HORROR ICON OF THE MONTH: VINCENT PRICE

Rhiannon Irons, a.k.a Ahlephia, here with what I can only call the ultimate in horror icons.  A legend whose legacy will continue to live on.  Can you diggit’?

When it comes to horror icons, one man truly is the epitome of the word icon.  His voice is recognizable, his presence is unstoppable and his movies are some of the ultimate classics.  Ladies and gentlemen, may I present this month’s Horror Icon; Vincent Price.

Vincent Leonard Price, Jr. was born on May 27, 1911 in St. Louis, Missouri.  He was the son of Marguerite Cobb and Vincent Leonard Price, Sr. who was the president of the National Candy Company.  His grandfather, Vincent Clarence Price, invented Dr. Price’s Baking Powder, the first cream of tartar baking powder and thus securing the family fortune.

Price attended St. Louis Country Day School before going onto Yale to major in art history and fine art.  He was a member of the Courtauld Institute in London but his love of acting and the theatre came in the 1930’s where he appeared on stage for the first time in 1935.

In 1938, Vincent landed his first ever movie role in the film Service de Luxe alongside Constance Bennett and Charles Ruggles.  Vincent had one of the leading roles of Robert Wade in this comedy which saw the glamorous and efficient Helen Murphy (Bennett) running a service that will provide any type of assistance to wealthy customers, but what she’s really looking for is a man who can take care of himself.  Rugged Robert Wade (Price), an inventor in town to secure funding for his new model tractor, wants to meet a woman who won’t try to run his life.  Despite being made for each other, Helen and Robert go through the usual complications of a film like this before ending up together in the final reel.

For the remainder of the 30’s Price found himself acting in comedies before scoring the role of George – Duke of Clarence in the 1939 historical movie, Tower Of London.

The following year became Vincent’s first baby steps into the world of horror with a title role in H.G Wells’ The Invisible Man Returns, directed by Joe May.  The storyline for the film is simple: Framed for the murder of his brother, Geoffrey Radcliffe is scheduled to hang.  After a visit from his friend Dr. Frank Griffin, he vanishes mysteriously from prison.  Police inspector Sampson realizes that Griffin is the brother of the original Invisible Man and has given Geoffrey the formula to aid his escape.  Can Geoffrey elude the police dragnet and track down the real murderer?  More importantly, can Griffin discover an antidote before the invisibility formula drives Geoffrey insane?  Despite being made in the late 30’s, this film is worth the watch.  (Fun Fact: Vincent would later reprise this role for the Abbott and Costello Meets Frankenstein spoof film in 1948)

Despite all these title roles, it wasn’t until the 1944 film, Laura, which saw Vincent Price establish himself as a serious actor.  Laura, a drama/mystery/film-noir movie, is about Detective Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews) investigates the killing of Laura (Gene Tierney), found dead on her apartment floor before the movie starts.  McPherson builds a mental picture of the dead girl from the suspects whom he interviews.  He is helped by the striking painting of the late lamented Laura hanging on her apartment wall.  But who would have wanted to kill a girl with whom every man she met seemed to fall in love?  To make matters worse, McPherson finds himself falling under her spell too.  Then one night, halfway through his investigations, something seriously bizarre happens to make him re-think the whole case.  Fantastic film, and Price’s role of Shelby Carpenter was flawless.

In 1946, Price took top billings in another film-noir, Shock.  The storyline for Shock enabled it to be labeled a thriller, but there were some borderline horror moments.  The storyline is as follows: A psychologically distraught woman is committed to a private sanitarium by the man whom she witnessed commit a murder.

In 1948 Vincent found himself in a star studded cast which included Angela Lansbury, Frank Morgan and Gene Kelly for The Three Musketeers.  The following year he found himself back in the thriller/film-noir genre with The Bribe, alongside Ava Gardner.

But it was in 1953 when the horror genre came knocking once again with House Of Wax.  Price played Prof. Henry Jarrod, a true artist whose wax sculptures are lifelike.  When his wax museum goes up in flames and he’s horribly scarred, things take a turn for the worst.  He begins to use living people as his sculptures, pouring hot wax over them, turning them into “living” dolls.  Without a doubt, this film is one of my favourite Vincent Price movies.  Creepy for its time, House Of Wax has lived on, creeping out new generations, while providing countless entertainment.  If you’ve only seen the Paris Hilton remake of House Of Wax, I encourage you to dig around and watch the original.

In 1954, Price returned to the horror genre with The Mad Magician.  Playing the title role of Gallico the Great, Price’s performance was perfection.  The storyline sounds like the plot of a Goosebumps book, but regardless of that, it’s a highly entertaining film.

Fast forward three years and Price found himself dealing with The Master, Alfred Hitchcock in Alfred Hitchcock Presents.  That same year Price played The Devil in The Story of Mankind.  Not a horror, but rather a drama and fantasy, The Story of Mankind sees a council of elders of outer space deliberating on an important subject: Should mankind be allowed to survive or is it simply evil that it must be destroyed?  An angel and The Devil (Price) act as prosecutor and defense attorney for the human race.  Highly entertaining.

As 1959 rolled around, so did the horror genre, with Price starring in four horror movies in one year.  House On Haunted Hill, The Tingler, Return Of The Fly and The Bat all came out in 1959.  Each film is a must see, but I have to rave on about House On Haunted Hill and The Tingler as they are two of my favourites.

Let’s begin with the William Castle film, House On Haunted Hill.  The storyline is simple; Eccentric millionaire Fredrick Loren (Price) and his fourth wife, Annabelle (Carol Ohmart), have invited five people to the house on Haunted hill for a “Haunted House” party.  Whoever stays in the house for one whole night will earn ten thousand dollars each.  As the night progresses, all the guests are trapped inside the house with ghosts, murderers and other terrors.

Now, the plot by today’s standards doesn’t sound too exciting and comparing it to the 1999 remake starring Australia’s own Geoffrey Rush, this film does seem campy.  However, camp or not, this film hits a home run when it comes to classic horror.  The simple effects and subtle music score holds the intensity of the film, while the performances of the cast are convincing both when the film was released and now.  It’s a must see movie.

The Tingler ups the creep factor over House On Haunted Hill.  Dr. Warren Chapin (Price) is a pathologist who regularly conducts autopsies on executed prisoners at the State Prison.  He has a theory that fear is the result of a creature that inhabits all of us.  His theory is that the creature is suppressed by our ability to scream when fear strikes us.  He has a chance to put that theory into practice when he meets Ollie and Martha Higgins, who own and operate a second-run movie theatre.  Martha is deaf and mute and if she’s unable to scream, extreme fear should make the creature, which Chapin has called The Tingler, come to life and grow.  And so the experiment begins…

The Tingler is one of those rare movies that has an interesting enough of a storyline to be labeled “silly” and the bad acting, low budget and ridiculous script should in theory bring it down, however it seems to work and the film is nothing short of amazing.  It’s, for lack of better terminology, a Trojan horse, being a cheesy B-grade horror/thriller with a hidden core of surrealism that’s reserved for directors like David Cronenberg.  Once again, William Castle was on hand to direct and needless to say, this film, despite the cheese factor, is a must see.

As the 60’s rolled around, horror came knocking once more.  House Of Usher, based on the short story The Fall Of The House Of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe, keep Price within the horror circle.  A year later he loaned his distinctive voice as a narrator to Famous Ghost Stories before starring in The Pit And The Pendulum, also based on an Edgar Allan Poe story.

Now I’ll be honest when I say I love reading Edgar Allan Poe’s works.  And when it comes translation of those works from page to screen, no one has done it better than Vincent Price.  If you can find House Of Usher and The Pit And The Pendulum, I highly recommend checking them out as they are ultimate classic stories bought to life with interesting scares, fit for any horror lover.

1963 was a busy year for Price and for horror.  He returned to an Edgar Allan Poe classic, The Raven.  Avoid this film if you can.  It’s not as true to the story as previous Poe adaptations were.  It is entertaining, but don’t expect the actual story of The RavenDiary Of A Madman soon followed as did The Haunted Palace, Twice-Told Tales and The Comedy Of Terrors.

Those who are familiar with the Batman TV series will remember Price making several appearances as Egghead from 1966 to 1967.

In 1969 Price teamed up with Christopher Lee for The Oblong Box.  An interesting movie that was once again based on Edgar Allan Poe’s work.  Worth the watch.

In 1970, Vincent Price cemented his name as a horror icon with Scream And Scream Again, An Evening Of Edgar Allan Poe and Cry Of The Banshee.  Using his distinctive voice, Price became the narrator for The Hilarious House Of Frightenstein in 1971.  That same year The Abominable Dr. Phibes made its mark on the horror world.  A sequel was made in 1972 entitled Dr. Phibes Rises Again.

In 1973, Theatre Of Blood was released.  Edward Lionheart (Price) stars as an actor overlooked for a critics’ acting award, despite producing a season of Shakespeare plays.  After confronting the Critics’ Circle, an attempted suicidal dive into the Thames results in Lionheart being rescued by your typical paraffin/meths/turps swigging tramps.  Lionheart then (presumed dead) exacts his grizzly, and quite amusing revenge on the critics who denied him his finest hour.  A fun film filled with humor, horror and mystery, Theatre Of Blood is a must see.

In 1975 Price teamed up with shock rock God, Alice Cooper for Alice Cooper: The Nightmare.  Alice plays Steven, a character from his album Welcome To My Nightmare, who encounters a surreal dream fantasy, guided by the spirit of the nightmare which was played by Price.  (Fun Fact: This was a prime time special, not the Welcome To My Nightmare concert film.  It is essentially a rock musical)

Vincent Price and Alice Cooper seemed to be a dynamic couple as in 1979 they teamed up again to bring the world The Strange Case Of Alice Cooper, in which Price narrated.

As the 80’s arrived so did The Monster Club in 1981.  Teaming up with Halloween star, Donald Pleasence, Vincent Price was the star in a story about a writer of horror stories is invited to a “monster club” by a mysterious old gentleman.  There, three gruesome stories are told to him; between each story some musicians play their songs.  In the end, it’s recognized he’s the greatest monster of all.  Fantastic film combining horror, music and comedy.

In 1983 Price found himself starring in House Of The Long Shadows with Christopher Lee and John Carradine.  (Fun Fact: John Carradine has starred with Price numerous times).  That same year, Price loaned his voice to one of the most popular musical acts in history; Michael Jackson’s Thriller.  Now, unbeknown to a lot of people, Vincent Price’s rap on the Thriller track was actually longer.  If you have the 2001 remastered edition of Thriller, you will have a bonus track that has Price in the studio recording the lyrics.  And as a special treat, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to include the entire Vincent Price Thriller Rap right here on Truly Disturbing.  (I’ve also included the audio so you can hear Vincent’s voice once again)

Darkness falls across the land
The midnight hour is close at hand
Creatures crawl in search of blood
To terrorize your neighborhood
And who’s whoever shall be found
Without the soul for getting down
You must stand and face the hounds of hell
And rot inside a corpses shell

The demons squeal in sheer delight
It’s you they spy so plump so ripe
For though the groove is hard to beat
Yet still you stand with frozen feet
You try to run, You try to scream
But no more sun you’ll ever see
For evil reaches from the crypt
To crush you with its icy grip

The foul stench is in the air
The funk of forty-thousand years
And grizzly ghouls from every tomb
Are closing in to seal your doom
And though you fight to stay alive
Your body starts to shiver
For no mere mortal can resist
The evil of the Thriller

Can you diggit’
*Evil Laughter*”

Between 1985 and 1986, Price took a break from scaring the bejesus out of adults and teens and took to scaring children in The 13 Ghosts Of Scooby Doo.  Playing a cartoon version of himself to a degree, Vincent’s character was known as Vincent VanGhoul.  (Fun Fact: The character of Vincent VanGhoul has been reprised in Mystery Incorporated as well as What’s New Scooby Doo?)

Also in 1986 he loaned his voice to Professor Ratigan in Disney’s The Great Mouse Detective.  Not surprisingly, Professor Ratigan was the villain of the film and Price’s voice added to the evilness of the rat.

In 1990 Price appeared in one of his last ever performances in Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands as the Inventor.

Price was a lifelong smoker, and sadly he suffered from emphysema and Parkinson’s disease.  His symptoms were especially severe during the filming of Edward Scissorhands, making it necessary to cut his filming schedule.

Sadly, Price died of lung cancer on October 25, 1993 at UCLA Medical Center at the age of 82.  He was cremated and his ashes scattered off Point Dume in Malibu, California.

Though he’s gone, his legacy continues to live on though the countless movies, TV productions and music he was a part of.  Vincent Price is the ultimate when it comes to horror icons.  He gave horror actors a chance to become main stream with success in a genre that usually took a backseat.

Vincent Price.  Horror icon.  Actor’s actor.  Legend.  May he forever rest in peace.

 

Ahlephia’s Top 5 Vincent Price Movies

1) House On Haunted Hill (1959) – One of my ultimate favourites, though cheesy, still delivers thrills and chills

2) House Of Wax (1953) –  Forget Paris Hilton, it’s Vincent Price all the way…just steer clear of his wax museum…

3) The Tingler (1959) – Still eerie and unforgetable

4) Theatre Of Blood (1973) – Fun, campy and yet somehow works as both a mystery and a horror movie

5) The Monster Club (1981) – Vincent Price and Donald Pleasence.  Need I say more?

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  1 comment for “HORROR ICON OF THE MONTH: VINCENT PRICE

  1. Eddie Ganim
    August 3, 2014 at 5:46 AM

    Nice article, and while I have all the respect for ahlephia’s top 5, here is mine:

    1. The Haunted Palace
    2. The House of Usher
    3. The Masque of Red Death
    4. House of Wax
    5. House on Haunted Hill

    Look how many times the word “house” is used in my favorite 5 Price movies lol!

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