Tuesday, October 8, 2013

THE VINCENT PRICE COLLECTION Review Part 2:The Haunted Palace/Fall of the House of Usher

You know that Roger Corman has done a whole Hell of a lot more than just his work with American International Pictures. Did you further know that his filmography also breaks out of capitalizing on the works of one Marylander by the name of Edgar Allan Poe? It's not easy to spot with the naked eye, but the well trained horror fan paying attention to an introduction from Vincent Price himself who can read some coagulating liner notes can pick up the pieces quite nicely. That's where we find ourselves in reviewing the second disc in the Scream Factory release of The Vincent Price Collection. The Haunted Palace and Fall of the House of Usher (House of Usher) are coming up.

You are reading the words of a Lovecraft fan. I am not so naive as to tell you that there have been many well received or worth watching adaptation of good old H.P.'s work. Most of it's quite bad, and even more of it will be rested up on the shoulders of Lovecraft's devoted followers trying to explain just how some of the adaptations truly encapsulate the vision by one of the greats. The Haunted Palace, though named for a Poe story to (continue the illusion of the Poe cycle), is really an amalgamation of Lovecraftian lore, loosely adapted and with liberties taken (as Corman always takes freely).  The story follows Price as Charles Dexter Ward, uncovering the secrets of the Necronomicon and the secrets of Arkham. It's a mysterious tale full of superstition, mystical rites and creatures from beyond our world.

While all of that must sound intriguing I'm afraid that The
Haunted Palace, while enjoyable, is another Lovecraft adaptation that just doesn't get it. To truly enjoy a Lovecraft adaptation, to get it right... you have to hide the monster in the subconscious mind of the audience. For example, Cthulu doesn't put on a pair of pasties and then dance to Harlem Nocturne in the final act of any movie. You have to give the audience half a brain to figure out what they fear the most from an old God. In this instance, we have the opportunity to stare down a creature with some regularity. This character isn't scary, but relies on camp to break the tension. Price and Lon Chaney Jr. deliver solid performances, but the story is flawed from the get go. Let's forgiven Corman for this one though. In all fairness he was one of the early pioneers of adapting Lovecrafts work and it is at his and AIP's hands that we learn how NOT to create a monster.

This movie is once again introduced by Vincent Price from the same Iowa PBS station. Fascinating and haunting that Price can seemingly talk to us from beyond the grave. Corman's discussion of the back story behind The Haunted Palace will fill you in on the name change, story adaptation and marketing decisions so you can be rest assured that Corman's dedication to quality filmmaking (not as has been seen in recent years) can remain revered.

Trailer not from the Scream Factory release

While a question or two can be raised by The Haunted Palace, a movie like The Fall of the House of Usher stands completely on its own. If you have criticism of this Usher it would be simply to say that some of the acting (not by Price) may border on the melodramatic. I suppose that's a product of the motion picture industry at the time, and really doesn't dampen this tale of a house or a man that is as depraved and depressed and controlling and evil. If you thought the Marsten house in Salem's Lot was terrifying or perhaps the Amityville house... this is the kind of movie that creeps up on you and locks you in for the scariest night of your life. If folks consider Masque of the Red Death or Pit and the Pendulum to be the superior Poe film, I urge them to rewatch the terrifying, off putting performance of Vincent Price in Usher.

The Fall of the House of Usher is a genuinely popular movie, adaptation and original story. This is Poe, fleshed out properly and given enough Hollywood to make a bleak tale of madness seem to penetrate your living room. Price's performance is bewildered and filled with absolutely panic. He is truly scared of the power of the  house of his family. To leave it is certain death. What happens when Roderick Usher's sister falls in love with an outsider? Why the curse of the house of Usher befalls her of course. The movie is a beautifully drawn out tale of mystery; is the curse of the house and bloodline of Usher real or is Roderick Usher to blame for the misfortune that befalls those who step foot in the house or the Usher's who attempt to leave it?

Trailer not from the Scream Factory release

Also containing an introduction track from the PBS series, this particular disc menu has an audio interview with Price, trailers and stills. Both The Haunted Palace and House of Usher (as it is actually titled) are both good transfers only showing their flaws during short reels especially when the screen falls particularly dark. That being said, if you want the quality control for this product... if you really want to know if you're watching a good transfer or a bad transfer, make sure you keep your eyes peeled during the lightning flashes during House of Usher. The beautifully matte painted house of evil seems to jump up and suck you back in.

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. In this installment we've seen Croman and Price tackle Lovecraft and do Poe spot on. We'll have two more films in part three of our three part review of this six movie disc. You can enjoy the first two movies in the set reviewed HERE.  Two more AIP classics are on the way. We will take a look back at The Abominable Dr. Phibes and Witchfinder General/The Conqueror Worm.

Make sure to pre-order this classic now through DiabolikDVD


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