Christmas has come early for Vincent Price fans (like myself) and aficionados of Roger Corman’s 1960s-lensed films inspired by the feverish imaginings of Edgar Allan Poe, as Arrow Films unwrap their Six Gothic Tales Blu-ray box-set (due out on 8 December).
Included in the box-set is 1960’s The Fall of the House of Usher and 1961’s The Pit and the Pendulum (both released separately earlier this year); 1962’s Tales of Terror (which adapts Poe’s Morella, The Black Cat and The Facts in the Case of Mr Valdemar); 1963’s The Raven (a comic take on Poe’s poem co-starring Boris Karloff and Peter Lorre); 1964’s The Haunted Palace (the first screen adaptation of a HP Lovecraft story); and the necromantic masterpiece The Tomb of Ligeia, which ended the Poe/Price/Corman cycle in 1965.
This limited edition run of just 2000 copies features all six features in high definition Blu-ray (based on the MGM HD masters, with additional restoration overseen by Arrow), with original uncompressed mono PCM audio and optional English subtitles. The special features are pretty impressive (see below) and there’s a hardback collector’s book which features full repros of three comic tie-ins as well as some insightful essays on the films. Eagle eyes will notice a slight change to the packaging, as Roger Corman’s name has been dropped since I last did a post about this release back in October. And if you are wondering why Masque of the Red Death isn’t included in this box-set – ask StudioCanal. They own the print and denied Arrow’s request to sublicense it for this release. Silly them! Don’t they know there are some serious completists out there! Me included.
Arrow’s limited edition box-set, Vincent Price in Six Gothic Tales, not only contains HD Blu-ray presentations of all six features directed by King of the B’s Roger Corman, but also a wealth of new and archives commentaries, interviews and featurettes for each film. Plus, some of the best newly commissioned illustrations I have ever seen. Here’s a break down of what’s inside the box-set, with my comments attached.
THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER
(these supplements are a re-issue, click here for my original review)
• Audio commentary with Roger Corman. This is the same one that you get on the 2001 MGM Midnight Movies DVD release and was also included on Scream Factory’s Vincent Price Collection I Blu-ray.
• Legend to Legend (27min): Joe Dante talks low-budget movie making and provides some neat anecdotes.
• The House is the Monster (30min): Gothic Horror author Jonathan Rigby re-examines the film. This featurette comes with a spoiler warning.
• Vincent Price – Malibu – Julliet 86 (12min): Interview subtitled in French by Claude Ventura, which was broadcast on French TV on 18 November 1986. This is well known amongst Price fans and was done while Price was doing Basil, The Great Mouse Detective.
• Fragments of the House of Usher (11min): Critic and filmmaker David Cairns examines Corman’s film in relation to Poe’s story.
• US trailer (unrestored)
• Artwork by Graham Humphreys
The Scream Factory Vol 1 Blu-ray have the added bonus of Price’s intros, but this is a must-have. It also boasts a superior transfer.
THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM
(This is also a re-issue, click here for my original release)
• Audio commentary with the always charismatic Roger Corman. This was first included on the 2001 MGM DVD release, and is also on the Scream Factory Vol 1 Blu-ray.
• Audio commentary courtesy of the always informative Tim Lucas.
• The Story Behind the Swinging Blade (43min): Documentary on the making of the film.
• An Evening of Edgar Allan Poe (1970, 52min): Four classic Poe tales dramatised by Vincent Price unplugged, including The Tell-Tale Heart, The Sphinx, The Cask of Amontillado and The Pit and the Pendulum. (Unfortunately the 1080p transfer doesn’t improve on the original video source).
• Added TV Sequence (5min): Shot in 1968 to pad out the film for the longer TV time slot, this scene features star Luana Anders.
• US trailer (unrestored and pan and scan)
• Artwork by Gilles Vranckx
ED: This is also a must-have, with Tim Lucas’ audio commentary and the inclusion of the Poe TV dramatisation being the highlights.
TALES OF TERROR
• The Directors – Roger Corman (90min): This 1990 documentary explores Corman’s career.
• NEW Kim Newman on Edgar Allan Poe (30min): the novelist and critic, who’d make a darn fine lecturer in film studies, looks back at Poe’s influence on the big screen. There’s an error on the screen menu: ‘in’ instead of ‘on’, however Arrow tell me that was corrected and only appears on the review copies.
• NEW Cats in Horror Films (10min): Anne Billson, a novelist, critic, photographer and blogger (catsonfilm.net), discusses the contributions of our feline friends to genre cinema.
• NEW The Black Cat (1993, 18min): Short film directed by Rob Green. Though it abridges Poe’s original verse, the visuals are very Cormanesque.
• US theatrical Trailer (unrestored, but in the correct ratio)
• Artwork by Dan Mumford
ED: This is a coup for Arrow as it is not on either of Scream Factory’s Blu-ray box sets.
• NEW Peter Lorre: The Double Face (1984, 60min): Documentary about the German actor, from his early days in the theatre with Bertolt Brecht to his death in 1964. Subtitled. (unrestored).
• Richard Matheson: Storyteller (1993, 62min): This interview with the novelist and screenwriter also appeared on the 2001 MGM DVD release and on the Scream Factory Vincent Price Collection II Blu-ray.
• Corman’s Comedy of Poe (2003, 8min): Roger Corman (in cool, calm and collected mode) on the making of the spoof comedy. This is also included on the Scream Factory Vol 2 Blu-ray.
• NEW The Trick (1997, 12min): Director Rob Green’s short film about rival magicians. This has shades of The League of Gentlemen meets Buston Keaton.
• Gallery: Fantastic stuff. Can we have a pdf please Arrow? BTW: Check out Lorre smoking what looks like joint.
• NEW Promotional Record (6min): OMG! Paul Frees introduces Peter Lorre reciting Poe’s poem with Boris Karloff telling us its ‘the most blood curling thing you’ll ever see’! Also included on the Scream Factory Vol 2 Blu-ray.
• US trailer (unrestored)
• Artwork by Vladimir Zimakov
ED: The promo record is a real bonus here.
THE HAUNTED PALACE
• NEW Audio commentary by David Del Valle and Derek Botelho (author of The Argento Syndrome). Dedicated to the late Cathie Merchant, who appears as Hester Tillinghast in the horror, this commentary is fascinating stuff from David Del Valle, who shares my love for this underrated film. He has some great anecdotes (like Price becoming a millionaire after taking a profit percentage instead of a salary for House on Haunted Hill), while Derek makes a great sidekick – when he finally gets a word in. Best bit of trivia: the Aztec symbol painted on the dungeon wall also appears in Die, Monster, Die and The Dunwich Horror (which were also designed by Daniel Haller).
• NEW Kim Newman on HP Lovecraft (30min): The novelist looks at the challenges of adapting Lovecraft’s stories to the screen. You can tell this was filmed on the same day as his Tales of Terror segment by the bits of dust (or are they crumbs of food) on his jacket.
• A Change of Poe (2003, 10min): Roger Corman looks at the making of the film. This was also on the 2001 MGM DVD release and is included in the Scream Factory Vol 1 Blu-ray.
• Gallery (silent, with a couple of newbies)
• US trailer (unrestored)
• Artwork by Matthew Griffin
ED: The audio commentary is the highlight here.
THE TOMB OF LIGEIA
• Audio commentaries by Roger Corman and Elizabeth Shepherd. These originally appeared on the 2001 MGM DVD release, and are also on the Scream Factory Vol 2 Blu-ray. (The Shepherd one also has poor sound).
• NEW Interview with Paul Mayersberg, who worked as Corman’s everyman assistant, doing everything from finding the location and hiring the cats (they kept running away), script rewrites and filming the holiday sequence at Stonehenge. Recorded 30 September 2014. (25min).
• NEW Interview with 1st AD David Tringham, who talks about working with the fast-working Corman and his fears of the studio set catching fire. Recorded 26 September 2014 (8min).
• NEW Interview with clapper loader Bob Jordan about shooting in widescreen on a low budget and of filming on location. Recorded 7 October 2014 (8min).
• NEW Interview with composer Kenneth V Jones, who talks about the challenges of creating a score without Corman’s input. Recorded 11 March 2014. (6min). Now this is one soundtrack that so needs an official release. Anyone?
• US trailer (unrestored)
• Artwork by the Twins of Evil (aka Luke Insect and Kenn Goodall)
ED: Those interviews are priceless. Thank you Arrow.
Each feature is presented in the original 2.35:1 aspect ratio and offer uncompressed linear PCM 2.0 mono tracks. I found them all to be a richly colourful, pristine-looking upgrade on my MGM DVD releases. And while I already have the Usher and Pit SteelBooks, this Blu-ray box-set makes for a great companion piece. Now, what do I do with those DVDs?
And if you want a further reason to add the Blu-ray box-set to your collection, here’s a look at the booklet…
The House is the Monster
Video Watchdog editor Tim Lucas, who also supplies the commentary on The Fall of the House of Usher (1960), looks back at why Roger Corman chose to adapt Edgar Allan Poe’s tale of ‘corrupted lives and imminent doom’ for the big screen. This essay was originally published in Arrow’s booklet accompanying their stand-alone Blu-ray release (read my review here).
The Waiting Pit of Hell
Gothic Horror author Jonathan Rigby waxes lyrical over The Pit and the Pendulum (1961), Corman’s second Poe adaptation, paying particular attention to star Vincent Price’s barnstorming performance. This essay also appeared in Arrow’s booklet that went out with the stand-alone Blu-ray release (reviewed here).
Three Down, Five to Go
A Natural History of Ghosts author Roger Clarke traces the history of Tales of Terror (1962), the third Corman/Poe film in which star Vincent Price gives a trio of ‘lip-smacking turns’: as a Byronic necrophiliac (Morella); an adulterous wine connoisseur (The Black Cat); and a man suspended in a mesmeric trance (in The Case of Mr Valdemar).
• The title of this article includes Corman’s The Premature Burial, which starred Ray Milland instead of Price, in the series. It should, however, have been called Four Down, Five to Go, as that film went out three months before Tales of Terror. 1964’s Masque of the Red Death is not included in this release as it’s owned by StudioCanal.
• Best bit of trivia: Voice-over artist Lennie Weinrib, who plays a policeman in the Black Cat segment, was the original voice of Scrappy-Doo in 1979 (still hate that character), and also voiced HR Pufnstuf (one of my favourites).
Comedy and Karloff
BFI National Archive curator Vic Pratt reveals how Roger Corman’s ‘Mad Magazine parody of a Corman horror’, The Raven (1963) was a showcase for veteran star Boris Karloff’s skill and versatility as an actor, and introduced the old-timer to a new generation, the college crowd.
Strange Echoes and Fevered Reptitions
Birbeck College professor Roger Luckhurst traces the history of Corman’s fifth Poe adaptation, the underrated The Haunted Palace (1963), which was actually based on the 1927 HP Lovecraft novella, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward.
The Last of the Corman-Poes: Excavating The Tomb of Ligeia
Julian Upton provides a witty and incisive essay on the making of The Tomb of Ligeia (1964), Corman’s lush final Poe entry, that gave the director the best reviews of his entire career and remains the finest interpretation of a Poe tale on the big screen.
Vincent Price: His Movies, His Plays, His Life
An excerpt from the 1978 biography that was ghost written for the legendary actor. This made me want to dig my copy out again.
Better to be On the Set than in the Office
Film historian David Del Valle interviews Roger Corman about his Poe screen adaptations. This is a reprint of an article that originally appeared in Films & Filming in November 1984. For those not familiar with Corman’s cycle, this is an informative inclusion.
The Black Cat/The Trick
Director Rob Green (The Bunker) discusses the making of his two 1990s shorts. Having never heard of the director before, I would have preferred the inclusion of Curtis Harrington’s first and final shorts (both adaptations of Poe’s Usher story) as that ‘cult’ director had a direct connection to Corman.
The Dell Comic Tie-Ins
Included are full reproductions of the Dell Comic adaptations of Tales of Terror (originally published in February 1963), The Raven (1963) and Tomb of Ligeia (1965). This is real treat (and something I will be elaborating on in an article for a book to be published in 2015).