Essential Viewing

The Invisible Man Returns (1940) – Joe May

Considering that Vincent Price is well…invisible for almost the entirety of the film and to add insult to injury is putting on a funny accent which down plays his own unique tone to sound more “All-American,” it’s difficult to really call this a Vincent Price film. It’s noteworthy as being Vincent Price’s first horror feature, 13 years before he would dominate the genre with House of Wax but that’s about all there is to say about it. It is of course interesting to note that (even though it’s a sequel) this role does tie Price to the menagerie of Universal Studio’s classic monster movies. However, it is Claude Rains’ classic performance in the original The Invisible Man (1933) which will always take precedence as the quintessential characterization, alongside Bela Lugosi’s Dracula and Boris Karloff as Frankenstein’s monster.

Laura (1944) – Otto Preminger

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Price should really have received top billing in this film along with Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews, and Clifton Webb as it really is an ensemble film. However, he just missed out, receiving secondary billing along with Judith Anderson. Laura is probably the earliest appearance of Price which is best known today and he never looks as much like a typical Hollywood leading man as in this film where he plays a handsome gigolo of sorts. One of the great film noirs of its time and one of the great early performances by Price this film is a must see. Particularly interesting to this blog, there is a great scene where Price ducks into the kitchen to playfully seduce some chicken livers from the cook.

The Keys to the Kingdom (1944) – John M. Stahl

An incredibly boring and rather long film whose literally only redeeming feature is the short cameo appearances by Vincent Price. Price excels in his role as the rascally gourmand Cardinal Mealey. However, his brief five minutes in the film is simply not enough to make up for an almost 2 and half hour snooze fest. It’s kind of remarkable that only the very next year John M. Stahl would deliver one of the best films of the 1940s with his riveting thriller Leave Her to Heaven.

Leave Her to Heaven (1945) – John M. Stahl

You can’t rightly call this a Vincent Price film considering he plays so small a part however, it is an excellent film nonetheless. Stahl is perhaps one of the lesser known directors in our modern lexicon however his work was a great inspiration on Douglas Sirk (All that Heaven AllowsWritten on the Wind) and certainly you can see where that influence came from in this lush technicolor melodrama.

Shock (1946) – Alfred L. Werker

Dragonwyck (1946) – Joseph L. Mankiewicz

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Although he had worked as a screenwriter in Hollywood for over a decade, Dragonwyck marked the directorial debut of Joseph L. Mankiewicz. However, it wasn’t entirely a successful transition. Clearly trying to capitalize on the success of Hitchcock’s Rebecca (1940), Dragonwyck is a film which fails to live up to its lofty predecessor. Gene Tierney seems miscast as the naive and innocent farm girl (especially considering her previous roles in films like Laura and Leave Her to Heaven) and the plot for most part is rather un-engaging. However, where the film really picks up is in the last twenty or so minutes where Vincent Price comes alive, dominating every scene. This is really one of the first times on screen that Price’s virtuosic presence is really capitalized and it’s certainly a taste of things to come. This may be a sub-par film, in general, however for Price aficionados, this is definitely required viewing!

The Baron of Arizona (1950) – Samuel Fuller

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If we get a taste of Vincent Price’s bombastic and dominating acting presence in Dragonwyck, Sam Fuller’s The Baron of Arizona puts Price center stage in this interesting take on the con-man. Price plays a man who goes to extreme lengths to forge a Spanish land grant which entitles him to the entire state of Arizona. It’s a nefarious plot that’s almost noble in its epic ambition. Few actors could have pulled this role off (Orson Welles, perhaps?). I had been familiar with Vincent Price before seeing this film, however, I think this was the film that really solidified my fan-dom and is one of my all time favourite films. Interesting to note, that for the second time Price plays someone who lords over citizens after playing the aristocratic patroon in Dragonwyck. Perhaps it was his role in that film which nailed him this roll.

His Kind of Woman (1951) – John Farrow

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Clearly meant as a film noir vehicle for Robert Mitchum and Jane Russell, it’s Vincent Price who steals the show. His Kind of Woman is a bit of a mixed bag (perhaps owing to its 6 writing credits), Robert Mitchum becomes embroiled in a deported gangster’s scheme to re-enter America at a Mexican resort. However, as things get heavy he finds an unlikely ally in the Errol Fynn-esque actor Mark Cardigan (Price) whose staying at the resort. Price hams it up as the full-of-himself buffoon who is also, comically (and ironically) a devout gourmet. Price’s role derails His Kind of Woman from being a gritty film noir but in all the right ways, livening every scene with a bouyant comic touch. Actually, considering just how lighthearted and genuinely funny Price is in this film its kind of surprising (and sad) that he wasn’t cast in more comedies. Not the most cohesive of films but, as the years go by, I can’t help but reckon this film higher and higher in my list of all time favourites.

House of Wax (1953) – Andre de Toth

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This isn’t the original poster it’s a 1970s re-release edition but it was simply too awesome not to use. House of Wax isn’t greatest film of all time by any means. It’s a plodding b-film with little redeeming qualities besides Vincent Price as the tormented wax sculptor Professor Henry Jarrod. However, he never quite seems to get enough screen time or really a chance to shine in the role. It’s one of those films where the idea of it is more powerful than the actual product. It is noteworthy however as the first film in Price’s soon to be macabre phase.

The Ten Commandments (1956) – Cecil B. DeMille

The Fly (1958) – Kurt Neumann

House on Haunted Hill (1959) – William Castle

House of Usher (1960) – Roger Corman

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Roger Corman, the king of the midnight movie, directs this sumptuous adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s short story. This is the beginning of a long and fruitful relationship between Roger Corman and Vincent Price adapting Poe stories for the screen. A somewhat slow film that is directed very much in the classic Hollywood mode of filmmaking considering Corman’s counter culture icon status. Price’s performance is restrained but pitch perfect for the role. This was a major stepping stone for both Corman and American International who used this film as their transition from black and white double features to more polished stand alone films shot in CinemaScope and colour. The gamble paid off and The Fall of the House of Usher became a box office hit. So, while it may not be the greatest film it’s a culturally significant and certainly required viewing for any true Price fan.

The Pit and the Pendulum (1961) – Roger Corman

Tower of London (1962) – Roger Corman

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Another Roger Corman feature, however this time produced by United Artists as opposed Corman’s usual American International. Trying to capitalize on Laurence Olivier’s box office successes with his Shakespeare adaptations of Hamlet and Richard III, Tower of London is a re-make of the 1939 Boris Karloff film (of which Price also played a small role) which tells the story of Richard III without the Shakespearean dialogue. The result is fairly rewarding. Price delivers an excellent performance with a variety of memorable moments however the film as a whole is somewhat less than the sum of its parts.

Confessions of an Opium Eater (1962) – Albert Zugsmith

The Raven (1963) – Roger Corman

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As campy as an old episode of Batman, The Raven is a delightfully ridiculous and liberally tongue-in-cheek adaptation of Poe’s poem. Peter Lorre looks bedraggled and quite frankly like he needs the money but everyone’s having a good time. An early performance from Jack Nicholson and the interplay between long time friends Boris Karloff and Price make this film an entertaining ride. Karloff actually contributes a “Potted Shrimp” recipe to the book.

The Haunted Palace (1963) – Roger Corman

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If it seems strange that this film was billed as both an adaption of an H.P. Lovecraft story as well as a Poe poem, it perhaps important to note that this was, in fact, the very first filmic adaptation of Lovecraft. Not wanting to gamble too much on losing their Poe fan base, American International superimposed the Poe allusions after the fact. A fairly strong film in the Corman/Price filmography and strengthened a great deal by the fact that it is the first Lovecraft adaptation on screen make this film an essential entry into the filmography of Vincent Price. I’m always a little torn about these films, as they aren’t the greatest films but there is something so charismatic about them at the same time. They’re kind of perfect for lazy rainy days.

The Comedy of Terrors (1964) – Jacques Tourneur

Although Corman had moved on to other projects, American International clearly wanted to capitalize on the comedic trio of Price, Lorre, and Karloff with this slapstick follow up to The Raven. At first it seems to succeed, casting Price as the selfish, conniving scoundrel who you can’t help but love to watch. It’s a boisterous role for Price and he revels in his snide cynicism and dark wit. However, the film really loses steam as the story progresses which is a shame because it has some great elements to it, including an excellent comedic performance by Basil Rathbone. This film appears late in the directing career of Tourneur (who is famous for directing Cat People and Out of the Past) and so somewhat of an ignominious end to great career.

The Last Man on Earth (1964) – Ubaldo Ragona

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This is probably my least favourite adaptation of Richard Matheson’s novel I Am Legend (my favourite being Charlton Heston’s 1971 The Omega Man). But I would be remiss not to mention it, as it is the first adaptation of this enduring story. I think the biggest problem this film has is that the zombies actually talk and begin to heckle Price outside his door. I’m not sure if this is faithful to the novel or not, but it certainly isn’t surprising that subsequent adaptations featured non-talking zombies.

The Masque of Red Death (1964) – Roger Corman

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Regarded by Corman as one of his finest achievements, The Masque of Red Death certainly ranks as Corman’s most opulent macabre film. Overtly aesthetic, the look and feel of the Red Death reminds me a great deal of Dario Argento (although 6 years before Argento). It’s also one of the most engaging and ambitious of Corman’s macabre films. If there is only one thing that mars this film, it’s that Devil worshipers always sound so corny to my ear. The Fall of the House of Usher may be the quitessential Corman/Price feature, but The Masque of Red Death is perhaps the crescendo of that relationship. I couldn’t help but notice as well that Nicolas Roeg (Bad Timing, Don’t Look Now) was the cinematographer for the film.

Theatre of Blood (1973) – Douglas Hickox

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This British B horror film isn’t the greatest picture in the world and its rambunctious freneticism sometimes threatens to derail it entirely however, it does contain some truly poetic moments with Price (some downright hilarious ones too!). Price plays an aging stage actor who only performs Shakespearean plays much to the dismay of all the professional critics. He commits suicide after not receiving the critics circle award for best actor however, comes back from the grave to enact his revenge on his detractors in grand Shakespearean fashion. Simply for the joy of hearing Price recite famous lines from Shakespeare’s plays (as well as watching him don various comedic guises!) this film is a must see. There is a particularly haunting and poetic soliloquy from Hamlet. It also makes one wonder just how many times food features in Price’s films in some way.

Madhouse (1974) – Jim Clark

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Another British B horror film however, this time slightly more successful. These 70 horror films stand out as being set contemporarily as well being quite self-referential. If Theatre of Blood seemed somewhat self-referential since Price himself got his acting start on the London stage, then Madhouse is all but a thinly veiled allegory for Price’s film career. Using stock footage from Price’s previous films, Madhouse tells the story of Paul Toombes, the horror film star known as “Doctor Death.” The ironic part is that Madhouse is in fact very much a book end to Price’s macabre phase of films. While Price’s horror films would impact his public perception till the day he died, Madhouse is very much the book end to the long string of horror films that began with House of Wax in 1953.

The Whales of August (1987) – Lindsay Anderson

Edward Scissorhands (1990) – Tim Burton

 

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