In the Kitchen with Vincent Price

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This post is part of my month-long celebration of Vincent Price–TCM’s October Star of the Month. For further reading see Vincent Price Takes Center Stage, Vincent Price’s Small Screen Successes and Vincent Price & Gene Tierney: A Doomed Romance.

Since moving to the Napa Valley–one of America’s premiere ‘foodie’ capitols–three years ago I’ve been trying to teach myself how to cook. Decades of city apartment living had turned me into a takeout junkie and I could barely remember how to put a proper sandwich together. Why bother when you have a great Italian deli just a block away? So far my cooking adventures have yielded mixed results but I’m always on the lookout for new recipes and cooking ideas so I recently turned to Vincent Price for inspiration.

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Vincent Price Takes Center Stage

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This month marks the 20th anniversary of the death of one of my favorite actors; the remarkable Vincent Price. Vincent Price also happens to be TCM’s Star of the Month and every Thursday throughout October viewers can tune in to see him in a wide-variety of films that showcase his exceptional talents. I can’t think of many other actors I’d like to spend the hallowed month of October with so I’m going to devote the next four weeks to the “Crown Prince of Horror.” To kick start my informal tribute to Vincent Price I thought I’d take a look back at his early stage career in New York working with Orson Welles and the legendary Mercury Theatre.

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Julie Harris 1925-2013: “And we who walk here, walk alone.”

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Hill House has stood for 90 years and might stand for 90 more. Within, walls continue upright, bricks meet, floors are firm, and doors are sensibly shut. Silence lies steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House. And we who walk here, walk alone.” – Eleanor Lance, The Haunting (1963)

My earliest memory of Julie Harris stems from an unplanned late night viewing of THE HAUNTING (1963). I was home alone and sulking about having to take orders from a teenage babysitter who was just a few years older than me. Much to my delight, the babysitter had very little interest in what I was doing and she spent the entire evening smoking cigarettes with her boyfriend on the back porch. I had the television all to myself so I eagerly planted my behind just a few feet away from the screen and started flipping channels until I stumbled across a black and white movie. I knew from experience that if I came across a black and white movie playing on TV late at night it was probably a horror film so I settled in for the long haul with some sugary snacks and quickly found myself engrossed in THE HAUNTING. This moody supernatural thriller absolutely terrified me but I couldn’t turn it off and the film immediately became a fright filled favorite. A few years later I read the book it was based on and got the opportunity to see the movie again and again thanks to the wonder of home video. And when I finally caught a screening of it at a revival theater in the early ‘90s my profound appreciation of Robert Wise’s film only grew. But I never forgot how THE HAUNTING made me feel during that first accidental viewing. It set my teeth on edge, made my blood run cold and left my young heart in tatters. And a large part of that was due to Julie Harris’ unforgettable portrayal of the doomed Eleanor “Nellie, my Nell” Lance.

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Lon Chaney Jr. – Lady Killer

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I recently set aside some time to watch all six of Universal’s Inner Sanctum Mystery films starring Lon Chaney Jr. Seeing these relatively short (60-67 minute) B-movies back to back over a couple of days was a joy and I found new things to admire and appreciate about the film’s leading man. But afterward I made the mistake of scouring through various film books and poking around websites looking for background information about the movies and I really shouldn’t have bothered. What I found angered me, then it depressed me and finally it just made me sad so I decided to share my frustration with you, dear readers.
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“It’s my blood. I gave it to you.”

Unlike some of my fellow Morlocks who often express their disappointment in modern horror films (I’m winking at my good pal Greg Ferrara who recently complained about the lack of good ghost movies) I happen to think we’re currently undergoing an impressive horror film renaissance that’s largely being ignored or has gone unappreciated. While Hollywood continues to pummel us all with over-hyped, self-conscious and all too predictable and derivative movies like CABIN IN THE WOODS, Tim Burton’s recent DARK SHADOWS remake or the ongoing SAW and PARANORMAL ACTIVITY series, independent or smaller budgeted films made in Europe, Britain, Asia and Australia as well as the US are exploring new ground and turning the genre on its head.

Unfortunately these films rarely make it into US theaters outside of New York or Los Angeles so horror fans like myself are forced to wait until they’re released on DVD to see them. It can take years for some of these movies to find an appreciative audience and in today’s fast-paced world they all too often get overshadowed by lesser films with larger advertising budgets. A great example of this ongoing problem is the popular TWILIGHT franchise, which has gotten an unprecedented amount of press here in the US while the most interesting and innovative vampire films are being made outside the country and include the highly acclaimed Swedish production LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (2008) as well as Chan-wook Park’s Korean horror opus THIRST (2009) and Claire Denis’ French thriller TROUBLE EVERY DAY (2001).

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Terror by Telephone

Not only do I still have a landline, but my primary phone is a bright red Western Electric desk phone, Model 2500, made between 1968 and 1983. That makes my red phone 20 to 35 years old, and the sound is still clear and true. I paid five dollars for it in a second-hand store.  It is part of the décor of my office—an item with weight and presence. I wouldn’t take the next five generations of iPhones for it. My Western Electric 2500 doesn’t twitter, beep, laugh, play the latest tune, or make baby noises. When I get a call, my phone rings loudly with authority, forcefulness, and sometimes alarm.  My phone is the type used in horror films by unseen evil-doers, violent psychopaths, and even ordinary murderous husbands who want to menace innocent characters.

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The Children Are Watching

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The term ‘auteur’ is rarely associated with Jack Clayton. When critics and film scholars refer to the British director by name they usually describe him as being a “talented craftsman” or “skilled technician.” Credit for the extraordinary look and feel of Clayton’s best work is too often attributed to the skilled cinematographers (Freddie Francis, Oswald Morris, Douglas Slocombe, etc.) or screenwriters (Truman Copote, Harold Pinter, Francis Ford Coppola, etc.) that he teamed-up with but the director’s own vision is paramount. Andrew Sarris famously said that, “The only Clayton constant is impersonality.” But with only a handful of films in Clayton’s oeuvre I find it easy to link them together through their literary ambitions, parallel themes and stylistic directing choices. And of course there’s the remarkable performances he was able to extract from his actors. Clayton was particularly adept at directing women. Under his watchful eye renowned talents like Simone Signoret, Deborah Kerr, Anne Bancroft, Mia Farrow and Maggie Smith gifted us with some of their most memorable roles.

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Three Cases of Murder and One Uncredited Director

I love a good horror anthology so you can imagine how thrilled I was when I recently sat down to watch THREE CASES OF MURDER (1955) for the first time. This unusual British film seems to have gone relatively unnoticed by numerous horror film historians and if it does warrant a mention it’s usually dismissed without much afterthought. But with a cast that includes Orson Welles and a segment directed by one of Britain’s first female directors (Wendy Toye), THREE CASES OF MURDER stands out as a wonderful example of early British horror cinema that rivals the highly acclaimed anthology DEAD OF NIGHT (1945).

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All Aboard the HORROR EXPRESS!

It’s hard to imagine that there are any seasoned horror film fans that haven’t seen or at least heard of Eugenio Martin’s HORROR EXPRESS (1972). It often gets a mention in widely read books about horror movies. And many questionable companies out to make a quick buck have released this surprisingly entertaining Spanish/British production on video and DVD over the years but the quality was always lacking. The one minor exception was Image Entertainment, which made HORROR EXPRESS part of their impressive EuroShock Collection in 2000 but even their DVD was sub-par. Thankfully Severin Films has stepped up to plate to restore this cult classic in all of its bloody widescreen glory.

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Here’s to the Horror Film: A Measure of Our Times

I have the unenviable task of wrapping up the Morlocks’ week-long blogathon devoted to horror. Actually, most of us jumped the gun and wrote on horror movies or related subjects even before the blogathon began. I wish I were clever enough to offer an insightful summary or, at least, a show-stopping list of terrific horror movies, but I don’t think I can surpass the articles and lists already posted. Looking back over the blog topics for October, we covered everything from Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein to non-horror movies that are horrific to specific films that touched us for personal reasons, such as Voices and the The Hypnotic Eye. Along the way, we speculated on the meaning of monsters, questioned standard interpretations of classics, and drew attention to sound as a technique of terror. Our observations and interpretations speak volumes about the depth and breadth of horror, and I tip my hat to my fellow Morlocks for their insightful explorations of the genre. I conclude our blogathon by offering some thoughts on a genre that cinephiles tend to embrace, though mainstream movie-goers seldom take it seriously.

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