Monday, October 7, 2013

THE VINCENT PRICE COLLECTION Review Part 1: Masque of the Red Death/Pit and the Pendulum

Vincent Price is my favorite horror actor of all time. There I've said it. You can quote me on that. That simple fact hasn't truly changed in recently memory save for a few small fan boy phases where I opted for someone I had seen in a recent picture. Our favorite everything changes constantly, but we always return to the greats. In this case it is Vincent Price. That eerie voice so scary on the Thriller album that my mother bought for us when we were kids. The first time I saw Phibes with my dad. When we bought mom House on Haunted Hill and watched it on continuous repeat for weeks. There are clearly defined eras in Price's extensive body of horror work, and the lovely insert that comes with the new Scream Factory box set can help you to become familiar with those periods. His works goes back farther than you'll realize and starts well before House on Haunted Hill and House of Wax made him the new face of horror, but that's where his work begins for me. After becoming enamoured with Price as Phibes and Frederick Loren I would go to the library with my Leonard Maltin big book o' movies and track down the Corman/American International Pictures/Price/Poe films. I watched House of Usher, Masque of the Red Death (and hadn't watched it since that early age), Pit and the Pendulum. The Classics. Whatever I could find in the surrounding libraries I would special order in and watch and study. You might image that the new Blu-ray collection has some special personal meaning to me. 

When Scream Factory announced its release there were only two glaring issues: the first set should be all Edgar Allan Poe related American International films. If that wasn't possible than the disc should contain Phibes Rises Again, the sequel to The Abominable Dr. Phibes. I've reached out to the Factory as to why this might be, but the rights to most AIP films seem to be with MGM as would be the sequel to Phibes. These two issues seem to be the thing on your mind as horror fans who are as OCD and completist as myself. It could be just be a good marketing decision to pair one of Price's most popular, Phibes, and Witchfinder General, a cult fan favorite, with some more accessible fare. More later, we hope.

On to the discs themselves. I'm watching them in order as they are placed in the box set. Not in chronological order, so the history lineage of Price's work and the success of each picture won't necessarily match up, nor will the grouping of each of these double features reviews in this three part series. 

The Pit and the Pendulum conveys Price as both a weak, broken widower who feels responsible for his wife's demise while battling the inner demons of his childhood, namely his father's abject cruelty. His sorrow borders on insanity (conveyed with a dynamic expertise for which Price is known). As the story progresses, we begin to realize that our Nicholas Medina (Price) may not be as bonkers as we once thought and perhaps the sins of the past have come to revisit Medina. Is Medina a cold blooded killer? Only the Pendulum knows for sure... or maybe the Pit.

Trailer not from the Scream Factory release

If you watch any of the Corman/Poe tales, you quickly realize that these movies are only a third Poe, and the rest manufactured back story leading up to a story inspired by the stories of one of the masters of short story horror. That's the way Corman crafts the concept in the his interview on the first split disc featuring Masque of the Red Death and Pit. The evidence is clear in The Pit and the Pendulum. The characters created in the warped genius of Poe's mind are given a full fleshing out when Roger Corman and Richard Matheson (who wrote and adapted the Poe stories famous for his Twilight Zone efforts). Pit builds of the course of a short hour with brutal madness and sorrow festering to a flashpoint when Price finally pops, fully hysterical and the object of the audience's pity... that is of course until the story takes a characteristic Matheson twist and Vincent Price shows us what insanity truly is in the hands of a near madman. Barbara Steele plays Price's love interest, as gorgeous and haunting as any ghost or godsend.

The scope of The Pit and the Pendulum is tight, the entire story taking place in but a few rooms.In contrast Masque of the Red Death feels absolutely enormous. It is praised by critics and fans as perhaps one of the greatest horror movies to ever to be put to film. Unfortunately I disagree. While it may have the feeling of a true Hollywood production, larger than some of the previous Corman efforts and with the appearance of a grand budget and even the presence of the fantastic Patrick McGee, the whole thing is without chills. It's a slow driving film precluded on the fact that we fear Satan or the men who serve him. This movie was obviously made well in advance of the rise of Black Sabbath. We know more about Satan than these superstitious, squeamish medievals.  

The tale follows a Satanist (Price) through his struggle with power over simpler individuals and his perception of control over death and strength through his worship of Satan. The Satanist feels that he has control over death or at least that death cannot have power over him, but he will soon learn who wears the red mask and where Death's allegiance lies. 

Trailer not from the Scream Factory release

All joking aside, Masque of the Red Death looks absolutely brilliant in the Techni-Color of the time, and is quite intriguing. I suppose when you kick off your review featuring The Pit and the Pendulum, wear Price becomes the kind of dangerous crazy, we love him for, you have to prepare yourself for a more subtle, eerie, unsettling picture such as Red Death. Price is such an evil bastard though. He has some lines that are as quotable today as they were in the 60's. You'll probably want to memorize these and recite them to your boss at work. If not, you can always tap your foot to the jazzy score. Stick around until the entire for a few terrifying moments that seem in direct contrast to some of the slow burn creep out that you see earlier in the picture.

Each movie features a separate commentary track and fantastic DTS 2.0 sound. Standard issue around the Scream Factory parts. The new cover box art is fitting and Poe appropriate. The insert is a nice touch, providing a solid background in the reason for the selection of each film (though does not address my previous inquiry as to why no sequel to Phibes). Each picture looks stunning, but I want you to be aware that there are parts of each movie that suffer slightly, most likely from the source material being exceptionally damaged. The most obvious example of this is in toward the end of The Pit and the Pendulum.  Each movie is otherwise preserved nicely. It shouldn't hurt your enjoyment of the picture and these releases and color vibrant upgrades from your DVD editions. Make sure to enjoy the still galleries and the Roger Corman interview discussing how the movies in the Poe cycle came into being and how the stories were filled out. 

Now here's the thing I want to highlight about these two movies. Each one contains an introduce by Price himself from 1982 when Price was doing a PBS series of his work in Iowa of all places. These introductions will give you the intimate sit down with the master of horror that you and I will never be able to have. These introductions are options, but I assure you they make the disc and create the horror host experience that has been somewhat lacking from the modern movie watching experience. The quality isn't archival for this feature and that makes it perfect. 

The Vincent Price Collection creates experience of walking through a period of Price's work that is filled with some of the oldest and greatest horror stories to be cast on film. A museum of one of the greatest periods in horror history taking place on four Blu-rays. The discs are clean and gilded with clever extras to entice the staunch Price fan. So far we've tackled two of the movies in the AIP Poe cycle. We'll have two more films in part two of our three part review of this six movie disc. Two more AIP classics are on the way. The Haunted Palace and Fall of the House of Usher followed by the Abominable Dr. Phibes and Witchfinder General/The Conqueror Worm.

Make sure to pre-order this classic now through DiabolikDVD



  1. Annnnnnnd it's going on the Christmas wish list. Thanks for the great review!

  2. I just got my Blu-Ray of The Monster Club today and am waiting eagerly for the Scream Factory set. Great review!