05/08/2005

VINCENT PRICE a REFLECTION (no reflection)











The late, great Vincent Price died on October 25th 1993, and with him died a whole genre of movie making. His film career began in 1938 after a successful period in the theatre, with him initially launched as a matinee idol and romantic lead in melodramas. However, his sybaritic voice and suave manner soon marked him for roles as a variety of villains such as Cardinal Richelieu and Nicholas Van Ryn in 'Dragonwyk'.

During a remarkably long career (he continued to work up until his death at the age of 82) he tackled a great range of roles, yet he remains chiefly remembered for his horror films which ranged from the delightful to the execrable. Some of the best known is the series of movies based upon the stories of Edgar Allen Poe, directed by Vincent's great friend Roger Corman. Some, such as 'The Raven' (which included an early appearance by a youthful Jack Nicholson) were played chiefly for laughs.

Others, such as 'The Fall of the House of Usher' are almost visual poetry, wonderfully capturing Poe's elegiac style. Of particular note is the visually surreal 'The Masque of the Red Death', in which Vincent plays the decadent Renaissance Prince Prospero, who holds in torment a castle-full of aristocrats trying to escape the plague. Filmed in an age before graphic violence and sexual exploitation became the norm, Vincent portrays the full evil, insanity and erotic malevolence of his character using that age old tool of the trade which modern special effects have rendered unnecessary ~ acting talent!

One of Price's most distinctive features was his sense of humour. A delicious touch of irony pervades many of his characters, and he was known for annotating the sometimes awful scripts sent him to add wit and a sinister twist of dark humour. This is particularly evident in the bizarre Doctor Phibes films, where he plays a disfigured genius who subjects his enemies to some of the most unusual deaths seen on screen (including one eaten alive by locusts, another squashed in a giant duck-press, and a corpse stuck in a giant gin bottle and thrown into the sea!)

My particular favourite of Price's films is 'Theatre of Blood' in which Price plays a deranged Shakespearean actor who, rejected at an awards ceremony, murders the theatre critics (all played by leading British actors) in styles echoing the Bard. Vincent dons a whole variety of disguises to trap his victims, and milks the script for every laugh possible. The best scenes include Vincent and his assistant sawing the head off Arthur Lowe whilst delivering lines straight out of a daytime medical soap; Vincent hamming it up as a French chef and force feeding an utterly effete Robert Morley (dressed in a pink suit) his own beloved poodles baked in a pie; and finally, perhaps best of all, Vincent sporting an enormous Afro wig as an effete hairdresser who electrocutes the waspish Coral Brown.

Not only appreciated by film-goers, Vincent was also much loved by casts and crews. He made a point of learning everyone's names, birthdays etc. and made all his co-workers feel important. He was, in real life, just as much of a connoisseur and bon vivant as he appeared on screen. Using his degrees in Fine Art to full effect, he worked closely with a number of galleries, and had a particular interest in Native American art. He also presented a gourmet cookery show in America!

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