James Cole Clay has been working as a film critic for the better part of a decade covering new releases, blu ray reviews and the occasional drive-in cult classic. His writing is dedicated to discovering social politics through diverse voices, primarily focusing on Women In Film and LGBTQ cinema.
No number of characters or words that I type here will encompass Vincent Price’s influence and continues to have on the horror genre. The beautiful thing about an erudite actor such as Price is his range within roughly the same framework of films. He’s primarily was known for his genre work, but the second you speak to a specialist, they will say something to the effect of “well, you know Vincent Price only did a handful of horror films.” And be that as it may, Price will always be known for his Edgar Allan Poe adaptation with Roger Corman and for his velvety voice that’s welcoming and full of menace.
Over the next several weeks, Kino Lorber Studio Classics will be releasing five Vincent Price classics. (Pro tip: several of these releases are found in the out of prince Vincent Price Collection vol 2 from Scream Factory.) THE LAST MAN ON EARTH, THE RAVEN, and THE COMEDY OF TERRORS will be released on August 31st with retro artwork and sharp-looking slipcovers. All of these releases come from the MGM catalog.
THE LAST MAN ON EARTH
Rated UR, 91 minutes.
Director: Ubaldo Ragona, Sidney Salkow
Cast: Vincent Price
THE LAST MAN ON EARTH is surprisingly the outlier in this group of films: the one true horror film. This film marks the first adaptation from Richard Matheson’s novel I AM LEGEND long before Charlton Heston was the Omega man and way before Will Smith became a “legend.” The film directed by Ubaldo Ragona and Sidney Salkow takes a muted approach to the material shot in black and white. It takes place (for the beginning) inside the head of the lone scientist who roams the earth killing nocturnal humanoid zombie things.
Robert Morgan (Price) has been living in solitude for four years, spending his days going through the motions and attempting to cobble together some sense of normalcy. Containing a steely tone, the film takes a stone-faced approach to the material to bring its audience in the horrors of this post-apocalyptic setting. It proves that Price is the perfect host to usher (no pun intended) his audience into a world filled with the undead. We get a flashback to show how Morgan’s family life leads to the downfall of the human race.
The film ultimately plays like gothic horror, relishing in spooky films’ sheer terror that often accompanies hindsight. We see the pitfalls of Morgan’s decisions and the hubris of a man that chose his wants over humanitarian needs. Ultimately THE LAST MAN ON EARTH is a compelling film with a few twists that will linger in your mind.
THE COMEDY OF TERRORS
Rated UR, 91 minutes.
Director: Jacques Tourner
Cast: Vincent Price, Peter Loree, Boris Karloff, Basil Rathbone
THE COMEDY OF TERRORS: Once again written by Richard Matheson (who used a pseudonym of Logan Swanson) this comedy is a slapstick story that’s not funny and lacks a cohesive narrative. But lucky for Price fans, there are enough movie stars in the twilight of their career to make up for the hazy plotting and grating jokes that rely on being loud for comedic effect. Alongside the man of the hour, Peter Lorre has a supporting role as a bumbling idiot just months before his death. Boris Karloff is the world’s sleepiest human being and is surprisingly the best part of the film. And finally, Basil Rathbone stars as the film’s villain.
THE COMEDY OF TERRORS has a respectable filmmaker at the helm in Jacques Tourneur (CAT PEOPLE), who was most likely on board to get a paycheck and work with these three movie house legends. Price plays Waldo Turnbull, a mortician ruining his father-in-law’s (Karloff) funeral parlor in a desperate attempt to put it six feet under. Turnbull and his assistant (Lorre) are murdering people and using these bodies as a way to get some hefty paychecks. It’s an altogether dark subject matter curbed by the zany comedy from a director who doesn’t know how to direct comedy and actors who can only crack the surface level of humor. Ultimately, this movie is a forgettable but not terrible matinee sandwiched between a couple more focused old-school creep-fest classics.
Rated UR, 86 minutes.
Director: Roger Corman
Cast: Vincent Price, Peter Loree, Boris Karloff, Jack Nicholson
THE RAVEN: Made in 1963, THE RAVEN is coming up on its 60th anniversary in a couple of years. This is my favorite Corman/Price collaboration for being a focused comedy that utilizes its stars’ dynamic with ease due to some creative writing and direction by the cheap movie mogul himself. Matheson uses a pseudonym again because apparently, he was embarrassed to do some work strictly for a paycheck.
Loosely based on Poe’s poem of the same name, Price plays Dr. Craven, a sorcerer who is mourning the loss of his love Lenore outside his chamber door. Dr. Craven has since abandoned his practice, but a big ol’ blackbird comes to his window (voiced by Lorre) sent by an unknown force. The wisecracking raven is effective, and Lorre’s voice coupled alongside Price’s perfect diction will not be hilarious. It turns out Lorre was turned by the evil Scarabus (Boris Karloff) and needs someone with magical abilities to turn him back. The raven sweetens the deal by telling Craven his wife Lenore is trapped by Scarabus and is waiting for her rescue.
THE RAVEN is genuinely a pretty goofy little movie that features an early screen role by Jack Nicholson as Peter Lorre’s son, and even almost 60 years ago, he commanded the screen. However, it was his time working on the fly with Corman that shaped his legendary career. The film features magicians battling on a small budget and actors who blast cranking out these cheap films for Corman.
RENT/BUY: It takes some film history context to make these old-school shrieks enjoyable to a new audience. However clunky the storytelling maybe, watching Vincent Price tweak his performances in this arena is a joy. He has one of cinema’s best all-time voices, and it has never sounded better. These releases are inexpensive, and the commentaries by film historians alone make it worth the purchase.