Sunday, August 2, 2009

Master of Horror: Vincent Price

Hi, I'm the Dweller and I'm addicted to Vincent Price movies.

Okay, so it isn't crack. I'm not sucking dick to afford my habit.

Among other reasons, Vincent Price DVDs are remarkably cheap. Both in price and quality for the most part unfortunately, but there are some bright spots among the dollar store public domain cheapo releases of The Last Man on Earth and The House on Haunted Hill - two great flicks ill served by the back alley DVD burner and color photocopier versions churned out with depressing regularity. The original Night of the Living Dead has been tarted up and turned out in much the same way.

But the MGM Midnight Movies imprint has a big catalog of Vincent Price's output from the 60's and 70's. They're bare bones releases but better than decent transfers. Stand outs include all the Corman films loosely adapting the stories of Edgar Allen Poe - usually keeping little more than the title, but frequently outrageously stylish gems. They range from the endearingly silly The Raven to the grimly sadistic Witchfinder General - originally titled 'The Conqueror Worm' after the poem to continue the Poe theme but of a very different school of film-making from the light weight drive in fare of most of Corman's output. Gems of the batch include the first film of the series The Fall of the House of Usher, The Pit and the Pendulum and The Tomb of Ligiea.

Also great are the elaborate revenge fantasies the two Doctor Phibes movies and Theater of Blood. Every elaborate, gory 'murder inventions' and 'one by one revenge' movie including Se7en and the increasingly witless and dreary Saw series has these three Vincent Price films in their lineage.

My absolute favorite from the Price Canon is the ultimate peak of the Corman Poe years The Masque of the Red Death. This was Corman's most ambitious film, with a brooding sinister script by Charles Beaumont and others that grafted the Poe stories Hop Toad and The Masque of the Red Death onto a story that recalls Sade's 120 Days of Sodom. Price is at the peak of his powers as the devilishly charming Satanist Prince Prospero lording over a castle full of slavish degenerate nobles as the Red Death ravages the countryside. His dialogue is witty and bubbling with sinister mirth as he conducts an elaborate seduction of his prisoner the beautiful and virtuous Francesca. His evil is all the more terrifying for the occasional flashes of the possibility of redemption he lets slip out from under his mask of cruelty and sadism. While the decadence and scheming goes on in the castle, Death in the form a soft voiced but utterly implacable hooded figure awaits outside for his hour to toll. Beautifully filmed, this lush exercise in elegant surrealism is one I can and do watch again and again.

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