The Vincent Price Collection II

The Vincent Price Collection II
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Considering that Vincent Price appeared in more than 100 movies, there were still plenty of good ones left over after last year's The Vincent Price Collection, which bodes well for this sequel. And like its predecessor, it focuses on Price's golden age, from the late '50s to the mid '60s, when he was a fixture in the best horror films around. Price is a lot more versatile than he gets credit for, and that becomes obvious over the duration of the seven films presented here. He can chew the scenery with the best of them, stealing each and every scene while hamming it up, or he can dial it right down and be incredibly sinister.

The best films in the collection are The Raven and House On Haunted Hill, for very different reasons. The former is very, very loosely based on the Edgar Allen Poe poem, in that there's a raven in it and borrows some character names. It tells the tale of battling magicians, played by Price and Boris Karloff, with Peter Lorre and a very young Jack Nicholson providing ample support. The climax is a very entertaining battle between the magicians with some rudimentary special effects, but since the tone of the film is light, it doesn't distract in the slightest. There's a lot of ad-libbing and the whole thing is played for laughs more than scares, but there's nothing wrong with that.

House On Haunted Hill is an absolute classic and was even remade badly in 1999, although that is best forgotten. Price stars as millionaire Frederick Loren, who invites five people to spend the night in an allegedly haunted mansion, with the promise of $10,000 for those who stay until morning. Directed by the king of movie theatre gimmicks William Castle, it has some genuine scares, although there are lighter moments, too. When it first debuted in theatres, a plastic skeleton flew from the top of the screen on a wire at a pivotal moment, but it does just fine without it.

The Tomb Of Ligeia is another of Roger Corman's Edgar Allen Poe adaptations, and is a more straightforward film with plenty of atmosphere. Price plays Verden Fell, a man who gets over the death of his wife by marrying another woman who looks just like her, and then appears to lose his mind as it becomes more convinced his first wife is haunting the abbey he lives in. Like all the best horror films, it all ends very badly.

The weakest film is 1959's Return Of The Fly, simply because it covers so much of the same ground as the original. It was released just a year after the original, so it could take advantage of its success, and even the likes of Vincent Price can only do so much with mediocre material. The only way that the film works is as an accidental comedy — the mask used to depict the transformation into a fly is hilariously bad and there are other unintended laughs, too.

A more successful sequel is Dr. Phibes Rises Again!, also the most recent film, dating back to 1972. It's one of those rare followups that can more than hold its own against the original, and much of that is because of Price's performance. As the disfigured Dr. Anton Phibes, he casts aside anyone who stands between him and his goal of immortality for him and his deceased wife. The whole thing is very over the top, from the imaginative murders to the climactic serenade that Price sings to his spouse as they sail into the sunset, but it works beautifully.

The Last Man On Earth is notable not only because Price gives a wonderfully downbeat performance, but because it's based on the novel I Am Legend, which was also turned into a very average Will Smith movie. In this version, Price plays Richard Morgan, the sole survivor of a plague that has turned the rest of the human race into vampires, whom he spends his days killing. After a chance encounter, it turns out there are other survivors, but naturally that brings many complications with it.

And finally, there is The Comedy Of Terrors, a rather silly film that, like The Raven, doesn't take itself too seriously. It reunites Price with Boris Karloff and Peter Lorre again, and it is very clear that they have such great chemistry that the script hardly matters. The plot has Price as an undertaker who creates new business by having his assistant murder people. That works out great until one particular corpse just won't stay dead, with amusing consequences.

All in all, it's a really strong collection. Even the weakest films here — and that is a very relative term in this case — are still very entertaining. The movies look great, thanks to some new transfers, and there is a surprising amount of extras included considering the age of the movies. There are commentary tracks on four of the films (House On Haunted Hill, The Tomb Of Ligeia, The Last Man On Earth and The Return Of The Fly) by various directors, actors and film historians, some of which were newly recorded for this collection. It should be noted that The Tomb Of Ligeia has three different commentary tracks, including one by Roger Corman, who is always an entertaining listen. The most interesting extras are "Introductions" and "Parting Words" for three movies by Vincent Price himself, recorded for PBS back in the 1980s. He shares some personal memories and is his usual charming self. In addition, there is a decent number of other featurettes, theatrical trailers and still galleries. (Shout! Factory)