poem ends here, the moment Craven's conversation with the bird reveals that the bird is actually fellow sorcerer Dr. Bedlo (Peter Lorre) and transformed by the evil wizard Dr. Scarabus (Boris Karloff). When the two travel to confront the black arts conjurer to a duel, joined by Craven's daughter (Olive Sturgess) and Bedlo's son (a very young Jack Nicholson), all sort of wackiness and off-the-wall goofiness ensues, casting a bewitching spell that endlessly entertains. (Movie Rating: 3/5)
The Comedy of Terrors
That same year, Corman's American International Pictures took advantage of having the three icons of the genre at their disposal. So frequent collaborator and legendary author Richard Matheson wrote another script that reunited Price, Lorre and Karloff for another peculiar horror-comedy in 'The Comedy of Terrors.' In the same gothic Poe-esque spirit of 'The Raven' but functioning somewhat more as a follow-up to the previous year's 'Tales of Terror,' the movie is the most outlandish and goofy of the features being churned out AIP during this short-lived period of atmospherically eccentric tales. Loosely inspired by the real-life murdering duo, William Burke and William Hare, Matheson takes the title from one of Shakespeare's earliest plays, Comedy of Errors. However, rather than a plot involving mistaken identities, the goofy farce revolves around a pair of blundering morticians unsuccessfully burying their overbearing landlord.
A mix of mild raunchiness, cartoonish pratfalls and silly blunders, the production stands out for telling a macabre story about a struggling funeral parlor business and the squabbling family running it into the ground. Price takes top-billing as the verbally abusive and irascible undertaker Waldo Trumbull, a horribly nasty and loathsome human being who reuses the coffins he's supposed to bury the dead in. His aspiring opera singer wife Amaryllis (Joyce Jameson), who he married purely for the opportunity of taking over the family business from her slowly dying father Mr. Hinchley (Karloff), is often the victim of his foul obnoxiousness. Along with the timidly disgruntled assistant, Felix Gillie (Lorre), Trumbull haunts the nights in search of unsuspecting and not yet ready clientele. But when he conjures the perfect solution to his financial dilemma, the story quickly grows darker and sillier with Basil Rathbone as the money-grubbing Mr. Black, who hilariously quotes from Shakespeare's Macbeth at the most opportune times, adding to the movie's surprisingly ghoulish merriment. (Movie Rating: 3.5/5)
Tomb of Ligeia
The last in the eight-film series of Corman-directed Poe adaptations, 'Tomb of Ligeia' is arguably the legendary filmmaker's most beautiful and daring of the collection. And that's saying quite a bit when compared to the likes of the hauntingly memorable visuals of 'The Masque of the Red Death' or the evocative, atmospheric stage design of 'House of Usher,' two of which are long-time childhood favorites. At first glance, the film may not appear like anything particularly special or unique, largely lacking the sort of gothic ambience seen in the previous seven features and looking more like your standard horror flick. However, Corman gives the production its distinctive flair by filming outside in a few English countryside locations and using a real abandoned abbey, which goes against his usual tactic of controlled soundstages. In fact, the filmmaker's signature gothic style is all the more evident and pronounced because it takes place in the dour Castle Acre Priory — its dank stone walls and dark, grim hallways creating a miserable, claustrophobic feel that permeates the entire story.
With beautiful photography by Arthur Grant and handsome art design by Colin Southcott, Corman directs with a suave confidence and stylish craftsmanship that impresses — grand sweeping pans and dolly shots use the open space of the somber feeling abbey and several wide shots give us gorgeous panoramic views of the scenery. The camerawork is largely responsible for the film's uniqueness because it maintains the gothic sensibility expected of the director sans the colorful schlock seen in his earlier productions. The inimitable Vincent Price as the morose Verden Fell, of course, chews up the scenery with a seriousness and twinkle in his eye as only he can. Despite mourning the death of his blasphemous wife Ligeia, the widower marries the outspoken Rowena Trevanion (Elizabeth Shepherd), ushering a series of creepy happenings and hair-raising troubles. It also brings questions by a close friend (John Westbrook) about the estate and the deceased ex, creating an unusual love triangle amid the hauntings and mystery. The usual corniness is present, but 'Tomb of Ligeia' is a beautifully constructed tale about a new, blushing bride competing with the ghost of her predecessor. (Movie Rating: 4/5)
The Last Man on Earth
The same year Mr. Price starred as a recluse gloomy Gus in 'Tomb of Ligeia,' he strutted his talent for carrying an entire film by taking on the challenging role of a reclusive gloomy Gus in 'Last Man on Earth.' On paper that may not sound like much of a stretch, but in action, the incomparable icon of horror demonstrates the characters couldn't be more different from each other. For one, the description of the first is a noun, meaning his withdrawal from the world is by choice, while the second is an adjective, implying this character's seclusion and solitude has been forced upon him. Price's Dr. Robert Morgan is, as far as we're made aware, literally the last uninfected human, a survivor of a worldwide plague that turns people of into vampire-like creatures. His hermitic existence isn't by choice. A long flashback sequence reveals the scientist was once part of a loving family, had close friends and worked tirelessly to discover a cure for the infection. Three years since the epidemic, he spends his days hunting the bloodthirsty monsters and his nights locked indoors listening to the infected moaning while banging on his doors and windows.
This apocalyptic vision of the future is based on the sci-fi horror novel I Am Legend by Richard Matheson, which has been adapted for film four times. The classic book is a personal favorite from childhood — I still remember the first couple pages of Neville in his station wagon outrunning the creatures scaring the bejesus out of me — and this version by directors Sidney Salkow and Ubaldo Ragona remains the most faithful translation. The concept of surviving a post-apocalyptic world decimated by a plague dates as far back as Mary Shelley's little-known but fascinating The Last Man, but Matheson's story introduces new scientific understandings of disease and sets it within the terrifying prospect of transforming survivors into the living dead. In fact, this is one major difference between the book and film: the infected are slow, lumbering, zombie-like creatures, making it a possible influence to George A. Romero's 'Night of the Living Dead.' The production remains true to its source when Ruth (Franca Bettoia) appears and the plot opens discussions of Price's Morgan being the monster, a legend instilling fear among the new infected society. (Movie Rating: 4/5)
Dr. Phibes Rises Again!
Lest viewers have forgotten, the sequel to the black comedy cult favorite opens with a reminder of what made Dr. Anton Phibes such an abominable monster. Well, perhaps calling him a monster is a bit a harsh since the original movie goes out of its way to have audiences sympathize with his manic pursuit for vengeance. Then again, he's not a kindly figure neither since he's capable of some heinously vicious acts, nor is he exactly an antihero because his cruel retaliation comes from a demented perception of wrongdoing. And still, horror cult fans love the character, especially thanks to the wonderfully outlandish performance of Vincent Price. Forced to using a device in his neck that allows him to speak, the character is a flamboyant, eccentric individual with lots of money to spend apparently. As if in the tradition of a Bond villain, the wounded — both physically and spiritually — Phibes is a determined megalomaniac with a straightforward motive — to resurrect his beloved Victoria — and nothing on this planet will stop him from completing his goal.
Unlike the first movie's murder spree, Phibes doesn't have Scotland Yard to worry about this time around although Inspector Trout (Peter Jeffrey) and Superintendent Waverley (John Cater) do return for this follow-up, which is set three years after the events of the first. Their manhunt takes them to a hidden tomb in Egypt where the doctor of music and theology is in a deadly competition of wits with Darius Biederbeck (Robert Quarry), a man also desperate for discovering the secret to immortality. And this is where things become interesting. If the first feature only had viewers sympathizing with Phibes's twisted plans, this curiously amusing sequel will have fans championing his comically wacko carnage. Part of our siding with the oddball doctor comes from the fact that Biederbeck is a self-centered jerk and we want him to lose. Phibes tortures Biederbeck's excavation team with the most hilariously bizarre devices, like the one where a sleeping cot is painfully squeezed into a box. Of course, most will be curious as to how Phibes acquired these fabulous toys in the desert of Egypt, but such logic is soon ignored when you're having this much fun. (Movie Rating: 3.5/5)
Return of the Fly
Picking up fifteen years after the events of the first movie, 'Return of the Fly' goes straight to a quick recap immediately following the funeral of Helene, wife and mother who participated in the murder-suicide of scientist Andre Delambre. But rather than doing a fancy editing job with footage from the 1958 horror classic, director Edward Bernds ('World without End,' 'Queen of Outer Space') has Vincent Price reprising his role as Francois explain the appalling incident to his nephew, Phillipe (Brett Halsey). The young man's reaction to his parent's gruesome fates is somewhat comical; he barely shows any emotion and doesn't even seem mildly disturbed hearing the monstrous consequences of his father's meddling with the limits of human knowledge. In fact, Phillipe, an aspiring scientist himself, admits to he's more determined than ever to continue his father's efforts of building a transporter, hoping to defend his family's name and the memory of a man whose death remains a mystery.
Filled with various gadgets, doodads and contraptions that make pointless loud noises and lights that flicker randomly, the movie comes with the usual B-movie trappings where the dialogue is riddled with nonsensical verbiage that makes the characters appear smarter than they really are. But it's all to comical effect — though the tone is deadly serious — while waiting for the inevitable moment when Phillipe follows in his father's footsteps and transforms into a half human, half fly monster. Although the motivated young lad avoids the same mistakes as dear ole dad, his single-minded ambition has apparently blinded him from the double-crossing greed of his colleague Alan Hinds (David Frankham). Except, his betrayal brings up larger questions of how he was even hired in the first place. All the same, his role is a necessary device, providing an engaging suspense element to this revenge horror plot that goes darker than its predecessor. The murder scenes are fairly brutal, particularly the shocking death of a poor guinea pig, but it makes for an entertaining follow-up to a classic. (Movie Rating: 3.5/5)
House on Haunted Hill
From a career spanning a jaw-dropping six decades, 'House on Haunted Hill' is arguably Vincent Price's most recognizable and famous role. Others will be quick to point out 'House of Wax' and 'The Fly' as equally renowned performances while ardent, rabid fans will interject with his turn as Sir Geoffrey Radcliffe in 'The Invisible Man Returns' and as criminal mastermind Egghead in the 1960s 'Batman' television series as beloved moments. In either case, average moviegoers will likely know the actor best as the eccentric millionaire Frederick Loren. Unless, their initial response when asked to name their favorite Vincent Price movie is "Who?" which then brings into question if they've ever watched a movie before 1993. But the point remains, this William Castle classic usually falls at the top of most everyone's list, and it's for good reason. Price is clearly having a devilishly good time as a man audiences are never sure whether to trust or fear. From his smile, gait and glaring eyes, the genre icon keeps viewers at bay and uncertain, always second-guessing his motives.
Admittedly, the 1959 chiller comes with its share of campiness, from the superimposed floating heads delivering exposition to a nervous Elisha Cook giving audiences a tour of the house, but it also manages to provide a few amusing scares along the way. While the overly-anxious Watson (Cook) walks four other guests (Richard Long, Julie Mitchum, Carolyn Craig, and Alan Marshal) around the supposedly haunted mansion, there is a creepy, murderous friction between Frederick and his seemingly contemptible fourth wife Annabelle (Carol Ohmart). Their back and forth banter is wickedly amusing, fraught with a bizarre sexual tension that's underscored with hostility and insinuations of viciousness. Altogether, Castle wonderfully establishes a disturbing, spine-chilling atmosphere that makes viewers wait for the scary bits until the air thick with eerie suspense. The best moment, to this day, is the old, gray-haired lady suddenly appearing behind an already terrified Nora Manning. Better still is Price in his most memorable role, which has made him the icon and mainstay of the horror film genre. (Movie Rating: 4.5/5)
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Shout! Factory brings 'The Vincent Price Collection II' to Blu-ray under the distributor's Scream Factory line as four-disc box set with an attractive slipcover and cover art that reveals a cool effect. The first six films are spread across three Region A locked, BD50 discs, and viewers are given a choice of which movie to watch at startup before switching to the standard menu screen with full-motion clips and music. The last film arrives on a separate Region A locked, BD50 discs and goes straight to an animated menu screen at startup. All four discs come inside a blue case that is slightly thicker than normal, and the package includes a 32-page booklet with an informative, detailed essay by film historian David Del Valle and several color photos and reprints of art posters.
The Raven/The Comedy of Terrors
As seems to be a common case in most Shout! releases, the AVC-encoded presentations (2.35:1) of the two comedy-horror favorites arrives with the occasional white spots, specks of dirt and a couple soft, poorly-resolved scenes. On the bright side, the sources used for both movies appear to be in fairly great condition, offering strong, sharp details in the costumes and stage design while facial complexions are healthy with good textures and visible wrinkles in the faces of the legendary actors.
The first movie, however, suffers a tad from the yellowish tint that normally happens with age, making colors somewhat drab but decently bold nonetheless. Contrast and brightness fail to impressive in any way, but the picture is well-balanced with deep, dark blacks and strong shadow delineation. A few sequences in the second movie also show the same tint, but between the two, 'Terrors' is the better looking one. (Video Rating: 3.5/5)
Tomb of Ligeia/The Last Man on Earth
In 'Tomb,' the 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode comes with average contrast though it's not so bad as to ruin the overall quality, but 'Last Man' shows better balance and clarity. Definition in both movies is also not very impressive, but fine lines are nonetheless fairly sharp and objects in the distance are plainly visible throughout. Fans will better appreciate the production design on this high-def upgrade, of course, as both offer a great improvement over previous home video editions; it's just doesn't compare to other releases of this same period.
Although resilient and consistent, blacks tend to waver between accurate to murky, making much of the 2.35:1 images somewhat flat and a tad dull, but in 'Last Man,' however, brightness levels can also come off a tad strong in a few spots. Colors in 'Tomb' are cleanly rendered but are also rather lackluster, considering the photography is filled with a wide array of hues. In the end, the prints of both are in good shape, but white specks and dirt occasionally pop up, and several scenes are poorly resolved. (Video Rating: 3/5)
Dr. Phibes Rises Again!/Return of the Fly
The pair of sequels seeks vengeance with satisfying results on Blu-ray. Colors are bold and vivid in 'Dr. Phibes.' Primaries are particularly well saturated, giving the picture a lovely, energetic appeal, while secondary hues are cleanly rendered with healthy skin tones throughout. The black and white cinematography in 'Return of the Fly,' comparatively speaking, is in far better shape, offering a significant improvement over previous editions.
Contrast and brightness are nicely balanced in both movies with blacks looking quite rich and accurate, and although whites are, for the most part, stable and brilliant, highlights come off a tad strong in 'Dr. Phibes,' creating mild posterization and blooming. Still, the 1.85:1 is comfortably bright while the Cinemascope photography of 'Return' comes with excellent clarity and visibility of the finer details in the distance. The stitching in clothing is detailed and facial complexions are often revealing. Of course, the source used in each film comes with its share of soft spots and a couple poorly resolved moments. (Video Rating: 3.5/5)
House on Haunted Hill
The William Castle classic haunts the Blu-ray mansion with an excellent 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode that will scare away previous home video editions. Fine lines and objects are nicely detailed and resolute, exposing every stitch and wrinkle in the clothing. Viewers can make out the tiniest object in the background, and the intricate design on the curtains and the wood furniture is plainly visible throughout. Close-ups are surprisingly revealing with lifelike definition in the facial complexions. A few spots are poorly resolved, but they are the result of the source's condition and editing when one scene dissolves to the next. Contrast is spot-on with brilliant whites, and blacks are accurate with strong shadow delineation, providing great depth. The 1.85:1 does come with its share of age-related issues, like scratches and white specks, but with a very fine layer of natural grain throughout, the film-like video looks great. (Video Rating: 4/5)
The Raven/The Comedy of Terrors
On the audio side, both comedies are about equal in DTS-HD MA mono soundtracks with great clarity and distinction in the instrumentation, which is essential for providing the movies with humor. In the case of 'Terrors,' the silly circus-like score displays outstanding separation between the mids and highs while the ear-piercing, high-pitched notes of Amaryllis Trumbull's singing and fiddle playing remain precise and clean. Dialogue reproduction in both films is intelligible, making every weeping whine, every abusive gripe and every forlorn moan crystal clear. Although only limited to the center channel, the movies come with a wonderful sense of presence, creating a satisfying soundstage that's funny and engaging. Low bass is adequate and surprisingly weighty in a couple moments. (Audio Rating: 3.5/5)
Tomb of Ligeia/The Last Man on Earth
Not that I was expecting much from the DTS-HD Master Audio mono soundtracks, but both films have their share of drawbacks along with positives. 'Tomb,' for example, exhibits some clipping in the higher frequencies, which is a shame. Of course, this only comes during the loudest, scariest scenes, but that's where disappointment lays. Those moments of screeching yells, cracking thunder and sudden booming crashes are the best parts, but it comes off a bit too bright and ear-piercing. 'Last Man' may not suffer from the same issues, but the mid-range is nonetheless fairly flat and even with little separation between the finer details, making for a limited and restricted presentation.
In 'Last Man,' the ADR work is not only distractingly noticeable but a few dialogue sequences appear to be out of sync, but vocals in both remain intelligible and well-prioritized. There's no bass to speak of in either film, as well, adding to the lossless mixes' somewhat plain, uniform style. (Audio Rating: 2.5/5)
Dr. Phibes Rises Again!/Return of the Fly
On the audio side, the movies arrive in a similar fashion as the others with a pair of DTS-HD mono soundtracks that are largely satisfying but come with a few minor issues worth noting. Vocals are distinct and precise, and, for the most part, imaging is quite engaging with a strong presence. However, dynamic range falls somewhat flat, failing to really offer much separation and clarity in the mids. There is some unfortunate clipping in the higher frequencies and the couple moments of action tend to come off a bit bright. Low bass is lacking in both films, leaving much to be desired in the lossless mixes and creating an overall uniform, somewhat limited presentation. (Audio Rating: 3/5)
House on Haunted Hill
The horror favorite terrorizes and startles with an entertaining DTS-HD monaural soundtrack. Exhibiting plenty of fine details and audible activity in the background, imaging feels hearty and substantial. Dynamic range is surprisingly extensive, delivering excellent clarity and separation between the various screams, blood-curdling cries and the piercingly loud bangs without a hint of distortion. Since a majority of the movie centers around backstabbing conversations and snide insinuations, the dialogue is distinct and precise throughout, making the thunderous creepy moments all the more appreciable. Sadly, there isn't any low bass to speak of, making the lossless mix a tad flat, but overall, it's a fun high-rez track fans will love. (Audio Rating: 3.5/5)
Even if one has never watched any of his films, the face and voice of Vincent Price has become a familiar cultural icon of horror cinema, earning him the affectionate title of "Master of Menace." The beloved legendary actor is arguably best known for 'House on Haunted Hill' as well his collaborations with Roger Corman's adaptations of Poe's horror tales and Richard Matheson's book 'I Am Legend.' Shout! Factory gathers these five film classics along with two treasured cult favorites for an amazing box collection that fans will want to own. All seven films arrive with strong audio and video presentations that best previous home video editions. Under the distributor's Scream Factory line, Shout! includes a healthy assortment of supplements for fans to sift through, making this box set an awesome addition to anyone's horror library.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.