Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Dear Vincent; A Love Letter

Is there a more enduring icon of Horror than Vincent Price? Some might argue that Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi or Lon Chaney (Sr. and/or Jr.) are all more important to the genre. But Price's film career outlasted all of them.

Starting with the 1938 comedy Service de Luxe, the classically trained Shakespearean actor had a career that spanned 7 decades and included more classic films than one can count on two hands.

His first appearance in a "Horror" movie was in 1939 as the Duke of Clarence in Tower of London, with Basil Rathbone and Boris Karloff. It's an effective little chiller about the Duke of Gloucester's rise to power through torture and intimidation.

1940 proved an important year in Price's Horror career as appeared in both The Invisible Man Returns and The House of Seven Gables. Four years later, he would be seen in Otto Preminger's Laura, a noir classic about a man who frames his own brother for murder:

Two years later, he would finally have the lead in Shock, another mystery about a psychiatrist who murders his wife:

He made many films thereafter, but it was 1953's House of Wax that forever cemented his career in Horror movies. Price stars as Professor Henry Jarrod, a disfigured genius who uses real people as the models for the figures in his wax museum. Known as one of the earliest #D movies, House of Wax also featured "The Addams Family" star Carolyn Jones and introduced a young Charles Bronson as Igor:

I saw the 1980's re-release of this movie in 3D, and was highly amused by the obvious attempts to exploit the new technology, though saddened by it's headache-inducing effects.

Another 5 years passed and Price appeared in several in several films before his next Horror (really Sci-Fi) movie The Fly.

He soon teamed up with the 'King of Gimmicks,' William Castle for House on Haunted Hill and The Tingler in 1959. And then moved on to Roger Corman's adaptations of Edgar Allen Poe's stories Master of the World; The Pit and the Pendulum; and a 1962 remake of The Tower of London, in which he portrayed Gloucester. Of course, his best role under Corman's direction was as the sadistic Prince Prospero (no relation) in The Masque of the Red Death:

Price appeared in many more of Corman's Poe-inspired films before the 1971 movie that brought him to my full attention as a Horror Icon; The Abominable Dr. Phibes. As the (once again) disfigured genius who wreaks his vengeance against those he feels responsible for his wife's death, Price is both elegant and creepy in a story featuring inept policemen, corrupt doctors and elaborate deaths in a Steampunk (before there was such a term) tale of vengeance and horror featuring Joseph Cotton, Terry Thomas and Hugh Griffith:

And then there was the inevitable 1972 sequel, Dr. Phibes Rises Again:

Before his career degenerated into a parody of itself, Price had one more great role as the Shakespearean actor Richard Lionheart in Theatre of Blood, one of Uncle Prospero's favorite 70's Horror movies which co-starred Diana Rigg and Price's last wife, Coral Browne:

There would be many appearances in TV specials and series ("The Brady Bunch") afterward. But it wasn't until 1982 that Price received the tribute he was truly due. A young filmmaker by the name of Tim Burton made an animated short in tribute, simply called Vincent, which the Master himself, narrates:

Of course, Price's last film appearance was in Burton's Edward Scissorhands, as a slightly mad inventor who dies before he can give his creation a real pair of hands:

I've barely touched on Vincent Price's long and varied career, but I have to ask myself if there will there ever be another iconic Horror star like Price? I doubt it. Probably no other film actor is so is indelibly defined by the genre as Price, by all accounts a gentle and intelligent man who made a living both scaring and delighting fans over a career longer than most most modern film actors could ever hope to have. His kind is like to never be seen again. And I would have it no other way. Thank you, Vincent, for so many great performances in so many great (and even not-so-great) films.

More, anon


Anonymous said...

As good as it was, Vincent's style and composition reminded me and seemed very similar to Dr Seuss's The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.

Prospero said...

I think more Edward Gorey than Seuss...