“Shock Waves” (1977, Blue Underground) With its underwater undead, forgotten Nazis and swampy location, this low-budget, Florida-lensed zombie thriller plays like a particularly lurid, live-action version of an E.C. Comics story. Brooke Adams leads a group of tourists stranded on an island whose sole occupant (Peter Cushing) is a former SS officer who oversaw the Death Corps – dead soldiers revived and reworked to survive in any environment, including under water. Director Ken Wiederhorn (“Eyes of a Stranger”) gets maximum mileage out of his zombies, rising slowly and inexorably out of the calm coastal waters, and evoke the silent, ominous walking dead of pre-war horror films like “White Zombie” or “I Walked with a Zombie.” Also starring Luke Halpin (“Flipper”) and John Carradine in full Cranky Old Coot mode; the Blu-ray includes a commentary by Wiederhorn with makeup effects designer Alan Ormsby (“Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things”) and veteran low-budget director/fan Fred Olen Ray, as well as new interviews with Adams, Halpin, cinematographer Reuben Trane and composer Richard Einhorn and an array of trailers, TV spots and posters.
“Squirm” (1976, Shout! Factory) Director Jeff (“Blue Sunshine”) Lieberman’s “Squirm” travels on the same comic book track as “Shock Waves” – it is, after all, a movie about crazed, carnivorous earthworms devouring the residents of a small Southern town – but applies a greater degree of tongue-in-cheek humor to the material. That’s not to say that it doesn’t delve into the ickiest possibilities of its premise – Rick Baker contributed some early makeup effects for the grisliest sequence, which involves a boating accident and a lake full of worms – and shots of the slimy, screeching creatures dangling from shower heads, slithering into drinks and, in one eye-popping moment, filling an entire farmhouse, are gleeful gross-outs designed to provoke equal amounts of laughter and disgust. Shout! Factory’s DVD includes lively commentary by Lieberman, who’s also featured in a making-of documentary with star Don Scardino (now a prolific TV comedy director) and a short visit to the original shooting locations.
(Note: the next five films are compiled on Shout! Factory’s “Vincent Price Collection II” set.)
The Raven” (1963) There’s only a slight connection between this broad comedy by Roger Corman and Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven”– Vincent Price intones a few lines over the opening credits, and a real raven, with the dyspeptic voice of Peter Lorre, appears throughout – but the on-screen antics of Price, Lorre and co-star Boris Karloff, along with a very young Jack Nicholson, are so giddy and fun that only the most melancholy Poe devotee could find fault with it. Writer Richard Matheson (“I am Legend”) transposes the action to the 15th century, where wizard Price battles the black magician Dr. Scarabus (Karloff) for the hand of his wife (Hazel Court). Lorre ad-libs with abandon as Price’s reluctant sidekick, while Nicholson, as his hapless son, handles straight man duties. While the duel between Price and Karloff is the film’s highlight – achieved largely with minimal special effects and grand gestures and expressions by the performers – its chief pleasure is watching the three leads drop their boogeyman personas and go for laughs. Shout Factory’s Blu-ray echoes MGM’s 2003 Midnite Movies presentation by teaming “The Raven” with “The Comedy of Terrors” (1964), a mostly silly black comedy by Jacques Tourneur (“Curse of the Demon”) that features Karloff, Price, Lorre and Basil Rathbone. It also ports over interviews with Corman and Matheson from the MGM DVD and the audio from a promotional 45 record featuring the voices of Karloff, Lorre and Paul Frees. New to the Blu-ray is an informative commentary by historian Steve Haberman and a charming intro by Price filmed in the 1980s for broadcast on Iowa public television.
“House on Haunted Hill” (1958) Though he had appeared in horror-related films as early as 1947 (“The Invisible Man Returns”), Vincent Price’s status as a horror movie icon was solidified by a quartet of pictures in the 1950s: “House of Wax” (1953), “The Fly” (1958), “The Tingler” (1959) and this slight but effective spookshow from William Castle. Price turns up the devilish-debonair charm as a misanthropic millionaire who offers $10,000 to anyone that can remain the night in the title manse, where seven people were murdered. The barrage of scares is mild, even quaint by today’s comparison (though the blind, snarling old lady can still provoke a shiver), but the film’s biggest fright actually occurred in the movie theater. When a skeleton was pulled from a vat of acid in the picture, theater owners activated Castle’s gimmick du jour: “Emergo,” which sent a prop skeleton sailing over the heads of moviegoers. A longtime staple of public domain DVD releases, the Shout Factory Blu-ray of “House” looks great and includes a ton of Price-centric extras, including three featurettes about his career and interests in art, theater and cooking, as well as an interview with the writer of the aforementioned Iowa public TV series. A gallery of trailers for Price’s horror movies rounds out the disc.
“The Tomb of Ligeia” (1965) Long on atmosphere but short on linear logic, “The Tomb of Ligeia” was the eighth and final film in Roger Corman’s unofficial “Poe Cycle” for American International Pictures. Clean-shaven and clad in Byronic black (and a boss pair of rectangular sunglasses), Price cuts a gloomily romantic figure as a widower haunted by the memory of his late wife, Ligeia (Elizabeth Shepherd). His impulsive marriage to Rowena (also Shepherd) – an exact double of his deceased spouse – seems to send Ligeia’s spirit into a vengeful frenzy, plaguing the new couple as a malevolent black cat before possessing the body of Price’s new wife. Corman’s lack of interest in doing another Poe picture weighs heavily on Robert (“Chinatown”) Towne’s script, which doesn’t seem to know (or care) when Shepherd is Ligeia or Rowena, but he’s aided by the ruinous English locations and Price’s performance as the sort of doomy swain Johnny Depp might play today. The Blu-ray carries over Roger Corman’s commentary from the MGM DVD release and adds two new tracks: one by Shepherd, who discusses working with Price, and a second by film historian Constantine Nasr, which focuses on the historical and critical perceptions of the film.
“The Last Man on Earth” (1964) Initially planned for release by Hammer Films, this adaptation of Richard Matheson’s “I Am Legend” was sold to prolific low-budget producer/distributor Robert Lippert, who made the film in Italy with a Continental cast and crew. Price plays it straight as the lone survivor of a plague that transforms its victims into vampire-like creatures, though their slow, stumbling gait and everyday attire hew them closer to the zombies of “Night of the Living Dead” (George Romero later acknowledged “Last Man” as an influence on his picture). Though the Italian locations and dubbed cast are a distraction, Price is very good as the Everyman lead, whose lack of heroics and sheer will to live is probably the closest screen version of Matheson’s central figure (certainly more so than Charlton Heston in “Omega Man” and Will Smith in “I Am Legend”). Paired on the same disc with “Ligeia,” the Shout Factory presentation of “Last Man on Earth” looks as good as the previous MGM DVD and carries over from that disc a brief interview with Matheson, whose dislike for the picture spurred him to adopt a pseudonym for his screenwriting credit. A new commentary by David Del Valle and Derek Botelho, who do a fine job of recounting the film’s production history.
“Dr Phibes Rises Again” (1972) Though it lacks the same macabre joie de vivre as its predecessor, the witty and stylish horror-comedy “The Abominable Dr. Phibes,” this sequel benefits greatly from Price’s turn as the vengeful doctor and a supporting cast that gamely submits to a series of increasingly horrible deaths. Here, Phibes must reclaim stolen Egyptian scrolls that would aid him in reviving his dead wife (an uncredited Caroline Munro). The thieves, led by the scurrilous Biederbeck (Robert Quarry of “Count Yorga” fame) – who is desperate to preserve his own centuries-long existence – are dispatched in a series of diabolical murders with an Egyptian theme: sandstorm, scorpion and bird attack, and a pretty nasty bit involving what appears to be a cider press. The rush to launch a sequel after the success of “Abominable” is felt in the confused script and tone, which occasionally struggles to balance the morbid humor with the grisliness of the murders. But Price anchors the whole thing with tremendous wit and presence, and his fellow players/victims, which include Hugh Griffith, Terry-Thomas, John Thaw (“Inspector Morse”) and a brief turn by Peter Cushing, submit to their fates with exceptional good cheer. And the ending, which finds Phibes punting down the River of Life while warbling “Over the Rainbow,” makes up for any missed notes in the picture. The disc, which also features “Return of the Fly” (1959), features the original theatrical trailer and a gallery of stills.
“Wicked, Wicked” (1973, Warner Archives Collection) This oddball thriller about a masked psychopath stalking the blonde female guests of a California hotel (San Diego’s Hotel Coronado) is filmed entirely in split-screen, or as the promotional department at MGM dubbed it, “Duo-Vision.” The process was well used in a variety of films, from “The Boston Strangler” (1968) to “Woodstock,” but more as a stylistic flourish, and not for the entire running time. Here, the effort of watching the killer (Randolph Roberts, who later appeared briefly as Chuck Cunningham on “Happy Days”) in one half of the frame and his intended victim in the other proves somewhat trying over the course of 95 minutes, but writer-director Richard L. Bare and producer William T. Orr – both veterans of Warner’s TV output – retain audience interest by stocking the supporting roles with a menagerie of eccentric stock types (goofball bellboy, studly lifeguard, hardboiled house detective). They also have an appealing lead in Tiffany Bolling, who made a name in the 1970s for roles in offbeat exploitation titles like “The Candy Snatchers.” Bolling not only proves capable in the screaming department, but also pulls off a rendition of the camp-heaven theme song with remarkable good cheer. The widescreen DVD includes the original theatrical trailer.
“Blood Glacier” (2013, IFC) This German-made creature feature takes its cues from John Carpenter’s “The Thing” with its array of icky, drippy monsters and Arctic setting, but also employs a hearty dose of ecology-gone-amuck tropes from ‘50s science fiction and ‘70s efforts like “Food of the Gods.” Boozy, misanthropic weather researcher Gerhard Liebmann and his starchy fellow scientists discover a sanguinary liquid flowing from a glacier in the Swiss Alps. The goo produces hideous mutations in the local fauna, which promptly set upon the team and an arriving group of dignitaries led by his ex-girlfriend. Though the premise has been done to death over the past half-century – from “Cosmic Monsters” (1958) to “Shrooms” (2007) and everything in between – director Marvin Kren and his associates are clearly thrilled to be making their own monster movie, and throw themselves into the proceedings with genuinely, gory glee. The DVD offers both a German-language track with subtitles (preferred) and an English dub (grim).