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Friday, March 6, 2015

Bay of the Living Dead: Vincent Price (1911-1993)

Posted By on Fri, Mar 6, 2015 at 11:10 AM

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Welcome to Bay of the Living Dead, a regular column about the horror genre — past, present, and future.

Vincent Price is  fondly recalled by "monster kids" (kids who came of age during the late 1950s-to-early-1980s run of Famous Monsters of Filmland Magazine) as the star of a series of low budget if elegantly appointed films based on the works of Edgar Allan Poe. Many of the Poe films were directed by no-budget auteur Roger Corman and produced by Drive-In studio American International Pictures — the Poe/Price series was AIP's attempt at A-list respectability.

Eerie and atmospheric, the Poe films were given another boost by Price's magnetic screen presence. Many of the kids who went to see the films during their initial runs were probably unaware that the new horror star had been a steadily working actor since the 1930s. A contract player at Fox, Price had memorable roles in many films, most notably in the film noir classic Laura (1944).

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Prior to beginning his work on the Poe films, Price had already made a splash in the horror world when he starred in wildly fun B movies like House of Wax (1953) and House on Haunted Hill (1959), Both of these films will screen at the Rheem Theater in Moraga on Saturday, March 7 as part of the historic movie palace's Vincent Price Retrospective Day. The all day celebration also includes Price in the disturbingly scary The Last Man on Earth (1964) and his final film, Tim Burton's sublime Edward Scissorhands (1990) — Burton has often cited Price as one of the major influences on his career.

Victoria Price, the star's daughter, was set to appear at the Rheem, but had to bow out due to a scheduling conflict. The film screenings, and a Price commemoration ceremony, will proceed as planned. It's a shame that Ms Price, an out lesbian, cannot attend. She often speaks of the loving support she got from her dad. 

Can't make it out to Moraga? Worry not—Shout Factory offers two mouth watering box sets featuring the master of the macabre at his fearful, and sometimes funny, best. A total of thirteen films, all fully remastered, can be found on The Vincent Price Collection and The Vincent Price Collection II. Both are available on Blu Ray.

The Poe films are well represented in the first collection. The series' best entries, House of Usher, Pit and the Pendulum (co-starring scream queen Barbara Steele) and the powerful The Masque of the Red Death (a film often compared to the works of Ingmar Bergman)  are offered in pristine prints, with crystal clear sound and vibrant colors. 

Price was at the height of his powers during this period. Whether he's playing the haunted Roderick Usher or the manically evil Prince Prospero in Masque of the Red Death, Price commands the screen — he mesmerizes his audience. It's impossible to turn away from him when he's on screen.  

Collection 1 also features one of Price's most beloved late-career titles. In the darkly comic, stylish The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971), Price plays a madman who murders the doctors he believes allowed his wife to die — by recreating the ten plagues of Egypt. Price had a ball mugging for the camera in this campy chiller, and his mad histrionics have a delightful self-aware quality.

The extras are many, and as delightful as the films themselves. Original theatrical trailers, interviews and commentary tracks inform viewers of the films' backstories and offer insight into Price's work ethic. Most delightfully, the set contains introductions shot by Price over forty years ago when several of the films were screened on Iowa Public Television. These intros were produced by Iowa TV and were never seen anywhere else — until now. For Price completists, these five minute segments are akin to finding gold.

The fun continues with Collection II. 

More of Price's kinder, gentler funny side are on display herein. In the delightfully funny (but still creepy) The Raven (1963) and The Comedy of Terrors (1964) Price spoofs his own image to great effect. The films are surprisingly lavish considering how cheaply they were produced. Both films get an added boost with the presence of Boris Karloff (1887-1969), considered by many to be the horror film's all time greatest superstar. Look for a VERY young Jack Nicholson in The Raven. Dr. Phibes Rises Again (1972), the sequel to Price's earlier hit, is also included, along with two of the films which will screen in Moraga: the charming, spooky House on Haunted Hill (1959) and The Last Man on Earth (1964).

The Tomb of Ligeia (1965), the final film in the Poe series to be directed by Roger Corman, rounds out the second set — it comes with a feature-length commentary track featuring leading lady Elizabeth Shepard, who offers "priceless" information on the making of the film.

Other commentaries, trailers, and more Iowa PBS intros are included in this incomparable box set.

As sure as his name was Vincent Price, this is a thriller.   

Special Announcement: This column, Bay of the Living Dead, has been nominated in the Best Blog/Online Column category at the Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards. Bay of the Living Dead is the only nomination in this category that's written outside the sphere of horror fandom. Voting is open to the public, so cruise on over here to show your support!

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