The high baroque period of Vincent Price's career is well represented with this box, which offers seven horror-minded feature films and some supporting extras. If there were ever any doubt that Price was in on the joke, this collection would dispel it: in most of these movies he's having a ball, cheerfully sending up his own image--although the set also boasts perhaps his finest straight performance.
Thanks to the previous likes of House of Wax and The Fly, Price had his horror cred well established, which is perhaps why he's already winking at the idea in the earliest movie here, 1962's Tales of Terror. The movie certainly has an impeccable horror pedigree: three stories by Edgar Allan Poe, adapted by Richard Matheson, and directed by Roger Corman. Price stars in all three, making a slow start with "Morella," then clicking into gear with Peter Lorre in a broadly comic "The Black Cat," and winding up with great liquefying make-up (and Basil Rathbone) in "The Case of M. Valdemar." The 1963 Twice Told Tales borrows Corman's triptych set-up with three Nathaniel Hawthorne stories, but the results are fairly dull. The best of the trio is the first story, in which Price and Sebastian Cabot sip a youth potion, with regrettable results.
Witchfinder General (re-edited and known for years in the U.S. as The Conqueror Worm) is the gem of the collection, a truly harrowing film for which Price eschewed any hint of camp. He plays a 17th-century witchfinder, and the film pulls no punches in pointing out the sadism of his job (and the way religious paranoia is linked to misogyny). It's the best and final work by the promising director Michael Reeves, who died in 1969 from a drug overdose; he was only 24 when he made this film.
From there, the set skips into Price's 1970s silly season. The Abominable Dr. Phibes was a surprise hit in 1971, and it's easy to see the appeal: Price goes over the top in his portrayal of a Phantom of the Opera type who exacts revenge by invoking the Old Testament plagues. Joseph Cotten and Terry-Thomas are in the cast. Dr. Phibes Rises Again isn't quite as madly focused--this time the doctor is in Egypt, looking for a way to revive his late wife--but the tongue-in-cheek spirit prevails.
Those films paved the way for a similar but more inspired outing, and a movie Price spoke of as a personal favorite: Theater of Blood, a deliciously wicked thing about a ham actor who murders his critics. Not only does Price have a high old time reciting Shakespeare, he gets to knock off some wonderful victims: Robert Morley, Jack Hawkins, and Price's future wife Coral Browne among them. Diana Rigg is a welcome bonus. Madhouse rounds out the disc, an actively bad movie along the same lines; Price plays a horror-movie actor whose personal instability mirrors his film persona. The picture is ham-handed in every way, though it's good to see Peter Cushing toe-to-toe with Price. Also in the set: a Disc of Horrors, with an hour's worth of featurettes on the man. --Robert Horton
Disc 1 Side A: Abominable Dr. Phibes WS Disc 1 Side B: Dr. Phibes Rises Again WS
Disc 2 Side A: Tales of Terror WS Disc 2 Side B: Twice Told Tales WS
Disc 3 Side A: Theater of Blood WS Disc 3 Side B: Madhouse WS
Disc 4: Witchfinder General (aka Conqueror Worm) WS
Disc 5: Bonus Disc **"Vincent Price: Renaissance Man" - Documentary **"The Art of Fear" - Featurette **"Working with Vincent Price" - Featurette