Earlier, I wrote a tribute/lament about the late, great Vincent Price and how there hasn’t been a true horror movie icon since his passing in 1993 and doesn’t appear to be one coming any time soon. Well, in honor of my favorite scary movie actor in this, my favorite time of year, here are a few of my all-time favorite Vincent Price films. I don’t pretend to be all-encompassing–he did so many films during his 50+ year acting career, that would be next to impossible. But when I’m looking for a Price-fix, as it were, these films come to mind more often than not.
Professor Henry Jarrod was a genius in wax. He lovingly created some of history’s most famous people in unbelievably lifelike detail. That is, until his business partner torches the wax museum for the insurance money with Jarrod and all his creations inside. Somehow, he managed to survive but is horribly disfigured and unable to resume his work. Jarrod, with the help of two apprentices, eventually makes a comeback with a new house of wax and a decidedly darker approach.
This one, along with House on Haunted Hill, later were ignominiously given horrid Hollywood remakes, somehow managing to miss the point of both original films completely. Stay far away from those, unless you want to be horrified in a totally unenjoyable way.
Anton Phibes was a brilliant organist, scientist and equally brilliant muderous mastermind. A group of nine doctors and nurses presided over the death of Phibes’ wife after a car accident that disfigured Phibes himself. The good doctor executes an elaborate sequence of hideously clever murders based on the ancient plagues of Egypt, knocking off those Phibes blamed for the death of his wife one at a time, leading up to a grand finale the jigsaw killer would be proud of.
This film earned a sequel, Dr. Phibes Rises Again, which falls well short of the original, and another similar film, Theatre of Blood. In that one, Price is an actor bent of destroying his critics in elaborately themed Shakespearean ways. It’s not as well-done as Phibes, but still pretty entertaining.
Frederick Loren is an unhappily married millionaire hosting a party for his wife, Annabelle, in a presumably haunted house. The guests of honor at this ostensibly supernatural shindig are five strangers who each have been offered $10,000 if they can just make it through the night in the house. Betrayal and death ensues, leading to an unexpected twist ending. Are there really restless spirits at work in the creepy house or fiendish motives of a more earthly sort?
Like House of Wax, this one suffered a terrible remake that played up the supernatural at the expense of the whole point of the original film. Where this version was about deception and all-too-human greed and aspirations, the newer model traded much of that for special effects and many haunted house cliches. It was just sad.
Roderick Usher is a man resigned to his fate. He lives in the crumbling estate of his family, a fitting mausoleum for the quickly approaching end of the Usher line. His sister, Madeline, is torn between a desire to marry and flee from her past and the belief instilled in her by her brother that she, like all the Ushers, is cursed and will meet a foul end sooner than later. When his sister appears to have died, the whole tenuous foundations holding up the Usher family, and the house itself, come crumbling down.
This is one of several adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe tales, and I believe the best of the bunch. Some of the better films in Price’s Poe series include The Pit and the Pendulum, The Masque of the Red Death, Tomb of Ligeia and a couple mentioned further down this list. In Usher, Price expertly presents a man’s descent into madness, dragging his sister with him in the process. He even sports some unique violin stylings that are among the creepiest things I’ve ever heard.
This film presents a series of three stories also adapted from the works of Poe. Morella is a story of a father and his estranged daughter’s reunion that blurs the line between life and death. In The Curious Case of M. Valdemar, Price plays a man on his deathbed who agrees to be hypnotized at the moment of death as part of an experiment to try and stave off death itself but soon finds his soul held hostage by the hypnotist. In the Black Cat, Price plays a wealthy socialite whose taste for fine wine turns to a taste for the wife of an unemployed drunkard with fatal consequences. This one is a mix of the title story and The Casque of Amontillado, and includes a fantastic performance by Peter Lorre.
Lorre also appeared in the adaptation of The Raven, along with Price and a superstar cast including Boris Karloff and a very young Jack Nicholson. The Raven is more comedy than genuine horror, but it is still an overall enjoyable film.
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