Where have all our heroes gone? Horror fans have always had their iconic anti-heroes of the silver screen. From Lon Chaney to Bela Lugosi to Boris Karloff, the golden age of American cinema produced some of the most recognizable, and frightening, on-screen personas ever.
Following in their footsteps was Vincent Price, who crafted a 50 year career out of the terrifying and the atmospherically creepy, with his long, lanky body and his general ability to set a viewer at unease without saying a word. Price had more acting talent in his eyebrows than most of today’s movie stars possess in total. And then, when he spoke! Price has a voice that, much like Karloff before him, defined horror for generations of fans. Whenever you heard that unmistakable sound of his speech, you just knew something altogether horrible was about to happen.
But since his death in 1993, and to be honest, his on-screen death in 1990’s Edward Scissorhands, his last significant role, no one has stepped in to fill his ample shoes. Where are the great horror icons of today? Who are the great actors who personify the very genre just by speaking a few words? Sadly, there are none.
Sure, we have actors like Robert Englund of Freddy Kreuger fame who seems to be making the rounds of low-budget horror circuit with cameos in many films. But Englund doesn’t transcend the genre into mainstream consciousness the way Price had. And his claim to fame, Kreuger, now has a new actor under the makeup.
So who else do we have? Tony Todd of Candyman and Final Destination fame? He certainly has the voice for it, at least following that bit of Price’s legacy. But his principle films haven’t had the impact that Price’s body of work held and, like Englund, has been reduced to almost a caricature of himself through a series of bit parts in mediocre movies.
Anybody else? I can’t think of any. No, our horror icons today aren’t the actors who play the roles, they’re the characters themselves, often hidden behind grungy masks and layers of prosthetics. Freddy Kreuger is far more famous than Englund. Jason Vorhees is infinitely more well-known than anyone who’s ever played him. Same for Michael Myers. Hell, more people know that Myers’ mask was of William Shatner than could tell you the name of anyone who’s worn it on screen.
The great icons among horror actors are dead. Vincent Price was truly the last of his kind. Maybe someone will rise up to claim that mantle in the future, but in the 18 years since he shuffled off this mortal coil, I’ve seen no evidence that one is forth coming. The ghost-face mask in Scream is more identifiable than anyone who’s been in those movies. And so is the creepy puppet thing on the tricycle from the Saw franchise.
The other day, I watched the 1972 made-for-tv special An Evening of Edgar Allan Poe. For an hour, Price, alone on stage, performed a series of the most famous and madness-inducing Poe tales in almost Shakespeareian fashion. This wasn’t watered down, simplified for the masses material, but all the eloquence, complexity and sheer terror of Poe’s words transformed into life through Price’s unique acting talents. It’s difficult to imagine any iconic horror actor of today pulling off that feat. Horror may be more prolific than ever, but watching Price channel Poe’s tales of insanity and darkness, I couldn’t help but realize what we’ve lost.
Around the time of his death, the American Movie Classics cable channel ran a Vincent Price movie marathon. I, in my excitement, filled two VHS tapes with some of the best of his film work. This was still in the days before DVDs became the norm. For years after, I pulled out those tapes every October and held my own little Price movie festival. I watched The Abominable Dr. Phibes, Tomb of Ligeia, Tales of Terror, The Raven, House of Wax and The Conqueror Worm over and over. It became an annual tradition in my household.
Since then, I’ve built quite the collection of Vincent Price movies, and I still make it a point to spend each October ensnared in his work. While we may not have icons like Price anymore, we do have his many great films and best performances preserved for eternity. So I don’t weep for the loss of the great horror icons. Price, and others like him, will live on well beyond the grave, perhaps as it should be.
Here is a list of some of my favorite film works of Vincent Price. Maybe you can spend a day this Halloween season emersed in the terror and madness he brought to each role. I know I will.
Click below for more fright-filled stuff. And come back tomorrow for even more of my favorite time of year as The 13 Days of Halloween continues…
The 13 Days of Halloween