|May 27, 1911 - October 25, 1993|
Friday will be the 100th anniversary -- or the Vincentennial if you will -- of the birth of one of Hollywood's most iconic actors, Vincent Price. Born in my hometown of St. Louis, Missouri, Price is a veteran actor of the stage, of TV, and course the big screen as his career spanned seven decades and 110 films. While he was in plenty of different types of movies, he will always be known as the master of horror -- especially with horror films involving a haunted house. His sinister and gothic voice set the mood perfectly. Even if some of you youngsters have never seen his films, you have for sure heard his voice, as that overshadowed his own character, and eventually became a marketing force.
There's not too much I can say that hasn't been already said about this legend. What I will give you are the Top Thirteen (because a sinister star needs a sinister number) Roles of Vincent Price.
Honorable Mentions: Since Price was in so many different roles, it's impossible to narrow it down to a workable number. He has classics that have completely slipped under the rug. So don't freak out if I missed a great movie of his. Here's a few great ones that didn't make the cut for various reasons.
The Ten Commandments -- One of the biggest films ever saw Price in a small role. But I don't think anyone who gets strangled by Moses can be in a small role.
Edward Scissorhands -- His last ever appearance on film was also one of his more well known roles. However, he is visibly sick with Parkinson's at the time, and his character was greatly scrolled back.
The Fly -- A classic in every sense of the word, but Price had a very small role in this movie. Besides, the original doesn't hold up to David Cronenberg's The Fly.
The Raven -- Price and director Roger Corman teamed-up for a few classic Edgar Allen Poe tales. The Raven even added Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre, and an unknown Jack Nicholson. However, this was cheesy even for a Corman movie, and Poe's greatest story turned into his weakest film.
Richard III -- I can't forget about Price's stage career. I've never seen any so I can't judge, but I can only imagine he was great as the Duke of Buckingham in Shakespeare's finest play.
Cooking Pricewise -- Price was not only a master of horror, but a master chef. He had several cookbooks and even a cooking TV show. Have fun picturing that.
Now to the real list.
#13 -- The Thirteen Ghost of Scooby Doo
I need to remind people this list isn't exclusive to movies. Price played Vincent Van Ghoul (aka himself) in this 80s Scooby cartoon. There are some mixed feelings to this show, namely with the little Asian kid who out-Scrappys Scrappy Doo. But the show is special for having an on-going plot line throughout all the episodes. Van Ghoul does the impossible, talking some sense into the Mystery Gang, and Price mimics himself by giving the character his classic so-overly-serious-it's-funny tone. He recently reappeared in the newest Scooby show , but obviously not voiced by Price.
#12 -- House of Long Shadows
Here's another one late into his career which is more or less a parody of Price himself. A horror writer goes to a haunted house, the subject of so many Price films, on a challenge to write a better story in 24 hours. This is famous because it featured four horror greats: Price, Peter Cushing, John Carradine, and Christopher Lee. Lee is the only actor still alive of the bunch, and his time left on earth is starting to get precious too. Hopefully, they can finish the Hobbit in time for him to see it, let alone be in it.
#11 -- Laura
From the end of his career to the beginning, Laura was Price's first big break in 1944. It was also not a horror film, but a film noir, and one of the best in the genre at that. Price plays Laura's fiancée, a girl who was mysterious murdered. As a detective weaves through the tangled case, he slowly falls in love with the girl. The confusion of this film leads to its brilliance. The only thing it needs is a little more Price.
#10 -- The Pit and the Pendulum
One of Price's many good collaborations with Roger Corman for an Edgar Allen Poe tale. There's another reoccurring pairing that Price doesn't get as much credit for, and that is with screenwriter Richard Matheson, but we will get to that eventually. The Pit is another journey into madness, this time with 16th century Price at the helm. Despite some cool filming techniques, this movie is rather slow. But it all pays off in a gruesome ending for one of horror's first shocking final twists.
#9 -- House of Wax
Not only was Price quite the innovator in movies, his films almost all had awesome posters. Don't worry, there's a few more on this list. They just don't make them like that anymore. Anyway, House of Wax will live in infamy as the first ever major 3D motion picture. Don't worry, the fad died once and it will die again. This movie featured a disfigured Price, and a deaf Charles Bronson, along with tons of creepy wax statues and disturbing long burning and melting scenes.
#8 -- Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine
Here's one that is not horror but still plenty cheesy. James Bond launched the spy craze in the 60s, leading to plenty of copycat movies. Dr. Goldfoot was NOT one of these, but rather a farce of the genre, the first such parody. It also had plenty of the beach blanket craze, enough to make Russ Meyers proud. This, along with its sequel the Girl Bombs, saw Price in the title role, a more comical and stupid version of Mike Myers's Dr. Evil. This even had fembots 30+ years before Austin Powers.
#7 -- The House on Haunted Hill
Holy crap at that poster. You were probably so focused on the skeleton hanging that girl, you didn't even notice the severed head Price is holding. This might be the scariest of all his roles, as even today it can make me jump. Much more so than that recent remake. You can see for yourself, since this is in the public domain and should be free to download. However, it can't compare to the original theatrical version. Director William Castle was known for his gimmicks, such as hiring hearses and nurses to go to the screenings and "tend" to the audience. But he outdid himself this time by having a real skeleton fly over the crowds. This was by far his best gimmick, until...
#6 -- The Tingler
Price and Castle teamed up again for this unique story about a creature that goes inside people and makes their spine "tingle". It is scarier than it sounds. The film is somewhat famous for having one scene, in the otherwise entirely black and white movie, where a bloody red hand pops out. But it is really famous for the fourth wall scene, when the creature escapes the screen. Prices warns the audience, but soon tinglers placed under some unlucky seats start shaking. I would imagine Castle had to hire janitors of this film too.
#5 - The Great Mouse Detective
Price may have gotten older, but his voice is ageless. Here he returns to his roots of film noir, except this time with animated Disney rats. He plays the evil Professor Ratigan in what he says is his all time favorite role. Ratigan tries to take over England with his steampunk creations, all the while singing a few songs along the way.
#4 -- The Last Man on Earth
Price may be more famous as a bad guy, but here he plays the hero. That is unless you read the book. This was the first of four film adaption of the great novel I Am Legend by Richard Matheson. Remember that name? A virus turned all of humanity into zombies/vampires, and Price has to hunt them all down. Much like the future films starting Charlton Heston and Will Smith, this strays far away from the book -- so much that Matheson removed his name from the film -- but the ending is much closer to the source material. No "Here's one vial of cure, the world is now saved" crap like in the newest version. This is also a public domain film.
Price, Matheson, and Corman return for their first stab at an Edgar Allen Poe story. Take a close look at that poster if you can. It may not seem like much at first, but it tells an entire story in chilling, minimalistic fashion. Anyway, this is director Corman's second best film (nothing is better than Death Race 2000) as he explores Price and his journey down a long staircase to insanity. In typical Corman fashion, it was made on the cheap and on the run (it was completed in 15 days) so just ignore the horrible looking fire behind and in front of, but not on the castle at the end. This is Price's finest gothic role.
#2 -- The Abominable Dr. Phibes
If this movie wasn't so cheesy, it would be nightmarishly gruesome. Price plays Dr. Phibes, and he and his wife are in a horrible car crash. She dies on the operating table, and he survives but is horribly disfigured. He then goes to get revenge by killing the incompetent doctors by using the plagues of ancient Egypt. What other movies from 1971 have people getting their blood drained and eaten alive by locusts? This horror-action-drama has tons of dark humor, and possibly the greatest monster get-up this side of Stan Winston. The ending somehow manages to be dark, happy, and ambiguous all at the same time. Despite a proposed series, sadly only one sequel emerged with Price again donning the mask of Dr. Phibes.
#1 -- Thriller
Take a look at the movies on this list. Most of them have been remade, have plans to be remade, or are even remakes themselves. Some of the remakes are better (Jeff Goldblum in The Fly). Some are...ehhhhhhhh (Paris Hilton in House of Wax). This song however, is untouchable. MJ had plenty of better songs, but this song is synonymous with Halloween. Price was known for his voice much more so than his face, and his narration of this (referred to as rapping on the album, lol) is what really makes this. He transforms this from another pop song to the seminal creepy song. If Price was not part of this, there would be no classic music video nor will this song be played like crazy every October. MJ made plenty of songs, but Thriller was all Price.
As for the 14 minute long, theatrically released music video directed by the great John Landis, it was at one time the greatest selling VHS ever. Price also was in it as one of the (non-dancing) zombies who looks at the screen at the end.
So grab some cake and some old Price horror VHSs and celebrate till August 6th. Then we turn our attention to Lucille Ball's 100th birthday. She may have been the queen of comedy. But Price will always be the master of horror.