Monday, October 17, 2011


JER: Cinema: Counterpoint tries to listen to its readers and we openly request any thoughts and suggestions for future blogs. An idea for an October/ Halloween- based page came by way of reader Jacqueline from Imperial Valley, CA, when she personally requested that we paid homage to one of her macabre icons, Mr. Vincent Price! The time is right, so sit back and relax as we visit the life and times of Mr. Vincent Price.

Born Vincent Leonard Price Jr in St. Louis, Missouri on May 27, 1911, Price had an eye for adventure when he began traveling through Europe at a very early age. During his travels, he discovered that he had a love for acting… in just a matter of a few short years, he made his screen debut in 1938 in SERVICE DE LUXE. The theme was that of a comedy… a completely different type of genre than the one he would best be recognized for!

Steady work would soon follow as Price would begin taking on more notable roles in such films as TOWER OF LONDON (1939), THE HOUSE OF SEVEN GABLES (1940) and THE SONG OF BERNADETTE (1943).

In 1948, Price would star in one of the biggest films from MGM of its time: THE THREE MUSKETEERS. Acting along side such Hollywood royalty like Gene Kelley and Lana Turner, Price would play the villainous Richelieu. An odd piece of trivia, as referred to in the original Dumas novel and in countless versions of the film as a Cardinal, MGM avoided the title as to not offend potential controversy with Catholics.

Countless roles, in both film and television, would give Price steady work. It would be 1953 that one of his most iconic characters would take shape as Prof. Henry Jarrod in HOUSE OF WAX. Originally released as a 3-D film in theaters with a cost of under $700,000.00 dollars, it was considered a big box office draw and would begin to shape Price into the roles within the macabre and thrillers that audiences would best attach him to…
 In what is considered in my opinion to be one of the best films ever made, Vincent Price would appear in the grand Cecil B DeMille epic, THE TEN COMMANDMENTS. The character of Baka, a Hebrew- born who became an ally to the Egyptians during the time of Hebrew slavery, was played with shrewd and classic villainy. Yet again proving himself worthy amongst the ranks of classic actors like Edward G Robinson, Yvonne De Carlo, Yul Brynner and Charlton Heston… Price continually kept re- inventing himself. He was an actor ready to take on a multitude of various roles no matter what the character called for! The film won Best Picture in 1956.

THE FLY (1959)

1958: Francois Delambre, an industrialist living in Montreal, is drawn to a mysterious world straight out of the pages of a science- fiction novel. His brother Andre, has created a teleportation device that would change the methods of travel forever. Something is not right, however, Andre doesn’t seem to be himself… in fact, he takes on the mannerisms and appearances of THE FLY! The film would become one of a few that would be synonymous with Price in the realm of horror and thrillers. Both the storyline and Vincent Price would burn into the imagination and fears of a generation… so much so that Price would revisit his role in its sequel, RETURN OF THE FLY (1959).

The formation of an era into sci- fi and horror films was at the cusp for the late 1950’s and moving into a new decade within the 1960’s. Other films to follow would include HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL, THE BAT and THE TINGLER: all released in 1959 (along with RETURN OF THE FLY). A banner year for Mr. Price, as he would be the face best recognized by screaming fans and thrill seekers alike!
The spine- tingling 1959 trailer for HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL!

HOUSE OF USHER would kick- off 1960. Directed by B- film aficionado Roger Corman, the story would be based on the classic novel by Edgar Allan Poe about a family curse that haunts the Usher family. Price would return to working with Corman again in 1961 for THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM… also yet another story by Edgar Allen Poe. This time, Price would be surrounded by the mysteries of Spain during the Inquisition days and foreboding castles that hide truths never to be seen. The Corman/ Price duo would go on to strike lightning again in their next effort, TOWER OF LONDON in 1962, this time playing Richard III as he is haunted by the spirits he did away with in order to be crowned King of England!

Karloff, Lorre and Price: THE RAVEN
1963 would bring one of the better known and more successful collaborations between director Roger Corman and his famed star, Vincent Price. THE RAVEN, loosely based on the poem by Edgar Allen Poe, melds this fantasy- horror film with the undertones of humor. Dr. Craven (Price) goes against fellow magician Dr. Scarabus (played with feverous delight by Boris Karloff) in an all- out battle for the respects of a helpless magician (Peter Lorre) and a beloved Leonore (Hazel Court) was thought to be dead! The film created quite a buzz with great box office numbers to boot.

Not missing a beat, Price worked again with favorite film director Corman in 1963’s THE HAUNTED PALACE based on a story by H. P. Lovecraft. Price would play Charles Dexter Ward who arrives within a small village to claim the inheritance of a house that his ancestor died in 100 years ago. Returning back to the original formula, Corman would base his next film from yet another Poe story and cast Price in the 1964 horror/ thrillers, THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH and the lesser- known THE TOMB OF LIGEIA.

Egghead from TV's BATMAN
Moving into the late 1960’s proved to be another experimental journey for Price as he began doing more dated comedy- romp movies and a long string of television work with appearances in such shows as THE BRADY BUNCH, LOVE AMERICAN STYLE, GET SMART!, MOD SQUAD, THE BIONIC WOMAN, THE LOVE BOAT, F TROOP, VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA and the notable character “Egghead” in BATMAN! His focus on light films and heavy television is a strange twist for Price. Maybe he was tired of those long hours in front of a camera that can be more demanding for film than for television. Maybe he liked the idea of guest appearances in a variety of television shows rather than a movie. These are mere speculations with no real truth or known facts to these opinions.

Films were not too far behind him as he still made the occasional horror/ thriller from time to time. In 1972 he would star as the lead character in DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN. He also performed in B- Movies like THEATRE OF BLOOD (1973) and MADHOUSE (1974).

Television and small films kept him busy well into the very early 1980’s, but a pivotal moment in his career would rejuvenate Mr. Price into the minds and hearts of an entirely new and different generation! A very young artist, who had recently been hired to work for the Walt Disney animation department, was curiously working on a short stop- motion animation project about Mr. Price. The writer and director of this interesting homage was Tim Burton and the project was aptly entitled VINCENT. Price would not only serve as the inspiration for the short, but provided the narration of this black and white cult favorite. Later on in Price’s life, when he was asked to reflect on VINCENT, he described it as: "the most gratifying thing that ever happened. It was immortality - better than a star on Hollywood Boulevard."
Here is the complete animated short: VINCENT!

Yet another interesting avenue traveled by the unpredictable Vincent Price was his ‘rap’ talk through the midpoint of Michael Jackson’s immortal classic hit song “Thriller.” His performance marked another defining turn for the actor in 1983.

VINCENT worked as a new opportunity to work with animation of various styles and types. He lend his voice and image in 1985’s THE 13 GHOSTS OF SCOOBY- DOO to which he played the character named Vincent VanGhoul! More prestigious was Price’s voice work as Professor Ratigan in Walt Disney’s 1986 adventure- animated feature, THE GREAT MOUSE DETECTIVE. It is said that Price once said that the role of Ratigan was considered his most favorite… he even had two original songs written for him to perform!

What would almost convey as the perfect role for Price to play, director Tim Burton requested his appearance as The Inventor of 1990’s EDWARD SCISSORHANDS. At the time of actual production, Price was already very ill with emphysema and was suffering from Parkinson disease, which had prematurely shortened his originally intended lengthier role.

VINCENT PRICE 1911- 1993
I had the distinct honor and pleasure to be one of a select few who was present during an exclusive one- on- one interview at the 1990 presentation of “FANGORIA’S WEEKEND OF HORRORS” in Los Angeles, CA. The evening was hosted by film director Joe Dante (GREMLINS) who interviewed a very frail Vincent Price. The night provided many joys and memories for both Price and his fans as he reminisced about his life and the films he had worked on throughout his career.

Vincent Leonard Price was laid to rest on October 25, 1993 at the age of 82. His ashes were spread across the California coast of Malibu.

One of the last quotes given by Mr. Price was: “I hate being old and ill! Don't get old if you can avoid it!"

 JOHNNY CHAZZ: In response to our reader's request this week, we examine the life and times of Vincent Price. Having read what you have written here Jer, I will simply tack on a few "extras" to round out this weeks' blog.

"Song of Bernadette" (1943) may have been the film that kicked things off for Vincent Price, although it did not exactly make him a household name at the time. Still, his performance was spellbinding here and this film should be considered one of his best.

Now, other Vincent Price films worth honoring would include:

"House on Haunted Hill" (1958) - undoubtedly one of his most recognizable films in the genre of horror. The effects are a bit thin, but the storyline and the suspense factor make it a classic.

"The Fly" (1958) - memorable on all counts even though some of the scenes are almost a bit humorous when looking back.

"The Pit and the Pendulum" (1961): A creepy Poe work, but definitely a classic Vincent Price film.

"House of Wax" (1953): How can this not be included in the list? The film has a definite creep factor and the shock element reaches out to the audience on all levels. Price makes his debut in an all-out horror role here.

An interesting clip of Tim Burton hosting Price's HOUSE OF WAX

Earlier films of note also included: "The Raven", "The Tower of London" and "The Fall of the House of Usher".

In 1964, Price starred in the wonderful "Masque of the Red Death" which may have been one of the best films and performances of his career.

Price involved himself with primarily horror films in the 1950's and 1960's, only to reach the 1970's and become involved in films that almost cast him as a "spoof" per se. anything and everything. Later in the 1980's he would appear in Michael Jackson's MTV video "Thriller", and work a small role in Burton's "Edward Scissorhands". The bottom line is that Price's best years were during the 1940's - 1960's and proved that "horror" was what he was suited for best.
Have a listen to the uncut 'rap' by Price for Jackson's THRILLER!

Price's final major film role was actually a memorable one and a definite tangent from his earlier works. "The Whales of August" (1987) featured Price with Bette Davis and Lillian Gish in a film that was vastly underrated.

Price passed away in 1993 and we pay homage this week to his career, his lifetime achievements and his dedication and devotion to the horror genre.

JER: Thank you, JC, for catching some details on some missed points from my part. I felt I couldn’t completely handle it all myself and selfishly leave you nothing to talk about!

Tune in next week when we put the lid on the coffin of October/ Halloween/ Horror topics leaving the last nail to be hammered in by JOHNNY CHAZZ. SEE YOU NEXT WEDNESDAY!

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