While much of the recently released Vincent Price Collection (now in stores thanks to Shout Factory subsidiary Scream Factory) could be described as the Price-Corman-Poe Collection for its focus on this trio’s time collaborating (four of the six films here are films from Roger Corman, based on works by Edgar Allen Poe, and star Vincent Price). However, that would not only be forgetting two of this releases most interesting members, but also would be taking focus off what these final two films prove, and that is the versatility of star Vincent Price.
First up we have the beloved cult black comedy/thriller The Abominable Dr. Phibes, one of the more bizarre turns for the legendary cult icon. In an entirely silent performance (save for voice over that is implanted for his mute character), Price stars as the titular Dr. Phibes, a doctor, scientist, scholar and concert organist, looking to get revenge on those nine doctors unable to save his late wife’s life. Taking the nine Biblical plagues as a launching pad for his vicious crimes, he uses everything from bats to frog masks to take care of his victims. However, he’s got some heat on him in the form of a detective who teams with a man named Dr. Vesalius to find this villain. With a bizarrely black sense of humor thanks to a screenplay from writers James Whiton and William Goldstein, this film teams Price up with one Joseph Cotton, and while being a departure for everyone involved, it stands as one of this releases most interesting pictures.
And the release is ultimately rounded out by yet another oddly off beat picture for star Vincent Price, entitled The Witchfinder General. Better known to many as The Conqueror Worm (which was an original title for the film in hopes of bringing a connection to the aforementioned Poe pictures Price starred in, although it has nothing to do with Poe’s poem of the same name), the film stars Price as Matthew Hopkins, a 17th-Century lawyer with a penchant for hunting witches thanks to his alleged title as Witch Finder General. The tale goes that he was appointed that title during the English Civil War, in the hopes of bringing to light cases of witchcraft, and now he has converted this title to a status that he mines for money and a myriad of other things during his journeys. Based on the actual life of Hopkins, this odd blend of historical epic and horror melodrama features one of Price’s most beautifully layered performances, and when paired with Phibes, proves that this entire box set’s greatest attribute is its ability to paint a picture of just how bizarrely talented and how truly underrated Price was as an actual thespian.
Be it his cartoonish and campy performances in a film like Masque Of The Red Death or The Pit And The Pendulum, the turns in both Witchfinder and Phibes couldn’t be further from that. Phibes is the closest relative to many of his better known camp-fests, but instead of relying on his voice, he uses his face to communicate in a way that goes forgotten by many of today’s genre fans. Opposite Cotten, he stands as a really intriguing villain, whose revenge feels, despite the film’s campy tone, vital and the crimes are both creative and genuinely intriguing.
However, Witchfinder General may be the most interesting film of the lot. Arguably the oddest film of the bunch, the film still holds within it much of the Gothic aesthetic that fits Price so well, but with much of the film taking place outdoors, the film’s visual language is much more kinetic, and Price’s performance is much heavier and far more brooding. A melodrama at heart, this epic has genuine terror running through its vein, with a handful of superb torture sequences and its atmosphere (thanks to photography from John Coquillon, best known for shooting a handful of Peckinpah films), ultimately turning this into a really odd but entrancing member of this otherwise candy-colored camp-filled box set.
And yet, finishing off this release are two of this set’s greatest transfers. The sole films to get single-disc releases, both films look as good as they ever have, particularly Phibes, a beautifully crafted and lusciously shot that gets some top notch cinematography from Norman Warwick, that makes its runtime (it’s the longest film, 94 minutes, on this release) all the more enjoyable to take in. Witchfinder has a much more modern aesthetic, feeling like a long lost film from a subdued Jess Franco or Jean Rollin, something more earthy, something more lyrical and poetic than many of the films seen here. Phibes includes two commentaries with director Robert Fuest and author Justin Humphreys, with Witchfinder being the most packed release in this set, coming with a commentary with producer Philip Waddilove and star Ian Ogilvy, a look at the making of the film, and a handful of interviews. Overall, this set is both a collection of thrilling horror films ripe for this time of year, and oddly enough one of the best made cases for raising the status of Vincent Price, the actor and the presence, from cult icon to genuinely respected cinematic legend. A perfect release for October, this needs to go on any and every horror hounds bookcase this very moment.