In a career that spanned seven decades, Vincent Price was synonymous with ghoulish horror. We’ve gathered a list that best encapsulates the many facets of Price’s horror capabilities.
Whether you’re familiar with Vincent Price’s work or not, now is the perfect time to dip into some ghoulish delight with a true master of terror-iffic fun (Price would hopefully approve of the pun). It’s by no means an exhaustive collection of films but one we hope will act as a springboard for anyone looking for good, scary time.
He inflicted terror and danced macabre on movie screens around the world. Though situations may have gotten a little bloody, he was never without a twinkle in his eye, like he was letting you in on the fun and absurdity. Price made his screen debut in 1938 and continued on with small supporting roles in such classics as The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, Leave Her To Heaven and Laura before dipping his toes into more villainous roles in genre films such as the 1940 sequel The Invisible Man Returns and classic horror adaptations of Tower Of London and The House Of Seven Gables (later going on to star in remakes of both films during the sixties).
Not only was this man an accomplished movie star with over a hundred film credits to his name, but was regularly seen on stage, TV and radio. He also happened to be a connoisseur of fine art, sculpture, furniture, and cooking, even going on to write and teach courses on his many hobbies. If that wasn’t enough, he staunchly defended his daughter, when she came out as gay and was critical of anti-gay campaigns in the 1970s. During a live radio broadcast, he denounced racial and religious prejudice stating they were un-American and poisonous to society. Although his career ran the gamut of genres like film noir, drama, mystery, sci-fi, and comedy, he will forever be known as a horror icon.
From his first acting gig in 1938 to one of his final appearances over fifty years later in 1991’s modern classic Edward Scissorhands, Price was a constant face to a lifetime of horror fans. Let’s get to it, it’s time to celebrate the one and only Vincent Price with a chronological list of some of his best horror films:
Playing a tyrannical villain, this was an early performance in Price’s horror repertoire. Better classified as a Gothic thriller, the movie lands the first spot on the list as the best example of Price’s ability to lend an air of style and respectability to his villains. Even when it is revealed that his character is a drug addict that has slowly been killing his own mother, you can’t help but be enthralled and even sympathetic to his faults (even with the beautiful Gene Tierney as his co-star). The film has the reputation of being one of the many inspirations for Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak, a movie that shares, and homages, aspects of stories such as Dragonwyck, Jane Eyre, and Rebecca.
House Of Wax (1956)
The film that forever tied Vincent Price to horror movies, House Of Wax renewed audiences’ interest in horror and tied Price to the collective conscious of movie goers. Filmed in a new 3D process, the movie still holds up for being a briskly paced horror thriller with a great sense of humor and macabre iconography. Price plays a mad artist that dips his victims in boiling wax and displays them him in new, very popular, Wax Museum. The movie has a young Charles Bronson playing an “Igor type” mute brute. Though it may be a little hokey by today’s standards, this is the film that created the persona of Vincent Price; one he honed and perfected for the rest of his career: The mad man with a twinkle in his eye. It’s all good fun.
The Fly (1958)
Price co-stars as the brother of a scientist who, while conducting experiments in matter transference, melds his DNA with that of a common house fly. The movie is a hybrid of fifties paranoia, domestic drama and sci-fi horror. Most of the story follows Patricia Owens’ character as she tries to convince police that her now dead husband was not who he once was. Price and a police inspector, played by Herbert Marshall, begin to believe Owens’ as they seek out this house fly that may or may not still house part of her husband’s humanity. The film is grim, even by today’s’ standards, and the ending is still stark and shocking as when it first premiered (if you don’t count the obligatory happy ending the studio had tagged on after production wrapped). Without this film, we would never have gotten the superior Cronenberg remake from 1986 starring Jeff Goldblum and Gena Davis. A classic in its own right.
House On Haunted Hill (1959)
William Castle utilized showman gimmicks to shock and entertain audiences before they could spread word-of-mouth about the actual quality his films were clearly lacking. That didn’t matter for Vincent Price, he shot back-to-back chillers for the director because he recognized the fun to be had in playing such cads. The Tingler and House On Haunted Hill were both small-budget schlock fests that relied on younger viewers to shake up a theater with halfhearted screams and full-bloodied laughs. Whatever you may say of the film some 50 years later, it’s hard to not smile when Price is on screen. Never one to just phone in a performance, Price squeezed every inch of fun out of the script. At this point, he had more or less perfected his on-screen persona and knew that his presence was enough for audiences to recognize just what kind of film they were about to see. Geoffrey Rush couldn’t help but pay homage to him in the remake, even down to the pencil mustache.
Pit And The Pendulum (1961)
We could have an entire list ranking all of the Price/Corman/Poe pictures, but we ultimately had to settle on only two. Though Fall Of The House Of Usher was the first (and probably contains one of Price’s most iconic performances) it’s the addition of scream queen Barbara Steele in Pit that sets this one apart. Just coming off of Mario Bava’s incredible Black Sunday the year before, Steele returned state-side to co-star with John Kerr and Vincent Price in one of Edgar Allen Poe’s most famous works. The end result is nothing more than stunning period horror. Still a B-movie at heart; the budget constraints, though modest, are used to dizzily effective heights. The last third of the movie allows Price to really let loose; contorting his body and elevating his voice with equal parts camp and bravado.
The Last Man On Earth (1964)
Filmed in Rome, Price returned to the world of contemporary horror with an adaptation of Richard Matheson’s perennial classic, I Am Legend. Though Matheson was said to be dissatisfied with the adaptation, the film still holds a curiously hypnotic spell, even to this day. Price inhabits the first half of the movie almost all by himself; having to perform without much dialogue or exposition. Though flashbacks are included in order to offer up character development and explanations, the film’s stark black and white cinematography, desolate and abandoned locations in a foreign county (standing in for somewhere in the United States), and Price’s lonely performance make this a must for sci-fi and horror fans alike. Give it a try, and compare it to later versions of Matheson’s story like Charlton Heston’s The Omega Man and Will Smith’s I Am Legend.
The Masque Of The Red Death (1964)
Perhaps the best movie Roger Corman ever made, The Masque Of The Red Death contains a venomous performance from Price as Prince Prospero, a tyrannical villain that plays sadistic games with the nobles and prisoners he holds-up in his castle while waiting out the Red Death. If you had to choose one Vincent Price film to solidify him as the most memorable master of the macabre it would this Corman picture. A gorgeously shot (the cinematographer was a young Nicolas Roeg) Gothic horror film that contains satanism, suspenseful duels and outrageous costumes and lighting. The finale is truly a tour de force of fluid camera moves, cathartic revelations and surreal style.
Witchfinder General (1968)
Here is a film that has only grown in stature over the years. Originally reviled due to its stark violence and overt sexual nature, Witchfinder General may contain one of Price’s most vicious and straight-forward performances. Playing real life witch-hunter Matthew Hopkins as he terrorizes the English country side with abhorrent tests to weed out witchcraft and sorcery, Witchfinder General was released in the United States with the title The Conqueror Worm in order to capitalize on Price’s relationship with Edgar Allan Poe stories. The studios were looking to profit off of audiences who thought Price was starring in another Corman-esque Poe picture. Boy, were they in for something different. The onscreen torture, violence and sadistic nature of the film were considered incredibly controversial at the time, but the lasting power of what Michael Reeves accomplished with his vision of a very real, very terrifying time and place is truly wondrous. Reeves died at the age of 25 so it’s impossible to tell where his career may have gone after this but Price knew, only after seeing the finished film, what it is Reeves was going for…jarring our expectations pushing the extremes of what we thought Vincent Price-The Actor-was capable of.
The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971)
Upon first viewing, The Abominable Dr. Phibes comes across as relatively odd yet unmistakably weird. Subsequent viewings reveal a film that is at once beautifully constructed, never boring and expertly framed. Vincent Price shines in one of his most iconic roles, more so because he performs all his spoken lines without the use of his mouth. Phibes is a madman out for revenge by way of biblical punishments (locust, toads, rashes, among others) and each segment is constructed with finesse and dark humor anchored by Price’s inimitable presence. The film’s many set pieces are as much pop-art as they are B-movie horror, and The Abominable Dr. Phibes deserves to be on any list of Price’s greatest horror movies.
Theatre Of Blood (1973)
Continuing on in the tradition of Dr. Phibes, Price filmed another themed-murder horror comedy with none other than Olenna Tyrell herself, Diana Rigg. It was reported later on in his career that Vincent Price thought Theatre of Blood to be his best film. That alone should make it of interest to horror fans looking for something new or different on Halloween. Price plays a vengeful actor by the name of Edward Lionheart (Rigg: his daughter, Edwina) who commits suicide on the Thames only to survive and reek horrible havoc against the critics that scorned him. It gave Price the opportunity to recite some of Shakespeare’s most famous speeches (the high-art he loved so much) with the humorous macabre of the horror movies he was so famous for.
The Baron Of Arizona (1950)
The Baron Of Arizona may contain the best performance of Price’s career, and for that we add it as a bonus to this list. Playing notorious swindler James Reavis, Price lights up the screen in a true-to-life tale of a man who falsified claims that he was the true owner of the territory of Arizona during the late 19th century. The film follows Reavis as he forges documents, marries off a young woman he claims is his daughter and coerces an entire region into believing he is the Baron of Arizona. You won’t find many performances in Price’s repertoire that are as strong as this. Directed by pulp-master Sam Fuller and photographed by the legendary James Wong Howe, this is a treat to seek out.
Finally, no good Vincent Price retrospective is complete without one of his lasting contributions to pop culture…that of the narrator to Michael Jackson’s perennial pop classic, Thriller. It’s Halloween, so you know you’re going to have to see or hear it at least once:
Sources: MGM, Criterion Collection,
20th Century Fox, YouTube, Sony Music