Friday, 2 November 2007

Robert Goulet R.I.P.

Robert Goulet, the handsome baritone who appeared in everything from Broadway musicals to movies to commercials, died this past Tuesday, October 30. He had been diagnosed with interstitial pulmonary fibrosis and was waiting for a lung transplant. He was 73.

Goulet was born in Lawrence, Massachusetts to French Canadian family. Following his father's death, his mother and the family moved to Girouxville, Alberta, Canada and later Edmonton. In Edmonton he studied voice with Herbert G. Turner and Jean Létourneau (founders of the light opera of Edmonton). Goulet also became a radio announcer for CKUA in Edmonton. He graduated from Victoria Composite High School and attended Toronto's Royal Conservatory of Music on a scholarship. In 1952 he competed on the talent show Pick the Stars on CBC television. Goulet was a regular on the Canadian version of Howdy Doody, appearing as Trapper Pierre (for a time alongside William Shatner as Ranger Bob). From 1955 to 1959 he was one of the co-hosts on the Canadian series The Leslie Bell Singers.

It was in 1959 that there came the turning point in Goulet's career that would turn him into a star. He found himself cast as Lancelot in the Lerner and Loewe musical Camelot, opposite Richard Burton as Arthur and Julie Andrews as Guenevere. The musical opened in Toronto in October 1960 before playing in Boston for four weeks and then on Broadway. Goulet appeared in Camelot from October 1960 to January 1963.

As a Broadway star Goulet appeared regularly on television in the Sixties. He appeared on both The Jack Paar Programme and The Tonight Show with Jack Paar. He made many appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show. He also made appearances on The Jack Benny Programme, The Jerry Lewis Show, The Mike Douglas Show, The Joey Bishop Show, The Dean Martin Show, and The Hollywood Palace. He guest starred on the shows The Patty Duke Show, The Big Valley, and The Name of the Game. He appeared in television adaptations of Brigadoon and Kiss Me Kate. He also starred in the short lived 1966 World War II spy drama The Blue Light.

Goulet also had a film career in the Sixties. He was the voice of Jaune-Tom in the animated feature Gay Purr-ee, and appeared in the films Honeymoon Hotel, I'd Rather be Rich, and Underground. He also returned to Broadway in The Happy Time in 1968.

The Seventies saw Goulet's career in film slow down, although he appeared in many TV shows. He made guest appearances on Mission: Impossible, Laugh In, The Flip Wilson Show, The Tonight Show, The Merv Griffin Show, Cannon, Police Woman, and Love Boat. In 1980 he would appear in Atlantic City and in 1988 in Beetle Juice as Maxie Dean. He made guest appearances on Police Squad, Matt Houston, Murder She Wrote, and Fantasy Island. The Nineties saw Goulet appear in the films The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear and Mr. Wrong. He provided the singing voice for Wheezy the Penguin in Toy Story 2. He guest starred on the shows The New WKRP in Cincinnati, Boy Meets World, In the Heat of the Night, and Burke's Law. He also returned to Broadway in a revival of Camelot, this time as King Arthur.

The Naughts saw Goulet appear in the films The Last Producer and G-Men from Hell. He provided Mikey's singing voice on the series Recess. He guest starred on The Simpsons, TV Funhouse, Gary the Rat, Las Vegas, and The King of Queens. He also appeared in a very funny Emerald Nuts commercial as someone who plays pranks on unsuspecting office workers. He would appear on Broadway one last time in La Cage aux Folles.

Throughout his career, Robert Goulet recorded over 60 albums.

Later in his career Robert Goulet often parodied himself as the ultimate lounge singer. In truth, however, he was actually a very talented singer and a performer of considerable charm. It was his singing, as much as the writing talents of Lerner and Loewe, that established "If Ever I Leave You" from Camelot as a romantic standard. Aside from a voice that evoked the days of chivalry and love worth dying for, Goulet was a beloved performer because of a remarkable, often self effacing sense of humour. Not many singers of his era would have appeared in that Emerald Nuts advert or gust starred on The Simpsons. They certainly would not have parodied themselves as the ultimate lounge singer. In the end, Goulet was not the ultimate lounge singer, but a man with an impressive voice and considerable talent.

Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Happy Halloween 2007

Today is Halloween. Having written some pretty heavy duty, Halloween oriented posts the past few days, I thought I would take it easy today and post two bits of poetry suitable for the holiday. One is "Ulalume" by Edgar Allan Poe. The other is "Don't Fear the Reaper" by Buck Dharma of Blue Oyster Cult. So without further ado, here they are.

"Ulalume"
by Edgar Allen Poe

The skies they were ashen and sober;
The leaves they were crisped and sere -
The leaves they were withering and sere;
It was night in the lonesome October
Of my most immemorial year:
It was hard by the dim lake of Auber,
In the misty mid region of Weir -
It was down by the dank tarn of Auber,
In the ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir.

Here once, through and alley Titanic,
Of cypress, I roamed with my Soul -
Of cypress, with Psyche, my Soul.
These were days when my heart was volcanic
As the scoriac rivers that roll -
As the lavas that restlessly roll
Their sulphurous currents down Yaanek
In the ultimate climes of the pole -
That groan as they roll down Mount Yaanek
In the realms of the boreal pole.

Our talk had been serious and sober,
But our thoughts they were palsied and sere -
Our memories were treacherous and sere, -
For we knew not the month was October,
And we marked not the night of the year
(Ah, night of all nights in the year!) -
We noted not the dim lake of Auber
(Though once we had journeyed down here) -
Remembered not the dank tarn of Auber,
Nor the ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir.

And now, as the night was senescent
And star-dials pointed to morn -
As the star-dials hinted of morn -
At the end of our path a liquescent
And nebulous lustre was born,
Out of which a miraculous crescent
Arose with a duplicate horn -
Astarte's bediamonded crescent
Distinct with its duplicate horn.

And I said: "She is warmer than Dian;
She rolls through an ether of sighs -
She revels in a region of sighs:
She has seen that the tears are not dry on
These cheeks, where the worm never dies,
And has come past the stars of the Lion
To point us the path to the skies -
To the Lethean peace of the skies -
Come up, in despite of the Lion,
To shine on us with her bright eyes -
Come up through the lair of the Lion,
With love in her luminous eyes."

But Psyche, uplifting her finger,
Said: "Sadly this star I mistrust -
Her pallor I strangely mistrust:
Ah, hasten! -ah, let us not linger!
Ah, fly! -let us fly! -for we must."
In terror she spoke, letting sink her
Wings until they trailed in the dust -
In agony sobbed, letting sink her
Plumes till they trailed in the dust -
Till they sorrowfully trailed in the dust.

I replied: "This is nothing but dreaming:
Let us on by this tremulous light!
Let us bathe in this crystalline light!
Its Sybilic splendour is beaming
With Hope and in Beauty tonight! -
See! -it flickers up the sky through the night!
Ah, we safely may trust to its gleaming,
And be sure it will lead us aright -
We safely may trust to a gleaming,
That cannot but guide us aright,
Since it flickers up to Heaven through the night."

Thus I pacified Psyche and kissed her,
And tempted her out of her gloom -
And conquered her scruples and gloom;
And we passed to the end of the vista,
But were stopped by the door of a tomb -
By the door of a legended tomb;
And I said: "What is written, sweet sister,
On the door of this legended tomb?"
She replied: "Ulalume -Ulalume -
'Tis the vault of thy lost Ulalume!"

Then my heart it grew ashen and sober
As the leaves that were crisped and sere -
As the leaves that were withering and sere;
And I cried: "It was surely October
On this very night of last year
That I journeyed -I journeyed down here! -
That I brought a dread burden down here -
On this night of all nights in the year,
Ah, what demon hath tempted me here?
Well I know, now, this dim lake of Auber -
This misty mid region of Weir -
Well I know, now, this dank tarn of Auber,
This ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir."

"Don't Fear the Reaper"
by Donald "Buck Dharma" Roeser

All our times have come,
Here but now they're gone.
Seasons don't fear the reaper,
Nor do the wind, the sun or the rain.
We can be like they are...

Come on baby... Don't fear the Reaper,
Baby take my hand... Don't fear the Reaper,
We'll be able to fly... Don't fear the Reaper,
Baby I'm your man...

Valentine is done.
Here but now they're gone,
Romeo and Juliet,
Are together in eternity...
Romeo and Juliet

40,000 men and women everyday... Like Romeo and Juliet,
40,000 men and women everyday... Redefine happiness
Another 40,000 coming everyday...We can be like they are...

Come on baby... Don't fear the Reaper,
Baby take my hand... Don't fear the Reaper,
We'll be able to fly... Don't fear the Reaper,
Baby I'm your man...

Love of two is one.
Here but now they're gone.
Came the last night of sadness,
And it was clear she couldn't go on,
Then the door was open and the wind appeared,
The candles blew then disappeared,
The curtains flew then he appeared,
Saying don't be afraid

Come on baby... And she had no fear,
And she ran to him... Then they started to fly.
They looked backward and said goodbye.
She had become like they are.
She had taken his hand,
She had become like they are,

Come on baby...don't fear the reaper.

Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Dan Curtis, Television's Master of the Macabre

Most purveyors of the horror genre work in literature (Edgar Allan Poe, H. P. Lovecraft, Stephen King) or motion pictures (James Whale, Val Lewton, Guillermo del Toro), but there was one man who did most of his work in the horror as a television producer. That man was Dan Curtis, the man probably responsible for more hours of scary programming than any other.

Curtis did not start in television as a producer. Instead he began by selling syndicated programming for both NBC and MCA. When he did enter production, it was as the producer of golf programmes. Curtis created Challenge Golf for ABC and The CBS Match Play Golf Classic for CBS. His fortunes would change in 1965, however, when he created a produced a soap opera called Dark Shadows.

The inspiration for Dark Shadows were the Gothic romances so popular in book stores and drugstores at the time. Initially it was a rather straight forward Gothic soap opera, but it was not long before it took a turn into the supernatural. It began initially with the appearance of two ghosts on the show, who played no major role in any of the series' plot lines. It was on December 12, 1966 that Dark Shadows turned from Gothic romance to Gothic horror. On that day a story arc began concerning the return of one of the character's estranged wives. As it turns out, she was an entity called a phoenix--every 100 years she was reborn in fire. This plot line was only the beginning, as on March 22, 1967 would become a fully fledged Gothic horror series. It was on that day that the vampire Barnabas Collins made his first appearance.

Barnabas Collins soon became the show's most popular character. And Dark Shadows became something of a fad. It perhaps produced more merchandise than any soap opera before or since. There were Dark Shadows books, games, posters, and more. It even produced two major motion pictures (House of Dark Shadows and Night of Dark Shadows). The show's popularity perhaps rested with the fact that it explored territory which no other show with continuing characters had ever done before. In fact, it exploited every Gothic horror cliche there was. In addition to the vampire Barnabas Collins, werewolves, a Frankensteinian creation, witches, warlocks, ghosts, and even Lovecraftian entities appeared on the show. Sadly the fad eventually passed and Dark Shadows in the ratings. It went off the air on April 2, 1971.

Dark Shadows was only Dan Curtis' first venture into the horror genre, and it would not be his last. In 1968 he produced an adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde for the Canadian Broadcasting Company. It aired in the States on ABC. This adaptation starred Jack Palance as the unfortunate doctor and his less benevolent counterpart.

Curtis' next television project in the horror genre would also be his biggest success besides Dark Shadows. The television movie The Night Stalker (first aired in 1972) centred on tabloid reporter Carl Kolchak (Darin McGavin), who has the misfortune to cross paths with a vampire. The Night Stalker was based on an unpublished novel by Jeffrey Grant Rice, with a teleplay by writing legend Richard Matheson (one of many projects on which Curtis worked with the writer). At the time it was one of the most successful telefilms of all time. In fact, it was so successful that a sequel was even made and aired in 1973, The Night Strangler. In that film Kolchak faced off against a murderous immortal. Richard Matheson also wrote the teleplay. The two movies would provide the basis for the TV series Kolchak: the Night Stalker. Sadly, Curtis was not involved with the series and it retained little of the quality of the two movies.

Nineteen seventy three seems to have been a very active year for Curtis when it came to producing horror movies for television. One was The Invasion of Carol Enders involved a ghost taking possession of a living woman in order to expose her murderer. Curtis also produced a pilot for a TV series that never sold. The Norliss Tapes centred on investigative reporter David Norliss (played by Roy Thinnes) who uncovers a coven of vampires. Although it is well remembered, NBC did not buy it as a series.

Curtis's other projects that year were based on classic works of horror. One was a telefilm based on Bram Stoker's Dracula, perhaps one of his most famous television movies. Dracula featured Jack Palance as the famous vampire. In many respects it was more loyal than many major motion picture adaptations of the novel, including actual parts of the dialogue from the novel. It was among Curtis's most lavish productions, being shot in both England and Yugoslavia. His other film based on a classic horror work that year was an adaptation of Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray aired. It was also in 1973 that Dan Curtis produced an episode of the anthology Wide World of Mystery--Frankenstein Part I.

In 1974 Curtis ventured into the realm of werewolves. Scream of the Wolf centred a big game hunter tracking a murderous wolf who may or may not also be human. That same year Curtis produced a TV movie based on Henry James' Turn of the Screw. Like his version of Dracula it was more loyal to its source material than most movies. It was also critically acclaimed.

It was in 1975 that Dan Curtis produced one of his most popular TV movies, Trilogy of Terror. The film featured actress Karen Black in three different roles in three different stories. One concerned a student's unhealthy obsession to his teacher. Another centred around two sisters, one was good and another who was evil. The third involved an unfortunate woman terrorised by an African tribal object. In 1977 Curtis would produce another horror anthology movie. Dead of Night also told three stories. In one concerns a man who buys a car which can travel through time, with frightening results. Another centred on one of Curtis's favourite subjects, vampires. The third concerned a mother who asks that her drowned son be returned to life, learning all too well one should be careful what she wishes for.

That same year Dan Curtis produced the television movie Curse of the Black Widow. The film featured Anthony Franciosa hunting a killer who encases her male victims in silk cocoons. Sadly, Curse of the Black Widow would be the last time that Curtis would venture into the realm of horror with original material. The Eighties saw him produce such miniseries as War and Remembrance and The Winds of War.

When Curtis did venture back into the horror genre, it would be through his first work of horror, Dark Shadows. In 1990 Curtis produced a pilot for a new, primetime Dark Shadows. The series itself, placed in a Friday night death slot on NBC, only lasted a few months in 1991. In 2004 Curtis was the executive producer on another Dark Shadows movie, this one a pilot for a new show being considered by the WB. Sadly, the WB did not pick it up as a seires.

It is quite possible that Dan Curtis is responsible for more hours of horror programming than any other television producer in the history of the medium. At the very least he was the man behind what could be the two most famous horror TV shows of all time--he created and produced Dark Shadows and produced the TV movies that led to Kolchak: the Night Stalker. Many of the horror films that Dan Curtis produced for television are well remember to this day. The reasons for this is that Curtis tried to insure that every one of his telefilms were done with quality. Indeed, he worked with such writers as Richard Matheson, William F. Nolan, and Earl W. Wallace. The actors with whom worked with were among the best in the business: Darren McGavin, Jack Palance, and Karen Black among them. Dan Curtis was not simply a producer of horror TV movies, but a producer of good horror TV shows. He has had a lasting influence on individuals ranging from writer Stephen King to producer Joss Whedon. If horror TV shows such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Supernatural have met with success, it is largely due to Dan Curtis having paved the way.

Monday, 29 October 2007

Halloween Songs

Most holidays do not have very many songs associated with them. As an example, one can look no further than Thanksgiving. Can anyone name even one Thanksgiving song? And when one gets down to minor holidays such as President's Day or Labour Day, one might as well forget finding even one song associated with those holidays. Of course, there are exception, the big one being the Yuletide. There are probably millions of carols in existence, from ancient times to the present. July 4th (when patriotic tunes would seem to be fitting) and Valentine's Day (where love songs would seem to fill the bill) would also seem to be exceptions. Another exception could be Halloween. Quite simply, any song dealing with that which is frightening can be considered a Halloween song.

Of course, the song associated with the holiday is probably "Monster Mash." The song grew out of comedian and singer Bobby Pickett's uncanny imitation of Boris Karloff. A member of his band, The Cordials, suggested that Pickett use his Karloff impersonation in a song. The end result was "The Monster Mash." Released in October, 1962 and credited to Bobby "Boris" Pickett and The Cryptkickers, it was a smash hit that Halloween season. It has been associated with the holiday ever since.

Another song that could be fitting for Halloween is "I Put a Spell on You" by Screamin' Jay Hawkins. "I Put a Spell on You" was originally meant to be a blues love song. When it was being recorded, however, Hawkins and everyone present at the recording had a dinner of ribs and chicken. They also proceeded to get drunk. The result was not a blues love song, but an eerie tune in which Hawkins sounds positively demonic in claiming a woman as his. The song became a hit, even though many radio stations and even stores banned it outright. The bizarre nature of the song would also result in what may be the first shock rock performance, the forerunner of the stage antics of Alice Cooper, KISS, At performances, on a stage filled with smoke and artificial fog Screamin' Jay Hawkins would rise out of a coffin, wearing a long cape. The performance even featured a cigarette smoking skull named Henry.

Of course, when it comes to Halloween songs, Alice Cooper could well be the master. Indeed, Cooper's stage performances for much of his career drew largley from Gothic literature and old horror movies. At his concerts there would be guillotines, electric chairs, boa constrictors, and tons of fake blood. Naturally, Alice Cooper would record several songs with horror themes. In fact, he did an entire album, the concept album Welcome to My Nightmare,centred on the nightmares of a boy named Steven. That album featured what could be one of the best, all time Halloween songs, "The Black Widow." With opening narration by Vincent Price, the song concerns the domination of a certain arachnid over mankind. Welcome to My Nightmare may have been Cooper's crowning achievement in musical scariness, but it was not his last by a long shot. He recorded the theme song "Prince of Darkness" to the John Carpenter movie of the same name. On the same album featuring "Prince of Darkness," Raise Your Fist and Yell, Alice has a trilogy of songs based around a serial killer: "Chop, Chop, Chop," "Gail," and "Roses of White Lace."

Of course, Alice Cooper does not have a monopoly on Halloween. In fact, Blue Oyster Cult performed one of the all time great Halloween songs: "Don't Fear the Reaper." Because of references to Romeo and Juliet, the song has been misinterpreted as being about a suicide pact. In truth, according to Donald "Buck Dharma" Roeser, "Don't Fear the Reaper" is actually about how love transcends time. Indeed, it seems to me that anyone who has listened to the song's final stanza will know it is about something other than suicide. In the last stanza, in which the wind appears, candles blow and disappear, and the curtains fly, sounds more to me like a dead lover returning to claim the one he loves. In other words, "Don't Fear the Reaper" owes more to "Eleonora" than Romeo and Juliet It was Poe that Roeser was evoking, not Shakespeare.

"Don't Fear the Reaper" is not the only Blue Oyster Cult song fit for Halloween. One of their best songs, from the album Fire of Unknown Origin, describes what could be the most terrifying situation anyone could face--Joan Crawford rising from the grave in the song, appropriately titled, "Joan Crawford." Blue Oyster Cult has derived much of their inspiration from classic monster movies and horror literature, from "Nosferatu" and "Godzilla" off their album Spectres to "Tattoo Vampire" from Agents of Fortune.

Another heavy metal artist who has done his share of songs for the holiday is Rob Zombie, both as leader of White Zombie and by himself. Indeed, White Zombie took their name from the classic horror movie of the same name. Their very first EP, Gods on Voodoo Moon featured the song "King of Souls (which sounds as if it is about zombies being drawn from the grave)" On their album La Sexorcisto: Devil Music, Vol. 1 featured the song "I am Legend," based on the classic Richard Matheson horor novel. On their album Supersexy Swingin' Sounds they even turned the disco song into something frightening. As a solo artist Rob Zombie has gone even further into Halloween territory, recording such songs as "Dragula (about Grandpa Munster's race car)," "Living Dead Girl," and "American Witch." Of course, this is to be expected. Rob Zombie is openly a fan of the horror genre even directing three horror movies himself (House of 1000 Corpses, The Devil's Rejects, and a remake of Halloween).

Given its focus on gloom and doom, one would quite naturally expect some Halloween oriented music to emerge from the Goth movement. In fact, the prototypical Gothic band Bauhaus created one of the quintessential Halloween songs, "Bela Lugosi's Dead." The song describes the funeral of Bela Lugosi as if it was the funeral of his most famous role, Dracula. That other prototypical Gothic band, The Sisters of Mercy, all did their share of Halloween oriented songs. Indeed, the song "Ribbons," from their album Vision Thing, sounds as if it describing outright murder. Type O Negative, another one of the central bands of the Goth movement, did their share of scary songs Their song "Bloody Kisses (a Death in the Family)" sounds as if it is about two lovers united in death (the title even brings to mind vampirism).

Of course, there are many other songs out there that are fit for Halloween; "Bad Moon Rising" by Credence Clearwater Revival, "Werewolves of London" by Warren Zevon, "Season of the Witch" by Donovan, "Black Sabbath" by Black Sabbath (inspired by the movie of the same name), "Boris the Spider" by The Who, and nearly anything from the soundtracks of The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Nightmare Before Christmas. Indeed, it would seem that ultimately there are as many songs fit for Halloween as there are Yuletide carols.

Sunday, 28 October 2007

Vincent Price

One doesn't often think of Missouri when one thinks of the great actors of the horror genre. Boris Karloff, Christopher Lee, and Peter Cushing all hailed from England. Bela Lugosi came from Hungary. But Missouri can boast the one, truly great American horror actor. You see, Vincent Price was born in St. Louis on May 27, 1911.

Vincent Price was born into wealth. His grandfather, Vincent Clarence Price, had invented Dr. Price's Baking Powder, the world's first cream of tartar baking powder. His father, Vincent Leonard Price, founded the National Candy Company, Vincent Leonard Price Jr. was then born into wealth. He attended the St.Country Day School (a private school) and later attended Yale and the University of London. He became interested in drama in the early Thirties. By 1935 he made his first appearance on Broadway in Victoria Regina. While Price would continue to act on the stage, it would be his film career for which he would become known.

That having been said, Vincent Price did not start out as a horror actor. He made his film debut in the movie Service de Luxe in 1938. His early movie career consisted of a variety of roles, from Sir Walter Raleigh in The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex to Joseph Smith in Brigham Young. The first horror movie he appeared in was Universal's The Invisible Man Returns in 1940. Despite this, it would be some time before he would become best known as a horror actor. Throughout the Forties he appeared in such films as Laura, Dragonwyck, The Web, and The Three Musketeers. Beyond The Invisible Man Returns, about the only work in the horror genre he did was uncredited voice work as the Invisible Man in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.

It was with House of Wax in 1953 that Price made his first appearance in a horror movie in years. The film was a remake of Mystery of the Wax Museum from 1933. It was also the first film from a major studio to be shot in 3-D. The film proved to be a success, and Vincent Price would not stay away from the horror genre for long. In 1954 he appeared in The Mad Magician, a movie which is as much a horror film as it is a thriller. If there was movie which cinched Price's career as a horror actor, it was The Fly. Released in 1958, The Fly would become one of the few truly iconic horror movies. It was one of Twentieth Century Fox's biggest hits that year, grossing $3,000,000 in the United States alone. Here it should be pointed out that Price did not play the title role. It was David Hedison who would have the accident with the experimental teleportation device and thus become The Fly. But it was Vincent Price, as the unfortunate Ande Delambre's brother Francois, who arguably stole the show.

Following The Fly, Vincent Price regularly appeared in horror movies. In fact, 1959 would appear to have been the turning point in his career. That year alone he would make two notable appearances in films made by horror schlockmeister William Castle. The first would be one of his more famous horror movies, The House on Haunted Hill. In that film Price played the demented millionaire Frederick Loren, who offers five strangers a sum of $10,000 each if they can survive the night in a house which may be haunted. In Price's second film with William Castle, The Tingler, he played pathologist who discovers a parasite which feeds on the fear of its host (the tingler of a the title). In 1959 he also appeared in the disappointing sequel (at least in my opinion) to The Fly, Return of the Fly, and The Bat (a film about a crazed murderer of that name).

Although he continued to make other kinds of films, in the Sixties Vincent Price was first and foremost a horror movie actor. Much of this was due to Price's work with producer Roger Corman, appearing in his series of films based on Edgar Allan Poe. The first of these was House of Usher, released in 1960 and featuring Vincent Price in the title role as Roderick Usher. The film was essentially American International's response to the lavish horror movies being made by Hammer Films. It proved successful enough to spark a series of horror movies from American International based on the works of Edgar Allan Poe and most of which featured Vincent Price. The second of these was Pit and the Pendulum, based on the short story of the same name. It would be followed by Tales of Terror, based on three stories by Poe. Released in 1962 was what may be the best known of Corman's Edgar Allan Poe films, The Raven. The Raven was very loosely based on Poe's poem of the same name, and centred on a sorcerer who has been transformed into a raven who turns to another sorcerer for help. The film featured three of the biggest names in acting with regards to the horror genre--besides Price, Boris Karloff and Peter Lorre also appeared in the movie. The Masque of the Red Death and The Tomb of Ligeia would be the last of the Roger Corman movies based on the works of Edgar Allan Poe to appear, both being released in 1964. Of course, both featured Vincent Price.

During this time Price did not appear exclusively in horror movies based on the works of Poe. He also appeared in The Haunted Palace, another film from Roger Corman, based on H. P. Lovecraft's "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward (in fact, it was the first film adaptation of a Lovecraft work)." Price played Charles Dexter Ward, a man who falls victim to a long dead warlock. Price also appeared in Twice-Told Tales, based on the horror stories of Nathaniel Hawthorne, and The Comedy of Terrors, a horror comedy from Val Lewton alumnus Jacques Tourneur.

The mid to late Sixties saw the Gothic horror cycle began by Hammer Films come to an end. As a result Price mostly found himself guest starring on various TV series, ranging from Batman to Daniel Boone. This did not mean there were no horror films or that Vincent Price was absent from them. In fact, it was in 1968 that he appeared in one of his best horror movies--Witchfinder General. In that film Price appeared as Matthew Hopkins, the somewhat corrupt witchfinder general for Cromwell, based on the historical figure of the same name. Surprisingly, Price only received the role because United States distributor and co-financier American International wanted Price to play Hopkins. Director Michael Reeves had wanted Donald Pleasence in the part. In 1969 Price appeared in another movie based on the works on the works of Edgar Allan Poe, The Oblong Box. Unlike Price's earlier Poe films, The Oblong Box was not a product of Roger Corman. Instead, it was produced and directed by Gordon Hessler, director of such films as The Golden Voyage of Sinbad and Murders in the Rue Morgue. The Oblong Box is notable in teaming Vincent Price with another horror legend, Christopher Lee (famous for Hammer's Dracula films). Vincent Price would also appear in two more of Hessler's films, both in 1970: Scream and Scream Again and Cry of the Banshee.

By the Seventies, Vincent Price was a well established horror actor, as identified with the genre as Lon Chaney or Boris Karloff. He made several guest appearances on television during the decade, in shows ranging from The Snoop Sisters to The Love Boat. Among his most significant guest appearances in the decade were two on the horror anthology Night Gallery, one in which he played an insidious college professor ("The Class of '99") and another in which he played a sorcerer seeking to translate an ancient book ("Return of the Sorcerer"). Vincent Price would also lend his voice as the narrator of the Easter special Here Comes Peter Cottontail. Vincent Price also lent his voice to the opening narration to Alice Cooper's song "The Black Widow," from his album Welcome to My Nightmare. He also appeared in the television special, Alice Cooper: The Nightmare, based on the album, reprising his role as a museum curator who is overly fond of spiders belong to the genus Latrodectus.

In some respects, the Seventies may have been Price's best decade. While he did not work in film as often, he appeared in some of his most notable roles in the decade. Chief among these was the role of Dr. Anton Phibes, the scientist seeking to avenge his dead wife, in The Abominable Dr. Phibes released in 1971. The Abominable Dr. Phibes was another film from American International (although Roger Corman was gone from the company by now) and arguably one of the best horror movies they ever made. Price played Dr. Phibes, a somewhat sympathetic figure who blames the death of his wife on nine doctors. The film was starkly original, but at the same time evoked the atmosphere of American International's Edgar Allan Poe films and the classic Hammer Films. What is more, Price as Dr. Phibes was pitted against another great actor, Joseph Cotton, as Dr. Vesalius. The Abominable Dr. Phibes was followed by a sequel, Dr. Phibes Rises Again, in 1972.

Vincent Price would appear alongside two legendary British actors, Diana Rigg and Ian Hendry, in another one of his classic Seventies films, Theatre of Blood. The film centres on a Shakespearean actor and his daughter who exact bloody revenge on the critics whom he believes ruined his career. Like The Abominable Dr. Phibes, it features some of the most inventive means of murder ever filmed (in this case, drawn from Shakespeare's plays). Price would also appear alongside Peter Cushing in the film Madhouse, playing a horror actor who suffers a nervous breakdown. Sadly, the film was a bit of a disappointment, especially given its stars.

Sadly, the mid-Seventies would see a shift away from the sort of Gothic horror movies for which Price was best known. To a degree Price's later career resembled his earlier career, as he increasingly appeared in movies of other genres. While this certainly was a good thing--Vincent Price was such a great actor that it is a shame he was limited to horror roles for many years--it was also sad in that it denied horror fans one of their favourite performers. From the late Seventies into the Nineties, Price appeared in such varied films as Percy's Progress, Scavenger Hunt, and The Whales of August.

Of course, being so well identified with the genre, Price was not absent from horror films or from films with horror overtones. In 1979 he appeared with legendary horror actor John Carradine in the comedy The Monster Club. Although it is not up to par in none of their classics, Vincent Price would appear alongside Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, and John Carradine in House of the Long Shadows, It is one of the few times that stars from the classic horror films of American International, Hammer Films, and Universal Pictures all appeared together. Price would also appear in the horror anthology The Offspring and the horror/action comedy Dead Heat. In his later career, however, his most notable roles would come courtesy of director Tim Burton. An unabashed fan of Price, Tim Burton created the classic, animated short Vincent as an homage to the actor. Vincent Price provided the narration for the film. He would also appear in the role of The Inventor, the man who creates Edward Scissorhands, in Burton's film Edward Scissorhands. It was one of the actor's best roles, both touching and poetic, and a good one to end his career upon. Sadly, Vincent Price died just three years after the film's release, on October 25, only a few days before Halloween.

Even in a field which includes such heavyweights as Boris Karloff, Christopher Lee, and Peter Cushing, Vincent Price ranks among the greatest horror actors of all time. Price's polished, urbane demeanour belied the fact that he could play a multiplicity of roles convincingly. He could be a mad doctor lusting for revenge, as in Dr. Phibes, a corrupt Witchfinder General in the movie of the same name, an unsuspecting victim, Charles Dexter Ward, in The Haunted Palace, or the kind hearted, fatherly figure in Edward Scissorhands. Like Karloff before him, Price had a gift for humour, his incredible voice lending a half serious, half comic approach to projects ranging from Alice Cooper's "Black Widow" to Tim Burton's Vincent.

Despite all the revenge obsessed madmen, homicidal maniacs, and evil sorcerers Price played in his career, the role of the fatherly Inventor in Edward Scissorhands seems to me to have been closest to Price in real life. To wit, even though he had been educated in England, played on Broadway, and starred in Hollywood movies, Vincent Price never forgot the state in which he had been born. Price had been neighbours with Northeast Missouri State University President Charles McClain, and as a favour to him, every year he would travel to Kirksville to perform and talk with the students. My brother had the opportunity to meet him, but didn't because of an abscessed tooth (a fact which I have never let him live down--I would have gone, regardless of my health...). Many of my friends who attended Northeast did meet him (he even autographed a copy of Welcome to My Nightmare for one of my friends). And in every case they used the same word of him--he was an absolute gentlemen. In an industry where oversized egos and selfishness often seems to be the norm, Vincent Price was a rarity. He was not only extremely talented, urbane, and sophisticated, but he was one of the kindest, sweetest, gentlest men to ever appear on screen. I think he did the State of Missouri proud.