Today is the official Vincentennial! Today, Vincent Price would have turned 100, had we been lucky enough to have him around that long. Last weekend, a bunch of friends got together at our place for a Vincent Price Movie Night in honor of the celebration. Tornadoes and various other responsibilities broke it up a little early, but we managed to get through The Abominable Dr. Phibes and Theatre of Blood, and a few stragglers watched about half of Comedy of Terrors before the weather forced us to put a stop to festivities.
The 100th birthday of Vincent Price would be enough cause for celebration today, but there’s more! Today is also the 89th birthday of Christopher Lee, and yesterday would have been the 98th birthday of Peter Cushing, were he still with us.
Not to slight Lee (who I’ll talk more about in a moment), but Price and Cushing are probably my two favorite actors of all time. Are they the best actors of all time? Probably not, but they’re both always a complete joy to watch, and they both always elevate whatever material they’re in. Both have been in a lot of good movies, and more than a few that weren’t so good, but whenever they showed up on screen the movie always suddenly picks up, no matter how much it may have been dragging before.
Price, Cushing, and Lee have only ever been in one movie all together, though you can find any number of combos of Cushing/Lee, and even a few Price/Cushing pairings. The one movie featuring them all is The House of Long Shadows, which I’ve surprisingly never seen. It’s not available on DVD, and I haven’t yet gotten so desperate as to watch it in segments on YouTube.
There is no shortage of great movies starring any of them, though, and while I’m going to suggest a few that are maybe a little more unusual (and a few that probably aren’t), there’s no way anything’s going to be exhaustive here. Basically, if it’s got their names on it, chances are it’s worth checking out.
When it comes to watching Vincent Price movies, there are the usual suspects. The aforementioned Abominable Dr. Phibes, Theatre of Blood, House on Haunted Hill, The Fly, etc. He co-stars with Cushing (however briefly) in the sequel to Phibes, and for a more extended period in Madhouse. Personally, if called upon to recommend just one Vincent Price movie that a lot of folks haven’t seen, I’d suggest Comedy of Terrors, which is available to stream from Netflix. It doesn’t feature Cushing, but it does feature Peter Lorre, Basil Rathbone, and Boris Karloff. Lorre and Rathbone are also back in Tales of Terror, an anthology film of Edgar Allan Poe stories.
The Vincent Price/Roger Corman collaborations on various Poe films are probably a little better known. My favorite might be The Pit and the Pendulum, but for some more unusual ones try The Haunted Palace, which is actually the first film adaptation of a Lovecraft story, or the 1962 Tower of London, which isn’t Poe at all, but features Price giving a really great performance as Richard III. (Amusingly, Price is also in the 1932 Tower of London, again with Karloff and Rathbone, albeit this time in a smaller part.)
Also well known from Price’s oeuvre, but well worth watching, is The Last Man on Earth, the first and easily the best film adaptation of Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend. (I’ll admit that I haven’t actually seen Omega Man yet, but I don’t think the title is in any danger.)
It’s hard to say what Peter Cushing is best known for. I know that to a lot of people he’s Grand Moff Tarkin from Star Wars, and I think a lot of others know him as Van Helsing in the various Hammer Dracula flicks (where he is great, don’t get me wrong), but to me his most striking role has always been as Baron Frankenstein in the Hammer Frankenstein series. Last night, Jay and I watched Evil of Frankenstein in honor of Mr. Cushing’s birthday, and I don’t know what more you could want from a Frankenstein movie. It had a great, Kirby-ish (or, as Jay pointed out, Dick Tracy villain-ish) monster design, a carnival, a sinister hypnotist, not one but two amazing labs, they discovered the monster frozen in a block of ice, and Peter Cushing got to stride about owning the universe as Baron Frankenstein.
Cushing and Lee co-starred in about fifty million movies together. Let me try to list them all: Oh wait, that’s ridiculous. I’ll mention another favorite team-up here in a minute, when I talk about Christopher Lee, but for now I’ll throw out some suggestions for Cushing movies that aren’t Draculas or Frankensteins. How about the really great Hammer Hound of the Baskervilles (actually one of the aforementioned billion movies co-starring Lee), or the 1957 Abominable Snowman? One of my favorite of Cushing’s roles when he’s not playing Van Helsing or Frankenstein or Sherlock Holmes is his great turn in Captain Clegg a.k.a. Night Creatures, which, in spite of not actually having any monsters, is one of my favorite Hammer films, and is somewhat less well known than some of the others on this list. Give it a shot!
Christopher Lee isn’t quite as high-ranking in my personal pantheon as Price or Cushing. It took me a little longer to really fall in love with him. And when I did, it wasn’t actually through the same roles that I think a lot of people did. The first few times I saw Lee in movies, he was playing monsters. And while his Dracula is suitably impressive, he never really connected with me until I started to see him playing some different roles. I think it might have been The Devil Rides Out that first made me start to see that there was more to Lee, but my favorite Lee performance just might be the really over-the-top one in The Gorgon (where he once again co-stars with Cushing). The Gorgon probably isn’t near the top of the Hammer horror heap, but Lee and Cushing are both great fun in it, especially Lee’s disheveled, be-mustached Professor Meister.