Vincent Price, the Voice of Horror
October 10, 2012
Over the last few blog posts, in the spirit of Halloween, we've been looking at classic horror movies in the form of the famous Universal and Hammer monster films. In the process, we've looked at such scary movie icons as Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Claude Rains, the Lon Chaneys Sr. and Jr., Christopher Lee, and Peter Cushing. But as I've been writing these, I realized that I had neglected one of the towering figures of the genre: Vincent Price.
Actually, Vincent Price's first horror film role was in Universal's 1940 film The Invisible Man Returns. But it wasn't until the 1950s that he would become a major horror film star. It all started with the 1953 3-D extravaganza The House of Wax. I know we consider today's movie trailers to be a bit over the top, but check out this stunning piece of hyperbole!
His next major hit came in 1958's The Fly. This movie scared me to death when I was a kid with its big reveal and the "help me, help me!" scene. The year 1959 saw four Vincent Price horror/mystery vehicles: The House on Haunted Hill, The Tingler, The Bat, and The Return of the Fly. I'd have to say that The House on Haunted Hill is far and away the best of the bunch. A fellow branch staffer and her family watch it every Halloween.
Vincent Price really found his muse when he tackled the works of Edgar Allan Poe under the direction of Roger Corman: The House of Usher (1960), The Pit and the Pendulum (1961), Tales of Terror (1962), The Raven (1963), The Masque of the Red Death (1964), and The Tomb of Ligeia (1964).
Poe wasn't the only author to inspire Price. As a dedicated fan of H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos, I can't let you off without sharing the 1963 Corman/Price film The Haunted Palace, based on Lovecraft's The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. This marks the first mention on film of the fabled black book Necronomicon, which would later find its way into Sam Raimi's Evil Dead Trilogy. Groovy. And in another 1963 release, Price gave us Twice-Told Tales based upon the works of Nathaniel Hawthorne.
By the 1970s, Price's glory days were past him, but the two very strange Dr. Phibes films have gone on to garner a sizable cult film following. As with Christopher Lee, one of Price's most distinguishing characteristics was his voice. And in 1983, Price showed off that marvelous instrument in Michael Jackson's Thriller. What follows is the greatest music video of all time and a loving tribute to scary movies. Remember music videos? They played them on MTV, Music Television.
Director Tim Burton and Price had become friends during the filming of Burton's 1982 stop-motion short film Vincent, ultimately leading to Price's final performance in 1990 as the creator of the titular Edward Scissorhands. Burton considered Price an inspiration for his work, especially the Poe Cycle films, and Burton's films definitely show the influence of Price's particular brand of Gothic sensibility.
Finally, if you want to experience the awesomeness of Vincent Price on the big(ger than a TV) screen, check out the Besieged by Fate and Out for Revenge film series at the North Independence Branch every Wednesday night for the rest of October!
In the next blog post, I'll wrap up my look at classic scary movies with what I'll call "the best of the rest." And there are some real gems in that category.