5. The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971)
One of the most distinctive things about a Vincent Price performance is his voice. That instantly recognizable, eerie drawl earned him an impressive array of voice-over work, least of all the opening monologue on Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” Let’s put it this way: there’s a reason the man has a Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album. Enter: the devious machinations of director Robert Fuest, who, in 1971, made one of the most bananapants horror comedies of all time with a devilish twist: a (nearly) silent Vincent Price.
The Abominable Dr. Phibes tells the tale of a famous organist who is disfigured in a car accident while rushing to the side of his ailing wife. When the supposedly dead Dr. Phibes learns that the love of his life died in surgery, he does the only sane thing possible: devise a series of death traps for the doctors involved themed around the Ten Plagues of Egypt. Look, sanity is a relative term. Delightfully campy, perhaps especially so due to his predominantly silent performance, no one could pull off Phibes’ rage, creativity, and…. organ playing quite like Vincent. I don’t know what to tell you except that there’s a special place in horror heaven for “movies where Vincent Price’s face is a mask, actually.” (Meg Shields)
4. House of Wax (1953)
Staying true to your art is impossible in this capitalist climate. Price’s Professor Henry Jarrod wants to make history come alive for the guests who visit his wax museum, putting obsessive detail into his replicas of Marie Antoinette, Joan of Arc, and John Wilkes Booth, but his wretched business partner demands more sensational fare. A conflict between the two results in fire, disfigurement, and revenge. House of Wax is another Price picture that places its audience into the shoes of a psychotic madman, and as usual, they discover that they fit snugly on their feet. Jarrod is a maniac, but one born from recognizable torment, especially to anyone in the crowd who has longed to curate their passion for others. (Brad Gullicksokn)
3. The Conqueror Worm (1968)
Those who aren’t super familiar with the actual films of Vincent Price are still surely acquainted with the persona of Vincent Price. Considering the actor’s distinct tone and mannerisms have been so widely parodied over the years, it’s understandable that some assume his films are cartoonishly spooky romps, and indeed this assumption is sometimes correct. But not here. The Conqueror Worm, also released as Witchfinder General, is a loosely adapted historical tale of Matthew Hopkins (Price), a lawyer intent on punishing anyone accused of witchcraft with methods that are uniquely sadistic. Expertly directed by Michael Reeves on an impressively low-budget, The Conqueror Worm is a stomach-churning and bleak film about the lengths people will go to to be cruel to others. And while Price is excellent, he’s far from the lovably macabre icon that we know him to be. (Anna Swanson)
2. Theatre of Blood (1973)
As an actor, I’ve never wanted to kill a critic. That’s not to say I didn’t get my fair share of bad reviews; it’s just that the critical consensus was always less important to me than the immediacy of an audiences’ reaction. Getting upset about one person’s opinion was a waste of time and emotional energy that could be placed on something else, like, I don’t know, concocting a multilayered plan to knock off shitty critics one-by-one like Vincent Price does in Theatre of Blood.
It’s the type of high-antics gimmick that makes this era of British Horror so much fun. Douglas Hickox’s movie manages to toe the line between silly garishness and B-movie thrills and does it marvelously through Price’s always-fully-committed performance. That we get Diana Rigg in full hippie facial hair is just icing on the cake. Strange, funny, and surprisingly bloody, Theatre of Blood is a perfect entry point for someone looking to understand just why Vincent Price was all he was cracked up to be. (Jacob Trussell)
1. Masque of the Red Death
Death has no master. It’s a hard lesson learned by Price’s Prince Prospero, a repulsive hedonist who’s devoted his life to serving Satan. As you’ve already taken a tour through the actor’s filmography, you know that Price has played many heinous individuals, but his Prospero is easily his most gluttonously diabolical. And it takes the film’s entire runtime before his wicked ways are richly and lavishly rewarded with a nasty blood-red oblivion.
The Masque of the Red Death is a sumptuous visual feast, clearly the best offering from the Price/Corman/Poe cycle, with special thanks to cinematographer Nicolas Roeg. Obviously shot on the cheap, like many Price pieces, and all Corman efforts, the film ignores its shortcomings and reaches for grand comeuppance. Corman was notoriously frustrated with the final result, feeling like he needed more time to shoot the film into brilliance, but what we’re left with is a deeply satisfying takedown of one of cinema’s most foul protagonists. (Brad Gullickson)
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