Tales of vampires have existed for millennia, but the idea of the vampire as we understand it today comes from late-17th and early-18th-century Europe where oral traditions told of vampires as revenants of evil beings, including suicides and witches, who preyed on the living.
Of course, the most famous vampire is Count Dracula the undead nobleman created by novelist Bram Stoker who spent seven years researching European folklore and vampire stories before writing one word of his classic tale. Yet Dracula was not the first fictional vampire: there had been Sheridan Le Fanu’s Camilla in 1871, which was the tale of a lesbian vampire who preyed on young women; before this James Malcolm’s Varney the Vampire (1847), a grisly “penny dreadful” that became a best-seller; and at the beginning was Vampyre, a story written by Doctor John Polidori during a madcap summer spent with Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary Shelley, which also inspired the creation of Frankenstein. That must have been one hell of a vacation.
Part of Dracula‘s great allure is the historical association with the bloody Transylvanian Vlad III Dracula of Wallachia or “Vlad the Impaler.” In the documentary Dracula the Great Undead, the ever-watchable Vincent Price traces the true story behind one of fiction’s greatest characters. As our host, Price is his usual charming self, and makes this documentary a delight to watch.
Vincent Price had a wicked sense of humor. The great actor often told tales of his sneaking into a local cinema that was screening one of his horror films. He would arrive towards the end of the film’s performance, seating himself behind some young, engrossed couple. Listening to their screams, he would wait until the final credits, before leaning forward and asking, “Did you enjoy that, my dears?”
The effect of unexpectedly hearing the Price’s voice, always made his victims scream for their lives.
This delectable bundle of film trailers was compiled for The Duke Mitchell Film Club’s Vincent Prince Night in June 2008. It certainly fulfills my idea of a perfect evening’s entertainment—a veritable, cinematic feast of Vincent Price movies, which includes:
Madhouse (1974) based on the novel (and one of my childhood favorites) Devil Day by Angus Hall (the villainous character partially inspired By Orson Welles and Aleister Crowley); the unforgettable…Laura (1944), with Gene Tierney and Dana Andrews; The Last Man On Earth (1964), an early version of the late Richard Matheson’s novel I Am Legend; The Bribe (1949), another Film Noir with Ava Gardner; Confessions Of An Opium Eater (1962), adapted from De Quincey’s novel; The Fall Of The House Of Usher (1960), Roger Corman’s classic telling of Poe’s story; His Kind Of Woman (1951), another supporting role, this time to Robert Mitchum and Jane Russell; More Dead Than Alive (1969), a rather disappointing western, though it does have its moments when Price is on screen; Theater Of Blood (1973), one of the actor’s greatest comic-horror films, co-starring Diana Rigg and an all-star cast of victims. And then of course, the adverts, and filler (provided by Pearl & Dean, Vincent and Kermit).
Admittedly, there is no Masque of Red Death, The Tingler, House on Haunted Hill, Comedy of Terrors or The Abominable Doctor Phibes, but what more could one ask for? Other than having Mr. Price tapping you on the shoulder and asking, “Did we enjoy that, my dears?”
Happy Birthday Sir Christopher Lee, actor, singer and cinematic icon, who celebrates his 91st birthday today.
I can still recall the fabulous thrill of seeing Lee’s performance as the gruesome “Creature” in The Curse of Frankenstein (1956), where he managed to make the brutally disfigured creation both pitiful and terrifying. He achieved greater success as the Count in Dracula (1958), a performance that established him as an international star. Lee made the role of Dracula his own by bringing a charm, sophistication, intelligence and sexual attraction to the role.
In both films, Lee played against his friend and colleague Peter Cushing (who would have been 100-years-old yesterday) and together they dominated the box-office from the late 1950s-to mid-1970s, with a range of classic Horror movies, including The Gorgon, Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors, The Skull, Scream and Scream Again, The House That Dripped Blood, Dracula 1972 A.D., Nothing But The NIght, The Creeping Flesh, and Horror Express.
Of course, there were also his solo turns with The Devil Rides Out, The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, The Wicker Man, The Three Musketeers and The Man With The Golden Gun.
But unlike Cushing, or Vincent Price (whose birthday is also celebrated today), Lee wanted to be more than just a Horror actor, and therefore moved to America in the 1970s, where his starred in a variety of films—some good, some not-so—which ranged from Airport ‘77, 1941 and Gremlins 2.
Most careers would have finished there, but not Lee’s. He return to form and greater success with roles in Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow (1999) and then the BBC TV-series Gormenghast (2000), all of which led onto Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy and episodes 2 and 3 of Star Wars.
At 91, Sir Christopher is making 2-to-3-films-a-year, and has just recorded and released a Heavy Metal album, Charlemagne: The Omens of Death.
Happy Birthday Sir Christopher and thanks for all the thrills!
Behind the scenes with Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing on ‘Dracula 1972 A.D.’
A preview of Christopher Lee’s heavy Metal album ‘Charlemagne: The Omens of Death’
Vincent Price started collecting Art at the age of 12.
‘It was just one of those things. I’d read so many books on Art that one day I walked into a little art store, downtown St. Louis—mainly a framing place—they were having an exhibition of Rembrandt etchings, and there was one that really took my fancy.
‘I said, “How much is it?” And the man said, “It’s thirty-seven dollars, and fifty-cents.”
‘Well, I had $5 in my pocket, so I said could I put that down on it? And he said, “Yes.” I think he knew my father was good for the other thirty-two dollars and fifty-cents.
‘I paid for it myself, and from it, I learned a tremendous amount about the importance of the ownership of Art. The importance of buying a recording, of owning a work of Art, so you could study it, and live with it, and make it really your own, rather than just a thing you pick-up at a cursory glance in a museum. And [Art collecting] lasted all my life.’
Alas, Mr. Price had to sell his Rembrandt when he was broke, but his love of Art and Art History never left him.
It was in London, while working as an Art Historian at the Courtauld Institute, that Mr. Price’s love of theater began. As the theater was cheap in London, he saw as many productions as he could, before taking the plunge. He quickly moved form bit part to lead, and was on Broadway by 23.
A fascinating, and thoroughly enjoyable interview, in which Vincent Price relishes discussing those things closest to his heart—Art and Acting. From the public access TV series Day at Night, April 1974.
A location report for Jim Clark’s 1974 film Madhouse, starring Vincent Price, Peter Cushing, Robert Quarry, Adrienne Corri and Linda Heyden. The film was very loosely based on Angus Hall’s pulp thriller Devilday, which told the story of a dissipated actor, Paul Toombes (Price) and his return to acting in a TV horror series about the evil Doctor Dis (Doctor Death in the film). Toombes was an obese, unrepentant, drug addicted and sexual predator, who dabbled in Black Magic, and is suspected of a series of brutal murders. Hall’s character owes something to Orson Welles and Aleister Crowley, and the book offered quite a few interesting plot lines the film never developed. Clark went on to edit Marathon Man, The Killing Fields, and The World is Not Enough, amongst many others. Madhouse was his last film as director.
Here director Clark talks about his admiration for the gods of film James Whale and Todd Browning, while Vincent Price and Peter Cushing talk about why ‘horror’ or ‘thrillers’ are so popular.
Close the door against the chill and draw yourself a little closer to the fire. There. Comfortable? Then we’ll begin…
Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it. And Scrooge’s name was good upon ‘Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to. Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.
Vincent Price hosts this short TV adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, starring Taylor Holmes as Ebeneezer Scrooge, Pat White as Bob Cratchit, and Earl Lee as the Ghost of Jacob Marley, directed by Arthur Pierson, from 1949.
O, Vincent Price - wasn’t he fab? He had this terrific ability to sound both menacing and amused at the same time. It was part of the reason why his performances were always so enjoyable to watch, he brought a dark humor to the most chilling of horror, as seen in Theater of Blood, Tales of Terror, or House on Haunted Hill. No matter how gruesome the thrill (pet dogs fed to their owner, a puppet skeleton scaring a victim into an acid bath), one instinctively knew that at heart Price was fun, guaranteed to always be good company. As can be seen from this short interview from French TV in 1986, where Mr Price talked about working with Roger Corman, Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre, Basil Rathbone, James Whale, reminiscing about past successes and unmitigated failures.
Two short clips from Irwin Allen’s The Story of Mankind (1957), a bizarre movie loosely based on the non-fiction book by Hendrik Willem van Loon.
The film tells of the trial of mankind by a council elders form outer space, who must decide whether humankind should be allowed to continue or be vaporized. For the defense, the dapper Ronald Colman as The Spirit of Man. For the prosecution, the camp Vincent Price as The Devil. The pair deliberate on the evidence, which is taken from key moments in human history, from Julius Ceaser to Christopher Columbus, Elizabeth I to Napoleon. You get the picture.
The cast was a Hollywood producer’s wet dream, which included Virginia Mayo as Cleopatra, Peter Lorre as Nero, Hedy Lamarr as Joan of Arc, Agnes Moorehead as Queen Elizabeth I, Harpo Marx as Isaac Newton and even Groucho Marx.
In the first clip, two very different acting styles come together, as Dennis Hopper presents his Method Napoleon, against Marie Windsor’s Hollywood Josephine. The two styles don’t quite gel, but Hopper’s speech about a “United States of Europe” is highly topical, considering French President Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s current ambitions.
The second clip has Harpo Marx as Isaac Newton discovering gravity and sliced apples with his harp.
Vincent Price is on sparkling form in An Evening With Edgar Allan Poe, in which the Master of Horror presents his unique interpretation of 4 tales by “the most original genius America has produced” - “The Tell-Tale Heart”, “The Sphinx”, “The Cask of Amontillado” and “The Pit and the Pendulum”. Directed by Kenneth Johnson, who later created the classic series V, this is a classic TV adaptation from 1970, capturing Price at his electrifying best.
New York-based artist Zach Bellissimo AKA Seizure Demon, drew 100 tiny portraits of Vincent Price in his various roles on Post-it notes in honor of what would have been Mr. Price’s 100th birthday (May 27th, 2011). I like the Dr. Phibes and Witchfinder General ones the best. January Q. Irontail was an unexpected choice!
Click here to see a larger image of Bellissimo’s work.
Michael Reeves was just twenty-three when he wrote and directed Witchfinder General. It would prove to be his most critically acclaimed and successful film, and would also be his last. For Reeves died not long after the film’s release from an accidental overdose - a tragic demise for a director of such immense talent, who had proven himself with three distinct horror films: Revenge of the Blood Beast, The Sorcerers and Witchfinder General (aka The Conqueror Worm).
Reeves’ precocious talent and early death led to a mythologizing of his life. The film writer David Pirie likened him to the Romantic poets Shelley, Byron and Keats, and as his death came at the end of the sixties, there was the inevitable twinning with the untimely deaths of troubled rock musicians, such as Jimi Hendrix and The Rolling Stones’ Brian Jones. Add to this the belief that Reeves may have killed himself, then we have the beginning of a cinematic legend - which is all good copy, but sadly removes the man from his art.
Reeves was precocious, he made his first film at the age of 8. Whether the resulting home-movie was good or bad is irrelevant, for what is important here is the realization of Reeves’ youthful ambition. At school he met and became friends with Ian Ogilvy, who went on to become an actor and star of all his films. From school, Reeves traveled to Hollywood at 16, where he door-stepped Don Siegel, director of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Siegel was Reeves’ favorite director, and let’s be frank, it takes balls to turn up at someone’s door and convince them, then and there, that they need to employ you. Siegel was convinced and gave Reeves a job as his assistant - now, there’s a lesson here we all can learn from. Working for Siegel gave Reeves the opportunity to make the contacts and raise the cash for his own first feature film, Revenge of the Blood Beast, which starred Ogilvy and horror queen Barbara Steele. The film was well regarded and if not exactly brilliant, it marked the arrival of a new and original cinematic vision, and as with all young film-makers, there was soon the predictable murmur of Reeves being the next Orson Welles. Nice thought, but not exactly correct.
Two years later, in 1967, Reeves made his first important horror film, The Sorcerers, a trippy slasher which starred Ogilvy and film legend, Boris Karloff, who was at a stage of making many strange and often dreadful films, but had this time, as he did later with Peter Bogdanovich’s Targets, made a wise choice by agreeing to star in Reeves’ film. While Post-Modernism has made it easy to intellectualize anything, it is fair to say that in this case there is enough meat on this film’s bones to justify a more rigorous examination. The Sorcerers is more than a horror film, it has a subtext about voyeurism and cinema, and questions the cultural obsession with youth. The movie, and especially Karloff’s association with it, propelled Reeves into the top rank of British film directors, which saw him listed as the-man-most-likely-to, alongside the older and more experienced film-makers Ken Russell, Lindsay Anderson and Ken Loach. Don’t forget, at this point, Reeves was just 22.
But it is Witchfinder General that is Reeves most important and best film, a grisly horror that starred Vincent Price, Ian Ogilvy, Rupert Davies, Hilary Dwyer and Patrick Wymark.
The film had depth as it was based on the true story of Matthew Hopkins, the self-appointed Witchfinder General, who carried out the torture and execution of alleged sorcerers/witches during the English Civil War, in the 1640s. Hopkins was a notorious figure who made a fortune out of his activities, being paid roughly two bucks for every soul he saved by hanging, burning or drowning.
Vincent Price was brilliant as Matthew Hopkins, for Reeves had coaxed a more measured performance from the usually “camp and hammy” film star. The story goes Price was so annoyed by Reeves continual directions to underplay that one day he turned on Reeves and said, “I have made 84 movies, how many have you made?” To which Reeves replied, “Two good ones.” Price laughed, and thereafter, did as he was told. Of course, this may be apocryphal for, as years later, Price talked about his unhappiness in working with Reeves:
Well he hated me. He didn’t want me at all for the part. He wanted some other actor, and he got me and that was it. I didn’t like him, either, and it was one of the first times in my life that I’ve been in a picture where really the director and I just clashed [twists his hands], like that. He didn’t know how to talk to actors, he hadn’t had the experience, or talked to enough of them, so all the actors on the picture had a very bad time. I knew though, that in a funny, uneducated sort of way, he was right in his desire for me to approach the part in a certain way. He wanted it very serious and straight, and he was right, but he just didn’t know how to communicate with actors.
Hindsight is a great thing, and Price has the upperhand here, able to score points after the director’s dead and the film has been highly praised. Whatever the disagreements between the two on set, Reeves got Price to deliver one of his best cinematic performances.
The film’s release captured the public’s imagination, as many saw Witchfinder General‘s barbarism as a damning comment on the Vietnam War. Despite criticisms of the film’s shocking, documentary-like violence, Witchfinder proved to be Reeves biggest commercial success.
Yet after it, Reeves seemed to lose his way. He became unraveled, started to drink heavily, medicated himself with uppers and downers, and started a slow spiral into depression. Those who were witness to this give different accounts: some, the strain of working with Vincent Price; others, a failed romance; others still, Reeves’ nihilism. When visiting the composer Paul Ferris in hospital, where Ferris was recuperating from his own failed suicide attempt, Reeves joked, which between the two would be first to succeed in killing himself?
In February 1969, Reeves returned home after a night’s drinking, and swallowed a handful of anti-depressants. Whether intentionally or not is open to conjecture, but what’s known is Reeves died in the early hours of the 11th February from an overdose of barbiturates - his death robbed British film, and the horror world, of one of its most brilliant and original talents.
Parts 2 & 3 on Michael Reeves plus bonus trailer after the jump…