Vincent Price. His face and the concept of the black and white horror story were synonymous; his name and that of author Edgar Allen Poe irrevocable intertwined in the minds of movie-goers in the 50s and 60s. Price = Horror.
In Fall of the House of Usher,Vincent Price as Roderick, the head of the Usher house, who believes his family to be cursed. He and his sister Madeline are the end of their bloodline, and ERRoderick wants to keep it that way. Hypersensitive, he requires quiet, soft lights, bland food — otherwise he feels pain intensely. But Madeline has a lover, a fiancee would take her away for all of this madness. Usher crosses the line away from sanity and decides that everyone must die and the house burned to the ground, destroying the curse forever. It’s a spine-tingling race to the and one of the faithful adaptations of a Poe novel for the screen. It’s a movie and a role Price was born to do. (1960)
In the famed House of Wax, Price is Henry Jarrod, an artist whose lifelike reproductions grace a wax museum — figures from Joan or Arc to Marie Antoinette. he favors the women. He craves beauty above the horror the public is more to apt to want to see in such a place, and burns the museum down in protest. Supposedly crippled and scarred from the fire, he re-emerges as the creator of his own exhibition with figures almost to real to be believed. And so they are. Enter the beautiful young woman who inflames his passion. is she destined to be the model for the next waxen image? Charles Bronson has a supporting role (one of his first movie roles) and Carolyn Jones (pre-Morticia of the Adams Family) also plays a part here. House of Wax is one of Price’s all time best in this genre, of which he reigns as master for all time.
Roger Corman (1966) directed Tomb of Ligeia, this last of eight Poe films, a classic ghost story with Rowena (Elizabeth Shepherd) faling for the handsome Verden Fell (Price), whose behavior, naturally, is odd and his past, shall we say, “questionable?” Enter the odd disappearances, the proverbial black cat, and ghostly nightmares that threaten the marriage.
Dragonwyck (1946) is a gothic tale set in Connecticut farmlands and along the Hudson River. Price is Usher, who comes to squire a country cousin to the gracious estate to care for his child and a wife of “ill health.” Spooky mansions, foggy woods, ghostly music and mournful songs haunt nights in the mansion, and when the wife dies (who would have guessed?) the young cousin (Gene Tierney) becomes the new mistress of the manse. Will she suffer the same fate as her predecessor? Will the proud Usher survive the threats to his power and fortune? Hang onto the popcorn and enjoy the ride!
The House on Haunted Hill (1959) is one of those quiet films with primitive special effects. Want $10,000? Stay in this mansion for the night, under lock and key. It more than just ghosts, though. Haunted Hill is a murder mystery in the making, a maze of deception and infidelity that is a map for murder.
Quoth the Raven, “nevermore!” We say “ever more!” Edgar Allen Poe’s classic The Raven (1963) was made for Vincent Price, even if other than the quote, this film has little semblance to the Poe poem. Oh, Price’s wife in the film is named Lenore, but everything else is strictly coincidence. Peter Lorre snivels his way around, and jack Nicholson makes a pre-fame appearance. The Tell-Tale Heart (1959) keeps beating and beating in another Poe re-telling via cinema. Spooky music, murder and mystery, and that haunting thump-thump-thump…
The Pit and The Pendulum (1961) is another matinee chiller from the days of double and triple features. Poe Again. Price again. Medieval torture devices, gothic castles and dungeons, cobwebs and flames, and a hero lashed to a stone altar beneath a swaying pendulum. Roger Corman teams again with Richard Matheson and Price to tease and taunt and scare the heck of innocent audiences of the era. So well done it’s still great.
Loosely based on Edgar Allen Poe’s Tales of Terror (1962), this trilogy begins with the tale Morella, the story of young girl who questions her father about his abandonment of her, a story that weaves its way back to the death her mother, Morella. The Black Cat is second story, a the classic tale of infidelity, with campy comic acting by Peter Lorre and Price and the other man. Third and finally, The Case of M. Valdemar, has Basil Rathbone (a.k.a. Sherlock Holmes in other films of that era) as a mesmerizing (read “hypnotic”) man juggling living and dying to a gruesome ending.
Roger Corman, horror-meister, sci-fi author Richard Matheson and Vincent Price cornered the market on horror tales during this time period, creating a cottage industry with a cult following that has spanned nearly 60 years.
Price re-emerged on the horror scene in 1990 with renewed charm as the inventor/father in Edward Scissorhands, in a supporting role to Johnny Depp’s title character. Though this role dipped heavily into magical fantasy rather than horror, it gave Price one more chance to shine brightly in the film arena.
Other Price films, good, not so good, and truly awful they are great fun for fans and collectors:
Abominable Dr. Phibes/Dr. Phibes Rises Again
Theater of Blood/Madhouse
Masque of the Red Death
Tower of London
House of the Seven Gables
Return of the Fly
Drive -In Saturday Night appears weekly on Fridays through Labor day, recalling the best and the worst of movies from a generation ago, when drive-in theaters ruled Saturday nights and double features were the oder of the day at the Saturday matinees.