Friday, October 25, 2013


I might not have always enjoyed all the films of Vincent Price but without a doubt, without hesitation, I have always enjoyed watching the performances of Vincent Price. He’s one of those film legends that made a huge impression on me as a child and, like Planet of the Apes, like the films of James Bond, like the Hope and Crosby “Road” films, like the Basil Rathbone’s Sherlock Holmes films, Vincent Price helped send me on my journey to developing a great passion for film. There are two Vincent Price films that had a big impact on me. Two films that I saw at two different points in my life. One as a kid, one as an adult.

The dream team: Karloff, Lorre and Price in the comedy horror classic The Raven

The first film was the horror/comedy classic The Raven. For me, this is unequivocally Vincent Price’s finest and most entertaining hour. This movie always makes me happy. Every moment that Price is on screen, which is practically every frame, is pure entertainment, pure enjoyment. I can’t remember the exact age I was when I first saw The Raven but it had to around 7 or 8 years old. I was young enough for it to scare me. It had everything a young boy would want: talking corpses, dungeons, attempted ax murder, grade A Peter Lorre snark, a sexy Hazel Court, the voice and the villainy of Boris Karloff facing off in an epic, hilarious sorcerers duel against Vincent Price. Using all available recall, I can’t remember seeing Price in anything before The Raven and I’m certain that I hadn’t seen him in anything where he was the villain. I do remember seeing The Pit And The Pendulum at a young age as well but after I had seen The Raven. I think this is important because it made my introduction to Price more along the lines of a kid being introduced to a cool Uncle, as opposed to if my first Price film would have been say Conqueror Worm.

 In The Raven, Price plays a character who is very insecure. He’s basically cut himself off from the community of sorcerers that his late father was very much a part of. He’s lonely and spends most of his time practicing magic and pining for his dead wife Lenore. He has a loving daughter who takes a back seat to her father’s mourning. Over the course of the film, he is scared, depressed, betrayed and nearly at the end of his rope, but he is never a coward and never without Price’s trademark manners and wit. He rises to the occasion and faces off against Karloff in a duel which captures what Price was all about for a kid my age. During the final confrontation between Price and Karloff, neither speaks hardly a word to each other and we only see facial expressions and, given that we’re talking about Karloff and Price, we don’t really need any more than that.

Jack Nicholson, Olive Sturgess, Hazel Court and Price in The Raven
Today, with almost 40 years of film watching behind me, I still enjoy watching and studying Price in The Raven. He plays such a sympathetic, likable, fun character that, even as a kid and without being able to articulate it, I identified with Price. I wanted to know him and be friends with him. Even though it was hard to match the pure enjoyment of The Raven, I continued to be entertained by the many Vincent Price films that followed. Even in films where he was the villain, he seemed to infuse his characters with the vulnerability of someone on the outside looking in which always made him likable on some level. I’m almost certain I would have been a fan of Vincent Price had The Raven not been my first exposure to him, but I can’t say for sure that the film or Price would have had as long lasting an impact on me.
About 20 years later I had become a full fledged fanatic for classic films. I had seen the best: Citizen Kane, Gone With The Wind, Seven Samurai, Lawrence of Arabia, The Grand Illusion, etc. I was just beginning to get into film noir during this period. The AMC channel had just come out and was showing classic movies non stop and commercial free and I was in heaven. One of the first films I saw on the channel was the Vincent Price film noir The Web. While The Web might not rank up there with Murder My Sweet or Out Of The Past, it‘s still a really fun movie. At the time I wasn’t much aware of Price’s non period/non horror work and I found this movie highly entertaining. In The Web, Price plays a high powered businessman who commits a complex murder and then frames his bodyguard/lawyer(Edmond O’Brian) and personal assistant(Ella Rains)for the crime. Again, he was charismatic, witty, debonair and, of course, politely villainous.

Vincent Price lures Ella Raines into "The Web"
 What I’ve always found fascinating about Vincent Price is that you rarely see Price LOOKING mean or evil. He rarely gives you a scowl or angry look. That is to say, he’s not obvious about his villainy. He often has a look that says “am I really being all that evil? I’m not that bad, am I?” When his evil plans are foiled, Price usually has a look of mild concern or annoyance. When he’s about to kill someone, he often looks sorry about it. And you believe he just might be. Even when he’s trying to summon Satan or framing you for murder or has you strapped to a table with a giant razor edged pendulum above you. What makes Price so disarming in The Web is his chemistry with both O’Brien. There’s a great scene with O’Brien and Price playing poker and taking hypothetical jabs at each other. You really want them to be friends and hang out with each other and you’re kind of shocked at how easily he’s willing to destroy him as well as Raines. That’s the genius of Vincent Price.

After watching The Web I developed a renewed interest in Price and attended a film retrospective and book signing for Lucy Chase Williams essential and informative resource The Films Of Vincent Price. Hazel Court was also there and it was a grand time listening to stories about Price and watching House On Haunted Hill, Return Of The Fly and The Masque Of The Red Death. The book only served to make me even more of a fan once I had read all those synopsis of Vincent Price films I had never seen and that, once discovered, went on to become favorites of mine such as Dragonwyck, The Baron Of Arizona and His Kind Of Woman.

Over the years, the more I learned about Price the more I liked him. There are still some Vincent Price films out there that I have never seen and continue to be on the lookout for. The knowledge that I have not seen all of his films, that I have more Vincent Price performances yet to discover thrills me just about as much as The Raven did 40 some years ago.