Ratings Key

= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Actor Profile: Vincent Price

VINCENT PRICE (1913-1993)
An always entertaining actor, adept at either playing it straight or playing it ultra-campy for laughs, Vincent Price (born May 25nd, 1911 in St. Louis, Missouri) subsequently went on to star in around 50 horror films, usually playing the hissable heavy. His distinctive low-pitched voice alone (as was the case with Lugosi and Karloff) has even become synonymous with the horror genre over the years. Price appeared in several horror films during his first fifteen years as a "mainstream" supporting player, including playing the ill-fated Duke of Clarence in TOWER OF LONDON (1939; where he is drowned in a vat of wine Boris Karloff's club-footed chief torturer), the Invisible Man in THE INVISIBLE MAN RETURNS (1940) and also contributing a voice bit to ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (1948; again as The Invisible Man), but playing a vengeance-minded sculptor in the 3-D hit HOUSE OF WAX (1953), as well as playing the title role in 1954's THE MAD MAGICIAN, made him an instant horror star. He had a lead role in the James Clavell-scripted/Kurt Neumann-directed hit THE FLY (1958), where he confronts a son whose genetic make-up has been switched with that of a housefly, with monstrous results. Vinnie also reprised his role in the immediate sequel, RETURN OF THE FLY in 1959, which went on to prove the old adage "Like father, like son." Interestingly, the same format was utilized when the 1986 David Cronenberg remake and its 1989 sequel (directed by Oscar-winning make-up man Chris Walas) were made. Price continued his winning streak with two campy William Castle hits which are possibly better remembered for their theatrical showmanship than for Price's performances. 1958's HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL (Price played a millionaire Frederick Loren who offered monetary compension to those able to survive the night in a haunted house) was released with "Emergo" (in which a plastic skeleton on wires flew into the audience) and 1959's THE TINGLER (Price played a coroner) was released with "Percepto" (in which theater seats were wired to give audience members mild electric shocks).

With Roger Corman's Edgar Allan Poe adaptation HOUSE OF USHER (1960), Price was really given the chance to combine his flair for drama with his flair for the horrific, playing the tortured and incestuously-inclined Roderick Usher, who tries to set a roadblock in the way of his sister Madeline's (Myrna Fahey) relationship with strapping young Philip Winthrop (Mark Damon). This was the first of seven consequent teamings of Corman and Price and remain highlights of both of their careers. Price went on to star (and give top-notch performances) in other Poe adaptations such as THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM (1961; as an evil Spanish Inquisitor who gets even with philandering wife Barbara Steele) and THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH (1964; as evil prince Prospero who holes himself up inside his castle to protect himself from the plague). In THE HAUNTED PALACE (which was actually based on a H.P. Lovecraft story), Price confronted more personal demons upon arriving in a small New England town and facing mutants and a family curse. Lon Chaney, Jr. and Elisha Cook, Jr. (who was also in Haunted Hill) co-starred. In 1963's horror satire THE RAVEN, Price got to share company with other genre scene-stealers Peter Lorre, Basil Rathbone (both also in 1962's TALES OF TERROR from the series), Hazel Court (also paired with Price in Masque) and a young Jack Nicholson. The series ended on a high note with the beautifully-done, well-staged TOMB OF LIGEIA, which finally brought the Poe cycle outside the dank castle walls.

Right after the Poe series concluded, Price appeared in the uneven, but interesting Italian/US co-production THE LAST MAN ONE EARTH (1964) as one of the last surviving humans on this planet who is free to roam around during the day, but must retreat to his boarded-up home when faced with zombie-like blood-drinkers at night. The film was based on Richard Matheson's I Am Legend and is seen as a precursor to both Night of the Living Dead (1968; which is not directly based on Matheson's novel) and The Omega Man (1971; which is). He also narrated the English-language version of the excellent French/Italian horror anthology SPIRITS OF THE DEAD (1968) and gave what many believe to be his finest performance that very same year as hypocritical, self-serving "witch hunter" Matthew Hopkins in Michael Reeves' classic WITCHFINDER GENERAL (1968; US = THE CONQUEROR WORM). He virtually reprised that role in the 1970 film CRY OF THE BANSHEE, where he was in good form again ("H is for Heretic!") but was let down somewhat by an uneven script.

Helping to further cement his status as a horror king was playing Dr. Anton Phibes in THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES (1971) and its immediate sequel DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN (1972) as a vocally-impaired doctor/burn victim trying to avenge himself on the surgical team (including Joseph Cotten) who failed to save his wife (Caroline Munro). After the seriousness of most of his 60s work, this returned Price to the more spoofy/campy horror film for which he is best associated. He had yet another choice role as jilted (and psychotic) Shakespearian actor Edward Lionheart in Douglas Hickox's clever and amusing THEATER OF BLOOD (1973). This time he and his faithful daughter (Diana Rigg) don various disguises while methodically killing off theatrical critics who have continually stiffed him. Ironically, this film is incredibly rife with unexpected context now. I'm convinced this must have been an intentionally cynical statement from Price against his critics! He also gets to kill his real-life wife (actress Coral Browne) while under the guise of a flamboyantly effeminate hairdresser. Price also found himself in a true-to-life role as a veteran horror star whose comeback is being sabotaged by a series of murders in 1974's MADHOUSE, which also featured Peter Cushing and Robert Quarry.

During the 1980s, Price teamed up for the first time ever with three of the genres top superstars (John Carradine, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee) in Pete Walker's very disappointing HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS (1982), the sixth screen adaptation of George M. Cohan's Seven Keys to Baldpate. The film suffers from a weak script, the annoyingly miscast Desi Arnaz, Jr. in a lead role and unimaginative direction; shamelessly wasting every single one of the invaluable horror legends in the cast. Why directors continually miss the chance at greatness with an unbeatable cast like this, I don't know, but it could be seen as the 80s answer to The Black Sleep (1956) or The Crimson Cult (1968). However, not even this poor production could diminish the appeal of the four stars and they are all a joy to watch, even in something lesser like this.

In 1983, he did the nifty little rap sequence in Michael Jackson's landmark video for "Thriller." Also during this period he lent his wonderfully sinister voice to many cartoon features, including Professor Ratigan's in Disney's THE GREAT MOUSE DETECTIVE. Jeff Burr's horror anthology THE OFFSPRING (1986) was respected by fans, but Price himself (who played a historian in linking segments) hated the finished product. In 1991, he received a "Horror Hall of Fame" award (this presentation was even seen by television viewers). Tim Burton's terrific horror comedy EDWARD SCISSORHANDS (1990) was a very nice bow out of the genre for Price; playing the inventor of (and father figure to) Edward (Johnny Depp) in flashbacks. Try to watch this and not get misty eyed, horror fans. In 1991 he received a life achievement award from the prestigious Los Angeles Film Critics Association. If that wasn't enough, Price was also a gourmet chef, author of several cookbooks, an art connosieur (and founder of the Vincent Price Gallery in L.A.), a television and radio host, a graduate of Yale, a writer, husband, father and much more. He passed away in 1993, but remains one of the most beloved actors whose name even became synonymous with the genre.
Horror Hall of Fame II, The (1991) (TV)
Edward Scissorhands (1990)
Horror Hall of Fame, The (1990) (TV)
Don't Scream It's Only a Movie (1989) (TV)
Dead Heat (1988)
Creepy Classics (1987)
Vincent Price: The Sinister Image (1987)
Escapes (1986)
Offspring, The (1986)
Dracula: The Great Undead (1985) (host)
Bloodbath at the House of Death (1983)
Thriller (1983) (music video)
House of the Long Shadows (1982)
Vincent (1982) (short)
Monster Club, The (1980)
Alice Cooper: The Nightmare (1975) (TV)
Madhouse (1974)
Theater of Blood (1973)
Dr. Phibes Rises Again (1972)
Evening of Edgar Allan Poe, An (1972)
Abominable Dr. Phibes, The (1971)
Cry of the Banshee (1970)
Oblong Box, The (1969)
Scream and Scream Again (1969)
Spirits of the Dead (1968) (narrator: U.S. version)
Witchfinder General (1968)
House of 1000 Dolls (1967)
Comedy of Terrors, The (1964)
Last Man on Earth, The (1964)
Masque of the Red Death, The (1964)
Tomb of Ligeia (1964)
Diary of a Madman (1963)
Haunted Palace, The (1963)
Raven, The (1963)
Taboos of the World (1963) (narrator)
Twice-Told Tales (1963)
Tales of Terror (1962)
Tower of London (1962)
Naked Terror (1961) (narrator)
Pit and the Pendulum (1961)
House of Usher (1960)
Bat, The (1959)
House on Haunted Hill (1959)
Return of the Fly (1959)
Tingler, The (1959)
Fly, The (1958)
Mad Magician, The (1954)
House of Wax (1953)
Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) (voice)
Dragonwyck (1946)
Shock (1946)
House of the Seven Gables, The (1940)
Invisible Man Returns, The (1940)
Tower of London (1939)

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