Thursday, June 16, 2011

Vincent Price - Happy Vincentennial!

Today, Vincent Price turns 100. Well, would if he were still living, though as far as I'm concerned he lives on in the multitude of great films he left behind and the people whose lives he touched. Yes, that is cheesy, but I really don't care. If I had to pick a single figure in the horror world who has forever changed my life, it would be Vincent Price. Sure, there's a long list of writers and directors whose work is near and dear to me, as well as a smaller list of actors, but Vincent Price has been there from the beginning and has always been the most beloved.

Along with his dear friends Peter Cushing, whose birthday was yesterday, RIP, and Christopher Lee who is also celebrating an amazing 89th birthday today, Vincent Price brought charm, class, talent and heart to a business that is frequently maligned, misrepresented and grossly under-appreciated. I grew up watching his films, still watch them as often as possible and always love introducing his work to newbies.

It's well outside my ability to write an article length memorial for the great actor, but I had to add something to the hundreds of articles already on the internet for this wonderful man who always brings a smile to my face. He's incredibly inspiring to me because of his genuine enthusiasm and love of the horror genre. He gleefully accepted starring roles, cameos and guest spots alike and is also known for his work in the theatre. He is well-known for his passionate love of the arts - he was a voracious collector and has a museum named after him - and his talent for gourmet cooking.

There's nothing I can say that you don't already know or can't find out elsewhere in more detail, so I thought I'd just give a video retrospective of some of my favorite highlights from Price's fabulous career.

Though his first horror film was the Boris Karloff vehicle TOWER OF LONDON, I prefer his first horror starring role in THE INVISIBLE MAN RETURNS:

In the '40s he established himself as a villain in some classic films before moving on to straight horror in the '50s. He was also in a ton of television this decade, including an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, "The Perfect Crime." 1953's HOUSE OF WAX is one of my favorite films. It's also notable for being the first color, 3-D feature from a major American studio.

Though THE FLY is pretty amazing, Price's next film, William Castle's HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL, was one of my first favorite films. It's in the public domain, which means you can watch the entire thing for free right now.

He closed out '59 with THE BAT, RETURN OF THE FLY and another William Castle great THE TINGLER. Watch the whole film below, including the amusing introduction by Castle.

The '60s is probably Price's greatest decade. It includes the Roger Corman series of films for AIP that adapted a series of Poe stories and started with HOUSE OF USHER (1960).

Next came one of my favorites, THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM (1961), where Price co-starred with the ravishing Barbara Steele.

Then the anthology film, TALES OF TERROR, with the great Peter Lorre, which you can watch here.

While the TOWER OF LONDON remake starring Price is recommended for serious fans only, THE RAVEN with Lorre and Karloff is kind of a ridiculous treat that I try to watch every year around Halloween. DIARY OF A MADMAN is also of minor note. None of these really have anything to do with the Poe cycle, though AIP tried squeezing THE RAVEN in despite the fact that it has little to no connection with Poe. Next up is the wonderful Lovecraft adaptation, THE HAUNTED PALACE, that I recently reviewed. It's another one of my favorite Price-Corman films. Watch it below.

We move back to anthologies with the Hawthorne inspired TWICE TOLD TALES and then to the silly comedy/horror mash up COMEDY OF TERRORS. It's a bit ridiculous, but I love it. How can you deny Price, Lorre, Karloff and Basil Rathbone in one film?

LAST MAN ON EARTH, an adaptation of Richard Matheson's I Am Legend, takes a more serious turn as Price is confronted not only with hordes of vampires, but with the last woman on earth who may not be what she seems. Watch it below.

Next comes another one of my favorites, THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH, which I recently reviewed and had the pleasure to watch on both DVD and laser disc. It also brings us back to the increasingly amazing Corman-Price-AIP Poe cycle. This is certainly one of the loveliest horror films I've ever seen. Watch it below.

TOMB OF LIGEIA is the last in the Poe cycle and I'm happy to say that the series goes out on a strong note. I'm also happy to say that this is another Price film that you can watch in its entirety on the internet!

After this ol' Vinnie lightened things up with the hilariously wonderful DR GOLDFOOT AND THE BIKINI MACHINE, which went on to spawn two sequels. He also had a cameo on The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and had a regularly occurring role as the villain Egghead in the original Batman series.

His only film of '68 is the impressive, mean-spirited WITCHFINDER GENERAL, probably the only time I've ever actually been afraid of Vincent Price. It's also one of the greatest masterpieces of British horror. Watch it below.

Next came a series of pleasing, but average films, THE OBLONG BOX and SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN, both of which co-star the clearly bored Christopher Lee, as well as CRY OF THE BANSHEE, another attempt to put Price in a witch-hunter role. He also hosted the memorable Canadian children's show, The Hilarious House Of Frightenstein. This show has a cult following and I recommend seeking it out.

1971 brought us one of my all time favorite Price films, the legendary ABOMINABLE DR PHIBES. It is surely one of the cinematic loves of my life and has to be seen to be believed. I must have seen this a good thirty times over the years, but it never gets old. Watch it below.

I also recommend the sequel, DR PHIBES RISES AGAIN, co-starring the hammy Robert Quarry. '72 also ushered in the average, but entertaining AN EVENING OF EDGAR ALLEN POE, which he narrated. He also starred in a few Night Gallery episodes that year. THEATRE OF BLOOD, which hit theatres in '73, is another film high on my list of Price greats. It shares a lot of similarities with DR PHIBES, but is more violent and less goofy. Watch it below.

I also recommend the much sillier MADHOUSE, where Price stars as an aging horror actor attempting to revive his career while being framed for murder. Or is he? Peter Cushing and Robert Quarry co-star. "To those among you who are easily frightened, we suggest you turn away. Now."

The early '80s brought the painful MONSTER CLUB and the whimsical HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS, both of which are generally lame attempts to cash in on the past success of various horror stars and are fortunately saved by Price, despite the absurd scripts.

Despite his age, Price kept working. He narrated the Tim Burton short "Vincent," recorded some dramatizations of Poe stories and poems, lent his voice to Alice Cooper's Welcome to My Nightmare and Michael Jackson's Thriller, then narrated some episodes of Faerie Tale Theater, which is where I first encountered him when I was a child.

Another place I let him terrify me was on the Scooby-Doo spin off The 13 Ghosts of Scooby Doo, where he had a regularly occurring role as Vincent Van Ghoul.

I also want to mention his somewhat earlier contribution to The Muppet Show, which is amazing and needs to be seen by any Price fan. He was on a few episodes and here's a good one. Coincidentally, The Muppet Show is the only place Vincent Price ever played a vampire! I love The Muppets almost as much as Vincent Price, so the two of them together blows my mind.

While we're still on the subject of Price and children's film, he had a co-starring vocal role in the wonderful Disney film THE GREAT MOUSE DETECTIVE. This is the part where I start giving away my age. He plays, of course, the Napoleon of Crime. Growing up as a kid obsessed with Sherlock Holmes, I just about lost my mind when I realized who Professor Ratigan's voice belonged to.

He sadly finished his career with EDWARD SCISSORHANDS, after he finally succumbed to lung cancer. Did I mention he loved to smoke? He looks so old and feeble in this scene that it breaks my heart to watch it.

He was truly an inspiring man. He performed his own one-man stage play, Diversions and Delights, about the sad end of Oscar Wilde's life, where he was broke, ill, socially stigmatized and love sick. I've already written about that here.

I've already posted so many videos I'm sure my head is going to explode if I post any more, but I'll wrap it up with these.

Price's brave stance against racism in 1950 on a radio broadcast of The Saint:

An episode of The Price of Fear, Price's mystery/horror radio show. This is the first episode and is particularly amusing.

I mentioned his art history prowess and here you can take a brief class with him.

He was also a hilarious man and put his cleverness to use in TV interviews, namely on Johnny Carson. Here he's witty, urbane, and talks about his love for horror.

I could keep going, but I'm going to stop myself. Check out, the biography by his daughter Victoria and this great interview with Roger Corman on Cinefantastique for the Vincentennial.

I love you, Vincent Price! Happy birthday!

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