E.E. Burke's Halloween Special: Vincent Price Chiller Thrillers

I'm not a big fan of the  80's slasher movies, which my daughter loves. For me, the best horror movies were what some called the B-grade variety that played in my small hometown's theatre, to be aired years later on late-night television. The star I remember most from these movies usually played the villain, and oh, what a great villain he made! Whether he was playing it straight, being cheeky or even outright scary, he could produce delightful chills with his universally recognizable baritone voice.

Vincent Price once said: "I sometimes feel that I'm impersonating the dark unconscious of the whole human race. I know this sounds sick, but I love it!"

Not everything he was in could be a called a great movie, but when he was in fine form, there are few actors who can touch him for pure talent. Here are some of my favorites starring the king of thriller-chillers.


Eccentric millionaire Frederick Loren and his fourth wife have offered ten thousand dollars to five people if any one of them can survive the night locked in a large, haunted house he owns. What the guests don’t realize is, they’re not only trapped in there with each other and Loren, but with the ghosts of all the poor souls who died in that house.

This may not be Mr. Price's best performance, but you can't talk about Vincent Price and horror movies without mentioning it. This one put him in the collective consciousness of film-goers and also other directors embarking on making what we now consider "classic" horror movies. It's a great film to watch with the family for Halloween, with dark, macabre moments and even the silly stuff is highly entertaining. (Director William Castle, the king of gimmicks, had a skeleton fly over the audience in theatres where this movie first showed!) This movie is at the beginning of Mr. Price's career, and he plays it straight, rather than the signature cheeky swagger that defines his later work. But this film by William Castle captured the imagination of directors like Alfred Hickcock, who was inspired to take a shot at the genre, and Psycho was the result. 


This film was a big success for Warner Brothers. In it, Mr. Price plays a talented sculptor of historical wax figures whose business partner wants to bring in more money so sets the museum on fire. Years later, Price’s character has disfigured hands and can’t sculpt, so he uses a large deaf-mute man (Charles Bronson) to do be his hands for him. This movie has one of the best shock reveals ever put on film, and the inherent tragedy of Price’s character permeates the whole thing.

The HOUSE OF WAX set Vincent Price on the path to becoming a horror icon--at one time, he hoped to be a leading romance hero! I'm glad he stayed villainous! 


Is Usher's house cursed? 

This is the first of Price’s collaborations with director-producer Roger Corman based on the works of Edgar Allan Poe. In it, he shaved off his trademark mustache for this film and dyed his hair bright blonde to play Roderick Usher, the oldest male of the ill-fated family. He vehemently opposes his sister’s pending nuptials to a nice young man on the grounds that the Usher bloodline is cursed, and so they argue. While not an outright villain, we get that Usher would rather see his sister dead or demented than for her to leave the house. It’s a glorious version of Poe—and Price plays it for the drama and not for campy horror.


The Poe/Price/Corman cycle continued with this tale of a man who goes mad at the sight of his wife’s betrayal, making use of a crypt full of torture devices, including a large, swinging pendulum with a razor-sharp blade attached to it. 
Richard Matheson adapted THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM with the intention of only using the film’s namesakes within a completely different story. A bigger hit than the last, it began the trend at American International Pictures of using Poe story titles for their gothic horror movies, regardless of what the screenplays were actually about!


Another Poe-adapted tale with Mr. Price giving a darker performance, being an outright baddie rather than someone who was circumstantially villainous. This time around, he portrays a Satanic prince, hell-bent on forcibly acquiring a new member of his cult while attempting to destroy their counterpart, only to eventually receive his comeuppance in the end. Considered by many, including the director himself, to be the best in the Poe/Price/Corman cycle, with lush cinematography and terrific performances.

I can't sign off without one of my favorite music videos featuring Michael Jackson with Vincent Price as narrator.

What are some of your favorite horror films?

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  1. I tend to avoid horror films. They affect me dreadfully.

  2. Elisabeth, I am not a horror film fan, either, but I do love these old ones so much more than the slasher ones of today or those awful chain saw ones. UGH. I'm one of those people who can't get it out of my mind once I see it. So I know not to watch. The one horror film I did go see with my husband (we were dating) was THE OMEN. And I did see ROSEMARY'S BABY. I read the book of Rosemary's Baby, and oddly enough, I read a lot of Stephen King and thoroughly loved his early work--up to THE STAND. That was the pinnacle. So I guess I will READ some horror, but can't cope with the grisly visual effects. You had a lot of great movies mentioned in your blog post, and I did enjoy the clips!

  3. I don't like horror films as when i saw the Exorcist that was enough for me so I swore the night i went to see that it was the end of my being scared like that!

  4. I especially love "House of Wax" though it is not shown very often.

    Happy Halloween! cindyK