The Inimitable Vincent Price, Master of Mayhem

The Inimitable Vincent Price, Master of Mayhem

Vincent Price is so engraved into my experience of horror as a child that the thought of someone growing up with no clue who he was seems unfathomable. Let me tell you about him.

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Vincent Price was more than just the pantomime villain of the films, amongst other things he was an enthusiastic collector of modern art. Which leads me on the my favorite story about Vincent Price. He and his second wife Coral Browne were hosting a dinner party at their house when one of the guests, thinking that Price was out the room, started slagging off the Jackson Pollock over the mantel piece. The unnamed hollywood actor was in mid rant saying I don't know what you would even call this shit, when the distinctive tones of Vincent rang out saying "Its called we like it"

Price's second wife was an accomplished actress in here own right and there is even a play written about her time in Moscow on tour with the Royal Shakespeare company. When told by the Royal Shakespeare Company that there was no suitable role in their upcoming production of King Lear for her first husband, Philip Pearman, she demanded a script and running through it she found the page she was looking for. "There you are", she said, "the perfect part. A small camp near Dover."

They were an extraordinary couple of which Vincent's acting was only small part of much larger and more interesting human beings.

I gradually became aware of Price through occasional mentions of his name as part of various explanations as to why this and that movie was a must-see, and eventually decided to check what the buzz was about. So I bought a DVD of The Pit and the Pendulum on a whim... and was decidedly unimpressed. Price was undoubtedly a decent actor, but he failed to get under my skin the way I had expected. (It should perhaps be noted that in this particular movie, Price plays the victim of the ongoing shenanigans, rather than the perpetrator...)

A year or so later, I happened to learn about the existence a book called The House With a Clock in its Walls. It stirred up an old childhood memory of watching some obscure TV program based on that exact premise - hosted by a wonderfully creepy, yet oddly charming, narrator. I couldn't have been more than six when I saw that show, and I remembered that it had struck me as terribly exciting and captivating - and just a little too scary for my full and undivided attention.

I had wanted to watch it again for some twenty-odd years. After a quick bout of Google-Fu, I learned that the program was part of a made-for-TV anthology of three scary stories for kids, hosted by Vincent Price.

I hunted down an old, battered VHS copy. I watched it. And then I realized exactly why the late, great Vincent Price had not crawled under my skin that first time I watched him in The Pit and the Pendulum -

- he was already there.

--- --- ---

I have since expanded my library of Price movies considerably, but my favorite will forever be The Comedy of Terrors. Here, Price plays the part of Waldo Trumbull - a corrupt, mean-spirited, alcoholic and absurdly unpleasant undertaker who has taken to murdering people in their sleep just to keep his business running.

Trumbull is over-the-top, cartoonishly evil - but also far more human and relateable than most of Price's more iconic characters (Dr. Phibes, etc.) I do not believe that any other actor than Vincent Price could possibly have played him. At all. But Price pulls him off with gusto, making him not only completely credible (and therefore genuinely frightening) - but also rampantly hilarious!

 

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