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V Is for Vincent

Vincent Price turns 100 this month. We celebrate with—what else?—a "Vincentennial."

Photograph by Kevin A. Roberts

Vincent Price’s face floats in the darkness. There is the regal hairline, shaped like a sharp capital letter M. There is the manicured mustache. Beneath, the mouth opens, and the stentorian voice, gravelly and grave, familiar to all, begins to intone:

“I am Frederick Loren, and I have rented the house on Haunted Hill tonight so that my wife can give a party… There’ll be food and drink and ghosts, and perhaps even a few murders. You’re all invited. If any of you will spend the next twelve hours in this house, I will give you each $10,000—or your next of kin, in case you don’t survive.”

Vincent Price played a madman so often, he became a kind of on-screen spokesman for the mad. In the instance above, from 1959’s House on Haunted Hill, director William Castle (infamous for his cheap gimmickry) inveigled Price to challenge the audience directly. Can you, dear viewer, withstand the horrors to be unleashed in this theater? Stick around and find out…

That delicious, campy horror was not so much embodied by Price as invented by him. This year is his 100th birthday, and horror superfan Tom Stockman has convinced a cabal of local groups to honor the St. Louis–born actor with Vincentennial, a collection of exhibitions, theatrical performances, talks, and other disturbances—including a film fest—all devoted to the indefatigable movie madman.

Stockman says the fun will include an exhibition of memorabilia (movie artifacts and costumes, model kits and toys, and even a life-size monster figure lent by an out-of-town collector) in the Sheldon Art Galleries. The Vincentennial Film Festival will feature a week’s worth of screenings, including some of Price’s pre-horror goodies (Laura and Champagne for Caesar are likely, says Stockman) and, of course, a selection of his scary movies.

“When I see the trailers for current horror movies, they just seem flat-out scary, but my dad added a campiness to them that you don’t see anymore,” says Victoria Price, Vincent’s daughter, who wrote the definitive biography of her father in 1999. She will speak and screen a special clip reel of her dad’s “greatest hits” at Vincentennial.

Victoria points out that her father adored St. Louis, and returned from his Los Angeles home to the Midwest many times to donate visual art from his impressive collection, to act in plays, and so on.

“He was very proud to be from St. Louis,” she says. “In fact, as a kid I got the impression that there was some sort of homing device for people who came from St. Louis that allowed them to find each other. A group of complete strangers could be at a party, and they’d suddenly find out they were all from St. Louis. I always thought that was interesting, because nobody felt that way about L.A.

“The St. Louis community that my dad felt he was a part of, that sense of belonging he had—that was a gift, and it gave him a strong foundation that accompanied him the rest of his life,” she adds.

Some will remember the elder Price returning to town in the ’70s to appear, appropriately enough, as the Devil in Damn Yankees and Fagin in Oliver! at The Muny. The Vincent Price Theater hosts student productions at his alma mater, Mary Institute and Saint Louis Country Day School, in Ladue.

A number of Price’s old “haunts” are still around, in fact. His boyhood home, at 6320 Forsyth, just west of Skinker Boulevard, is now part of Washington University’s sprawling property. Price’s grandfather, Vincent Clarence Price, moved to St. Louis in 1904 to sell candy at the World’s Fair, grew wealthy from inventing a kind of baking powder, and created the National Candy Company, located near the corner of Gravois Avenue and Meramec Street. The huge, now-vacant factory, looking like nothing so much as a spooky set for a Vincent Price film, is still there. (Pirate Pictures created a nifty commercial for Vincentennial featuring shots of these landmarks, viewable below.)
 


Price, his fans are eager to remind us, was more than the “master of the macabre”; he was a gourmet cook and cookbook author, as well as a tireless advocate for the visual arts, lecturing about the glory of the painted image at colleges and community centers for decades, through the height of his fame.

Still, his image as one of the greatest and most dapper villains of the silver screen is what tends to burn into the retina.

Even Victoria, who knew him as a warm and loving father, understands.

“One time when I was about 4, I remember, I did something bad enough that my father had to spank me,” she recalls. “I was running from him, down a hallway in our house, and my dad was chasing me, and I remember thinking, ‘This is what everybody’s so afraid of!’”


VINCENTENNIAL SCHEDULE OF EVENTS: THE GORY DETAILS


All–Vincent Price Night of Super-8 Movie Madness:
Screening of condensed films in 8-millimeter format April 28 at a venue to be announced.

Vincent Price Presents: Exhibition of digitally painted work by artist Joel Robinson and interior illustrations from the Vincent Price Presents comic series, courtesy of Bluewater Productions April 29 to June 26 at Star Clipper Comics, 314-725-9110, starclipper.com.

Vincent Price Memorabilia Exhibition: Opens April 29 at the Sheldon Art Galleries, 314-533-9900, thesheldon.org.

The Abominable Dr. Phibes
: Magic Smoking Monkey Theatre presents this classic May 13, 14, 20, and 21, at 8 and 10:30 p.m. nightly, at the Regional Arts Commission, 314-361-5664, stlshakespeare.org/productions/msmt.htm.

Vincentennial Film Festival:
Films screen at the Missouri History Museum, Washington University’s Brown School of Social Work, and the Hi-Pointe Theatre May 19 through 27, sponsored by Cinema St. Louis. Films to be screened may include Service de Luxe (Price’s film debut), The Abominable Dr. Phibes, Dr. Phibes Rises Again!, Champagne for Caesar, Conqueror Worm, The Last Man on Earth, Laura, The Masque of the Red Death, The Pit and the Pendulum, The Raven, Theatre of Blood, The Tingler, The Tomb of Ligeia, and Tim Burton’s short “Vincent.” Legendary B-movie producer/director Roger Corman, who directed Price in a series of films based on Edgar Allan Poe stories in the ’60s, will accept a Lifetime Achievement Award from Cinema St. Louis and speak May 21 or 22.

Talk and Clip Reel Presentation by Victoria Price
: Held May 27 (Vincent Price’s birthday), followed by a reception, at a venue to be announced.

For updates on venues and dates, or for general information about Vincentennial, visit cinemastlouis.org/vincentennial, or call 314-289-4150.
 

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