Vincent Price Collection III Blu-ray Review (originally published 2016)
A mysterious man by the name of Robur (Vincent Price) and his Albatross airship crew kidnap a scientist named Prudent (Henry Hull) and his team in hopes of enlisting them in a fanatical scheme to save the world from war.
Having either released or lost the chance to release Vincent Price’s most famous horror films (Kino Lorber ended up with a lot of the others – though no one has claimed the distribution rights to Theatre of Blood, yet), Scream Factory is dipping into the actor’s fantasy and adventure films for their latest collection, beginning with William Witney’s Master of the World (1961). Written by Richard Matheson between Corman/Poe films (based on Jules Verne’s Robur the Conqueror  and its sequel, Master of the World ), this was reportedly American International Pictures’ somewhat belated attempt to cash-in on movies, like Michael Anderson’s Around the World in 80 Days (1956). Master of the World also borrows quite a bit of tone and imagery from Richard Fleischer’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (a film it actually name-drops in the trailer, 1954), while simultaneously predicting the joyfully silly inflections of Disney’s more cartoonish features, as well as Ken Hughes’ Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968). I personally would’ve preferred a bit more of that silliness, considering the debt that Witney already owes to better and less silly films. Price’s performance has some of that Dr. Goldfoot camp, but tends to be more melancholic. He and Hull are anchored by the rest of the cast, specifically Mary Webster as Prudent’s daughter, Dorothy, and an uncharacteristically genial Charles Bronson. Witney, who was a stalwart B-action workhorse throughout the ‘40s and ‘50s, lends his skills to a myriad of special effects shots – most of which are up to the standards of the film’s bigger-budget competitors (aside from that particularly goofy volcano model). For the most part, though, he stays out of Price’s way and rightly trusts cinematographer Gil Warrenton to make Daniel Haller’s elaborate production design look great.
Note that this is the 102-minute complete version of Master of the World, not the slightly edited 99-minute version (the difference seems to be only a musical epilogue).
Master of the World did make appearances on anamorphic DVDs from MGM in the US, KSM in Germany, and 101 Films in the UK. This marks its Blu-ray debut and the 1.85:1, 1080p transfer was reportedly sourced from the original 35mm Interpositive. The results are mostly good, especially the searingly bright colors (the neutral hues skew a bit blue, but never at the risk of the pinks, purples, and reds), tight blacks, and generally consistent details. On the other hand, there is substantial print damage throughout the entire film – more than perhaps any other recent Blu-ray release of an AIP/MGM B-movie. A lot of this is unavoidable, such as the increasingly thick grain and loss of detail during process shots (clearly the result of microphotography and layering), and even more of it is easy to ignore, like the occasional cigarette burn, but the constant stream of snowy noise and small scratches is problematic. Still, Scream Factory avoided ‘correcting’ the issue with DNR and there is a certain charm to its artifacts.
The back of the box states that this DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track is a ‘new stereo soundtrack created from the original 4-track mag.’ 4-track stereo was a pretty big expenditure for AIP in the 1960s, as the format was mostly reserved for big-budget musicals and Disney movies, so an attempt at faithful recreation is a valuable addition to this release – especially considering that previous DVDs included only mono tracks. The effort is worthwhile, including substantial dual-channel effects (specifically the echo effects used when Price shouts over the ship’s PA system) and immersive aural qualities. The ‘ghost’ center channel is neatly separated as well, despite it not being a discrete channel. There is also a DTS-HD Master Audio mono track, which has slightly crisper aural details and more consistent volume levels, but AIP regular Les Baxter’s score is vastly improved by the stereo spread. There is a bit around the 46-minute mark where the dialogue is briefly missing from both tracks, so I assume it wasn’t properly recorded in the first place.
Commentary with actor David Frankham – Frankham, who plays the thankless role of the lame duck love interest and spends most of the movie not being as cool as Chuck Bronson, takes a ‘nostalgic trip’ with a little help from moderator/television actor/Blu-ray producer, Jonathan David Dixon. While Dixon supplies listeners with context and production histories, the actor charmingly rambles his way through delightful anecdotes from on and off the set – everything from how he got the job to his cat embarrassing him by attacking Price.
Richard Matheson: Storyteller: Extended Cut (1:12:10, SD) – An extension of an interview with the author that has made appearances in bits and pieces on other DVD and Blu-ray releases. He effectively discusses his entire career in movies.
Posters/lobby card/behind-the-scenes photo gallery
Gallery of images from Frankham’s personal collection
After the death of his brother, King Edward IV (Justice Watson), King Richard III (Vincent Price) rose to power with lies, intimidation, and murder. Now, he is haunted by the ghosts of his victims, who warn him of his impending death.
At the behest of United Artist producers, Roger Corman wedged Tower of London (1962) – no relation to Rowland V. Lee’s Tower of London (1939), aside from an appearance by Price (in a small role) and some uncredited ‘stock footage’ inserts – between Tales of Terror (1962) and The Raven (1963). UA wanted to cash-in on the popularity of the Poe Cycle for themselves, but also wanted to differentiate the production, so they moved onto a different literary source and asked Corman to shoot the film in black & white. The black & white footage and tight schedule were not unusual, but Tower of London stood apart as a historically-based piece and a loose adaptation of of one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays. Corman and cinematographer Archie R. Dalzell squeeze every ounce of atmosphere from of the (recycled?) production/set design with stark lighting schemes and dynamic camera angles. This also counteracts the stagey feel of the screenplay. Despite changing the story and language considerably, writers Leo Gordon, F. Amos Powell, and Robert E. Kent are surprisingly true to the tone of Shakespeare and the performances are appropriately pitched to the melodrama. Really, outside of the bleak photography, some occasional supernatural trappings, and the director’s reputation, Tower of London isn’t any more a ‘horror’ story than any other movie or TV version of Richard III. There might be more creative torture, I suppose. This may have disappointed fans of the Poe cycle back in the early ‘60s, but it offers modern viewers a chance to see the duo stretching their legs a bit. Price relishes the insanity of the climax wonderfully, while keeping the camp mostly under wraps for the rest of the film.
MGM released a non-anamorphic, 1.66:1 Tower of London on a Midnight Movies double-feature DVD with Corman’s The Haunted Palace (1963). This 1.66:1, 1080p Blu-ray debut was transferred from a fine-grain print, rather than the original negative, so the results aren’t quite as impressive as some of Scream Factory’s other Vincent Price releases. The shapes are tight, the blacks, whites, and grey tones are complex, and there are few signs of compression, aside from maybe a bit of edge enhancement. On the other hand, there are many signs of DNR, such as overly smoothed textures, staggered gradations, and a lack of that ‘fine grain.’ It actually does look better in motion than it does in still on this page. I’ve included with this review. Print damage is minor and usually pops up between what appear to be reel changes and process shots. The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono soundtrack is a bit underwhelming, but the basics – dialogue and incidental effects – are clean, consistent, and without any notable distortion (even the heavy ‘s’ sounds lack hiss). The musical score is credited to Michael Andersen and is a surprisingly consistent element. Fortunately, it dips pretty low whenever characters are talking, so the single channel track is rarely over-crowded. I suspect that the sheer quantity of music was another attempt at counteracting the stage-play tone of the script.
Interview with director Roger Corman (7:10, HD) – This new interview was clearly recorded at the same time as the Corman interviews on previous Scream Factory Price collections. Corman politely and gently discusses the pre-production, writing, the history of Richard III and the Shakespeare play, photography, and Price’s contributions, which included some writing.
Producing Tower of London (14:00, SD) – The next interview was taken from MGM’s previous DVD release and delves into producer Gene Corman’s role on the film. Roger makes an appearance as well, though the behind-the-scenes story is told mostly from his brother’s point-of-view.
Two episodes of Science Fiction Theatre starring Vincent Price (both from 1956): One Thousand Eyes (26:10, SD) – Directed by Paul Guilfoyle and written by Stuart Jerome; black & white; Operation Flypaper (26:10, SD) – Directed by Eddie Davis and written by Doris Gilbert; colour.
When French magistrate Simon Cordier (Vincent Price) dies, his diary is discovered and read aloud to a gathering of friends, servants, and the police. The diary recounts Cordier’s interactions with a malevolent corporeal being called The Horla that telepathically drives people to acts of evil.
Reginald Le Borg’s Diary of a Madman (1963) is another loose literary adaptation that was produced in hopes of piggybacking on the success of the Corman/Poe movies. Producer/co-writer Robert E. Kent’s script is based on Guy de Maupassant’s short story, The Horla (1887) – a supernatural horror story that was a major influence on H.P. Lovecraft’s brand of terror. The screenplay has a fun flashback structure and builds to a creepily dramatic crescendo, but Kent’s expositional dialogue is rigid and his sense of pacing is quite rough, leading to long and tedious breaks between the otherwise solid horror and romance. Le Borg (given name Grobel) didn’t make a huge impact in genre filmmaking, but had his share of minor hits, including the fourth Universal Mummy movie, The Mummy’s Ghost (1944), and the super spooky all-star vehicle, The Black Sleep (1956). His work here isn’t up to Corman’s ‘spinning gold from aluminum’ standards. Most of the performances, including Price, are all a bit stiff and sleepwalky and there’s a cheap made-for-TV quality to the entire production, despite the impressive set/production design. Still, Le Borg is quite good at building suspense and cinematographer Ellis W. Carter’s expressive Technicolor photography is gorgeous. Nancy Kovack’s performance also elevates every scene she appears in and brings out the best in Price. An apt description might be to call Diary of a Madman a particularly lavish episode of Thriller. Just trim 30 minutes of the most sluggish exposition, censor some of the violence (it’s pretty tame, but not ‘60s TV tame), and add an intro from Boris Karloff.
Diary of a Madman was released on anamorphic DVD in the UK via Simply Media and as part of MGM’s manufactured on-demand disc service. This 1.66:1, 1080p Blu-ray debut was mastered from Interpositive film elements. The results are possibly the best in this particular collection, including natural film grain, tight, but not usually oversharpened details (there are some minor haloes here and there), and impressive overall clarity. Carter’s wonderful Technicolor photography is nicely preserved in all of its vivid glory. The screen is constantly filled with a rainbow’s worth of reds, blues, yellows, greens, pinks, and purples – none of which deter from the consistent browns and those unique Technicolor skin tones. Black levels are also pretty strong, despite appearing bluish upon other Technicolor releases. There is print damage sprinkled throughout the entire runtime and some instances of substantial warping effects, but these are exceptions to rule. The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono soundtrack is another decent showing, from the clear dialogue to the simple effects. There’s a bit more hiss and some drops in volume here and there. Composer Richard LaSalle score is wonderfully dramatic and helps boost the Diary of a Madman out of its occasional cheapness. There’s a lot of music to contend with, so it’s not surprising that a few bits are muffled.
Original designed for television broadcast (I’m not sure which channel), An Evening of Edgar Allan Poe (1972) was produced by AIP head Samuel Z. Arkoff, but was not an entry in the Corman/Poe Cycle. It was more of a reward to Price for past efforts. The entire 53-minute production is devoted to Price alone as he recites The Tell-Tale Heart, The Sphinx, The Cask of Amontillado, and The Pit and the Pendulum on set and in costume. Price has been better in standard film roles, I suppose, but we rarely get the chance to enjoy the purity of an actor do a one-man show that they really care about outside of stage productions. The sheer quantity of lines he’s required to speak is incredible in its own respect. Director/co-writer (David Welch) Kenneth Johnson stuck to television work for most of his career, including stints on The Bionic Woman, The Incredible Hulk, and executive producer credits on V and Alien Nation. Given the lack of cast outside of Price and the solitary stage sets, Johnson doesn’t have a lot of space to express himself as a filmmaker. The slow dolly-ins, occasional whip-pans, and lighting changes work nicely within the confines, while some of the more ‘showy’ choices – extreme close-ups, cross-fades, and post-production special effects – are pretty silly. But it’s a good kind of silly. In all, An Evening of Edgar Allan Poe is an entertaining piece that feels a bit more like an extra than a stand-alone feature.
Because it was recorded for television, there is no film source forAn Evening of Edgar Allan Poe. Scream Factory has made a new standard definition, 1.33:1 transfer from the original 2” tape masters and the results are about as good as can be expected. Clarity isn’t an issue, despite a general softness of details and textures, because this is as much as we can possibly expect from tape-based footage. Colors are consistent and eclectic, though muted and a bit bleedy, due to the format’s shortcomings. The biggest issues are tracking lines, chroma noise, and mosquito noise along the brightest edges. The original mono sound is presented in uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0, despite the tapes themselves being more compressed than film or digital sources. Price’s performance is loud enough to occasionally buzz, but the subtle echo effects add to the stagey feel. Les Baxter’s music (which Johnson claims the composer thought was his best work) is surprisingly warm, despite the occasional crowding issues.
Disc Three Extras include:
Commentary with film historian and author Robert Steve Haberman on both features – Haberman treats these tracks like a professional seminar. He has a plethora of material to work from, including historical stats and cast & crew quotes from various interviews; some of which I assume he conducted. There are short breaks here and there, but, every time Haberman arrives at the end of a specific line of discussion, he’s pretty quick to start a new thread.
Interview with An Evening of Edgar Allan Poe writer/producer/director Kenneth Johnson (21:30, HD) – Johnson discusses his career, from school to live talk shows, meeting and befriending Price, developing and filming the Poe special, and Price’s performance.
Diary of a Madman trailer
Poster and lobby card gallery (Diary of A Madman)
Behind-the-scenes photo gallery (An Evening of Edgar Allan Poe)
Heartless witch-hunting magistrate, Lord Edward Whitman (Vincent Price), arranges the executions of almost every member of a coven of witches. The coven’s head, Oona (Elizabeth Bergner), calls upon the powers of the magical Banshee to exact revenge against Whitman’s family.
The final film in this collection is easily the best and probably the most well-known to boot. Erroneously credited to Poe by the advertising materials (“Edgar Allan Poe probes new depths of terror!,” cried the poster), Cry of the Banshee (1970) is very much AIP’s spiritual successor to Michael Reeves Witchfinder General (which was also erroneously credited to Poe when released stateside in 1968). Tim Kelly and Christopher Wicking’s screenplay revisits the themes of Reeves’ film and the other Witchfinder movies it spawned, as well as recalling the anti-bourgeois sentiments of some of Hammer’s more shocking output (the early banquet sequence has loads in common with Terence Fisher’s Curse of the Werewolf, 1961). British director Gordon Hessler made his American filmmaking debut the year before Cry of the Banshee with The Oblong Box (1969), which is not considered part of the AIP Poe Cycle, despite starring Price. He also made the Price/Christopher Lee/Peter Cushing vehicle Scream and Scream Again (1970) and Murders in the Rue Morgue (1971) for AIP, as well as one of Sho Kosugi’s most popular ninjasploitation movies, Pray for Death (1985). His work here is a very potent mixture of the raw cruelty of Reeves’ Witchfinder genre progenitor and the garish costume drama of Corman’s Poe movies. The cast meets the standard with exaggerated, but not particularly stagey performances. Price has rarely been this blatantly evil in a role, since even Witchfinder General’s Matthew Hopkins doesn’t get drunk and stab children to death. As an added bonus, Terry Gilliam animated the very Monty Python-esque opening titles.
The original director’s cut of Cry of the Banshee (sometimes called the British cut) was released on anamorphic DVD via Optimum in the UK and as part of a Midnight Movies double-feature with Murders in the Rue Morgue via MGM in the US. For its Blu-ray debut, Scream Factory has included that cut, mastered in HD from the original Interpositive, and the AIP cut of the film, which hasn’t been available since VHS versions. For the record, the AIP cut is vastly inferior. It replaces Gilliam’s animated opening sequences, abstractly moves some scenes around, and censors the nudity. However, its inclusion here is exciting for collectors and fans that grew up with the US theatrical release/VHS.
Because it was mastered from color reversal intermediate elements, the director’s cut transfer is another candidate for the best-looking film in this particular collection. Despite a few brief bouts with print damage, this is an orderly 1080p, 1.85:1 image that features sharp edges, complex patterns, and well separated shapes. Grain levels appear accurate, even the select moments where it causes discoloration (usually during very dark sequences) and I see no blatant signs of DNR enhancement or other digital tinkering. Hessler and cinematographer John Coquillon don’t have the advantage of Technicolor stock, but the largely earthy and sometimes muted palette is crisp and the occasional highlights – the soldiers’ bright red costumes, for example – pop beautifully without blocking or bleeding. The AIP cut actually looks quite nice as well, just with a bit more regular print damage (scratches, some frame wiggles, and a few blotchy bits), softer wide-angle textures, and some over-cranked white levels. Overall, the problem is that the film source just doesn’t allow for as much of a dynamic range, which seems to have forced the disc’s producers to lighten the frame.
The other major change to the UK cut was the soundtrack. AIP replaced Wilfred Joseph’s music with original compositions from in-house regular, Les Baxter. Baxter’s score is (arguably) the better music on its own, while Joseph’s tunes more aptly fit the movie. Otherwise, the two DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono soundtracks are comparable in terms of dialogue and effects work. The director’s cut has the edge in terms of cleanliness, because it was culled from an better source. There are moments where Joseph’s score is lost beneath the otherwise tidy dialogue, but the aural compositions rarely sound compressed or overcrowded. According to the disclaimer on the disc, the AIP cut’s audio had to be culled from a different source when they discovered that all of the 35mm print’s sound elements were missing. The results are fuzzier and generally flatter, but nothing is muffled badly enough to make dialogue indiscernible.
Commentary with film historian Steve Haberman – Haberman returns for the director’s cut version of Cry of the Banshee with more well-prepared, educated, and informative discussion. This is one of those rare commentary tracks that would work well without the benefit of the film footage.
A Devilish Tale of Poe (17:50, HD) – This interview with director Gordon Hessler originally appeared on MGM’s Midnight Movies double-feature.
Trailer, TV spots, and radio spots
The images on this page are taken from the BD and sized for the page. Full-sized versions can (currently) only be accessed by right-clicking/ctrl-clicking the images and opening them in a new window/tab. Note that there will be some JPG compression.