Blu-ray/DVD Reviews

Category

Currently showing posts tagged Jacques Tourneur

  • Cat People (1942) Blu-ray Review

    Cat People (1942)

    Director: Jacques Tourneur

    Starring: Simone Simon, Kent Smith, Tom Conway, Jane Randolph & Jack Holt

    Released by: The Criterion Collection

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Produced by famed auteur Val Lewton (I Walked with a Zombie), Cat People centers on Serbian immigrant Irena Dubrovna (Simone Simon, Johnny Doesn’t Live Here Anymore) whose marriage to American architect Oliver Reed (Kent Smith, The Spiral Staircase) is put in peril when her homeland fears of transforming into a savage feline during intimacy are suggested.  Tom Conway (101 Dalmatians), Jane Randolph (Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein) and Jack Holt (They Were Expendable) co-star.

    Stylish and mysteriously evocative, Producer Val Lewton’s debut effort and his first for RKO Pictures accentuates what haunts viewers in the shadows and rises above its genre label to deliver a gem of psychological madness and tragic love.  Gorgeously shot by Nicholas Musuraca (Out of the Past) and under the refined direction of Jacques Tourneur (Curse of the Demon), Cat People, unlike the prominently displayed Universal Monsters from the same era, uses calculated suspense and an increasingly dreadful tone to suggest more onscreen horror than what is showcased.  After a chance encounter at the city zoo prompts a love at first sight romance, gorgeous Serbian artist Irena is overwhelmed with her feelings for the handsome Oliver only to have childhood myths cloud her happiness.  Terrified that a mere kiss from her new husband will transform her into a cat-like person with wicked intentions, Irena’s mental state comes into question, forcing Oliver to second-guess his own feelings for the foreign beauty.  Coupled with a scandalous love triangle that surges Irena’s jealously while maintaining the very real possibility that her darkest fears of an ancient curse are true, Cat People, realized on a shoestring budget and utilizing recycled sets, delivers a frightening tale of marital woes and forbidden sexual desires under the subtext of witchcraft that strikingly stands out from other horror-billed efforts of the 1940s.  Strongly performed and leaving audiences to imaginatively paint their own dark pictures where the fog resides, Cat People purrs with consummate atmosphere, leaving an indelible impact on those looking into its poetic cage of horror.

    The Criterion Collection presents Cat People with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.37:1 aspect ratio.  Exceptionally restored in 2K, the monochrome photography arrives with gorgeous detail and a remarkable emphasis on black levels giving the film’s shadowy presence new dimensionality.  In addition, age-related scratches and scuffs are all but vanished making the viewing experience all the greater.  Bearing black bars on either sides of the frame to preserve its intended format, Cat People has never looked more splendid.  Equipped with an LPCM 1.0 mix, dialogue is strongly carried with even Simon’s thick accent never falling on strained ears while, Composer Roy Webb’s (Notorious) classy score is effectively laid.  Special features include, a 2005 recorded Audio Commentary with Film Historian Gregory Mank, Val Lewton: The Man in the Shadows (1:16:40), the accomplished 2008 documentary by Kent Jones (Hitchcock/Truffaut) that delves into Lewton’s short-lived yet, revered career with narration from Director Martin Scorsese.  Furthermore, Ciné Regards (26:37) presents a vintage 1977 interview with Director Jacques Tourneur on his career, the newly-crafted John Bailey (16:36) catches up with the director of photography of 1982’s Cat People and As Good As It Gets to discuss Musuraca’s mesmerizing approaches to the original feature while, the film’s Trailer (1:04) and an Essay entitled Darkness Betrayed by Critic Geoffrey O’Brien featuring a reversible poster rounds out the impressive supplemental offerings that could have only been made perfect by the inclusion of the 1944 sequel The Curse of the Cat People.

    Far more restrained than most genre efforts of the decade but arguably more effective, Cat People uses subtlety and psychological intrigue to lure audiences into its shadowy realm of a troubled marriage and catastrophic curses.  Just in time for the Halloween season, The Criterion Collection celebrates one of Lewton’s finest efforts and a towering achievement of elegant frights with its definitive presentation and a wonderful assortment of extras to claw into.

    RATING: 4.5/5

    Available September 20th from The Criterion Collection, Cat People can be purchased via Criterion.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • The Vincent Price Collection II Blu-ray Review

    The Vincent Price Collection II

    Director(s): Various

    Starring: Various

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Returning from the grave once again, Scream Factory, the horror/cult offshoot of Shout! Factory, proudly presents seven more terrifying tales from the master of horror in one spine-tingling collection.  Rewarding viewers with chills and comedy like no other, Vincent Price guides fans on more gothic excursions into the unknown, complimented by a healthy assortment of bonus content just in time for the Halloween season.

    Spanning seven films across four Blu-rays, The Vincent Price Collection II continues to unearth more of Price’s esteemed classics, supplying viewers with essential content across three of the thespians most impressive decades.  Included are The Raven (1963), The Comedy of Terrors (1964), The Tomb of Ligeia (1964), The Last Man on Earth (1964), Dr. Phibes Rises Again! (1972), Return of the Fly (1959) and the William Castle classic, House on Haunted Hill (1959).

    MOVIE(s):

    • The Raven (1963): Deviating heavily from the source material, The Raven reunites Price with Producer/Director Roger Corman in yet another entry in their popular Edgar Allan Poe adaptations.  Joined by renowned performers, Peter Loree (Casablanca) and Boris Karloff (Frankenstein), The Raven takes a comedic turn as the three performers appear as competitive magicians in the 14th-century.  Price may be seen as the leading man but, it is Loree who steals the show with his endless improvisational skills and nonstop humor.  Even in his later years, Karloff shines here as the film’s antagonist, battling Price and Loree in his impressively gothic castle.  In addition, a young Jack Nicholson (As Good As It Gets) and horror icon Hazel Court (The Curse of Frankenstein) make appearances in this unusual yet, always entertaining tale of betrayal and magical dueling.  

    RATING: 4.5/5

    • The Comedy of Terrors (1963): Upping the comedic ante, Screenwriter Richard Matheson’s (The Pit and the Pendulum) story reunites Tales of Terror alumni Vincent Price, Peter Loree and Basil Rathbone in this fiendishly funny offering of a financially strapped funeral director (Price) who turns to homicide in order to generate business.  This time around, Price and Loree, serving as his lowly assistant, are on equal ground as their comedic chemistry and timing is impeccable.  Boris Karloff joins his The Raven co-stars as Price’s decrepit father-in-law supplying comic one liners.  In addition, Joyce Jameson (Death Race 2000) stuns as Price’s neglected wife who shatters household objects due to her shrieking singing voice.  While, the narrative tends to grow slightly redundant, it is Price and Loree’s efforts that keep the fun brewing.  Under the watchful eye of Director Jacques Tourneur (Cat People), The Comedy of Terrors substitutes genuine horror for hilarity in this underrated effort that allows Price to fully stretch his comedic bones.

    RATING: 4/5

    • The Tomb of Ligeia (1964): Marking the end of his long-running Poe adaptations, Producer/Director Roger Corman would ditch his tried and true gothic sets for real English countryside locations.  Although, The Tomb of Ligeia ultimately underperformed the most out of all the previous Poe films, Corman insists it is one of the best.  Re-teaming once again with Vincent Price, The Tomb of Ligeia centers on a mournful widower, Verden Fell (Price), haunted by the spirit of his former wife, Ligeia (Elizabeth Shepherd, Damien: Omen II).  As Fell finds the will to love another (also Shepherd), nightmarish visions and a sinister cat controlled by Ligeia threatens their very existence.  Filled with rich atmosphere and surreal imagery, The Tomb of Ligeia injects many abstract notions sometimes at the sake of coherent storytelling.  While, the narrative may be more complicated than necessary, The Tomb of Ligeia stands proudly as a fitting finale to Corman’s Poe films thanks to Price’s always reliable skills and Corman’s constantly moving camera, making the film a visually arresting watch.

    RATING: 4/5  

    • The Last Man on Earth (1964): Based on Richard Matheson’s classic tale, I Am Legend, The Last Man on Earth centers on Dr. Robert Morgan (Price), the lone survivor of a worldwide plague that has infected the population, morphing them into undead vampires.  Filmed on location in Rome with black and white photography, The Last Man on Earth is a simple story that rises to great heights courtesy of Price’s emotionally convincing performance.  Appearing in the rare role of the heroic protagonist, Price conjures up wonderful pathos as a man who has lost everything but, still yearns to live.  Acknowledged as one of Price’s finest performances and influential to countless filmmakers, The Last Man on Earth has spawned countless reinterpretations but, all have failed to achieve the original’s execution and unsettlingly dark mood.

    RATING: 5/5       

    • Dr. Phibes Rises Again! (1972): Awakening after three years, the dreadful Dr. Phibes (Price) lives once again for the sole purpose of resurrecting his late wife, Victoria (Caroline Munro).  Accompanied by his loyal aide, Vulnavia (the beautiful Valli Kemp replaces the equally gorgeous Virginia North), Phibes must recover his stolen papyrus scrolls needed to locate the River of Life.  As Phibes tracks the immortality obsessed thief, Biederbeck (Robert Quarry, Count Yorga, Vampire), to Egypt, the good doctor’s ingenious methods of murder follow.  Peter Jeffrey and John Cater reprise their roles as the Scotland Yard Inspectors tracking Phibes while, Peter Cushing (The Curse of Frankenstein) cameos as a ship captain.  Falling only slightly behind the original film’s uniqueness, Dr. Phibes Rises Again! manages to retain the iconic art deco appearance of its predecessor while, taking risks with its narrative.  This sequel, released only a year after the original, finds Phibes less vengeful and more determined to complete his mission of breathing life into his late wife.  Of course, Phibes has no issue ridding those who stand in his way with clever demises that incorporate scorpions and snakes.  Unsurprisingly, Price is delightful in the role as the eccentric doctor with a knack for organ playing while, Jeffrey and Cater’s dry humor inject several chuckles throughout the film.  Meanwhile, Robert Quarry makes a pleasing advisory for Phibes amidst onset hostility between the two thespians.    Ambitious and enjoyably outlandish, Dr. Phibes Rises Again! may not top the original but, throughly entertains in ways most sequels fail to.  

    RATING: 4/5

    • Return of the Fly (1959): Determined to revive his late father’s work, Phillipe Delambre (Brett Halsey), begins experimenting against the wishes of his uncle Francois (Vincent Price).  Recruiting the help of a friend and utilizing his own finances, Phillipe is successful in restoring his father’s transporter device.  When betrayal and greed arise, the past is doomed to repeat itself.  Although Price is top-billed, he is again regulated to the supporting role as the only returning cast member from the original film.  Literally lacking the color and originality of the 1958 classic, Edward L. Bernds’ (Queens of Outer Space) direction is fairly paint by numbers and does little to separate itself from its originator.  Price still charms in the capacity he’s given but, ultimately where Dr. Phibes Rises Again! succeeds in its risk-taking, Return of the Fly plummets in playing it too safe.  

    RATING: 2.5/5

    • House on Haunted Hill (1959): Considered by many to be the B-movie equivalent of Alfred Hitchcock, Producer/Director William Castle became a household name with his ingenious marketing campaigns and immersive gimmicks to draw audiences to his pictures.  Luckily, Castle not only succeeded in being a master salesman but also a competent storyteller who knew how to work a crowd.  A career milestone for Castle, 1959’s House on Haunted Hill centers on the eccentric millionaire Frederick Loren (Vincent Price), who along with his wife, Annabelle (Carol Ohmart, Spider Baby) invite five selected people to a haunted house where $10,000 will be awarded to who can survive the night of supernatural occurrences.  Littered with genuinely ghastly ghouls and nonstop jumpscares, the breezy 74-minute runtime ensures a fun time for all.  Written by longtime Castle collaborator, Robb White (Macabre, The Tingler), House on Haunted Hill presents a strong group of characters with mysterious backgrounds, keeping the audience uneasy about the guests as much as the ghosts.  An absolute riot from beginning to end, House on Haunted Hill transports viewers back to a more innocent time in moviemaking where spookhouse shenanigans were hosted by charismatic spirits such as Vincent Price.  

    RATING: 4.5/5

    VIDEO:

    All the films found in The Vincent Price Collection II arrive with 1080p transfers, sporting 2.35:1 aspect ratios with the exception of Dr. Phibes Rises Again! (1.85:1) and House on Haunted Hill (1.78:1).  Appearing with natural grain intact, all of the films relay nicely to varying degrees.  Skin tones look healthy with fine detail observed in facial features and the gothic, period wardrobe.  Colors, most appreciatively, pop best in Dr. Phibes Rises Again! with the art deco design and interesting color palette found in its costumes and during Phibes’ organ playing sequences.  For as old as the films are, instances of flakes and speckles are on sight, most noticeably in The Comedy of Terrors but, thankfully none ever overwhelm or deter the viewing experience.  Black levels are decent with respectable visibility and occasional haziness, most likely attributed to the films‘ low-budgets and underlit lighting.  Meanwhile, the black and white photography found in The Last Man on Earth, Return of the Fly and House on Haunted Hill are most impressive with inky black levels and crisp, nearly blemish-free, appearances.  Over half a century old, the films found in The Vincent Price Collection II look marvelous for their age and are unlikely to look better than this.

    RATING: 4/5

    AUDIO:

    Equipped with DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mixes, the films found in The Vincent Price Collection II always project audible dialogue but, aren’t meant to necessarily challenge the varying channels of your audio setup.  Simple in their execution, moments of suspense and screaming terror benefit from the added oomph in each mix while, the various scores and musical cues occasionally register too sharply but, generally please.  Each film sounds as rich as possible with no major hiccups to speak of.  

    RATING: 3.5/5

    EXTRAS:

    In addition to a comprehensive 32-page collector’s booklet that includes gorgeous production photos from each film and a must read essay by Film Historian David Del Valle,  the bonus features found in The Vincent Price Collection II are as follows:

    The Raven (1963):

    • Introduction and parting words by Vincent Price
    • Audio Commentary with Author/Film Historian Steve Haberman: newly recorded.
    • Richard Matheson Storyteller: The Raven (6:37)            
    • Corman’s Comedy of Poe (8:13)
    • Promotional Record (5:41)
    • Theatrical Trailer (2:26)
    • Still Gallery: 67 in total.

    The Comedy of Terrors (1963):

    • Introduction and parting words by Vincent Price
    • Richard Matheson Storyteller: The Comedy of Terrors (9:35) 
    • Theatrical Trailer (2:32)
    • Still Gallery: 38 in total.

    The Tomb of Ligeia (1964):

    • Introduction and parting words by Vincent Price
    • Audio Commentary with Producer/Director Roger Corman
    • Audio Commentary with Actress Elizabeth Shepard, moderated by Roy Frumkes: newly recorded.
    • Audio Commentary with Film Historian Constantine Nasr: newly recorded.
    • Theatrical Trailer (2:28)
    • Still Gallery: 28 in total.

    The Last Man on Earth (1964):

    • Audio Commentary with Film Historian David Del Valle and Author Derek Botelho: newly recorded.
    • Richard Matheson Storyteller: The Last Man on Earth (6:24)
    • Still Gallery: 66 in total.

    Dr. Phibes Rises Again! (1972):

    • Theatrical Trailer (2:08)
    • Still Gallery: 75 in total.

    Return of the Fly (1959):

    • Audio Commentary with Actor Brett Halsey & Film Historian David Del Valle: newly recorded.
    • Theatrical Trailer (2:39)
    • TV Spot (2:39)
    • Still Gallery: 18 in total.

    House on Haunted Hill (1959):

    • Audio Commentary with Author/Film Historian Steven Haberman: newly recorded.
    • Vincent Price: Renaissance Man (27:20)
    • The Art of Fear (12:13)
    • Working with Vincent Price (15:26)
    • Introductory Price (13:16)
    • Theatrical Trailer (1:40)
    • Still Gallery: 23 in total.
    • Vincent Price Trailer Collection (19:27): Includes House of Wax, The Conqueror Worm, The Abominable Dr. Phibes, House of Usher, Masque of the Red Death, The Pit and the Pendulum, The Tingler and The Fly.

    RATING: 4.5/5

    OVERALL:

    Continuing to carve out the illustrious legacy of Vincent Price’s body of work, Scream Factory has once again served fans with one of the best releases of the year.  The Vincent Price Collection II welcomes seven more of Price’s memorable films in gorgeous looking transfers, joined with a hefty amount of bonus content for fans to enjoy.  Undeniably, Vincent Price is one of horror’s most iconic talents and this remarkable collection is essential viewing, perfectly suited for the spookiest time of the year.

    RATING: 5/5

    The Vincent Price Collection II is available now can be purchased through Shout! Factory, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.