Now On Blu-ray: Vincent Price Evolves In WAR-GODS OF THE DEEP, HOUSE OF 1,000 DOLLS, & MADHOUSE From Kino

Editor, U.S. ; Dallas, Texas (@HatefulJosh)
Kino Lorber's relatively new Kino Classics line of Blu-ray releases has become a goldmine for home video collectors. This includes brand new HD releases of many lesser known and cult films from one of my favorite performers, Vincent Price. A recent trio of Price films on the market from Kino Classics showcases the man's evolution from lovable master of the macabre to a more sinister leading man in a few films from the late '60s and early '70s exploitation powerhouse, American International Pictures. Are the discs worthy of the films, and are the films themselves as good as Price as a performer? Check out some details below to find out.

The first of the trio is 1965's War-Gods of the Deep, a film loosely based on a story by Edgar Allan Poe (City in the Sea). The film follows heartthrob Tab Hunter as he goes beneath the sea in search of his kidnapped girlfriend, played by Susan Hart. What he finds below the surface is a legendary city beneath the sea lorded over by the ageless Vincent Price. Thus begins a battle of wills as the two men struggle to retain the girl and Hunter attempts to return to the surface.

War-Gods of the Deep is a fairly hokey action adventure film in the vein of many such adventure films of the early to mid '60s. While I was watching this film, I was reminded of the tone and sense of humor of the (vastly superior) work of Ray Harryhausen like The Mysterious Island or even Henry Levin's Journey to the Center of the Earth. However, while those films reveled in their ability to manufacture scope, War-Gods of the Deep is plainly hindered by a pretty small budget and not a whole lot of vision.

In 1965, AIP and Price had just concluded their wildly successful series of Roger Corman directed Poe adaptations. I suspect that War-Gods of the Deep was an attempt to maintain that momentum by putting Price in familiar outfits, and familiar locations while doing it without the help or ability of Corman. What is interesting is that AIP didn't hire some hack to attempt this film, the enlisted Jacques Tourner, a filmmaker best known these days for his stellar work as a director for producer Val Lewton on films like Cat People. However, the lack of funds on this film appears to have hindered it significantly, even if it remains a campy bit of fun for those with lively imaginations.

Shot almost entirely on dark, dank sets with only occasional attempts to liven up the environs, War-Gods of the Deep suffers most from claustrophobia. While the human characters of this film are logically trapped within the watertight buildings below the surface, there are some ridiculous looking slimy gill people populating the water on the outside, largely via really awful looking compositing (a sign of the times, more than the budget). Nevertheless, the lively dialogue and intense charisma of Price and wide-eyed enthusiasm of Hunter carry the film and make it engaging in spite of its shortcomings. It isn't until an overlong chase sequence at the end that the momentum really drags significantly. While modern kids may watch War-Gods of the Deep and be bored before the first reel ends, viewers of a certain age will find comfort in this offbeat little adventure film.

The Disc:

Kino's Blu-ray of War-Gods of the Deep looks pretty great considering its age and budget. Colors are distinct, clarity is better than I would have expected, and the image suffers from fairly little damage, a fine presentation. The audio is also surprisingly good, though, of course, a 2.0 presentation on a film from 1965 is thankfully free from surround remix. In terms of extras we are treated to a jovial interview with star Tab Hunter in which he expresses his love of the experience moreso than the film itself. It turns out he was a huge Vincent Price fan and that was a large part of his agreeing to the role in the first place. Overall, this is a very fun film, but if your patience is short, or you aren't a fan of the rhythms of mid '60s adventure films, you might find it trying.

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