Tuesday, May 24, 2011
Fellow horror fan and guest blogger Miguel Rodriguez will be hosting a screening of "Theater of Blood" (screening for free on Wednesday, May 25, at 6:15pm at the San Diego Public Library Auditorium, 820 E Street) to honor what would have been horror icon Vincent Price's hundredth birthday this year.
One century ago, on May 27th, one of the most distinguishable voices in cinematic history was born. Who could forget the macabre atmosphere immediately suggested whenever the King of the Grand Guignol spoke? Of course, I am referring to the inimitable Vincent Price, a man who brought a little class to the horror genre. So great was his hypnotic power to bring thrill-seekers to the theater that he was asked to just play himself in the trailer for the 1958 classic “The Fly:"
Although he has shown acting versatility with roles like Shelby Carpenter in the witty noir “Laura,” and Robert Wade in “Service de Luxe,” Price ended up typecast in roles as a schlock-horror and thriller master because so much of the success of his genre films was attributed to him. Despite this, the eccentric Price maintained a sense of humor about his dark oeuvre that reveals itself in his performances, perhaps making them more memorable than they could have been in the hands of another actor. His Drs. Chapin, Cravin, and Phibes seem to wink at the audience at times and say, “I see you.” This relish for his horror roles can be summed up in one of his more famous quotes: “I sometimes feel that I’m impersonating the dark unconscious of the whole human race. I know that sounds sick, but I love it!”
It was that tongue-in-cheek sensibility that makes his characters stand out in films, and why directors wanted to work with him again and again. Think of his collaborations with William Castle, Roger Corman, and later Tim Burton. The 50s and 60s would keep him extraordinarily busy in the low budget horror film and TV industry, and that would continue through the early 70s with “The Abominable Dr. Phibes,” “Dr. Phibes Rises Again,” and “Theatre of Blood.”
Those last three really radiate Price’s manic eccentricity and fun, letting him cut loose as campy serial killers. "Theatre of Blood" is known to be one of his favorite roles because he was tickled at the opportunity to recite Shakespeare while killing his victims. The 1970s, however, also changed the face of horror following the rise of exploitation, which replaced horror’s theatrical Gothic tone with far more cynical, violent, and gory fare. By all accounts, these were not to Price’s liking—perhaps that is partially the reason he reduced his film career for more TV work, culinary writing, art, and other pursuits.
Vincent Price never abandoned his sense of fun—always happy to lend his talents to “Scooby Doo,” “The Muppet Show,” eight years of hosting “Masterpiece Mystery,” and even a rap on Michael Jackson’s classic pop hit “Thriller,” his maniacal laugh providing a chillingly perfect coda to both the song and the extraordinary music video. Vincent Price was such a character on and off the screen that he has achieved the status of legend among his many fans.
In the end, it was his lifelong smoking habit that claimed his life in the form of lung cancer in 1993. One of his last roles was that of the memorable and benevolent Inventor in “Edward Scissorhands.” Tim Burton had worked with Price more than ten years earlier on a short animation called “Vincent,” something Price himself referred to as “... immortality—better than a star on Hollywood Boulevard.”
For his hundredth birthday, Vincent Price’s hometown of St. Louis, MO has been the setting for The Vincentennial—a week-long celebration with screenings of 20 of Price’s films, appearances by his daughter Victoria and Roger Corman, art galleries, and more. San Diego will have its own Vincentennial at San Diego Public Library’s Central Branch on 820 E. Street, downtown. I am providing an introduction to Vincent Price and his life before screening "Theatre of Blood" at 6:15pm as part of SDPL’s SchlockFest.
Happy Birthday, Mr. Price! Thanks for the years of wicked entertainment!
--Miguel Rodriguez is the director of Horrible Imaginings Film Festival, a San Diego festival dedicated to the horror genre. He also hosts Monster Island Resort Podcast when he isn’t reading, watching movies, or planning to take over the world.