Vincent Price

On May 27th, Vincent Price, the master of the macabre, would have been 100 years old.

In celebration of this fact, our very own Jim Moon has been delving into the life and works of one of horror's best. Hit the jump to see what lurks in the shadows:


To movie fans, Vincent Price surely needs no introduction. We’ve all seen at least one of his movies, and his famous voice must be the most iconic in the entire world. Born in St Louis on the 27th of May 1911, Price studied art at Yale before developing an interest in acting. He cut his teeth performing in Orson Welles’ Mercury Theatre and soon began landing film roles in the early 1930s that would launch a career spanning seven decades. Though he appeared in historical epics, noirs, comedies and even art-house dramas, he will forever be most closely associated with his work in the cinema of the fantastic. 

Over the years, he played countless maniacs, murderers and mad scientists, plus a whole rogue’s gallery of iconic villains such as the Invisible Man in the golden age of Universal Horror, the Bond spoofing Dr Goldfoot in the Swinging ‘60s, and that celebrated pop-art revenant Doctor Phibes in the psychedelic 70s. 

With such an extensive filmography to choose from, selecting three jewels for his B-movie crown was no mean feat,but rather than pit my many favourites against each other in some mental deathmatch to yield a suitable trilogy, instead I’ve elected to take a more historical approach and pick three movies that were landmarks in his great career…

The Fly

Based upon a short story by George Langelaan, this sci-fi horror shocker spawned two sequels, an equally excellent remake by David Cronenberg with its own sequel to boot, and even an opera by Howard Shore. The plot is simple – scientist Andre Delambre devises a way of transmitting matter across space, however, when he tests the perfected process upon himself, he fails to notice a fly has entered the transmit pod with him… 

Of course, The Fly has become one of those widely-referenced items of pop culture, and as virtually everyone knows the story backwards these days, it’s easy to forget that, to the original audience, the whole human/insect head‘n’arm-swap malarkey was a complete shock. Hence the movie plays out as a mystery, starting at the end with Delambre’s wife facing charges of murder for dispatching her now-monstrous husband. Price plays Delambre’s brother who tries to unravel the tragic and terrifying events that have led to her crushing Andre in a hydraulic press.

The Fly is a landmark film in Price’s career for two reasons: firstly, it is a rare instance of him playing the hero, and great fun it is too to see him on the side of the angels for a change; secondly, although he had made a couple of forays into weird cinema earlier - two Universal horrors in the ‘30s, Tower of London and The Invisible Man Returns, and House of Wax and The Mad Magician during the early 50’s 3D craze, it is his role in The Fly that launched him on the path to becoming an icon of the horror genre. After the movie’s box office success, Price would go on to star in several William Castle fright features and then work with that auteur of B-pictures, Roger Corman...

Masque of The Red Death

…and of course, no list of Vincent Price movies would be complete without one of his appearances in those fabled Roger Corman Edgar Allan Poe adaptations; and Masque of The Red Death is, for this scribe’s money, the best of the lot. 

In an unknown time and place in medieval Europe, a virulent plague (The Red Death, naturally) is sweeping across the land. While the outside world is slowly being turned into a vision of hell worthy of Bruegel, a group of nobles decide to hole up in a castle to escape the deadly infection. However, as their host Prince Prospero is a servant of the Dark Lord, you just know that this plan is doomed from the start…  

Now firstly we’re getting two classics from Edgar Allan Poe for the price of one here, with a subplot that works in another of his tales Hop-Frog; secondly, we have cracking script by prolific genre author Charles Beaumont, who artfully expands Poe’s slim short story, fleshing out the details of Prince Prospero’s decadence with lashings of devilry and cruelty; thirdly, we have beautiful cinematography from art-house favourite Nicolas Roeg. The movie drips with opulent colour schemes, with the castle of the Prince becoming a baroque and surreal wonderland set in a bleak, dark, foggy medieval wasteland. Last, but not least, we have Price himself at his villainous best – his Prospero is calculating, charming and cool, but beneath the witty elegance he is unrepentantly sadistic. 

Masque of the Red Death is probably Corman’s masterpiece, packed with memorable imagery, a multi-layered plot and a rich, dark atmosphere. As well as the delights of Price, we also have cult pin-up Hazel Court as his consort and a young Jane Asher as an innocent the devilish Prospero wishes to corrupt. A special mention must be made of the epilogue, a genius addition from Beaumont, which ensures the movie ends with an unforgettable, creepy note.

Witchfinder General

Welcome to 17th century England! Civil war has thrown all of England into turmoil; brother fights against brother, the social order is slowly collapsing and anarchy holds sway. Into this desolate arena comes Matthew Hopkins, a man tasked with rooting out witchcraft and heresy and who rather revels in the power these trouble times have gifted him.

Now, although this movie is not now recognised as part of the Poe cycle by film buffs, the American distributers of Witchfinder General, AIP, did see it as an addition to the canon of adaptions helmed by Roger Corman, hence in the US it was renamed The Conqueror Worm after a line in one of Edgar Allan Poe’s verses. 

Indeed, director Michael Reeves originally wrote the script with that other iconic actor Donald Pleasance in mind; however, when Tigon gained backing for AIP, they insisted upon casting their number-one horror star with the view of marketing it as another Poe adaptation. This led not only to a swift rewrite of the screenplay, but considerable tension between Reeves and Price on set. 

Despite an extremely fractious shoot, Reeves’ antagonism did result in one of Price’s finest performances. Whereas in his previous period chillers, he was often operatically over the top and tending towards camp, in Witchfinder General, all that archness and those nodding winks are banished. His Hopkins is a genuinely-chilling character; a cold and completely believable psychopath, drunk with his own power.  

Upon its initial release, Witchfinder General ran into considerable troubles with the censors and the critics over its graphic scenes of torture and executions. Even though nowadays its gore looks fairly tame, the violence is still repellent, for this isn’t your usual fright feature, rather it is a film rooted in the very real horrors of man’s inhumanity to man. It’s bleak and desolate, yet beautiful and brilliant. 

Despite the unpleasantness during its making, when Price saw the film he was highly impressed with the movie Reeves had produced and claimed it was the best work he ever did. 

Today's post was written by Jim Moon, the macabre host of the Hypnobobs podcast and webmaster at Hypnogoria. For considered diatribes on the history of horror or dramatic readings of the darkest stories around, head on over. 

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