Perhaps one of the most iconic masters of early horror, right up there with Sir Christopher Lee and Bela Lugosi, Vincent Price remains a powerful and exuberant presence for every new generation of movie-goers. Born in St. Louis, Missouri, and spanning a career of seven decades, Price brought a new sophistication to the genre Americans weren’t so used to seeing. Using British sensibilities, a magnetic stage personality, and a deep, powerful voice, his legacy will forever be entrenched to the ’60s and ’70s, starring in what amounts to dozens of Roger Corman productions, that not only introduced audiences to more macabre and unsettling stories and images, but ushered in a new era of experimentation. Here are his most iconic roles.

5 The Monster Club (1981)


A campier and tamer picture than his previous work, Price steals the show with just how much fun he appears to be having. Playing a starving vampire named Erasmus, The Monster Club uses a more Scooby-Doo approach to its depiction of monsters, showing them as goofy and entertaining characters, looking for entertainment and avoiding trouble as much as possible. Instead of murdering his victims, he introduces them to a secret underground club, where similar beasts and monsters roam around with the simple purpose of having a good time.

The film divides its story into segments as told by Price, leading to their connection at the very end. Price’s charisma is what saves the movie from being another dull and moody horror flick, allowing it to show another side of his personality, by being more abrasive and slapstick. An overall fun movie with a schlocky premise, it remains a product of its times, being more of a flick you look forward to as a form of escapism to a different period.

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4 The Raven (1963)

American International Pictures Distribution

The Raven is a (very) loose adaptation of Edgar Allen Poe’s legendary poem. Price plays Dr. Erasmus Kramer, a man in the middle of grieving the sudden death of his beloved wife. Instead of following the conventional narrative of the poem, it completely changes the story by making the titular raven a possessed magician and rival of Erasmus. Once he discovers this, he embarks on a journey to uncover the full truth, alongside a very young Jack Nicholson, who plays French soldier Rexford Bedlo, with a gimmicky, yet mildly amusing French accent. As more of the mystery is revealed, the film culminates in a wizarding duel schlocky enough to make even the most serious of film fanatics gush over its presentation. While the effects feel primitive compared to now, there’s a certain charm and appreciation that cinema enthusiasts can find in the practical way it presents them.

3 The Masque of the Red Death (1964)

American International Pictures Distribution

A Roger Coreman caper and another (very) loose adaptation of Poe’s work, in The Masque of the Red Death, Price plays Prince Prospero (a wordplay on the word prosperity), the baron owner of a mansion down the coast of Italy. Interested in Satanism, Prospero causes a sequence of events that unleashes the Red Death into his home, culminating in the very personification of the entity that is murdering his house guests as they’re celebrating an occasion. Perhaps Price’s most villainous role, his charm and sociopathy is contrasted by the bleak mystery of the Red Death, a character that both haunts him and the rest of his cohorts, almost as a form of punishment for their many misdeeds and enablement. The Red Death reveal serves as a powerful reminder that we are our own worst enemies, and if we’re not too careful with ourselves, we will ultimately succumb to that we most desire.

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2 The Comedy of Terrors (1963)

American International Pictures Distribution

Price stars as the Waldo Trumbull, owner of a funeral parlor, down on his luck and looking for new costumers. With no other recourse, Trumbull decides to change his fortunes by getting into the murder business for a chance of profit. Unlike his previous films, Comedy of Terrors has a more comedic edge to its presentation, gravitating more towards the cynical and absurd perspective these kinds of horror stories provide, if one looks at them through more detached lenses. Price understood the assignment by playing an exaggerated and over-the-top persona, completely unhinged in his quest for fame and fortune. The results are some of the best in Price’s filmography, showing us his acting chops and solidifying his place as one of the best actors of his generation.

1 House on the Haunted Hill (1959)

Allied Artists Distribution

Perhaps Price’s most famous role as millionaire Frederick Loren, the film’s plot has become a staple of parody films and television programs. In House on Haunted Hill, five strangers are invited by Loren and his wife to spend a night inside his obscure and mysterious mansion, and whoever can last the entire night in its premises is rewarded with $10,000 (equivalent to $100,000 in today’s money). What appears to be an easy task soon becomes a nightmare, with each guest suffering a grim fate, one by one. Loren’s sniveling and manipulative ways cause both weariness and interest into his aura. Price’s charm and charisma is on full display, navigating and scheming his way to the conclusion with ease and cunning methods. Every time you think you have the plot figured out, Price appears to remind us of how little we actually know.

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The rest of the ensemble provides the necessary tension and suspense needed to make the rest of the story work, beautifully depicting the grief and torment such a predicament can do to a person. Price’s role of a puppet master controlling the strings of every occurrence became a part of his aura, which resulted in an increased role as narrator to many of his films, eventually landing him what is easily his biggest contribution to pop culture: the haunting voice in Michael Jackson’s Thriller.


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