Home Video Hovel: The Vincent Price Collection III, by Tyler Smith
Vincent Price holds a special place in the hearts of movie fans. Over the years, he has garnered tremendous respect in the film community, despite being in a number of forgettable – and some just plain bad – movies. Perhaps because, as an actor, he always managed to display a level of class and professionalism, even in the worst of projects. He fully committed to the characters he was playing and, as a result, was often the brightest spot of the film, regardless of its budget or quality. In the third set of Blu-Rays devoted to Price’s unforgettable on-screen talents, Scream Factory has put together a collection of films that really display Price’s unique abilities; his performances are varied and distinct, while evoking a consistent macabre tone.
Master of the World (1961)
Written by Richard Matheson and inspired by the novels of Jules Verne, this film is whimsical and also deeply philosophical. In the late 1800s, a well-meaning scientist (Price) terrorizes the world with his futuristic airship, all in an attempt to achieve ultimate world peace. The writing of the film is a bit on-the-nose at times, but the exploration of theme is welcome. And Price’s commitment to a character whose aims are pure, but whose fanaticism firmly establishes him as the villain, is the primary pleasure of the film, and displays an emotional depth that we don’t often associate with the actor.
Tower of London (1962)
Roger Corman’s lurid combining of Richard III and Macbeth makes this an interesting film for both Shakespeare and Vincent Price fans. As the treacherous Richard – mixed with the reluctant Macbeth – Price finds just the right mix of glee and arrogance and uses it to mask a deep cowardice. While the film eventually becomes repetitive, with its perpetual cycle of the ghosts of Richard’s victims coming back to haunt him, Price consistently finds new depths of loathing in the Richard character. By the end, Price sheds any self consciousness and creates a character so grotesque, in appearance and action, that he’s almost difficult to watch.
Diary of a Madman (1963)
Price crafts one of his most sympathetic characters in Reginald Le Borg’s film. As a respected magistrate haunted – and eventually possessed – by a demon, Price displays tremendous vulnerability, first as he comes to grips with what is going on, then at the horror of what he has done. As the film goes on, we come to learn more about this character and his dark history, making him a bit less sympathetic. And yet Price plays these moments with a quiet regret; a man trying to live a righteous life not as a way of hiding his past, but to repent of it. A heartbreaking performance, and possibly my favorite of the set.
Cry of the Banshee (1970)
Here we have a prime example of Vincent Price’s ability to elevate material that is alternately boring and trashy. As a pious lord in England – hell bent on discovering and destroying every hint of witchcraft in the area – Price creates a truly loathsome character. He is a man whose selfishness works against even members of his own family; whomever displeases him will be punished, all with the seeming blessing of God. The latent hypocrisy of the character – the inability to see his own horrendous flaws – gives Price the opportunity to completely commit to a particularly sadistic tone. The film itself is equally unpleasant, while also feeling decidedly exploitative. Whether it was intended by the director or not, Vincent Price classes up the whole production, to the point that I would actually recommend it just to see his wonderful – but unpleasant – performance.
An Evening of Edgar Allan Poe (1970)
As satisfying as many of the films in the set are, the true gem is the collection of Edgar Allan Poe stories performed by Vincent Price as extended monologues. Here we have an interesting development, as Price expertly breathes life into Poe’s stories, finding every playful nook and insidious cranny they have to offer. But we also have Poe’s unapologetically-ghoulish and beautiful prose clearly pushing Price to new heights of performance. Each monologue is riveting, theatrical, and tremendous fun.