With all respect to Misters Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, and Christopher Lee, the undisputed godfather of horror movies is well and truly Vincent Price. With his unique baroque voice, imposing demeanour, and trademark twinkle in his eye denoting devilish playfulness, he has punctuated many a horror film spanning from the 1950s all the way to his last role in Edward Scissorhands (1990). Rarely was he not the best thing about whatever film he was in, making even the most ridiculous horror movies more believable while elevating the good movies to being some of the best in the genre.
Needless to say that from the moment I discovered his work (far too late in life in my opinion) he has been a fixture of my annual October horror-movie marathons. And yet in spite of this, I have still not yet come close to scraping the barrel in terms of discovering more great movies from him. Hence this round-up. It’s pretty self-explanatory. So here we go.
DIARY OF A MADMAN (1963) dir. Reginald Le Borg
After the funeral of Simon Cordier (Vincent Price) the French magistrate, his pastor reads aloud his diary to a group of friends where they discover that before his death he came into contact with a malevolent spirit called a “Horla” which is able to move objects and control minds, which inevitably leads to the flashback of how this came to be. As always, this admittedly outlandish premise is made believable by the regal gravity with which Vincent Price carries the role. While very much a minor Price film, the movie is notable for the scenes in which Price wrestles verbally with the sentient but invisible Horla (voiced by Joseph Ruskin) not just because the two forces are equal sparring partners but also for the inventive special effects as the Horla is an invisible force. However as with most minor Price films, the movie takes too much time getting to this central and gruesome conflict.
HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS (1983) dir. Pete Walker
Kenneth Magee (Desi Arnaz Jr.), a young and cocksure writer, proposes a bet with his publisher that he can produce a commercially successful novel in 24 hours with his only stipulation that he have a secluded spot to write it in. This sends him to a deserted Welsh manor only to his horror he discovers upon arrival that the manor is not as deserted as he had been led to believe. Instead the manor is occupied by a whole cadre of Lord Grisbane’s family and friends who have apparently gathered for some mysterious purpose. And this family is played by the legends of horror Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, and John Carradine among them. Naturally humorous chaos and frightful shenanigans ensue thats every bit as entertaining as it is ludicrous.
TWICE-TOLD TALES (1963) dir. Sidney Salkow
As with most horror anthology movies, the problem with Twice-Told Tales is the unevenness of the movie in terms of quality. In this movie’s case that is also true in terms of each story’s horror credentials. Each of the stories are based on the work of Nathaniel Hawthorne and each star the enigmatic Vincent Price playing three different roles. In “Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment” is a delightfully macabre little chamber piece in which Carl Heidegger and his friend Alex (Price) discover an eternal spring of youth and use it to try and reclaim a lost past. “Rappacinni’s Daughter” is a twisted fairy tale that owes more to Shakespearean tragedy than anything out of the horror genre and is easily the weakest of the bunch. And finally “The House of Seven Gables” is a good old fashioned ghost story complete with curses, haunted houses, and murder. While they are pleasant enough to pass the time with, the stories outside of the first never seem to get into full gear and Price himself coasts. It’s a completely appropriate movie to pop in on a dark and stormy night even if better choices abound.
DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN (1972) dir. Robert Fuest
The original instalment The Abominable Dr. Phibes is helpfully recapped at the beginning of this movie as we are brought up to speed with the tragic death of Dr. Phibes wife, Dr. Phibes quest for revenge against the doctors who botched his wife’s surgery, and the circumstances that allow Dr. Phibes to survive for this new instalment. After that, the movie very slowly pivots to Dr. Phibes’ new quest, namely to revive his wife using an elixir of life that will be procured in Egypt. It’s all very complicated to explain with frequent intervals to Dr. Phibes weird muzak band. The problem is that the movie is only 92 minutes long. Once we actually get to the overly elaborate and entertaining murder schemes of Dr. Phibes it actually gets entertaining, but that happens too late in the movie and even the most creative of these schemes are pale imitations of the of the original movie’s macabre inventiveness.
MADHOUSE (1974) dir. Jim Clark
Paul Toombes (Price) is a famous horror actor who falls apart mentally when his fiancee is viciously murdered in a way akin to his famous onscreen persona Dr. Death. The case remains unsolved as to who killed her and two years later after checking himself into a mental hospital, Toombes tries to pick up the pieces again. Unfortunately his return back to the real world and his old life coincides with the return of Dr. Death look-a-like murders. Wonderfully self-referential, the movie is an ode not just to horror movies in general but to the macabre career of Vincent Price. While it is structurally somewhat like Theater of Blood (1973) there are enough twists and turns to this one to make it interesting from beginning to end.
TALES OF TERROR (1962) dir. Roger Corman
No Vincent Price marathon would be complete without a visit to his Edgar Allan Poe collaborations with director Roger Corman. Unlike all the other Poe movies, this is the first anthology movie in that series. The anthology format seems particularly suited for Poe as he is most famous for his short stories. Without the risk of stretching out a plot to fill its runtime, Tales of Terror becomes easily one of the best of the Poe-cycle as well as one of the best anthology horror movies in general. Along with Vincent Price appearing in all three segments, the movie also graces us with the great Peter Lorre and Basil Rathborne which certainly ups the ante here. The three stories adapted, “Morella”, “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar”, and “The Black Cat” (which in this case is combined with Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado”) are as faithful as an adaptation as one should expect from a Corman production. Though ironically this is the last of the Poe-cycle movies I’ve seen, it is probably the best introduction to this group of movies.