Thursday, November 01, 2007

dvd review: vincent price collections

I know Halloween is over, and we're in a new month and all, but Wolf and I still have a couple tricks and treats up our sleeves. Just to round out the week and all. Undoubtedly, many of you watched some great Halloween cartoons here at the Shelf and at home. You probably even popped in a few of the classics like Dracula or Abbott and Costello meet Frankenstein. Huh? Huh? Huh? Awww... sure you did. This year we got an opportunity to review two new box sets from Fox that were perfect for Halloween. Of course, dear Shelfer, we are looking out for you. Or job is to watch and give you a comprehensive review. The question is, are these sets worth your hard earned cash? Are they worth your time, or are they just a frightening waste of time?
HA! See what I did there? Halloween...frightening...? Heh... Oh, never mind. Let's get on with this special double feature review of Vincent Price: MGM Scream Legends Collection and The Fly Collection!

The Hard Facts:
Vincent Price - MGM Scream Legends Collection
3 Flip Discs, 2 single
in five slimline cases
Studio: Fox
Original Studio: MGM
Release Date: Sept. 11, 2007
Rated: UR for all films
Stars: Vincent Price

The Fly Collection
Four Discs in four slimline cases
Studio: Fox
Color/Black & White
Widescreen (Cinemascope)
Original Studio: 20th Century Fox
Release Date: Sept 11, 2007
Rated: NR for All Films
Stars: Vincent Price

Vincent Price is today more widely known for his campy horror image. That’s a shame, because in reality his career was so much more varied. The films from the Scream Collection really demonstrate why. The Fly Collection also shows the beginnings of his particular career in film noir-ish type horror films. When he stopped making the campy type horror films, it was partly because he was disappointed with the turn that had been made towards more gory, slasher-type films and away from the nightmarish, inner sanctum-type horror and the playful terror films he was so adapt at. Above all else, Price was a gentleman and cultured human being, so he was aware of the impact of these type of films. The Screams Collection is almost a smattering of the peek and end of his horror career in those type of films, with Witchfinder General being last. After that film in particular, he still remained in the public eye, especially on television, playing up his iconic image. If anything else, it must be said, Vincent Price knew his audience and knew how to entertain. Perhaps out of all of those actors who we generally think of as the masters of the horror genre, Boris Karloff and Vincent Price were perhaps the best (and very similar) and most admired, by fans and industry alike.

The Films:
MGM Screams Collection:
The Abominable Dr. Phibes/ Dr. Phibes Rises Again:
Price plays Doctor Phibes, a man possess by revenge, madness and his own disfigurement. He wears a mask, but speaks through an electronic wire and eats through his neck. He is out to eliminate the doctors he holds responsible for his disfigurement and for his wife’s death. The twist: Dr. Phibes concocts his killings patterned after the ten deadly plagues from Biblical times. While his plan carries on, he is living in art deco surroundings and in lifestyle reminiscent of The Phantom of the Opera (indeed the film reminds one of Phantom in several ways). The terror is balanced with humor and camp- only the way Price can pull off. In Dr. Phibes Rises Again, the self same Doctor returns, though it was thought he was finished off in the first film, he comes of suspended animation, and travels to Egypt, seeking out an elixir which may bring his wife back from the dead. Whereas revenge was his previous motive, now Phibes just takes out whoever stands in his way. While many fans love these films, I really thought the camp was a little too much, although the revenge twist was rather unique. Probably the average disc in the set.

Tales of Terror/ Twice Told Tales:
This is one of the more enjoyable discs in the box. API really made its eating money off of the Poe adaptation films like Tales of Terror. Several Poe stories make up three different short segments of the movie. In The Black Cat, Drunken lout, Montresor Herringbone (Peter Lorre in a great, funny performance,) is only concerned about his next drink. After he meets wine connoisseur, Fortunato Luchresi (Vincent Price), he invites him home, only to later discover that he’s having an affair with his wife. Herringbone exacts his revenge by killing his wife and drugging Fortunato and walling them inside his basement. Although he is rather pleased with himself, his weak mind and a black cat will be his undoing. Morella tells the story of a young woman named Lenora, who returns to her home after sometime away, only to discover her father (Price) is a wreck. He couldn’t let go of the grief, nor his wife, as her decomposing body is kept in a room in the home. He warns Lenora about her mother, Morella, and that it was her birth that caused her mother’s death. And before you can say Mommy’s home- she is! The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar is also about revenge from beyond the grave, as Price stars as Mr. Valdemar who dies from a painful disease. He gets some ease and comfort in his passing from a hypnotist, Mr. Carmichael (Basil Rathbone), who is supposed to put him in a trance to ease his transition from life to death. However, Carmichael has other plans and keeps him trapped between life and death, which won’t end well for Carmichael.
Twice Told Tales adapts Nathaniel Hawthorne short stories in a similar manner. Dr. Heidegger's Experiment is about two friends (Price and Sebastian Cabot) using water from the fountain of youth to restore youth to four friends, and bringing one long-dead bride back to life. Rappaccini's Daughter has Price as a slightly mad scientist and overprotective father who has infused his daughter from birth with poison. Her touch is deadly, and may have deadly consequences when she finds true love. The House of the Seven Gables adapts that story to the big screen with Vincent Price in particularly delightful villainous role. This disc was my favorite of the set. Gothic horror tales, with humor, psychological terror, no much in the way of gore- but more in the way of romance, revenge and spooky stuff. And all with some classic film stars to boot! Good stuff.

Theater of Blood/ Madhouse:
The lesser disc of the set in my opinion. Theater of Blood is a campy revenge tale of a hammy, over the hill actor Edward Lionheart (Vincent Price), who kills himself, after hearing what the critics really think of him. Shortly thereafter the critics begin to be murdered in mysterious, Shakespearean ways. The perpetrators are none other than the returned actor, his daughter and his deadly troupe of equally hammy actors. Madhouse is the only flick in the set that also features Peter Cushing, in their first on-screen pairing. Another revenge flick (sense a pattern here, kids?), but this time, Vincent Price is the victim. He plays former horror star Paul Toombes, who played Dr. Death onscreen. An actor-turned-writer Herbert Flay (Cushing), convinces him to bring back his character for a TV series. It isn’t long before people around Toombes including cast and crew are murdered in styles reminiscent of Dr. Death. Toombes is losing his mind, and people suspect him of murder. But is it really him? These films, particularly Madhouse, were headed in the direction that Price feared. Price fans ( I am one, but not of this genre) will disagree with me, but I didn’t care for them too much. Price fans, particularly of this genre, will undoubtedly eat them up.

Witchfinder General
Price returns for the last time in these bloody horror films as Matthew Hopkins, a "witchfinder" appointed by Puritan Royalists in 17th Century England. He sets about the country side doing what the English peasants in Monty Python and the Holy Grail so desperately wanted to do: burn witches. Of course, Hopkins has other methods, and is not above accepting bribes. However, he makes a mistake in allaying someone’s punishment by bedding the fiance of a soldier in Cromwell’s army. When the soldier, Marshall, discover’s Hopkins treachery he decides to expose him and eliminate him once and for all. This was really the film that many fans were looking forward to. It is imaginative and different, but it is also more over the top than his previous films. While I remain ambivalent about it, I know many who are glad to see it finally on DVD.

Bonus Disc: Includes featurettes: Vincent Price: Renaissance Man, The Art of Fear, and Working With Vincent Price. The featurettes are pretty good. VP: RM is conversational documentary, but it lacks any cohesion. Otherwise these are decent features that give a lot of information about the man and his career in horror films.

The Fly Collection:
The Fly
Vincent is known for The Fly, and yet, contrary to what some people (who haven’t seen it), he wasn't the Fly. Price plays François Delambre, an industrialist in Canada. He is awoken in the middle of the night by two disturbing phone calls. His sister-in-law, Helene (Patricia Owens) calls to confess she has killed his brother, Andre Delambre (David Hedison), a scientist. He can scarcely believe it, but his night watchman at his plant calls to tell him that someone has been killed at the plant, and it appears to be his brother. The police and François arrive to confirm the gruesome turn of events. Andre's head and hand have been completely crushed in a machine. Helene, for her part, seems distracted, sad and yet not sorry that she carried out what she claims were Andre's last wish. She then tells François and Police Inspector Charas a story they can hardly believe. She relates the last few weeks that Andre had discovered a way to teleport matter. But their happy home life with his wife and son was doomed when he takes it upon himself to test the process himself. He teleports himself, but a fly accidentally finds its way into the machine, thus blending their DNA. Andre comes out of the machine with his body, but the head and arm of the Fly. Helene and his son Philippe search for the "white headed fly" to try and duplicate the process. After they are unable to catch the fly, Andre's mind begins to go and he tells Helene (through notes) that he fears he will lose control. When all hope is lost, he burns his notes, destroys his equipment and with Helene's help, destroys himself. The police can't believe it and begin the process to charge her with murder and commit her to a mental institution. A chilling discovery by François near the end of the film, turns the situation on it's ear. And the famous scene is unforgettable.
This film is a classic and so well done, that to me it's really not a horror movie. It is more a sci-fi thriller, but some have associated it with either genre. Either way, the film is great, and the script (written by James Clavell who would go on to write Shogun) is fantastic. Fox put money into the film, as it had a very large budget for a science fiction film. It was filmed in Cinemascope color, which is telling about how much the studio was behind the film. The Fly was a smash at the box office, which ensured the inevitable sequel. Great stuff.

The Fly Returns.
The title is somewhat misleading. The Fly doesn't return, but his son, Phillipe, does. All grown up, Phillipe is eager to carry on his father's work and carefully correct what went wrong with his father's experience. Since his mother Helene has long passed away, his uncle François is all the family he has left. And François tries to discourage Phillipe from the experiments, but when he sees that he can't dissuade him, François gives his consent as long as he can help. All is going well, until Phillipe's duplicitous assistant who wants the discovery for himself betrays him. The assistant tries to kill Phillipe by placing him in the transformation booth with a fly, thus recreating the terrible creature. Will Phillipe suffer the same fate as his father, or will François be able to save Phillipe where he couldn't save Andre?
The Fly Returns is a very apt sequel, but weaker than the original. It was filmed in black and white, which was a bit of a mistake considering the first was in color. The pace of the film is different, and it has a different feel. It's almost a film noir with a sci-fi twist. All in all, the pair make a great double feature, and with Price reprising his role as François, it's an excellent film.

Curse of the Fly
This film really has no big connection to the previous installments, other than to cash in on the name. Some relatives of the Delambres recreate the teleportation process and begin to experiment with more serious consequences. Humans are mutated and all sorts of creatures result- addressing the original concept of what can go wrong when man steps into areas of science that used to be the purview of God. The only thing- there is no fly involved in the film. Go figure.
This is the weakest of the set, but it is very much more of a sci-fi horror film than the other two. It's a cult classic, and many fans have been waiting for it's release. Even though it's not the same quality as the other two films, it's still scary fun. And for the completest, it's great to have all of them in one set.

Bonus features:
The Fly disc has an enjoyable commentary track with David Hedison. And the fourth disc is a bonus disc called The Disc of Horrors which includes a great episode of A&E's Biography series, profiling Vincent Price. It also has a making of feature, Fly Trap: Catching a Classic and theatrical trailers. Also included in the set is an interesting booklet that details some of the facts of the making of the films. All in all this bonus disc is great, and the features are much better here than in the previous set.

The video and audio transfers in both sets are excellent, with The Fly looking particularly good. In the Scream Legends set, however, all of the films, except for Witchfinder General, are previous DVD releases that have been repackaged for the set. Otherwise everything looks and sounds great, with the edge given to The Fly Collection

The Bottom Line:
Both sets are fun, but I have to admit that enjoyed The Fly Collection much more than Scream Legends. I suspect, however, that has more to do with my tastes than with the quality of the set, which is excellent. Fans of Price's API films will definitely want to pick up Scream Legends, and Witchfinder General in particular for their collections. I would like to recommend the Tales of Terror/Twice Told Tales disc for the casual fan, like myself, who don't go in for the camp and blood.
The Fly Collection is very much recommended as an all around great set, despite the weaker third film. Vincent Price is great and the bonus disc is well done and informative. The set is fun and should fit right alongside other classic thrillers and sci-fi classics. Don't miss it.

Review Rating:
Individually grading the films and bonus features, the sets would earn the following:
Vincent Price: MGM Scream Legends Collection:
Dr.Phibes/Return of Phibes: C
Tales of Terror/Twice Told Tales: B+
Theater of Blood/Madhouse: C-
Witchfinder General: C+
Bonus Disc : B+

The Fly Collection:
The Fly: A+
The Fly Returns: B+
Curse of the Fly: C+
The Disc of Horror Bonus Features: A

Overall rating:

Vincent Price: MGM Scream Legends Collection:
3 stars (Groucho Glasses)

The Fly Collection:
4 stars (Groucho Glasses)

That's all- stay tuned for more DVD reviews of some great television like Sesame Street Old School Vol. 2 and Meerkat Manor and some recent fantastic classic film box sets, including The Jazz Singer, Mickey and Judy and Barbara Stanwyck Signature Collection. Also stay tuned for a special post from the Wolfman himself, to perform a post-mortum on Halloween 2007.

Oh, I know it's a penny here and a penny there, but look at me. I worked myself up from nothing to a state of extreme poverty.

I shall never forget that scream as long as I live...

1 comment:

randi said...

I enjoyed your review of the sets. I already own the Fly on the older DVD and I was not sure about getting the new set- now I will. Thanks for the info!


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