Nearly 31 years ago, I had the privilege of meeting and interviewing Vincent Price for my high school newspaper. Last weekend, I travelled to St. Louis to celebrate what would have been his 100th birthday, with a weekend full of screenings, exhibits and plays. Those of you following our Facebook page saw event-by-event highlights, but what follows is my full report.
Vincentennial, as this celebration is known, is the brainchild of Tom Stockman, a St. Louis resident and long-time Vincent Price fan. Cinema St. Louis, with many other sponsors, helped him plan and finance the 10-day film festival as well as its other events. One of these events was something Stockman insisted upon from the beginning: The Vincent Price Exhibit (at the Sheldon Galleries through August 6).
This exhibit has something for everyone. Half the space contains items from Vincent Price’s family and childhood as well as memorabilia from his early career on stage and screen. There are photographs and letters… Price’s baby book and high school yearbook… Theater programs and posters… It is a comprehensive and impressive collection generously loaned to Vincentennial by a handful of Price “enthusiasts” from around the country.
One such enthusiast is Rick Squires, who took a small group through a one-hour walking tour of the exhibit. I thought I was a collector, but take one look at Rick’s website (http://www.angelfire.com/film/rdsquires) and you’ll see that I’m a mere amateur. For one of his birthday’s growing up, Rick’s parents gave him an original 1-sheet from Vincent Price’s first movie, Service de Luxe (1938). In fact, his mother enabled his hobby, helping him amass a Price-less (pun intended) collection over the years.
The second half of the space at the Sheldon Galleries is devoted to Vincent Price’s career in horror. The long, narrow room is full of movie posters, photographs, monster magazines, models and toys. The highlight is undoubtedly the life-size figures of Dr. Phibes and Professor Jarrod (House of Wax, 1953), the latter sporting the actual clothes that Price wore in the classic film.
On Friday night I attended the Magic Smoking Monkey Theatre’s presentation of their hilarious play, “The Abominable Dr. Phibes… in 3D!”, at the Regional Arts Commission. You wouldn’t have to be familiar with the movie to enjoy the play, but it sure helps you understand every laugh, of which there are plenty. While spoofing Phibes threatens to expose how silly the movie really is, it’s still good fun, a loving mash-up of Monty Python meets Vincent Price.
Even more fun was the screening of The Tingler (1959) at the Hi-Pointe Theater Friday night after the play. Designed as a tribute to not only Vincent Price, but also director William Castle, famous for his theatrical gimmicks, “Team Tingler” surprised the audience with the live appearance of Emergo (the skeleton from House on Haunted Hill, 1959). And when the Tingler was loose in the theater onscreen, we also suffered an attack in our audience… Ushers shined their flashlights crazily and one man stood screaming, the Tingler around his neck.
Each screening was introduced by a special guest, who followed the movie with a Q&A session. For The Tingler, it was Bruce Goldstein from Film Forum. He joked about how he has studied and written about many classics and art films, but is always asked to travel worldwide to introduce… The Tingler. All joking aside, he (and the audience) obviously love this movie that no one believes is really very good. When grilled about a plot inconsistency, Goldstein asked, “You’re expecting logic from The Tingler?!?”
- The Tingler was the first movie to feature a new drug that was not yet unlawful: LSD.
- Vincent Price once brought Salvador Dali with him to a Sears in Rochester, New York. (Price was once employed by the retailer to help make art accessible to the general public by selling it through their stores.)
- The movie theater in The Tingler was based on a real theater in Los Angeles that showed silent movies in the 50’s after the advent of “talkies”.
- There was a different version of The Tingler shown at drive-in theaters.
Some screenings also had recorded messages and tributes shown at the end of the movies. Following The Tingler, director Joe Dante (Gremlins, 1984) talked lovingly about William Castle. (Dante directed Matinee in 1993 with John Goodman as a Castle-like showman.)
On Saturday morning, I visited an awesome comic/book shop called Star Clipper in the Delmar Loop. In the back of the store is an art gallery with an exhibit of artwork featuring Vincent Price and his various personas. Many of these have been covers for the “Vincent Price Presents” comic book published monthly by Bluewater Comics, but also on display is a vintage Price comic with the AIP (American International Pictures) logo in the corner. (The exhibit remains on display until June 29.)
Across the street from Star Clipper, Vincent Price has his star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame, the city’s smaller version of Hollywood’s famous Walk of Fame.
I spent most of the day Saturday at the Hi-Pointe enjoying a marathon of screenings. First up was Theater of Blood (1973) introduced by Rick Squires. This was supposedly Vincent Price’s favorite of his horror movies, maybe in part due to the fact that he met his 2nd wife, Coral Browne, during the filming of the cemetery scene.
- The score for Theater of Blood is beautiful and atypical for a horror film. Composer Michael J. Lewis had no interest in doing it, but was given free reign to do what he wanted.
- Near the time the Vincent Price died, a remake was announced starring Robin Williams. It never materialized (thank goodness), but a London musical did take stage.
- The plot is very similar to that of The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971). Apparently, Phibes was such a hit in London that all the great British actors of the time wanted to be in a Phibes movie. Obviously, that didn’t happen exactly, but the formula remained the same.
- Built in 1906, the Putney Hippodrome, which was scheduled for demolition, was used as the abandoned theater in Theater of Blood.
Next was Pit & the Pendulum (1961), preceded by actor John Contini’s “homage” to Vincent Price in the form of his dramatic reading, in character, of Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven”, and followed by Q&A with author Jonathan Malcolm Lampley (“Women in the Horror Films of Vincent Price”). Loosely based on Poe, as are all of Roger Corman’s Vincent Price films of this time period, Lampley called Pit & the Pendulum “a very kinky film”.
- Floyd Crosby, the cinematographer in many of Corman’s films, was the father of singer David Crosby.
- The plot of Pit & the Pendulum is nearly the same as that of House on Haunted Hill.
The highlight of the day, if not of all Vincentennial, was the appearance of legendary producer/director Roger Corman during Saturday night’s screening of The Tomb of Ligeia (1964). Prior to the movie, Corman participated in a 45-minute interview with Video Watchdog editor, Tim Lucas.
- Corman relayed how Vincent Price was very generous about working with young actors. On the set of The Raven (1963), he mentored the actor playing Peter Lorre’s son: Jack Nicholson.
- Corman stated that he believes Mario Bava is one of our greatest horror directors and that he was a huge influence on him for the Poe films.
- Corman thought Price was a little old for The Tomb of Ligeia and would have case Ray Milland. However, he did not argue when AIP insisted on Price.
- Corman grew weary of the Poe films and in an attempt to do something different for the last one (The Tomb of Ligeia), he shot actual exteriors with natural sunlight.
- When asked if he was influenced by Britain’s Hammer Films, Corman claimed he had never seen any of them until several years after making his last Poe film.
Although Vincentennial continues through May 28, life goes on and I had to return home on Sunday, missing (among other things) the presentation of a lifetime achievement award to Roger Corman during a Sunday night screening of his favorite Poe/Price film, The Masque of the Red Death (1964). But I hope to return for its conclusion, and if any of you are in St. Louis, don’t miss:
- 10:00, Thursday, May 26 at The Way Out Club (2525 Jefferson Ave.) – Super-8 Vincent Price Movie Madness
- 2:00, Friday, May 27 at The Sheldon Galleries (3648 Washington Blvd.) – Walking Tour of The Vincent Price Exhibit
- 7:00, Friday, May 27 at The Missouri History Museum in Forest Park – The Vincent Price Legacy: Reflections from a Daughter (multi-media presentation featuring Victoria Price)
- 8:30, Saturday, May 28 at The Muny in Forest Park, Bank of America Pavilion – Outdoor screening of Edward Scissorhands (with “surprises”)
For full details, visit www.vincentennial.com.
I have to close with mention that it would be inappropriate to “review” any of the movies I saw, some for the first time, during Vincentennial. But I do want to point out that, as I was reminded by watching so many back-to-back, there is not a “typical” Vincent Price performance. In each and every role, he completely inhabits the body and mind of a different character. I had forgotten that he was not just a great horror icon, but also a great actor. And he made many other kinds of movies, too. If you weren’t able to participate in the St. Louis festivities, I encourage you to watch at least one Vincent Price movie this week to celebrate his birthday. You’ll be glad you did.