Friday, October 26, 2012

The Abominable Mr. Price: Seven Great Performances from Vincent Price for a Hammy Halloween

Posted By on Fri, Oct 26, 2012 at 9:30 AM

This week’s feature at the Cult Fiction Underground at Logue’s Black Raven Emporium is William Castle’s masterful 1959 goof ’n’ spook fest House on Haunted Hill (Showing Fri & Sat. Oct. 26 & 27, 8 p.m. & 10 p.m.). While there’s no word on if the film will be screened in its original “Emergo” technology (basically a plastic skeleton flying over the audience on a clothesline), there’s guaranteed to be plenty shocks, “gotchas,” and even some hoots and hollers. Plus there’s the always welcome appearance of everyone’s favorite classic horror ham himself, Vincent Price. In honor of the screening and the approach of Halloween here are a few favorite performances by the esteemable thespian or terror.

1. House of Wax (1953)
House of Wax was the role that set Vincent Price on the road to becoming a horror icon. Although he’d appeared in many films and even a few horror pictures, such as The Invisible Man Returns (1940), House of Wax would cement his image as a tragic, sophisticated and vengeful boogie man. Especially great if you can see it in its original 3-D form that helped make it one of the biggest box office hits of 1953.

2. The Raven (1963)
The fifth film starring Vincent Price and directed by Roger Corman to be “based on” Edgar Allan Poe’s stories or poems is a monster kid’s dream come true. With a brilliant screenplay by writer Richard Matheson (The Twilight Zone, I Am Legend), Price teamed up with Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre, and a young unknown actor by the Jack Nicholson for a horror comedy that leaves absolutely no piece of scenery unchewed.

3. The Masque of the Red Death (1964)
If The Raven is the yang of the Corman/Price Poe pictures, then The Masque of the Red Death is surely the yin. Price plays the corrupt and utterly unredeemable Prince Prospero in a great adaptation of one of Poe’s best stories. His performance is spot-on perfect and Corman’s direction amply demonstrates the influence of European cinema with eye-popping cinematography from future director Nicolas Roeg. This is the go-to example to dispel the notion that all the Price/Corman collaborations were camp goofiness out to turn a quick buck — a truly classic horror film in every way.

4. Witchfinder General (1968)
You found The Masque of the Red Death a little too grim? Sit down, because here comes Witchfinder General (aka The Conqueror Worm). An incredibly dark and sadistic film for its time, Price gives one of the most understated and best performances of his career in his portrayal of Matthew Hopkins, the notorious religious zealot who imposes a reign of terror upon 17th century England. Directed by Michael Reeves, a huge talent whose career was cut short by a barbiturate overdose at age 25, it's a great film that demonstrates the greatest monsters are not of the supernatural but walk among us as men.

5. Theatre of Blood (1973)
OK, now it’s time to camp out with Vinnie! The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971) told the story of Price as the mastermind of a series of incredibly creative and darkly humorous revenge murders. The success of that film launched a series of revenge murder movies for Price including the direct sequel, Dr. Phibes Rises Again! (1972), and another variation on the same theme, Theatre of Blood. While the first Phibes film is probably the best of three, Theatre of Blood is the film where Price really gets to lay on the ham. And with the always delectable Diana Rigg (The Avengers) as his partner-in-revenge, what’s not to love?

6. His Kind of Woman (1951)
Here’s a non-horror film that you can save for after Halloween that features one my absolute favorite performances by Price. His Kind of Woman gets so-so reviews from most movie guides, but don’t listen to those mugs. This film noir-comedy-action vehicle for one of the greatest large-chested-tough-guy-and-dame combos in Hollywood’s history (Robert Mitchum & Jane Russell) features Vincent as a burn-out alkie Shakespearean ham actor who leads a rescue party to save Mitchum’s life after he is captured by gangster Raymond Burr. Price really gets down with the role, flourishing his cape and quoting Shakespeare on every turn — not to be missed!

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