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Vincent Price
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PRICE, VINCENT
(1911–1993). American actor.

SCIENCE FICTION, FANTASY, AND HORROR FILM CREDITS
Acted in films: Tower of London (Rowland V. LEE 1939); The Invisible Man Returns (Joe May 1940); Green Hell (James WHALE 1940); The House of the Seven Gables (May 1940); The Song of Bernadette (Henry King 1944); The Long Night (Anatole Litvak 1947); Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (voice) (Charles T. Barton 1948); Bagdad (Charles Lamont 1949); House of Wax (Andre de Toth 1953); Casanova's Big Night (Norman Z. McLeod 1954); The Mad Magician (John BRAHM 1954); Son of Sinbad (Ted Tetzlaff 1955); The Ten Commandments (Cecil B. De Mille 1956); The Story of Mankind (Irwin ALLEN 1957); The Fly (Kurt NEUMANN 1958); House on Haunted Hill (William CASTLE 1958); Return of the Fly (Edward L. BERNDS 1959); The Tingler (Castle 1959); The Bat (Crane Wilbur 1959); House of Usher (Roger CORMAN 1960); Master of the World (William Witney 1961); The Pit and the Pendulum (Corman 1961); Tales of Terror (Corman 1962); Confessions of an Opium Eater (Albert ZUGSMITH 1962); Tower of London (Corman 1963); The Raven (Corman 1963); Diary of a Madman (Reginald LE BORG 1963); The Haunted Palace (Corman 1963); Beach Party (William Asher 1963); Twice Told Tales (Sidney Salkow 1963); The Comedy of Terrors (Jacque TOURNEUR 1963); The Last Man on Earth (Salkow 1964); The Masque of the Red Death (Corman 1964); The Tomb of Ligeia (Corman 1965); War Gods of the Deep (Tourneur 1965); Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine (Norman Taurog 1965); Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs (Mario BAVA 1966); House of a Thousand Dolls (Jeremy Summers 1967); Witchfinder General [The Conqueror Worm] (Michael Reeves 1967); The Oblong Box (Gordon Hessler 1969); Scream and Scream Again (Hessler 1970); Cry of the Banshee (Hessler 1970); The Abominable Dr. Phibes (Robert FUEST 1971); Dr. Phibes Rises Again (Fuest 1972); Theatre of Blood (Douglas Hickox 1973); Madhouse (Jim Clark 1974); It's Not the Size That Counts [Percy's Progress] (Ralph Thomas 1974); Journey into Fear (Daniel Mann 1975); The Monster Club (Roy Ward BAKER 1981); House of the Long Shadows (Pete Walker 1983); Blood Bath at Death House [Bloodbath at the House of Death] (Ray Cameron 1984); The Offspring [From a Whisper to a Scream] (Jeff Burr 1987); Dead Heat (Mark Goldblatt 1988); Vincent Price: The Sinister Image (documentary) (Stanley Sheff 1988); Edward Scissorhands (Tim BURTON 1990).

Acted in television: "A Christmas Carol" (1951), episode of Family Theatre; "Night of Execution" (1955), episode of Climax; "Operation Flypaper," "One Thousand Eyes" (1956), episodes of Science Fiction Theater; "The Perfect Crime" (1957), episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents; "The Foxes and Hounds Affair" (1965), episode of The Man from U.N.C.L.E.; "An Egg Grows in Gotham/The Yegg Foes in Gotham" (1966), "The Ogg and I/How to Hatch a Dinosaur," "Louie the Lilac," "The Ogg Couple," "Catwoman's Dressed to Kill" (1967), episodes of Batman; "V Is for Vampire" (1967), episode of F Troop; "The Deadly Dolls," episode of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1967); "Is This Trip Necessary" (1969), episode of Get Smart; "Love and the Haunted House" (1970), episode of Love American Style; "Class of '99" (1971), "The Return of the Sorcerer" (1972), episodes of Night Gallery; The Aries Computer (tv movie) (1972); An Evening with Edgar Allan Poe (tv movie) (1973); Alice Cooper: The Nightmare (tv movie) (Joorn Winther 1975); The Hilarious House of Frankenstein (tv series) (1975); "Black Magic" (1976), episode of The Bionic Woman; episode of The Muppet Show (1976); Ringo (tv special) (1978); "The Boy Who Left Home to Find Out About the Shivers" (1984), episode of Faerie Tale Theatre.

Also: episodes of Lights Out and The Web.

Voice for animated films and television: The Butterfly Ball (Tony Klinger 1976); Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1984); Pogo for President: "I Go Pogo" (Marc Paul Chinoy 1984); Ruddigore (tv movie) (1985); The Thirteen Ghosts of Scooby Doo (tv series) (1985–1986); The Great Mouse Detective (John Musker, Dave Michener, Ron Clements, and Bunny Mattinson 1986); The Nativity (short) (1986); The Little Troll Prince (tv movie) (1987); "How Sweetie It Is" (1991), episode of Tiny Toon Adventures; "A Day at the Races and a Night at the Opera" (1994), episode of The Critic; Arabian Night (Richard Williams 1995).

Hosted: Once upon a Midnight Scary (tv movie) (1979); Dracula: The Great Undead (documentary) (1985); Escapes (David Steensland 1986); Creepy Classics (compilation) (1987).

Hosted tv series: ESP (1958); Time Express (1979); Mystery (1981–1989).

Narrated: Naked Terror (documentary) (1961); Taboos of the World (documentary) (Romolo Marcellini 1965); Spirits of the Dead (Roger Vadim, Louis Malle, and Federico Fellini 1969); The Beginning of the End of the World (1971); The Devil's Triangle (Richard Winer 1976); The Strange Case of Alice Cooper (documentary) (1979); Days of Fury (documentary) (1980); Vincent (animated short) (Burton 1982); The Sorcerer's Apprentice (short) (1986); America Screams (narrator) (1987); Don't Scream It's Only a Movie (documentary) (Ray Selfe 1989).

 
It has proven surprisingly easy to postpone writing this entry. For innumerable reasons, no one in this volume merits unalloyed, enthusiastic praise more than Vincent Price. For half a century, he performed in countless horror films, as well as science fiction and fantasy films, with indefatigable energy, panache, and professionalism. A living bridge across the generations and across genre boundaries, he worked with virtually all of the disparate constituencies attracted to horror: classic stars like Boris KARLOFF and Peter LORRE, iconoclastic directors like Roger CORMAN and Tim BURTON, Hammer horror veterans like Peter CUSHING and Christopher LEE, rock stars like Alice Cooper, Michael JACKSON, and Ringo STARR of The Beatles. Away from the set, he graciously sat for countless interviews expressing unfailing respect and admiration for horror movies and all their creators, and he happily served as the charming host or narrator of compilations and documentaries celebrating the genre. Surely, one would think, Price qualifies as the horror film's greatest performer, representative, and advocate.

And yet, and yet—to paraphrase Brian W. Aldiss on Hugo Gernsback, Vincent Price was one of the worst disasters to ever hit the horror field. Single-handedly, he almost managed to destroy the entire genre. Everything that we admire about the horror films of the last forty years represents a vehement, visceral repudiation of Price and everything he embodied.

If these sentiments seem extreme, consider for a moment any of the films of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s that served to fruitfully redefine the horror film—and the short list might include Psycho, The Night of the Living Dead, The Exorcist, Halloween, and Nightmare on Elm Street—and imagine what those films would have been like with Vincent Price in the cast. The conclusion is inescapable: with Price as the investigator of Marion Crane's murder, or the exorcist, or the policeman chasing Freddie Krueger, it would have been absolutely impossible to take the film seriously. Instead of a horror film, it would have become a parody of, a pastiche of, a tribute to, a horror film. It might have entertained audiences, but it never would have terrified them.

To understand why this would have been the case, it is necessary to consider Price's acting style, and the peculiar moment in the history of the horror film when he made his presence felt. Even at the start of his career, Price was already an anachronism, a throwback to the fading school of film acting that emphasized theatrical flamboyance appropriate to the stage but overblown and alienating on screen, with exaggerated facial expressions, grand gestures, and precisely articulated speech almost becoming an affected British accent. It is little wonder that, after some initial flirtations with horror, Price usually found himself cast in period films; in an era when Hollywood was falling in love with Humphrey Bogart, Price was channeling Ronald Colman. By the 1950s, as Price neared the age of forty, he was apparently on his way out, destined for oblivion.

At that time, an observer might have said the same thing about horror films. After a decade of glory—the 1930s—and a decade of treading water—the 1940s—horror films now faced the challenge of a new film genre, science fiction film, that suddenly made the horror film seem passé. In the midst of giant dinosaurs, flying saucers, and aliens, it was suddenly hard to arouse interest in vampires or reanimated corpses. Eventually, ways would be found to make the horror film exciting and relevant again, but in the meantime a different sort of survival strategy gradually became evident: if horror films could no longer be impressive in contemporary settings, they could become stylish period pieces, set in Victorian times and decorated with classy antiques. The horror film could be reinvented as an exercise in nostalgia, an appealing re-creation of bygone times for filmgoers willing to settle for tepid jolts of fright amidst colorful and dignified splendor. And here was this actor, Vincent Price, ideally suited for such old-fashioned dramas and available to any producer with a slightly-higher-than-rock-bottom budget. It would be, as Price might have announced with florid, pseudo-macabre glee, "a marriage made in Hell."

Strangely, even though the first artifact in this tradition—Price's 3-D remake of House of Wax—was a big hit, Hollywood producers were slow to recognize the box-office potential of this new approach to horror, and it was left to Britain's Hammer horror factory to really get the ball rolling with the anachronistic Cushing/Lee remakes of Dracula and Frankenstein. In the meantime, Price was killing time with occasional parts in mainstream films, dreary gimmick films from William CASTLE, and oddities like The Fly and Return of the Fly, where for once Price was perfectly justified in treating the goings-on around him as a silly comedy. But that wily cheapstake Roger CORMAN recognized that easy money could be made following the Hammer example, and further realized that he could avoid the costly copyright issues that might arise from adaptations of old horror films if he went even further back in time to the works of Edgar Allan Poe, all safely in the public domain. The less said about the miserable string of Corman/Price Poe adaptations that ensued, the better; Masque of the Red Death was a little bit better than the rest, and was accordingly proclaimed a masterpiece, while the openly farcical but relentlessly unamusing The Raven was the worst. In between these unrewarding assignments, Price kept himself busy with other forgettable comedies (like the Dr. Goldfoot movies) and excursions into television (including an overpraised turn as Bat-villain Egghead). One film director, Michael Reeves, unwisely tried to use Price in a genuine horror film, Witchfinder General, but Price was visibly uncomfortable in that milieu.

As he entered his sixties firmly enshrined as the Grand Old Man of Horror Films, Price became the centerpiece of a series of relatively big-budget films, each seemingly designed as his elegant swan song: The Abominable Dr. Phibes and its sequel, Theatre of Blood, and Madhouse. All of these remained films that fans wanted to like more than films they could sincerely like, but Theatre of Blood commands attention in large part because of the presence of Diana RIGG, who admirably took her murderous business seriously even if her on-screen mentor could not. Yet even after this series of last bows, Price sadly could not bring himself to retire, and the last fifteen years of his career ended up a sorry mess: more television work, lots of voiceovers for animated films and documentaries, appearances in justly-overlooked films, and two heartfelt but embarrassing tributes from the worshipful Burton.

Unlike Karloff and Bela LUGOSI, who have long lingered on after death as recognizable icons, Price now appears to be vanishing from the cultural zeitgeist, his stately manner and polished voice no longer deemed necessary in an age that cherishes genuine horror but is no longer amused by its pale simulation. Vincent Price was a man of many admirable qualities, and he brought many admirable qualities to his screen performances, but he crucially lacked a sense of conviction, a real belief in and commitment to the essence of the crudely powerful genre that he endeavored to remake in his own elegant but shallow image. He was long esteemed as a master of horror, but after decades of viewing his work, the mask is finally crumbling, and everyone can see the face of the clown who pretended to be a monster.

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