It’s October, the time of year when the world realizes it’s okay to watch scary movies every day – and horror movie fans are right there with suggestions whether you’ve asked for it or not.
This year I thought it would be fun to share ideas based on horror movie subgenres like vampires, witches, haunted houses, and the like.
In horror films, actors – even some of the best – tend to repeat the same role or type of film. (And there’s nothing wrong with that!) But when I was putting together a list of different types of horror films, it was surprising to see the same actor in such different roles: Vincent Price. That seems obvious considering he’s a horror icon, but it served as a reminder of how talented he was as an actor.
- Played a talented but unjust sculptor who tried pitifully to replicate his Marie Antoinette in Guard house.
- Was a caring, concerned family member in The fly.
- Chew the landscape as multifaceted and macabre Abominable Dr. Phibes.
Price even played the holy grail of horror: a universal monster. And I don’t mean the shortest cameos in the comic book gem Abbott and Costello meet Frankenstein but his main role in a role that is easy to miss – because you don’t see him.
Prize as a universal monster
Although we associate universals The invisible man With the sympathetic portrayal of Claude Rains in the 1933 James Whale film, Price was the title character in the decent 1940 sequel The invisible man returns (1940).
He plays Geoffrey Radcliffe, a man hours away from death after being wrongly convicted of the murder of his brother. After all else fails, his fiancee Helen (Nan Gray) and her boyfriend Dr. Frank Griffin (John Sutton) put a desperate escape plan into action. Griffin is the brother of John Griffin, the scientist played by Rains in the original film, who discovered an invisibility serum that came with a side effect of madness.
Since then, Frank has been researching an antidote to the deadly side effect. Despite not finding it, he still injects Geoffrey to help him escape and save his life. Unfortunately, the insanity part of the serum kicks in much sooner than expected, making efforts harder to keep working on the antidote while searching for the real killer.
The story is everything we expect with the bonus of the murderer mystery. At a quick 81 minutes, it’s also a good use of classic movie time.
When Price plays the title character, we know he will rarely, if ever, be seen. That didn’t matter at first as the expectation was that his iconic voice would be the star. But this was an early role – Price was not yet 30 – and his voice wasn’t as strong and eloquent as it was later to become.
There are two other good reasons to watch this movie. The Oscar-nominated special effects are created by John P. Fulton, who also did the groundbreaking work in the original film. Then there are the supporting cast: Cecil Kellaway as the inspector of Scotland Yard, Cedric Hardwicke as a friend of the Richard Cobb family, and Alan Napier in a small but important role as Willie Spears.
Here are more suggestions from Vincent Price films by genre.
Insane genius: The hideous Dr. Phibes (1971) is a crazy, colorful, dark comedy mashup from “The Phantom of the Opera” / crazy genius / vengeful husband / sadistic killer tropes. Price plays the versatile, good doctor, concert pianist, theologian and scholar who is said to have died in a car accident. Instead, he has waited his time to take revenge on the doctors he blames for his wife’s death. “Nine killed you, nine will die,” he says of a photo of his beautiful but dead wife. (The accident left him voiceless, forcing him to speak with a chord that he attaches to his neck that replicates his voice.)
It’s one of the many bizarre things in the movie, but nothing is as strange as his “home” where an organ protrudes through the floor into a room with a stage (The Dr. Phibes Clockwork Wizards) and a dance floor flanked by musical robots swirls around his lovely but silent assistant Vulnavia (Virginia North). In her stage-worthy outfits, she willingly helps him carry out his deadly deeds as he carries out the 10 pharaohs curses on the culprits, including boils, bats, frogs, locusts, death of the firstborn, and darkness. (Wait, if there are nine doctors, who is 10thNS Victim?).
The deaths are gruesome – or at least “gross” by today’s standards – and Price is going through it wonderfully. The great Joseph Cotten delivers a strong dramatic performance as one of the doctors in danger of extinction. (After all, an aging classic movie actor isn’t played for laughing in a horror movie.)
Shakespeare’s horror: Theater of blood (1973). Price has done reasonably well on Edgar Allen Poe’s works, so why not give Shakespeare a try? This is similar to Phibes in terms of the revenge factor. Here Price plays the Shakespeare actor Edward Kendal Sheridan Lionheart, who seeks revenge on members of the Theater Critics Guild who belittled him. His method of murder: killing everyone by recreating a Shakespeare murder scene. Bonus: Diana Rigg plays his daughter.
Haunted House: The house on Haunted Hill (1959). From the point of view of film actor William Castle, who was known for his gimmicks, this haunted house movie has a bit of stock, some jump scares, and great entertainment value. Prize is millionaire Frederick Loren, who offers five strangers $ 10,000 each if they spend the night in a haunted house as part of a party for his fourth wife Annabelle (Carole Ohmart). The scenes of the sniper couple are the best part of the movie as they swing their sharp words like weapons against each other. This is more of a fun ride than a horror house, and that’s the charm of the film. The lock gimmick used here was “Emergo”, in which a skeleton “appeared” above the moviegoers in the cinemas during early screenings.
[Read more from Monsters and Matinees on The House on Haunted Hill and William Castle.]
Creature function: The Tinger (1959). In the same year as The house on Haunted Hill Price starred in a second William Castle film. Castle’s “Percepto” gimmick is remembered with boom booms all over the movie theaters, but I wish it was appreciated more for the great title creature – one made out of fear. “Many people die in Scared, I wonder how many are dying from Fear, ”wonders Dr. Warren Chapin (Price) before discovering that the tingling sensation in our spine is a creature that lives within us all. The film plays with the audience and our perception of what is happening, which helps Price as a friendly doctor who is also a jealous husband and a mad scientist who seems to stop at nothing to finish his experiments. Enjoy the brilliant popping of Castle red splashes through the movie.
Vampires / Zombies: The last person on earth (1964). Regardless of whether you view this as a vampire film, zombie film, or a mix of both, you will still find Price as a sympathetic survivor of a mysterious plague who, sadly, is not as alone as the title suggests. In this Italian adaptation by master writer Richard Matheson I am Legend, Price is a doctor immune to a plague that has killed the world and turns the few survivors into creatures that feed on humans. Like vampires, they sleep during the day, hate garlic and die on a stake through their hearts. An overwhelming sense of doom hangs over this film.
Witches: Witch Finder General (1968, AKA Conqueror Worm). In 1645, where folklore and superstition prevail, attorney Matthew Hopkins (Price) travels the country torturing innocent villagers to confess as witches and hang them. The tables are turned when a soldier (Ian Ogilvy) pursues him after Hopkins assaulted his fiancée and murdered her uncle, a priest. Price, dead serious as the sadistic Hopkins, thought it was one of his best accomplishments.
– Toni Ruberto for Classic Movie Hub
You can read all articles about Toni’s monsters and matinees here.
Toni Ruberto, born and raised in Buffalo, NY, is an editor and writer for The Buffalo News. She shares her love for classic films on her blog, Watching Forever, and is a member of the Classic Movie Blog Association. Toni was President of the former Buffalo Chapter of TCM Backlot and now heads the Buffalo Classic Movie Buffs branch. She is proud to have put Buffalo and its glorious old movie palaces in the spotlight as the first ever winner of the TCM in Your Hometown competition. You can find Toni on Twitter at @toniruberto.