Too much tertiary education... Former performer/wrestler...Former teacher... Scientist... Published author... Father... Want to be a writer if I grow up...
Published January 16th 2020
Remembering a master
I received a late birthday present last week, from someone I hadn't seen for over a month. She knew of my liking for weird things and so she got me a DVD copy of the film The Fly. She wasn't sure if I had a copy, and said she'd get me another if I had it already; fortunately, I only had it on VHS, so I was more than happy to update. And thus I sat down and watched a glorious old horror film with quite stunning special effects for its time, and a story that is tightly written.
But more than any of that, one of the stars of the film is Vincent Price.
Price died in 1993, and yet he is still remembered all these years later as one of the most sublime horror actors, up there with Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee and Boris Karloff. I own more than a dozen films on VHS and DVD with Price in them. And getting The Fly inspired me. So I had a Price movie marathon. And now I'm writing about my favourite Vincent Price movies.
Now, this is movies. Not documentaries, not TV appearances (he was so OTT as Egghead in the old Batman TV series), and not films where he has a tiny bit part (e.g.Abbott And Costello Meet Frankenstein).
But before I hit the films…
Edgar Allan Poe will come up a little later, but before then here is Price reciting Poe's famous poem 'The Raven'. It's 10 minutes long, but wonderful.
And who could ever forget Price's masterful turn on the title track to Michael Jackson's Thriller album – the 'Thriller Rap'.
Okay, one TV spot. Because I am a complete sucker for the Muppets.
Now… the films! (Oh, I haven't mentioned The Fly (1958) because Price's character is really just a sounding board for the story to be told to.)
House Of Wax (1953)
A remake of a 1930s horror film. A man uses corpses to make his lifelike wax figurines after his original wax museum was destroyed by fire. And then he tries to use a real person. But wax also concealed a secret about that fire and his face. Quite an eerie film, with Price giving a masterful performance of menace and insanity. Very fine indeed.
House On Haunted Hill (1959)
This is a film with an intricately written plot. A millionaire offers guests money to stay in an allegedly haunted house for the night. However, there are machinations, jealousies, plots and counter-plots afoot and it is a film where the horror is more psychological than anything else. The acting of the entire cast carries this film really well.
The Fall Of The House Of Usher (also known as House Of Usher) (1960)
Based on the Edgar Allan Poe story of the same name, directed by Roger Corman, this is rightfully considered a classic of horror cinema. While deviating a little from the original story, it is still essentially the same, as a family's curse comes back to end the line of the Ushers. Price's performance occasionally veers towards the hammy, but generally there is a sense of menace over the whole production that lends a distinctive atmosphere to it that is really nicely done. Also one of Corman's best films.
Tales Of Terror (1962)
I have written about this film already, a portmanteau film based on three of Edgar Allan Poe's stories. Price appears in all three, as the victim in two and as a man in the middle in the other. Each role is different from the last, and it does not feel like Price is just playing the same character over and over. A wonderful tour de force of acting from Price here.
Twice Told Tales (1963)
Another Portmanteau film, this one based on three tales by Nathaniel Hawthorne, and, again, Price is in all three. Not quite as eerie as the Poe tales, but really creepy. Especially the opening story, 'Dr. Heidegger's Experiment', about a fountain of youth and how it backfires so completely. This film (which I own on a double DVD set with the Poe collection) inspired me to seek out Hawthorne's horror tales. Well worth it – film and stories.
The Last Man On Earth (1964)
Richard Matheson's rather superb book I Am Legend was recently made into a film starring Will Smith, and before then in a film starring Charlton Heston (The Omega Man). But before them came this version, starring Price. It ups the creepiness by making the "others" into vampires. While it is the best of the three versions and Price's work is perfectly understated, none of the capture the essence of the book – that the so-called last man is the monster to these new creatures. Shame.
Witchfinder General (also known as Conqueror Worm) (1968)
This film creeped me out completely the first time I saw it. It is full-on British horror. There is nothing light about this movie. Price plays Matthew Hopkins, the titular character, torturing and killing witches. But some realise he is not what he seems, nasty things are done, and revenge is sought and… This is not a pleasant film, but it is a wonderful film. This is possibly the darkest film Price made, in tone and content. And certainly one of his finest performances.
The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971)
Using the ten curses of the Old Testament, an acoustics genius gets revenge on those involved in the death of his wife on the operating table after a car crash, which also disfigured him. The deaths are quite inventive, there is a clockwork band, a lot of organ playing and an electronic voice-box. The police are portrayed as stupid, there is a heroic doctor who saves his son and it left itself open for a sequel, which came the following year.
Theater Of Blood (1973)
I have mentioned this film before, and in that column said it was one of my favourite films of all time. It is sort of like a rehashing of the Dr. Phibes film, but using Shakespeare instead of the Old Testament, and a man driven insane by critics (though the police are still stupid). Price's acting is so hammy and OTT that you know it is done a little tongue in cheek at least, but it is a marvellous film for all that. And the deaths are so much more inventive, plus Price himself has a magnificent death scene and Diana Rigg is frankly brilliant as his daughter who plays all manner of other roles as well. Great film!
Bloodbath At The House Of Death (1984)
Okay, Price has a minor role as the "big bad" of the film, but gets some of the best lines. And it shows that Price was not above poking fun at himself and his characterisations. This is essentially a film showcasing Kenny Everett and Pamela Stephenson, in the 1980s period where British comedians were everywhere. A haunted house, an ancient cult, doppelgangers, murders, singing in a pub, and it is all quite funny. Sure, a little bit of its time (okay, a big bit), but it is still amusing and it has a strange ending.
I know this is possibly an odd time of the year to be writing this, but while I had the inspiration, I thought I'd put it down on computer. While I think Vincent Price has not been forgotten, for some people his entire canon is often overlooked for one or two of the more famous films, or his later appearances. He was a fine actor, often dismissed as someone who only did campy horror. But there was so much more to him than that, and I hope that these films – some of which are even available on YouTube – will show you what a fine thespian the man was.