Vincent Price Gone But Never Forgotten

Twenty three years ago today…October 25th 1993 in Los Angeles, California the greatest Master of Horror that ever lived passed away from complications due to lung cancer at the age of 82. I remember the news that day. Although it was no surprise his time had come it was and still is a sad day. Unlike some actors who would retire and disappear from the public eye especially fighting something like cancer, Vincent Price worked up until the end it seemed lending his voice to an animated production called “The Thief and the Cobbler” and prior to that appearing in the TV movie “Heart of Justice”.

vincent-priceBut I am not writing this today to go over facts from his life like a wikipedia page. No Vincent Price’s legacy speaks for itself even today…23 years after his passing. Instead I want to talk about how what he meant to me personally. Sadly I never met him, nor have a tale on how he personally touched my life. I am just a fan like all of you. However Vincent Price and his work influenced me greatly in my participation in the realm of horror.

As far back as I can remember I was always a movie nut. Of course I liked the entertainment that movies provided, but as the years went by and I got older I became more and more fascinated with how things worked….mainly the special fx. I would watch anything from classics to modern stuff. Secretly studied how special fx and makeup progressed from the Jack Pierce days to the days of Dick Smith, Rick Baker, and more. I had my favorite movies and actors, but I quickly realized that one stood out the most to me and I kept seeing him in these awesome films. That was Vincent Price.

Now I admit it is difficult to pinpoint which Price movie I saw for the first time. I know it was one of the Corman classics…I believe it was Tales of Terror. I do know that whenever a Price horror film was on I would watch it. It wasn’t one thing that drew me to the man’s performances. It was definitely a combination of his presence, his voice, and how the characteristics of his character oozed from the screen. His evil characters like Prince Prospero and Joseph Curwen filled the room with dread while his characters like Verden Fell or Simon Cordier filled the room with despair. Vincent Price was a rare artist indeed who’s dedication to the craft and perfection in his character performances has made each and ever one of his performances golden…even in movies like “Last Man on Earth” and “Confessions of an Opium Eater” which are two movies that without Price in them they would be nothing more than B-Movie fodder.

1470a5f7cbeda6ab608e643a0d6ab8a9When someone asks me what is my favorite Price film it really is difficult to say because there are so many that are just so wonderful. It does depend on my mood I guess if I were to sit down and pop one in the dvd player, but I do have two ultimate favorites. The Abominable Dr. Phibes and Comedy of Terrors are two films that I simply adore for various reasons. Let’s look at Phibes and it’s sequel first. Price is amazing in the film. He doesn’t say a word on camera using only creepy voice overs instead and even his facial expressions are very limited although he does crack a sinister half smile every now and then. So why does this performance stand out? Well the movie itself is amazing. The story of an expert classical musician who is injured in a car accident responding to the news of his beloved wife dying tugs at the heart strings. Adding into the mix that he survives, goes into hiding, and launches an elaborate and sinister plan to kill the nine people that were in the hospital room when his wife died…blaming all nine for their deaths. “Nine killed her…nine shall die!” Take this twisted story and film in in a borderline psychedelic way adding a hint of comedy to it makes this a recipe for a perfect film. Like I said despite limitations the character called for Price shines in the film. It was almost as if he was a silent movie actor and his performance is pure gold. So much it spawned a sequel which although to be honest it wasn’t as good as the first, but Price alone in the movie reprising his role as Phibes makes it a great film indeed.

Now another personal favorite of mine which I have watched dozens of times and will continue to watch it until the day I die is Comedy of Terrors. Strangely when I talk about Price movies to people this is one that eludes them. With a star studded cast of Price, Karloff, Lorre, and Rathbone one would think this is a cornerstone film in anyone’s Price collection. It should be. So if you have never seen this film…FIND IT…WATCH IT…ENJOY IT! The movie is a black comedy and Price is amazing in it only outshined by Boris Karloff in the eulogy scene. It is about two bumbling funeral directors who take over Price’s aging father-in-law’s thriving funeral parlor. Of course they have run it in the ground and decide to drum up business by going out and killing people. Unfortunately for them they pick Basil Rathbone that has an unusual condition that keeps him coming back from the “dead”. Words cannot describe how awesome this film is and along with Phibes it will always be in my top two favorites.

Now I said I wasn’t going to rattle off about movie facts about Price, or his love for art and cooking. No I’m sure you can find enough about his life, his passions, and his work on the internet. However I wanted to give you a brief background on what movies of his speaks to me. As I grew older and watched more and more of his movies over and over again. I was fascinated by him. When I started out acting in the haunted attraction industry in 1989 I quickly realized it was more than just jumping out and saying BOO really loud. Granted you needed to create characters and learn the various makeup techniques. I began to watch and study those. However I knew also that I needed to actually perform characters. So about halfway through my first season ever I started to think what I could do. I turned to the movies I knew and loved and of course who popped into my mind first…Vincent Price. I tried to remember everything I could and got through that season trying to perform as characters the way he did. During that first off season I watched what I could when I could and committed things to memory. As the seasons progressed and I improved over time elements of Price worked their way into my performances. I tried to focus on the way he moved, the way he looked at people in the sinister ways he did in his films. I didn’t try to be Vincent Price, but to me he (through his films) was my teacher and I was showing the results…my interpretations of his lessons. Now years later I am still heavily influenced by his work. How could you not be? Even my signature/horror host character Mr. Maniacal is directly influenced by Price’s Mr. Trumbell from “Comedy of Terrors” complete with the black ribbon tied around my top hat! Every season I try to pay tribute to him by doing at least one inspired Vincent Price character saying thank you in my small way for all he has done for me. I have been somewhat successful in the industry over the years and I believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that it was Price’s influence through his own works I have to thank for that.

vincent-price-1I can honestly say wholeheartedly that without Vincent Price’s work in horror films I wouldn’t be here today. Without being able to learn from his works I would have never continued in the haunted attraction industry. Granted I would have still loved horror films and the special fx, but I wonder since it was his films that hooked me so much from the start would I have become such a fan of the genre? Now there are many that hold the tile of master of horror…Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney and his son, Peter Cushing, and Christopher Lee all have made it to that level and rightfully so, but there was never one that completely defined every aspect like Vincent Price. Hist presence, his performances….even his voice is a perfect embodiment of terror! On October 25, 1993 we lost the true master of horror and a grand human being with his love and support of the arts. 23 years later his passing still strikes a chord of sadness within me and it will continue to with each passing year. However with over 200 credits to his name in movies, specials, television appearances…we have an amazing legacy to reflect back on.

Thank you Vincent Price for everything you have left us. May you always rest in peace knowing you will never be forgotten.

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