Vincent Price – Volume 1
“The Fly” (1958)
Based on the short story by George Langelaan, adapted by screenwriter James Clavell, and directed by Kurt Neumann. Presented by Twentieth Century Fox, “The Fly” is one of the most famous monsters, along with George Romero zombies, not to be part of the Universal Studios Classic Monster stable. Vincent Price plays Francois Delambre, who is shocked to learn that his sister-in-law, Helene, played by Patricia Owens, has killed her husband, Andre. She crushed him at the family owned factory. Helene is presumed to have lost her mind since she is so calm when being questioned by the authorities. She only looses her composure when in the presence of a housefly. For some reason, Helene also pretends to not know her own son, Philippe, played by Charles Herbert. Francois is in love with Helene, but never resented her for favoring his brother. Francois looks after Philippe, who tells his uncle about a peculiar fly with a white head. Francois lies about having captured the fly, so that Helene will finally reveal the truth to him and Inspector Charas, played by Hebert Marshall. A flashback shows the tragedy of Andre, played by David Hedison, a scientist who has been constructing teleportation devices in secret. At first, only inanimate objects can be teleported. When Andre attempts to transport their cat, the furry little feline vanishes into thin air. Meow. Andre then becomes obsessed with his experiments. He spends most of his time in his laboratory. He finally perfects his device, successfully teleporting a guinea-pig. Helene is distressed by the potential danger in her husband’s invention. Andre does not attend a lunch with his brother. This was when the mysterious fly with a white head was first spotted. He slips Helene notes underneath the door to his lab, letting her know that he has had a terrible accident and is unable to speak. He allows her inside. He keeps a towel on his head and his hand in his lab coat. He needs the fly with a white head, but Helene had already told Philippe to set it free when he caught it earlier. Helene catches a glimpse of Andre’s hand, which was now a hairy claw. Helene tries desperately, but cannot catch this elusive fly. Andre had tested his teleportation device on himself, but he wasn’t alone. A fly was with him and they swapped parts. Andre will commit suicide rather than live as a monster if the fly is not caught. He is beginning to lose his humanity. The insect is taking over. Helene begs Andre to teleport himself again. He reemerges and she removes the towel, revealing his horrific fly head. She faints and he destroys his laboratory, burning research papers. No hope remains. They go together to the factory and she crushes him to such a degree that his fly head and arm will me unrecognizable. The flashback ends. Francois and Charas humor Helene, but believe her to be mad. That is until they discover the fly with a white head. It is calling for help while trapped in a spider’s web. Charas panics and crushes it with a rock. Such a freaky scene. Since no one would believe their story, Francois and Charas opt to label Andre’s death as a suicide. Helene is set free. They explain the death of Andre to Philippe as noble sacrifice in a quest for knowledge. “The Fly” was remade in 1986, directed by David Cronenberg, and starring Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis. It was perhaps the greatest horror / sci-fi remake of all time, along with John Carpenter’s “The Thing.” Bart Simpson also became the fly on a “Treehouse of Horror” Halloween special.
“The House on Haunted Hill” (1959)
Vincent Price plays Frederick Loren, an eccentric millionaire hosting a haunted house party in honor of his treacherous wife. $10,000 is the reward for any guest who spends twelve hours in this spooky domicile. Frederick invites desperate people, who are likely to risk their lives for the money. The guests arrive in hearses and are greeted by a falling chandelier. A clichéd scare, courtesy of producer / director William Castle. Frederick is on wife number four, Annabelle, played by Carol Ohmart. He suspects her of adultery and even attempting to poison him once. Watson Prichard, a drunkard played by Elisha Cook, is the only character who truly believes the house is haunted. The house is locked down at midnight. Escape is impossible and there are no telephones, so no calls for help can be made. There are supposedly seven ghosts, four men and three women, so one for each party guest. The ceiling bleeds and there is a vat of acid down in the wine cellar. The best scare is when Nora Manning, played by Carolyn Craig, is confronted by an old hag, witch like lady, who then floats out of the cellar. On Bravo’s 100 Scariest Movie Moments of All Time, Tom Savini aptly described his reaction to this scene as “Fuck me.” The old woman turns out to be the blind wife of the caretaker. No explanation was given as to how or why she floats. Annabelle subtly accuses Nora of being Frederick’s mistress. Nora becomes the focal point of the scares as someone plants a severed head in her suitcase. Handguns are distributed, but Annabelle refuses to accept hers, then she is found hung atop the staircase. It is deduced that she committed suicide, which seems the most unlikely scenario given these circumstances. Soon, Frederick becomes the red-herring. Secret passages are uncovered and the torment of Nora continues. She sees the ghost of Annabelle hovering outside her bedroom window and a monstrous hand tries to strangle her. A pipe organ plays by itself. More cheap, but effective scares. Frederick searches the house with Dr. David Trent, played by Alan Marshal. It gets revealed that Annabelle is still alive and having an affair with Dr. Trent. Their plan is to drive Nora into such hysterics that she will shoot Frederick, making his murder seem like a prank gone terribly wrong. The plan works and Nora shoots Frederick in the cellar. Dr. Trent disappears while admiring his handiwork. Then, a skeleton emerges from the vat of acid and literally scares Annabelle to death, chasing her into the vat. The skeleton was being controlled by Frederick like a marionette. He was one step ahead of his deceitful wife and her lover the entire time. He loaded Nora’s gun with blanks. The house was never actually haunted… Or was it? “The House on Haunted Hill” was remade in 1999 with Geoffrey Rush in the Vincent Price role and visuals which were quite impressive, but it was an instance of style over substance with sequences cut like a music video. The film was trying too hard to be hip and not hard enough to be genuinely chilling.
“Return of the Fly” (1959)
“The Fly” was filmed in color, but its sequel is black and white. I watched an interview once with the late Vincent Price, where he condemned the decision. He loved black and white, but felt strongly that there be uniformity in a film series. Edward L. Bernds was the director. Vincent Price reprised his role as Francois Delambre. Brett Halsey played Philippe Delambre all grown up. Helene Delambre has passed away, but never escaped the controversy surrounding her husband’s death. Inspector Beecham, played by John Sutton, has replaced the Inspector Charas character. Beecham assisted in the cover up of the events in the original film. Philippe has become curious and wishes to follow in the footsteps of his late father. He defies his uncle to do so. Philippe recruits a friend to aid him in these daring experiments, Alan Hinds, played by David Frankham. Danielle De Metz plays Cecile Bonnard, Philippe’s love interest. Philippe, knowing the truth about his father, suffers from a phobia of flies just as his mother did. Francois eventually finds out what Philippe and Alan are up to. He reluctantly agrees to back them financially, so he can protect his nephew. It turns out that Alan is not who he claimed to be. His actual name is Ronald Holmes. He plans on stealing Philippe’s research and having a gangster sell it to the highest bidder. They successfully teleport an ashtray and a guinea-pig, just like Andre Delambre, but this guinea-pig suffers from gigantism. Alan’s true identity is discovered by an inspector, so he murders the inspector and disposes of his body in the teleportation device. The inspector’s corpse reappears with the paws of the guinea-pig. Philippe realizes that Alan is not be trusted. A fight ensues. Alan knocks Philippe out cold and teleports his unconscious body with a fly. What are the odds? Francois has bad timing, arriving just as Alan flees. Alan shoots Francois in the abdomen. Francois is one tough bastard, walking around with a bullet in his gut. Philippe gets reintegrated with a fly head and also suffers from gigantism. Ed Wolff portrayed this giant fly. The head of Philippe is then seen on the little fly. Francois refuses to speak to the authorities while he recovers in the hospital until Inspector Beecham arrives. The big fly makes its way to the funeral parlor where Alan met with his accomplice and kills the gangster. Beecham searches the laboratory and catches the little fly. The big fly waits for Alan to arrive at the funeral parlor. It crushes his neck and leaves him to die in a coffin. Then, like any of the classic mad scientists turned monsters, it searches for the woman it loves. Cecile is woken up by the big fly sneaking into her bedroom. It collapses after taking her by the hand. Beecham helps the big fly down to the laboratory. Francois, still hobbled from the gunshot, operates the teleportation device and Philippe is restored to his natural state. A happy ending. Vincent Price did not appear in 1964’s “Curse of the Fly,” where no one even turned into a fly. That film was about various monstrosities that could be created with the teleportation devices. 1989’s “The Fly II,” starring Eric Stoltz, was essentially a remake of “Return of the Fly,” but just in its basic premise. It was a weak follow up to David Cronenberg’s classic remake with Jeff Goldblum.
“The Last Man on Earth” (1964)
A tale of zombie-vampires, based on the novel I Am Legend by Richard Matheson and directed by Sidney Salkow. Vincent Price plays Dr. Robert Morgan, who is seemingly the only individual not yet infected by the plague. Every night, Dr. Morgan’s house gets surrounded by these lumbering zombie like creatures, but Morgan protects himself with mirrors, garlic, and crosses, so traditional vampire mythos apply. It has been three years since the beginning of the epidemic. Morgan leads a life of repetition. He drives around during the day in a hearse, searching for ghouls and driving wooden stakes through their hearts. More classic vampire imagery. Morgan tosses the bodies he slays into a fiery pit. It’s hard to believe that the ghouls can’t infiltrate his home. The garlic must be pungent. Repetition is how he survives, but one day he falls asleep in his daughter’s mausoleum and barely makes it home in time. Dream sequence flashbacks reveal how his wife and daughter succumb to the disease and that his friend and colleague, Ben Cortman, played by Giacomo Rossi-Stuart, is the apparent leader of the ghouls. There is a sequence with a dog that is too heartbreaking to write about. Morgan crosses paths with Ruth Collins, played by Franca Bettoia. Ruth is one of many who are infected, but able to function in daylight due to a vaccine. Apparently, Morgan has also been killing those being treated with this vaccine, so he is considered just as much of a threat as the zombie-vampires. Since Morgan is immune, his blood can be maturated into a permanent cure, but Ruth’s brethren chase him down and murder him inside his daughter’s mausoleum, destroying the last real hope for humanity. I Am Legend was adapted again in 1971 as “The Omega Man,” starring Charlton Heston. “The Simpsons” satirized the premise in one of their classic “Treehouse of Horror” Halloween specials. The most recent adaptation was the CGI vampire catastrophe, 2007’s “I Am Legend,” starring Will Smith. The theme of the last man on Earth being considered the monster from the point of view of the vampires was nixed, making the title of the film absolutely meaningless. All that resonated was Will Smith’s ill-fated friendship with a canine. The doggy stole the show in that film.
*Volume 2 will include…
“House of Wax” (1953)
“The Tingler” (1959)
“Tower of London” (1962)
“The Raven” (1963)