VincentPriceCollectionIIThe Vincent Price Collection II (Scream Factory, Blu-ray) follows up last year’s collection with the debut of seven more Vincent Price horror films in a special edition set. Shout Factory (under its Scream Factory imprint) draws from its licensing relationships with 20th Century Fox and MGM to complete the run of Roger Corman Poe films begun last year and fills to the rest a couple of sequels and two titles too often relegated to public domain bargain discs.

The Tomb of Ligeia (1964), the final film in Corman’s cycle of Edgar Allen Poe adaptations, is considered by many the best (partisans tend to split over this and The Masque of Red Death, 1963), and it is certainly the most sophisticated, with rich performances by Price, who is both haunted protagonist and Gothic romantic leading man (a first in the series) as widower Verden Fell, and British actress Elizabeth Shepherd, who brings a zest for life to the role of Rowena Trevanion, whose fascination with Verdan’s self-imposed exile turns to romance. Once she draws him out of the haunted manor and into the world for their honeymoon, that shadow of gloom is lifted and he can even discard the shaded glasses he wears in the bright light (“I live at night,” he explains early on), but once back in the abbey, the ghost of Lady Ligeia reasserts her control. Or so it seems after Verden offers a demonstration of hypnosis and Ligeia takes over Rowena for a chilling instant while she’s under the spell.

The Tomb of Ligeia is the only one of Corman’s Poe films to shoot location exteriors (Corman used studio sets entirely for previous films to create a rarified unreality, he says, as befitting his interest in psychology and the unconscious in relation to horror), and the ruins he uses for Fell’s abbey home are astoundingly beautiful, the bleached bone remains of a fallen castle behind his stone manor, the dead of the past haunting the living of the present. Fittingly, it is also the most psychologically rooted of his Poe adaptations, though the revelations of the finale do not fully explain the black cat who seems to act as Ligeia’s familiar in the abbey, or Rowena’s brief possession by Ligeia. Robert Towne’s intelligent script and Corman’s moody direction melds the explicable and the supernatural very nicely in a tale that is never simply one or the other.

As with the previous set, these editions are from HD masters provided to Shout Factory by the rights holder, in this case MGM. It’s a good looking transfer though it is not a restoration. You can see surface scratches and grit and in one spot a light vertical scratch running through the left side of the image, but it also has vivid color, good clarity, and a strong image, which is still the most important thing in a disc release.

Features commentary by Roger Corman carried over from the earlier DVD release plus new commentary recorded for this release by actress Elizabeth Shepherd, and an archival video introduction and afterward by Vincent Price, originally taped for a public TV horror series decades ago, plus a gallery of stills and a trailer.


Also from the Corman Poe series is The Raven (1963), co-starring Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff, Hazel Court, and a pre-fame Jack Nicholson. This one takes the title and little else from Poe’s poem and plays the story of dueling sorcerers for humor. It’s paired up with The Comedy of Terrors (1963), directed by Jacques Tourneur and co-starring Lorre, Karloff, and Basil Rathbone. Both are scripted by Richard Matheson and feature video introductions and afterwards by Price, featurettes, stills, and trailers.

The Last Man on Earth (1964) is one of those sixties horrors that slipped into the public domain and has thus been a frequent title found on bargain video bins. I think all those years of familiarity, and all those releases in poor-quality editions, have resulted in the film getting overlooked and underrated. It’s an American-Italian co-production credited to Sidney Salkow for the American release and Ubaldo Ragona in Italy, but it has more Italian than American flavor, at least in the sequences shot outside of the studio.

It’s the first screen version of Richard Matheson’s brilliant novel I Am Legend (remade as The Omega Man and the 2007 I Am Legend with Will Smith) and it’s shot on a small budget, but Ragona casts a spell unlike anything you’ve seen in sixties horror cinema, at least until Night of the Living Dead, a film that clearly owes a debt to this. Vincent Price is the last living human in a world where a plague has killed most of the population and turned the rest into pallid, shuffling creatures hiding form the sunlight by day and stumbling out at night. For the first half hour, Price endures a soul-killing monotony of hunting down the sleeping ghouls, staking them and tossing the corpses on perpetually smoking bonfire, and holes up in his home at night while the no-longer-humans pound on his door and moan his name: “Mo-o-o-organ! Come Out!” It anticipates Romero’s shuffling zombies, though these creatures are as much vampires as the walking dead. We are sunk into this numbing rhythm of extermination and solitary survival for nearly half an hour before a flashback gives us the backstory and a glimpse of life before the plague.

The flashback scenes are simply not as engaging or as impressive as the present day ordeal, and the generic sets and dutiful direction fails to give any life to scenes that are supposed to appear more alive than this post-plague hell. Ragona shoots the modern housing developments of the suburbs of Rome empty of all human habitation, creating a modernist ghost town that looks like it was just abandoned days ago, and makes great use of striking architectural details. It doesn’t quite look like the U.S., but it’s not obviously any other identifiable city either. Only the preponderance of European vehicles gives away the anywhere vibe.

The Last Man on Earth is by turns unsettling, thanks to Price’s evocation of loneliness and loss and the eerie landscape of the abandoned, crumbling city, and awkward, but Price’s tormented Morgan is as haunted a human as there is in apocalypse cinema. And while the finale never matches the promise of the first act, it remains true to the spirit of Matheson’s novel. In fact, the film is based on Matheson’s own screenplay, which he wrote for Hammer films. That production was never made and the script was bought and rewritten.

This is a full widescreen film, not that you’d know from most of the previous home video releases. The earliest widescreen release I’m aware of was the MGM DVD from 2007. This Blu-ray debut come from and HD version of the MGM master, not restored but from a strong source. You can see some grit and imperfections but it’s a good black and white master with a sharp picture, good detail, and fine contrasts. No distracting digital noise reduction that I could see. This looks like a movie shot on film.

Features commentary by film historian (and Vincent Price acquaintance) David Del Valle with author David Botelho, who provide more background on the novel and on Price than on the production itself, of which there seems to be very little concrete information. Italian director Ubaldo Ragona only made a few films and died decades ago and Price insists that Salkow personally directed most of the film, though others disagree. Also carried over the interview featurette “Richard Matheson Storyteller: The Last Man on Earth” from the DVD (Matheson essentially disowns the film) and a still gallery.

Dr. Phibes Rises Again! (1972) continues the quest begun in The Abominable Dr. Phibes (which was released in the first Vincent Price Collection), this time killing member of an archeological team as he races to find the Elixir of Life in Egypt. Vincent Price indulges in ham theatrics behind a pasty face, a smart cape, and a buzzing voicebox as he plots his elaborate murders and British wit and wry sight gags abound in this absurdist psycho-killer circus.

The Return of the Fly (1959) is as much remake as sequel to the original The Fly, with Price in on the experiment this time, and is largely here for Price completists and fifties sci-fi fans. With commentary by co-star Brett Halsey and film historian David Del Valle.

And finally there is House on Haunted Hill (1959), William Castle’s fairground funhouse come to life with Price as a deliciously silky millionaire who invites five strangers to test their mettle locked overnight in a haunted house. So gimmick laden that’s it’s not really very scary, Castle more than makes up for it in gimmicks and goofy spectacle: severed heads, skeletons, and a guest hanging in the stairwell (filmgoers were treated to an actual skeleton that flew over the audience in one scene). It’s a silly but entertaining spook show with Price perfectly cast as sardonic master of ceremonies. Features commentary by film historian Steve Haberman, four featurettes on Price, and a collection of bonus Vincent Price trailers.

It’s all packaged up in a single case with four discs on hinged trays, in a slipsleeve that also has features a 32-page booklet with notes by horror historian David Del Valle (in the form a substantial essay) and pages of poster art and stills from the films.

Calendar of upcoming releases on Blu-ray, DVD, Digital, and VOD