Master of the Macabre

Master of the Macabre
"I sometimes feel that I'm impersonating the dark unconscious of the whole human race. I know this sounds sick, but I love it." - Vincent Price

Born in St. Louis, Missouri, Vincent Price possessed a passion for the arts at a young age. He further embraced it at Yale in art history and fine arts but it was not until the 1930s that he became interested in theater and performance. His first professional performance came in 1935 and a year later, his trip to Hollywood came. A talent scout spotted him in the supporting role of Prince Albert Victor, opposite Helen Hayes, in a theatrical production of "Victoria Regina." The studios saw in him a romantic supporting actor but as he developed his craft, Prince greatly admired charactor actors, especially Edward G. Robinson. He longed to be a character actor himself but his handsome physicality prevented him from playing such roles. He would play supporting romantic characters throughout the 1930s and 40s, but fate would have it differently. Price would soon play a multitude of characters that he his belovedly remembered for in the horror genre.

His first horror film was a supporting role alongside Boris Karloff in "Tower of London" (1939), followed by starring in "The Invisible Man Returns" (1940). He would reprise his role, at least vocally, as "Geoffrey Radcliff" in "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein" (1948).

In 1953, Price was cast in "House of Wax." In it, Price starred as Professor Henry Jarrod, a passionate wax figure sculptor working in a museum. After surviving a fire deliberately set by his business partner, the disfigured Jarrod creates a new exhibit - "Chamber of Horrors". But the real horror lies inside the wax-coated figures. Although director Andre de Toth was blind in one eye and did not understand the attention surrounding 3-D technology, "House of Wax" was one of the box office hits of that year. Five years later, Price would appear in another cult classic, "The Fly" (1958).

But it was not until 1960, when Price collaborated with director Roger Corman, that the actor became an icon of the horror genre. They produced a number of low-budget gothic films based on the stories of Edgar Allan Poe. Together, they brought the "House of Usher" (1960), "The Pit and the Pendulum" (1961), "The Raven" (1962) and "The Masque of the Red Death" (1964) to the silver screen. Throughout the 1960s, Price worked alongside Peter Torre, Boris Karloff and Basil Rathbone in creating memorable films filled with horror and macabre.

Price embraced these opportunities, taking particular thrill in playing villains. As he once commented, "It's as much fun to scare as to be scared."

More importantly, because of his dedication to the craft of acting, Price understood how to play a villain or as he put it, "The horror thriller offers the serious actor unique opportunities to test his ability to make the unbelievable believable."

By the 1970s and 80s, the horror genre became less about crafting a good store and more about gorey gimmicks. It was then that Price stepped away from film and focused on narration. Among other things, he appeared on Alice Cooper's "Welcome to My Nightmares" where he made a short speech about the black widow spider and also played "the spirit of the nightmare" in Cooper's 1975 television special, "Alice Cooper: The Nightmare." His classic velvet voice can also be heard in Michael Jackson's song, "Thriller." He also embraced television, as he appeared on the PBS series, "Mystery" for eight years.

It was in the early 90s that a quirky gothic-influenced director by the name of Tim Burton was able to meet his childhood idol while working as an apprentice animator for Disney. Burton was given the unique opportunity to direct his own short, "Vincent" and Price agreed to do the narration. Later, the Master of Macabre would say that the experience "was the most gratifying thing that ever happened. It was immortality, better than a star on Hollywood Boulevard."

It was only fitting that Price's last onscreen performance was as the inventor in Burton's "Edward Scissorhands" (1991). Burton and Price remained close friends until Price's death two years later.

In other avenues, Price was a noted gourmet chef in which he published serveral cookbooks and had a television cooking show, "Cooking Pricewise." He was also an avid art collector and donated his works of art to East Los Angeles College where the Vincent Price Art Museum is located on campus today. But Vincent Price will always remain, the Prince of Darkness, Master of the Macabre.

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