VINCENT PRICE: THE CORMAN YEARS – Interview by Larry French

2017-12-10T23:17:23+00:00December 10th, 2017|Categories: CINEMA, INTERVIEWS|Tags: , , |
  • Vincent Price as Prince Prospero in The Masque of the Red Death

An Interview by Larry French

Vincent Price was born on May 27, 1911, in St. Louis, Missouri, the son of an executive at a major candy manufacturer. He first found an interest in acting while attending Yale, where he received his degree in Art History, but did not appear in his first legitimate stage role until 1934, in the London production of an American play. In the years preceding, Price engaged himself in several unrelated pursuits: a singing coach, teacher of art history, bus driver, and a graduate student at the University of London. But, shortly after his stage debut, his future seemed determined. His New York stage premiere, in 1935 as Prince Albert in Victoria Regina, won him critical acclaim as a talented newcomer, and the next three years found Price in the midst of a varied and successful stage career, including a stint with Orson Welles’ renowned Mercury Theater Workshop.
In 1938, Hollywood and Price found each other—his first film was Service de Luxe, a little-known comedy by Rowland Lee, the director of Son of Frankenstein. A year later, Price was featured more prominently in two historical dramas, Michael Curtiz’ The Private Life of Elizabeth and Essex and Rowland Lee’s Tower of London. While proving Price’s potential as a character actor, these films also introduced Price to a problem that would dog him throughout his career: Hollywood typecasting. Until 1953 Price would appear primarily in period films, not all of them as memorable as his best of that time, Tower of London (the first film to co-star Price with Basil Rathbone and Boris Karloff) and Dragonwyck.
Price’s roles did, however, emerge from the past on some occasions, and he offered some sterling performances in contemporary characterizations. One of the first also marked his entrance into horror films—The Invisible Man Returns, the first sequel to the James Whale-directed adaptation of H.G. Welles’classic. An unrelated story about another man who stumbles on the invisibility formula and uses it to clear himself of murder charges, Price and the film were both up to the high standards set by Claude Rains and the original. Price performed in another off-beat role in Champagne for Caesar in which he portrayed a neurotic soap manufacturer who sponsors a big-money TV quiz program. Price’s concern for his financial well-being when faced by the prospect of paying off a consistent winner showed a magnificent flair for comic portrayal. Few films would properly exploit that facet of Price’s talent until the late 60s.
In 1953, Price entered a new phase in his career with the release of House of Wax, the original and most successful Hollywood feature to be released in 3-D, which led directly to his second 3-D film and third horror feature, The Mad Magician. Both films are impressive efforts when seen on the 3-D screen; yet the two are equally sluggish when seen on television, without the benefit of that glorious gimmick.
During the years that followed, Price starred in a variety of roles, most notably that of a newspaper reporter in Fritz Lang’s While the City Sleeps and two minor fantasy roles — Omar Khayyam in Son of Sinbad and Satan himself in Irwin Allen’s The Story of Mankind, two films that are best forgotten by all concerned. Then came The Fly.
The Fly was made in 1958 by director Kurt Neuman for 20th Century-Fox. The screenplay was adapted from George Langelaan’s short story by James Clavell, who has since gained fame as the author of the novels Tai-Pan and Shogun. The film, and its sequel The Return of the Fly, concerns the creation of beasts half-human and half-fly created by mishaps in a matter transmitter. In the first film, a pioneering scientist is the victim/monster; in the second, a similar fate befalls his son. Price, in his role as The Fly’s brother, is somewhat removed from the action, but, as the sole actor to appear in both films, Price is strongly associated with The Fly films in the minds of thousands of horror fans. As a result, Price found himself “typed” once more, but this time as a horror actor.
The 60s proved to be the busiest period in Price’s career. After completing a Gothic thriller, The Bat (co-starring Agnes Moorehead and former Our Gang star Darla Hood), Price appeared in two of William Castle’s best-remembered films, The House on Haunted Hill and The Tingler. The first film is adequately described by its title; the second stars Price as a scientist who studies the mechanics of death by fright, and discovers a lethal critter that lives at the base of the spine and feeds on fear. Price also discerns that only human screams will kill the parasite. At some showings of the film, selected theater seats were wired to give audience members an electronic “goose” at appropriate moments—helping patrons to comply with Price’s counsel to “scream for your life!”
In 1960, American International Pictures, a company whose main business had been frightening the 50s with low-budget shockers like I Was a Teenage Werewolf and Teenage Frankenstein, decided to spend $300,000 (an extravagant budget by their standards at the time) to produce The Fall of the House of Usher, based on Edgar Allen Poe’s story, starring Vincent Price. The film proved an unqualified success, and AIP repeated the success several times over, usually preserving the same creative core that made Usher: Poe, screenwriter Richard Matheson, director Roger Corman—and Vincent Price.
The following interview, conducted by Larry French in preparation for his forthcoming book on the films of Roger Corman, centers around that very fruitful period in Price’s career.
Because the interview was conducted just prior to a performance of Diversions and Delights (Price’s one-man-show commemorating the life and wit of Oscar Wilde), the latter comments are both brief and fascinating.

* * *

FANGORIA: How did you begin acting for Roger Corman in the Poe films? Did he ask you to be in House of Usher?

VINCENT PRICE: Oh no. It was just a job. I guess AIP had hired him and they hired me.

FANGORIA: Did you like the script?

PRICE: Yes, I liked it a lot, but then they started fooling around with it and I had a big conference with [AIP President] Jim Nicholson and they put back a lot of stuff that I felt was very important in order to try to keep it as close to Poe as possible, because they weren’t keeping it very close to Poe.

FANGORIA: Roger Corman mentioned that you would question lines in the script which didn’t seem to make sense, such as “The house is alive.” Do you remember that?

PRICE: It’s amazing that he remembers. I’ve done over 100 movies, and with the exception of a very few of them, I don’t remember that much.

FANGORIA: Roger has almost total recall on some of these events.

PRICE: Well, as a director he probably would have—much more than I would— because it was his conception and his whole thing that he did. I think it is always easier for a director who has had to build a script, and build the sets, and build the characters and everything than for the actor who plays them.

FANGORIA: Roger pre-planned heavily, didn’t he?

PRICE: Very much so, very much.

FANGORIA: After House of Usher became such a success, it was apparent that you were going to be in all of them. Did Matheson or Beaumont then write the script’s character to fit you?

PRICE: Well, in a way I guess they did. They knew I was being cast in them. I think each one of the characters was different enough. You know they couldn’t write it to make it a character called Vincent Price. It has to be a character who was in the story. The stories were very loosely based on Poe, with the exception of Ligeia, which I felt captured the most of the Poe feeling.

FANGORIA: That was one of the best Poe films.

PRICE: Yes, I think so.

FANGORIA: Another one which is among the best is Masque of the Red Death. How did you approach the character of Prince Prospero? He’s supposedly evil, yet somewhat ambivalent.

PRICE: Well, you know if you read the Poe stories…. I always tried to base my character as much as I could on what Poe had written because it was a much keener clue to a character than the picture scripts. I mean, you couldn’t really expect them to do a real Poe story. I finally did four as a television special, An Evening of Edgar Allen Poe, which was pure Poe. They were marvelous, I thought.

FANGORIA: Yes, It was similar to Diversions & Delights (Price’s currently touring show, featuring Price as Oscar Wilde) in that it was a one-man show.

PRICE: Yes, but had they stuck closer to Poe, they all would have been better. The trouble is that The Pit and the Pendulum is what—25 pages long? The Masque of the Red Death is four pages. So they have to be expanded. How did the guy get in the pit? What got the characters into this setting was part of the problem that the authors had. The story is really foolproof. Every element of fear is in it—the maze of passages, the cobwebs, the iron maiden, height. . . .

FANGORIA: Well, even when he couldn’t really follow Poe’s plot, Roger would try to keep it close in the sense that in Masque he followed the setting with the multicolored chambers although he had to embellish them, as you say.

PRICE: Yes, he tried very hard to keep them close to Poe. He also tried to imbue each of them with a kind of spirit of Poe, the psychological overtones that have been discovered in Poe since he wrote them, obviously. We always had great discussions.. He had a marvelous way of cheating because he would get us all down—and all actors like to rehearse, as you know. In movies there is very seldom any rehearsal at all. So Roger would get Boris [Karloff] and myself, and Peter [Lorre], and Basil [Rathbone], and whoever was in the pictures to come down and read. I think we were supposed to do one day of that and then we were to be paid. We would all get so carried away, though, knowing that the actual shooting schedule was so short.
So we really welcomed the opportunity to be able to walk around the set and sort of familiarize ourselves with what the ambience of the story was. It was not so much a characterization rehearsal, but a run-through. We’d walk around the set and Roger would say, “Now this is what is going to happen here,” and then we’d move on to the next scene. So he was very smart at that and, as I say, we all went along with it because it meant so much to us.

FANGORIA: What about the budget in The House of Usher? It looked as though they ran out of money near the end.

PRICE: I don’t think there was much budget [laughing]. No, it was done on a shoestring. God, it must have been a very small budget. The thing about Danny Haller, giving him a lot of credit for it, is that Danny’was one of the art directors who really was capable of taking nothing and turning it into a terribly exciting thing. In The Pit and the Pendulum, I think he was the first person ever to use a complete stage. He went right up to the ceiling and removed the catwalks, which gave an enormous sense of depth and height to the whole thing. He is a very talented man. I had to sneak through a maze of passages in one scene, so I told Roger to rig up some cobwebs. I walked right into them and had to claw them away from my face. It worked beautifully.

FANGORIA: Did you ever have anything to do with Haller in the actual art direction of the pictures?

PRICE: No, but I do think that Danny is responsible for a lot of the success of these pictures. He is a pretty good director, as well. I’d love to work with him. We tried to work together on some pictures early on, but we couldn’t get them sold.

FANGORIA: Did the use of long takes cause you any special problems? In Masque of the Red Death there’s a near-360° tracking shot as you walk around the main hall and speak on the anatomy of terror.

PRICE: Roger really used the camera superbly well. It was a fun thing. He loved the challenge of doing that. He would work all day on a scene. There was one moment when I was up on a dais with a long speech and I came down with those long, flowing capes and tripped. I fell down and knocked myself out cold—absolutely out cold (laughing)! But Roger loved to create a mood, to work with the camera and the lighting. This is where he is terribly smart.
The cameraman was Floyd Crosby, who was one of the best cameramen in the business. He had retired and Roger admired something he had done years before and got him out of retirement. I know that Roger does give credit to that because his prop man and his special-effects fellow, they were all among the best in the business and they all loved the challenge of it. It was wonderful, really.

FANGORIA: And for Masque of the Red Death he got Nicholas Roeg.

PRICE: Oh, Roeg is one of the best in the business. Now he’s one of the best directors in the business. He was marvelous to work with. [Roeg has since directed Performance, The Man Who Fell to Earth and Don’t Look Now.]

FANGORIA: I think one of the key themes of the Poe films is summed up by the line you say to Jane Asher in Masque of the Red Death: “How easily a man’s mind can be controlled and twisted.” It’s certainly at the center of Ligeia.

PRICE: Well, it was that thing of Poe’s, of being controlled, or being haunted by the memory of Lenore, or the memory of his wife. But the Poe thing is absolutely fascinating. It really is. I just wish they had done them closer to Poe.

FANGORIA: After the first three Poe pictures, AIP did Tales of Terror and added Peter Lorre and Basil Rathbone to the cast. Do you recall how they were added to it?

PRICE: Well, they fit into the stories. Tales of Terror was, I thought, a really inventive kind of idea. It didn’t work as well for the public because the public was not used to that kind of trilogy thing, which the English have done for years. But Peter fit perfectly into the wine-tasting thing with me, and Basil was perfect in the Monsieur Valdemar thing, so it all worked out, and it worked out that they were the perfect people for it. I think AIP was terribly bright when they finally realized they had a kind of gold mine with these pictures. I mean, to add to it the people they did add to it, like Joe E. Brown and the different people. . . .

FANGORIA: Well, he was in Jacques Tourneur’s Comedy of Terrors, but what about when you went to England? You didn’t really have any co-stars on Masque or Ligeia, did you?

PRICE: No. You see, if you work in England, you’re only allowed to use one foreigner. I mean, Danny Haller, for instance, did the sets for Tomb of Ligeia. But Roger was a foreigner, and I was a foreigner, so that was enough. When Danny did the sets for it, the credit had to be given to an Englishman who was always there. One of the reasons we were allowed to do as many pictures as we did in England is that we gave so much employment to English actors, and that they liked.

FANGORIA: What about the special effects in the duel between you and Karloff in The Raven. Was that difficult?

PRICE: Well, making one scene frightened me. Boris was supposed to throw a scarf at me which turns into a snake and wraps itself around my neck. We were planning the scene and I asked Roger how we were going to handle it. He said he had this man who was a snake trainer and he was going to put this boa constrictor around my neck. He said not to worry, that it was a very tame snake and it wouldn’t bite. The scene began with that snake around my neck, but Roger wanted it with its head facing the camera, but it wouldn’t turn that way. We had to fuss for about an hour and a half to get the shot and then it took some prying to get him off me!

FANGORIA: You mentioned that on The Raven you, Peter Lorre and Boris Karlof got together and realized that the script didn’t make sense, and dreamed up your own ideas.

PRICE: No. It was basically that it had nothing at all to do with The Raven, because there’s no story in The Raven, you know. When we read the script we thought it was great fun, particularly the magic thing that went on between us. So what we did was try to figure out among ourselves what we could do to send it up. It was really more of the actors in that instance than it was Roger. I did a thing in the very first scene where I’m walking across my study; I hear the knocking, you know, and I hit my head on the telescope. I come back and I again hit my head on the telescope. Immediately the audience knew that something was a little wrong. Then, of course, it ended up with that marvelous line of Peter’s; “How the hell should I know?”—which is an absolutely gorgeous line.

FANGORIA: Or when you’re in the crypt and he says, “Hard place to keep clean, huh?”

PRICE: Yes, yes. that’s all Peter. Peter had a genius for not saying many of the lines in the script, but he knew them all. He felt, and rightly so I suppose, Peter being as famous a character as he was, that what the audience wanted to see was Peter Lorre—and in a way he was right. I think he started out as an actor, but then he became a fellow named Peter Lorre. There was one scene in The Raven where we had a great deal of exposition, which you could always do in those kinds of things—how we get from one place to another, one scene to another. So Peter was sort of vamping until ready, and carrying on, and I said, “Come on, Peter, for God’s sake, say the lines,” and he said, “Oh really,” and I said “Yes.” So he said every line that was in the script. He just got on with it, but he loved to invent. I think that it was part of his training in Germany; there was a lot of improvisation going on with pictures like M.

FANGORIA: Roger said that you could go along with Peter’s improvisations, but that Boris was not really able to do any improvising.

PRICE: The thing is that if you went along with Peter. . . you know I’m a fellow who knows every line in the script because I don’t know how else to do it. I am not geared to improvise. But if you’re working with someone who is improvising, you improvise too. There’s no other way to do it. You have to go along with their gags.

FANGORIA: So you could go along with Peter’s gags, and Boris was somewhat upset with the changes?

PRICE: I don’t think Boris was ever upset with it, really. I think Boris didn’t have as much to do with Peter as I did in the story.

FANGORIA: Yes, it was actually you and Peter against Boris and Hazel Court.

PRICE: That’s right; and my whole thing was with Peter. An awful lot of those lines like, “Hard place to keep clean,” and all that, was really Peter. We were talking about it and I had said to Peter, “It always kills me that in these pictures I keep my family conveniently buried downstairs.” Well, this killed him, so that’s where that ad lib came from. He was a very funny man, Peter. . . very funny man.

FANGORIA: On Tomb of Ligeia, you used natural locations for the first time, which was quite effective.

PRICE: That was an idea that I kind of talked over with Roger one time. I said I always wanted to do a picture in a ruin, but have the ruin completely dressed, as a real house, and have the ruin around the house—which I think would have been fascinating. Well, he found the ruin, which was a 12th century monastery or church in East Anglia, but the only trouble was they wouldn’t let him do anything with it because it was a national monument. He was allowed to shoot there, but he wasn’t allowed to put any furniture in it.

FANGORIA: So you had to go back to Shepperton for the interiors. But it looked quite good in the film because the abbey looks as though it is connected with the house.

PRICE: Well, there was one building left, a much later building apparently. . . I think 15th or 16th century, which was pretty complete. He did have entrances and exits into that building, but the rest of the monastery was in complete ruin, but magnificently kept up. It was a fascinating place.

FANGORIA: Ligeia is the fourth Poe film in which you end up in a blaze. Did you ever find yourself in a dangerous situation in any of those fires?

PRICE: Oh, one terrifying thing happened. In Tomb of Ligeia, they coated all the walls with liquid cement, which gives off a gas even after it’s been put out. But they were hours coating that set and arranging the two of us, Elizabeth Shepard and myself, under the burnt debris. Then everyone was told to be deadly quiet, and for God’s sakes, nobody light a match or smoke or anything. Then some joker, before the camera was shooting, came in and lit a match! We weren’t ready for it. . .I grabbed poor Elizabeth and I think she was black and blue for a week because I just dragged her out of there. I had to. I was scared to death and so was she. We were all pinned under the debris, so the whole thing went up without us. And that poor cat!

FANGORIA: You couldn’t use any of that in the film?

PRICE: No, we started all over again because the camera wasn’t running. “Any time you’re ready, C.B.,” you know the famous story.

FANGORIA: I guess that’s why Roger used some fire scenes from the House of Usher in there.

PRICE: I don’t think so. It was an enormously complicated fire sequence. You know the whole stage went up in flames.

FANGORIA: Yes, you couldn’t really fake the burning of the Egyptian statues and things, but at the very end I think there were a few clips from House of Usher.

PRICE: Well maybe: there might have been.

FANGORIA: After Ligeia, Roger left the Poe films, although you were going to do The Gold Bug with him, weren’t you?

PRICE: Yes, I want to do The Gold Bug. It’s one I really want to do. I’ve done a recording of it for Caedmon that was very good, but they wanted to turn it into a horror picture, which it isn’t at all. You see, it’s a story of detection. There’s no way you can turn it into a horror story without completely perverting the story.

FANGORIA: Well, you never can tell what they can do. The Haunted Palace has nothing to do with Poe, for instance.

PRICE: That came from a book by H. P. Lovecraft, but the title is rather good, which means a lot in some of these films. I’m just delighted they never did it with The Gold Bug, because the Poe films aren’t really horror stories— they’re Gothic tales with psychological overtones. Most of the great films in this genre are this psychological thriller type.

FANGORIA: Well, apparently Roger had been asked by AIP to do The Gold Bug, but was tired of doing the same thing and wanted to break away.

PRICE: You know, I never did know how much authority Roger had. You’re working for a production company and two men who are both very strong fellas (I mean both Sam Arkoff and Jim Nicholson). I don’t know how much say Roger had in scripts and things like that, whether they sort of forced them on him. I can understand why he quit, but I always sort of regreted that he did. It’s the same thing I regret about Orson Welles… he didn’t remain a director.

FANGORIA: Welles is still directing sporadically, though, while Roger has stopped completely. After Roger left the Poe films, Daniel Haller did some films for AIP—Die, Monster, Die! with Karloff, and later, The Dunwich Horror. Were you supposed to be in those?

PRICE: No. I got to the point where, as Roger did suddenly, we both felt we were being too identified with them, so I started doing the comedy pictures, which I loved—the Dr. Phibes things and Theatre of Blood, which was the best of them all.

FANGORIA: Well, after Ligeia. your career lulled until you did Dr. Phibes. AIP got Gordon Hessler to direct some of those others, which were really not too good.

PRICE: I think the thing was that Roger had a very particular bead on the stories; he had a point of view. The rest of the directors, until Bob Fuest in Dr. Phibes, just didn’t know how to do them. Roger imbued them all with a kind of funny, pseudo-psychological thing that made them exciting. I think he really believed in it, actually. But the psychology of Ligeia is kind of difficult to figure out. I mean, who is a man who sleeps with his dead wife? It’s a little peculiar. Of course, the character I play in Ligeia is not really a villain. Had he not married Ligeia, who would not leave life even after she died, he would probably have led a very normal life.

FANGORIA: Several critics mentioned that Ligeia was a bit too confusing to follow with all the transfering of spirits and the rest. Yet it’s so mysterious that I think it really captures the essence of Poe’s writings.

PRICE: Yes, but none of the pictures at the time really received good critical notice. I think I was mentioned as giving the best baroque performance by the Herald Tribune in New York. There were certain critics who dug it, who understood what Roger was trying to do, and others who hated it. Now they’re all sort of classics and they review them entirely differently. The reviews in some of the French and English magazines have been amazing. They consider the films to be very artistic.

FANGORIA: Well, they’re showing a lot of them at New York’s Museum of Modern Art.

PRICE: Yes. I know. They called me to come down and do a photo with Sam, but they cancelled it at the last minute, mainly because I had to do it on a Saturday and they couldn’t get the other people to do it. But Sam’s remark is marvelous: If you wait long enough everything becomes good taste.

FANGORIA: What about the makeup in the M. Vlademar segment of Tales of Terror? Did it cause you or Basil Rathbone any problems?

PRICE: Oh, it was terrible. I had to have a mixture of glue, flour and makeup paint poured over my head, which was done in stages to give the impression of Vlademar’s face melting away. It only lasts a minute on the screen. That’s all I could stand! Roger really couldn’t care less about makeup, though. He left that up to the makeup man and myself. In Usher, I had bleached my hair white to give that character the effect of being hypersensitive to light. Roger loved that and later we had the character in Ligeia again wear glasses to suggest Poe’s idea of sensitivity.

FANGORIA: What has happened with AIP? The last film you did for them was Madhouse. Have they given up horror films in England?

PRICE: Well, it’s a hard job to get a picture done in England today. It’s so expensive, and the reason they did them over there in the first place was that it was cheaper. I think, also, they decided that they were going to be classy. They were going to go high class, which never worked. The one they did with Ingrid Bergman and Liza Minnelli [A Matter of Time, 1976] was a disaster. That really isn’t their forte, or their medium. They should just turn out good entertainment pictures and let it go at that. But you know they all become grand sooner or later. There is a marvelous third script for Dr. Phibes, though, and I talked with Milt Moritz at AIP. I said. “Why don’t you do it?” The other two things just have a tremendous following and it’s a very funny script. I wanted Bob Fuest to direct it—he really is mad, you know. He’s as mad as they come and he would be wonderful doing this one, but Bob, too, you know—they all get scared of doing things and they get frightened that they’re going to be stuck in it. Bob has never done anything that was nearly as good as Dr. Phibes.

FANGORIA: I would think he would be eager to do it. He hasn’t done much recently, has he?

PRICE: He sent me a script last year that was dreadful, absolutely dreadful. It didn’t make a word of sense. It was just sort of a mish-mash I mean, you will go along with a script if you think that the director is going to bring a lot to it, but it was not a question of that. There was nothing he could bring to it. It was just not a good script. I understand he had some money to do it in Italy and it all fell through.

FANGORIA: Wasn’t that The Coming, which I think Peter Cushing was going to be in?

PRICE: Yes. Peter and I have done a lot together.

FANGORIA: You did Madhouse with him, but what else?

PRICE: We were in one called Scream and Scream Again.

FANGORIA: Yes, but you never saw Peter in that one. He was on screen for about two minutes.

PRICE: Yes, so was Chris Lee.

FANGORIA: One of the things Christopher Lee believes in is the very definite reality of evil and the dark forces. You’ve played quite a few very evil men, including Satan . . .

PRICE: Satan is the ultimate hero.

FANGORIA: But do you believe in any of this, the occult and evil?

PRICE: I don’t believe in the occult, but I do believe that there is a power of evil. How do you read the Bible? It is divided equally between good and evil. You can’t have good without evil because there’s no conflict. One of the lectures I do is basically exactly that—trying to explain that the role of the villain has a definite part in the history of drama. He is the fellow who creates the suspense and the conflict. You can’t have drama without suspense.

FANGORIA: Yes. that’s going back to the Greeks and Aristotle.

PRICE: Sure, the Greeks—and long before that.

FANGORIA: You once did a version of Richard the III with Jose Ferrer. Didn’t he offer you several parts besides that?

PRICE: I was offered a play called We’re No Angels which later Humphrey Bogart did as a movie. I couldn’t do it because I was at the same time offered House of Wax. At the time there was a question in my mind about which would be better for me: I knew that play was going to be a hit, and it was. I didn’t do it; I did House of Wax. You never know what’s going to be best.

FANGORIA: Well, House of Wax is the biggest financial hit of your career, isn’t it? They bring it back in 3-D sometimes.

PRICE: Yes, I would think so. My God, it’s an absolutely fantastic moneymaker. They bring it back every five minutes.

FANGORIA: You know Dragonwyck was on TV recently? It’s rather interesting because even then you were doing a sort of Gothic thing, similar to the Poes almost.

PRICE: You know, in the book Dragonwyck, which was written by a woman named Anya Seton, she claims in the foreward that she got her inspiration for the characters from a Poe poem called Alone. So there is that element of a Poe character in it, even by her own admission. No question about it.

FANGORIA: Hollywood at that time was really going through a Gothic phase with pictures like Rebecca and Jane Eyre. Now, of course, the horror film is coming back big with Dracula and the others. Have you been offered anything lately?

PRICE: I’ve been offered a couple of films, but I didn’t like them so I didn’t do them.

FANGORIA: I would think you would be in the forefront of this new interest.

PRICE: I don’t know. I mean, really and truly, about five years ago everyone said, “Well that’s the end of that. There’s never, never going to be another one.” Now, of course, they’re back—but they never really left.

FANGORIA: How have the local notices been for Diversions & Delights?

PRICE: I’ve seen one and it was excellent.

FANGORIA: I’ve seen it three times already.

PRICE: Have you? I guess you need to see it more than once. One woman in San Francisco saw it 33 times. I couldn’t believe it. Every time she would be there, I’d just faint. My God, she could have played it herself. She would probably be very good as Oscar Wilde.

FANGORIA: You mentioned Orson Welles. You worked with him on the stage in the early days of his Mercury Theatre, didn’t you?

PRICE: Yes, I did two plays. He’s a marvelous director, a really brilliant director. I never thought he was a very good actor. I mean, he’s too Orson Welles. There’s absolutely no characterization at all. He did more when he was young, but he really is a caricature of himself.

FANGORIA: Well, he’s not very disciplined, is he?

PRICE: No, he’s completely undisciplined. You see, he had the theater like that—he was in complete command.

FANGORIA: It’s sad, because when he directs, his films are so brilliant. I think his Falstaff is one of the greatest films.

PRICE: And Citizen Kane. . . The Magnificent Ambersons, I saw it the other day and it falls apart completely at the end.

FANGORIA: But that was edited by the studio, not by Welles.

PRICE: Yes, I know it.

FANGORIA: Another great director you worked for and very few people know it is. . .

PRICE: . . . Fritz Lang?

FANGORIA: Yes. You did While the City Sleeps for Fritz Lang, but I was going to mention Alfred Hitchcock.

PRICE: Yes, I did one of his TV shows, The Perfect Crime. You know he’s a character. Everybody knows about him, but he’s a fellow who plays as much of a role as a director as the actors do who are on the screen. It was Jim Gregory and myself. We were the only two people in it, actually. There were a couple of bit parts, but Hitch’s whole direction to us was speed. It was two men talking about a murder, one accusing the other of doing it. There was one point where we looked over at him in one of the run-throughs, and he was sound asleep, or else he pretended to be sound asleep. He did that all the time. He did it with Cary Grant; he did it with everybody, so it was part of his routine, his image.

FANGORIA: There are stories of people visiting the set and seeing him reading a newspaper or something while they’re shooting the most important scene in the picture! I guess he plans everything so precisely that he doesn’t really have to see what’s happening.

PRICE: Yes. I know it. He only directed, I think, about a half dozen of that TV series himself. So when Jim and I were going to do it, we were really terribly excited that he was going to do it. I don’t think he had ever done anything in four days in his life before. I must say I’m glad I worked with him, in the same way I’m glad I worked with DeMille.

FANGORIA: Well, you are both regarded as the leading exponents of screen horror, so it’s nice that you worked together, although you never did a picture with him.

PRICE: No, but I liked him… I liked him a lot. I met him many times, but I don’t really know him well.

FANGORIA: What about the current science-fiction trend? Would you do any of those?

PRICE: Oh, sure. I would have loved to have been in Star Wars. Peter Cushing was really marvelous in that, I thought. I’m going to have to kick you out. The makeup for this is a killer.

FANGORIA: Vincent, thank you so much. It’s been very nice talking with you.

PRICE: Bless you. I’m sorry it’s so short.

* * *

The Vincent Price Fantasy Filmography

TOWER OF LONDON (Universal 1939) Director: Rowland V. Lee. With: Basil Rathbone, Boris Karloff. Price as Duke of Clarence.
Price’s third film features him with Rathbone and Karloff in a historical drama centering on Richard the Ill’s gory reign of terror in 15th-century England.

THE INVISIBLE MAN RETURNS (Universal 1940) Director: Joe May. With: Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Nan Grey. Price as Sir Geoffrey Radcliffe.
Taking up where Claude Rains left off in the original, Price’s first starring role utilizes his fine speaking voice as a man who turns invisible to clear his name of a murder charge.

SHOCK (20th Century-Fox 1946) Director: Alfred Werker. With: Lynn Bari, Frank Latimore. Price as Dr. Richard Cross.
After killing his wife, Price is forced to create an elaborate cover-up scheme when he realizes his act has been witnessed by an unstable neighbor. First film in which Price received top billing.

ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (Universal 1948) Director: Charles T. Barton. With: Bud Abbott, Lou Costello, Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney, Lenore Aubert, Glenn Strange. Price as The Invisible Man.
The last of the Universal horror films was ushered out by Price, who reprises his earlier role very briefly in the film’s finale.

HOUSE OF WAX (Warner Bros. 1953) Director: Andre de Toth. With: Frank Lovejoy, Charles Bronson, Phyllis Kirk, Carolyn Jones. Price as Prof. Henry Jarrod.
The box-office success of this 3-D film is credited as type-casting Price firmly in the horror genre: a remake of the 1933 Mystery of the Wax Museum, featuring Price in the Lionel Atwill role. Vincent embarks on a series of murders to create lifelike creations for his wax museum. Highly effective in 3-D, but rather tame if seen flat.

THE MAD MAGICIAN (Columbia 1954).Direc-tgor: John Brahm. With: Eva Gabor, Mary Murphy, John Emery. Price as Don Gallico.
A 3-D follow-up to House of Wax gives Vincent another chance at vengeful theatrics. This time his employer attempts to steal one of his prized magical illusions, so Price murders him.

THE STORY OF MANKIND (Warner Bros. 1957) Director: Irwin Allen. With Ronald Col-
eman, Peter Lorre, John Carradine, Dennis Hopper, Agnes Moorehead. Price as the Devil.
A series of episodes presented by Price (as the Devil) and Coleman (as The Spirit of Man) to illustrate the evil or good will of Mankind. With an all-star cast, the film becomes quite hilarious for its attempts at profundity, which are undercut by the tongue-in-cheek acting.

THE FLY (20th Century-Fox 1958) Director: Kurt Neumann. With: Al Hedison, Patricia Owens, Herbert Marshall. Price as Francois Delambre.
Price has a supporting role in this classic tale of a scientist whose experiments in atom transmutation go awry, leaving him with the head and arm of a fly. Ludicrous plot elements had Price and Herbert Marshall breaking up with laughter when filming the final scene. Film still manages to shock,
though, and spawned two sequels.

HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL (Allied Artists 1958) Director: William Castle. With: Carol Ohmart, Richard Long, Elisha Cook Jr. Price as Frederick Loren.
As a demented millionaire, Price invites five strangers to a haunted mansion with a $10,000 reward for those who survive the mayhem-filled evening. Price recently assayed a similar role in Scavenger Hunt.

THE BAT (Allied Artists 1958) Director: Crane Wilbur. With: Agnes Moorehead, Gavin Gordon, John Sutton. Price as Dr. Malcolm Wells.
A mystery writer (Agnes Moorehead) rents a summer mansion with a hidden cache of embezzled money. Price arrives attempting to gain the funds and is suspected of murdering several guests by clawing their jugular vein. Based on a 20s stage play, which was filmed twice before.

RETURN OF THE FLY (20th Century-Fox 1959) Director: Edward L. Bernds. With: Brett Halsey, David Frankham, John Sutton. Price as Francois Delambre.
For this sequel to The Fly, Price was elevated to star. Repeating his earlier role, Price attempts to prevent his nephew from experimenting with the same thing which turned his father into a human fly. Naturally, he doesn’t succeed.

THE TINGLER (Columbia 1959) Director: William Castle. With: Judith Evelyn, Darryl Hickman, Philip Coolidge. Price as Dr. Warren Chapin.
In this exploitation exercise, Price portrays a pathologist who discovers that unrelieved fear will give birth to a parasitic “tingler” along the spinal cord. Only loud screaming can subdue it. Notable for a sequence in a movie house where the audience is interrupted when the tingler breaks into the theater’s projection room, causing the screen to go blank while Price instructs the audience to scream for their lives.

HOUSE OF USHER (AIP 1960) Director: Roger Corman. With: Mark Damon, Myrna Fahey, Harry Ellerbe. Price as Roderick Usher.
The first of the classic series of Poe adaptations Price was to make in collaboration with Roger Corman. Made for a mere $270,000, the film became an overnight sensation, marking a turning point for Price, who would now become closely associated with AIP, making 24 more pictures for them. Still an exceptional film, full of imaginative effects and Price’s outstanding performance.

THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM (AIP 1961)
Director: Roger Corman. With: Barbara Steele, John Kerr, Luana Anders, Anthony Carbone, Patrick Westwood. Price as Nicholas Medina.
For his first Poe encore, Corman enlisted the talents of Barbara Steele, while the settings of Daniel Haller make a stunning backdrop for the tortures of the climax. Price simply outdoes himself in the role of a tormented husband. Richard Matheson contributes his best script of the series, while Corman’s direction elevates this epic to the status of horror classic.

MASTER OF THE WORLD (AIP 1961) Director: William Witney. With: Charles Bronson, Henry Hull, Mary Webster, David Frankham. Price as Capt. Robur.
Price’s performance as Jules Verne’s Robur, a man whose aspiration is to conquer the world to end all warfare, is what lends the film most of its credence. Price co-stars with Bronson for the second time, and Richard Matheson’s adaptation of Verne is admirable, considering the budgetary limits of the project.

TALES OF TERROR (AIP 1962) Director: Roger Corman. With: Peter Lorre, Basil Rathbone, Debra Paget, Joyce Jameson, Maggie Pierce, David Frankham. Price as Locke/Fortunato/M. Valdemar.
A trilogy consisting of Poe’s Morella, The Black Cat and The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar. Price co-stars with his old friends Lorre and Rathbone and displays his comic gifts in a marvelous wine-tasting sequence with Lorre. Basil Rathbone gives a standout performance in the last and best segment.

TOWER OF LONDON (UA 1962) Director: Roger Corman. With: Michael Pate, Joan Freeman, Richard McCauly. Price as Richard the III.
A remake of Price’s first terror film, with Vincent taking over the Rathbone role of the original. Considering Corman was at the helm, it is vastly disappointing.

DIARY OF A MADMAN (UA 1962) Director: Reginald Le Borg. With: Nancy Kovack, Chris Warfield, Ian Wolfe. Price as Magistrate Simon Cordier.
Guy de Maupassant’s classic short story,“The Horla,” is the basis for this tame thriller set in Paris. The premise of possession by the spirit of an evil being is a rather intriguing concept, though, and predates The Exorcist and all its spin-offs.

THE RAVEN (AIP 1963) Director: Roger Corman. With: Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff, Jack Nicholson, Hazel Court, Olive Sturgess. Price as Dr. Erasmus Craven.
This well-mounted horror parody bears almost as little resemblance to Poe’s poem as did the Karloff-Lugosi version of 1935. However, its reputation is gaining rapidly, mainly due to the high-powered cast and the many stories surrounding its production. Price shines in the climatic duel of magic with Karloff, while Jack Nicholson’s comic bantering with Peter Lorre is another highlight.

TWICE-TOLD TALES (UA 1963) Director: Sidney Salkow. With: Sebastian Cabot, Beverly Garland, Richard Denning, Jacqueline De Wit, Brett Halsey, Mari Blanchard. Price as Alex Medbourne/Dr. Rappaccini/ Gerald Pyncheon.
Price stars here in all three segments of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment,” “Rappaccini’s Daughter” and “The House of the Seven Gables.” Price’s larger-than-life roles perfectly suit his melodramatics, especially in “Seven Gables,” where he is relentlessly sadistic and far grislier than in the original 1940 version.

THE COMEDY OF TERRORS (AIP 1963) Director: Jacques Tourneur. With: Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff, Basil Rathbone, Joe E. Brown, Joyce Jameson. Price as Waldo Trumbull.
Another horror spoof centering on Price and Lorre who run a funeral parlor and find business so bad that they have to create some of their own. Considering the top talent involved, one is inevitably disappointed with the sometimes amusing results. Price goes a little too far, but the restraint of Rathbone provides more of what Tourneur had intended.

THE HAUNTED PALACE (AIP 1963) Director: Roger Corman. With: Lon Chaney, Debra Paget, Frank Maxwell, Elisha Cook Jr., John Dierkes. Price as Charles Dexter Ward/ Joseph Curwen.
In the last Poe film to be made in America, Price is actually playing a Lovecraft character. Supporting him this time out is Lon Chaney Jr. and some impressive settings, but by now the formula was beginning to show definite signs of aging.

THE LAST MAN ON EARTH (AIP 1963) Director: Sidney Salkow. With: Franca Bettois, Emma Danieli, Giacomo Ross-Stuart. Price as Robert Morgan.
Richard Matheson’s classic novel I Am Legend is the basis for this low-budget thriller shot in Italy. Some fine photography of deserted Italian cities could hardly make up for the inept acting and poor dubbing.

THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH (AIP 1964) Director: Roger Corman. With: Hazel Court, Jane Asher, Patrick Magee, Nigel Green, David Weston, John Westbrook. Price as Prince Prospero.
The first of Corman’s British Poe films is a stunning success, featuring highly stylized settings and the brilliant photography of Nicholas Roeg. Price’s performance is a textbook example of great villainy, as he gleefully exhalts over the various inspired tortures and general debauchery in his 12th-century castle fortress.

THE TOMB OF LIGEIA (AIP 1965) Director: Roger Corman. With: Elizabeth Shepherd, John Westbrook. Price as Verden Fell.
The last Poe film Corman was to direct is in many ways the best. Using an ancient abbey for the settings, Corman collaborates with Robert Towne on a highly literate screenplay. Price’s acting is quite restrained as a widower controled hypnotically by his dead wife. The ending, while highly confusing, is also quite fascinating and full of excitement. A most fitting coda to the Corman-Price collaborations.

WAR-GODS OF THE DEEP (AIP 1965) Director: Jacques Tourneur. With: Tab Hunter, David Tomlinson, Susan Hart. Price as the Captain.
Jacques Tourneur’s last film is a rather unfortunate one to end his career with. Based on Poe’s poem “City in the Sea,” the story features Price as ruler of the underwater city of Lyonesse. He kidnaps a girl he believes to be a reincarnation of his dead wife.

THE CONQUEROR WORM (AIP, color 1968) Director: Michael Reeves. With: Ian Ogilvy, Hilary Dwyer, Rupert Davies, Patrick Wymark. Price as Matthew Hopkins.
Like Ligeia, this film benefits from splendid location shooting in Norfolk and Suffolk, as well as the budding genius of Michael Reeves. Price gives another fine portrait of rampant sadism in his role of Matthew Hopkins, the notorious 17th-century witch hunter. The explicit violence brought cries of outrage from many, but really fits nicely into the story as well as the social context of 1968.

THE OBLONG BOX (AIP 1969) Director: Gordon Hessler. With: Christopher Lee, Alastair Williamson, Hilary Dwyer. Price as Julian Markham.
Another of the so-called Poe films, this time teaming Price with Christopher Lee. Unfortunately, once again top stars are serviced by poor script and direction. Price plays an aristocrat who keeps his insane brother chained in a room, only to have him escape by feigning death.

SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN (AIP 1970) Director: Gordon Hessler. With: Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing. Price as Dr. Browning.
This mixed brew of vampire murders, organ transplants and the usual police investigation was noticed primarily for the trip-pie billing of Price, Cushing and Lee. Ironically, both Lee and Cushing have little more than cameo roles, while Price doesn’t appear until half way through the film.

CRY OF THE BANSHEE (AIP 1970) Director: Gordon Hessler. With: Elisabeth Bergner, Essy Persson, Hugh Griffith. Price as Lord Edward Whitman.
Price, a magistrate in 16th-century England, hunts down a druid-like cult led by a high priestess whose curse brings about vengeance in the form of a spirit known as a sidhe. An embarrassment with very little to recommend it, save the fine Les Baxter score.

AN EVENING WITH EDGAR ALLAN POE (AIP 1970) Director: Ken Johnson.
Vincent Price essays four Poe stories, “The Sphinx,” “Cask of Amontillado,” “The Tell Tale Heart” and “The Pit & the Pendulum.” A one-man show as Price reads and enacts the Poe stories on a single stage.

THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES (AIP 1971) Director: Robert Fuest. With: Joseph Cotten, Terry-Thomas, Hugh Griffith. Price as Dr. Anton Phibes.
A beautiful period piece, set in London of the 30s. Price sets out to ingeniously murder the nine doctors who operated on his wife, basing each murder on the Biblical curses. Packed full of art-deco sets and imbued with a dry sense of humor by director Fuest.

DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN (AIP 1972) Director: Robert Fuest. With: Robert Quarry, Peter Cushing, Fiona Lewis, Hugh Griffith, Terry-Thomas, Beryl Reid. Price as Dr. Anton Phibes.
The runaway success of the first Phibes film led to this inventive follow-up, which actually surpasses the original film. Fuest had much more control with the script, but AIP was later to cut much of what he wanted out of the film. Still, Price has a field day with the bizarre murders and a fabulous quest to Egypt to find the elixir of life. The exciting finale has Price floating away while singing “Over the Rainbow” with the London Philharmonic orchestra.

THEATRE OF BLOOD (UA 1973) Director: Douglas Hickox. With: Diana Rigg, Ian Hendry, Robert Morley, Coral Browne, Jack Hawkins, Arthur Lowe, Michael Hordern, Harry Andrews, Robert Coote, Dennis Price,
Diana Dors. Price as Edward Kendal Sheridan Lionheart.
Price as an over-zealous Shakespearian actor, out to revenge himself on the critics who panned his repertory of Shakespeare. Obviously a tailor-made role for Price, allowing him to enact several scenes from Shakespeare as he disposes of his victims. Expertly mounted with a brilliant supporting cast of English actors and a touching score by Michael J. Lewis.

MADHOUSE (AIP 1974) Director: Jim Clark. With: Peter Cushing, Robert Quarry, Adrienne Corri. Price as Paul Toombes.
AIP’s last Vincent Price film to date ironically sums up his career with the company by using clips from past AIP pictures. Playing a horror actor, Price is suspected of a series of homicides which occur on the set of his comeback picture.

Published in Fangoria #6, June 1980 and #7, August 1980

RELATED POSTS

Leave A Comment