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Vincent Price: Pop Culture Icon

“The last thing my father was was a snob. He understood that popular culture was an incredibly powerful force. He had fun.”
— Victoria Price (Riverfront Times, May 19, 2011)

Vincent Price was a pop culture icon. He made a mark quite unlike even that of Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff, the two horror stars to whom he is most often compared. Karloff was a household name, and the image of a stitched, bolted and square-headed Frankenstein’s Monster is impressed indelibly in the public consciousness, but how many people now would recognize his picture out of the monster makeup? Everyone recognizes Lugosi by his unmistakable widow’s peak, but again, it’s essentially a character – that of Count Dracula – that audiences know, not Lugosi himself.

Vincent Price, on the other hand, was no character other than Vincent Price. He occupied a place in popular culture that no other horror movie star before or since has enjoyed – and yes, if his daughter is to be believed, he did enjoy it. In the seventies and eighties, as his brand of monster movie became a relic, he made a living exploiting his horror movie persona in a string of commercials, pop videos and TV appearances. In this, the year of what would have been Vincent Price’s 100th birthday – the Vincentennial, if you will – here’s a fun jaunt through some of those appearances.

In a 1985 TV commercial, Price intones: “Is scrubbing mildew making your shower a chamber of horrors? … Try Tilex, and escape the torture of scrubbing!”

In 1990, he returned to advertise the same product, this time with a script that echoes Colin Clive’s famous exclamation from the 1931 film Frankenstein: “It’s alive!”

“But when your video heads get dirty, you lose your picture.” He leans into the camera. “Not a pretty sight! … [This new Polaroid video cassette] actually cleans your heads as it plays, so dirty heads needn’t haunt you!”

American game company Milton Bradley made Vincent Price its public face during the seventies, exploiting the most tenuous links with the horror genre to make use of the star. Stay Alive, a decidedly non-scary game in which balls drop down holes in a board, became creepy in the hands of the “Master of Menace”:

Price appeared as an executioner holding a noose on the cover of the board game Hangman, though oddly, the TV ad campaign had him in a less malevolent role as an Old West bank clerk:

Marketing board games was not Price’s only foray into family and children’s entertainment. In Issue #6 of Diabolique, this website’s sister publication [due in September], Robert J.E. Simpson reflects on Vincent Price’s time as a cartoon character – Vincent Van Ghoul in the 1985 Hanna-Barbera series The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo (the title, of course, being an homage to the William Castle’s gimmicky 1960 horror 13 Ghosts):

The character was resurrected in 2010 for the series Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated, with actor Maurice LaMarche providing the voice in Price’s absence. As you can see, the character continues to be a visual representation of Price, but as you can hear, the obvious attempt at an imitation of his voice is hit-and-miss:

But such is the currency of Price’s voice that LaMarche was not the first to imitate the actor’s hallmark tones. In 1982, heavy metal band Iron Maiden wanted Price to narrate the intro to its song The Mark of the Beast. Not being able to afford the fee, however, they hired an unknown stage actor named Barry Clayton to impersonate him. The result is at least more convincing than LaMarche’s later attempt.

Michael Jackson successfully convinced Price to do a single and music video shortly afterwards though, and nearly 30 years later, Thriller – thanks to the twin talents of Jackson and Price – needs little introduction:

At Diabolique, we’ve been working flat-out to put together a tribute edition in honour of Price’s 100th birthday. As well as some more snippets about the actor’s pop culture status, we have exclusive interviews with director Roger Corman, actress Jane Asher and Vincent Price’s daughter, Victoria Price, as well as in-depth articles about some of his most memorable movies, including Witchfinder General and Theatre of Blood. There are also dozens of rarely seen photos, brilliantly presented by the magazine’s graphic designer, Dima Ballin. I don’t usually pimp the magazine in this column – but I’m making this stunning Vincent Price issue the exception!

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About David L Rattigan

David L Rattigan is a British-Canadian freelance writer with interests ranging from religion, film, and language. His published writing includes Leaving Fundamentalism (Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2008, ed. G Elijah Dann), and articles for Third Way magazine and The Guardian’s Comment is Free website. He shares his love of Hammer horror at DictionaryofHammer.com

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