The Ninjabot

The Price of Ham: Vincent Price’s 5 Hammiest Performances

Posted on August 4, 2013 at 8:00 am by Jason Byard

Oh, Vincent Price…It’s hard not to admire a guy who so exuded the preening, chilling malevolence that you love to see in a villain and yet could turn on a dime and start doing slapstick like a silent film buffoon extraordinaire. A little overacting never hurt anybody either. At least, it certainly didn’t hurt Vincent Price. He made a career out of it. Here’s my picks for Vincent Price’s top 5 Hammiest performances:

5) Roderick Usher, House of Usher (1960)

Waldo Trumbull, The Comedy of TerrorsIn this, the first installment of Roger Corman’s Poe series, Price plays the hyperesthesiac Roderick Usher, the last male heir of one of the more delightfully gnarled family trees in horror cinema (the scene where he details his families crimes with the aid of some inspiring twisted portraits is one of the film’s great highlights). It’ a testament to Price’s skill as an actor that he was able to take what was by necessity an understated role and yet still manages to dominate every scene he’s in. In fact his understated line delivery is, if anything, even more infused with menace. But it’s those quintessentially exaggerated Vincent Price facial expressions that give this performance its real power. Somehow he manages to convey shock, fear, disgust and pretty much every other negative emotion perfectly without saying a word.

4) Waldo Trumbull, The Comedy of Terrors (1963)

Roderick Usher, House of UsherAt the opposite end of the spectrum there is Price’s manic portrayal of a depraved undertaker in this Richard Matheson scripted black comedy. It’s no surprise that this would end up being one his more over the top portrayals, seeing as how he shares the screen with the likes of Basil Rathbone, Boris Karloff and Peter Lorre. But even with that to consider, the frenzied nature of Price’s performance is still a sight to behold; shifting speedily from drunken lout to henpecked husband to charming schmoozer to calculating murderer with relative ease. He’s clearly at the top of his comedic game in this one, leaving the erstwhile co-stars (who had, in fairness, all seen better days by this point) in the dust. An underrated classic, this one.

3) Egghead, Batman (1966)

egghead batmanThe old Adam West Batman was not known for it’s subtlety, which is why it would be insane to think that it would have gone through it’s entire run without having Vincent Price on as a regular villain. Naturally he’s the standout of that particular rogue’s gallery. Egghead never really made much sense. Let’s be frank: Joker, Catwoman, Riddlar are all baddies with a discernable gimmick attached to them. But Egghead? The guy is evil and has a weird fetish for eggs? Seems kinda warped even by the standards of the 60’s. But, that aside, Price never disappoints in the role. The highlight? The puns of course. The awful, awful egg puns. Egg-cellant…Egg-secuted. Ugh, they’re so awesomely bad they would make the Crypt-Keeper roll his eyes.

2) Matthew Hopkins, The Witchfinder General (1968)

Matthew Hopkins, The Witchfinder GeneralI say, if you’re gonna have Vincent Price play a historical figure it may as well be one of the most thoroughly repulsive humanity has ever produced. And this he does with relish in the Michael Reeves directed British thriller. Price tackles his role as an infamous 17th century witch hunter with an obvious glee that makes it one of his most remarkably malevolent. And that’s saying something, seeing as how he has played his share of titanic bastards down through the years. But, and maybe it’s because he spends most of the movie dressed like a Pilgrim, his turn as Hopkins, raping and murdering his way across the English countryside, has a grimness that outing before and after have never really captured. No laughs here, no overstated theatrics either. Just an icy portrait of a bloody-minded fanatic. One of his best.

1) Edward Kendall Sheridan Lionheart, Theatre of Blood (1973)

Edward Kendall Sheridan Lionheart, Theatre of BloodIn this one Vinnie takes the reigns as a (get this) super hammy actor who, after failing to be suitably recognized by the critics, embarks a bloody campaign of revenge and murder. It’s everything you would expect from Vincent Price’s later career, bad gag lines, hilariously exaggerated delivery, hell, there’s even a sword fight on trampolines, for the love of God. By this point in his timeline Price was pretty much doing everything for laughs and spoofing his old image as the king of horror flicks of the 50’s and 60’s and there is a certain sadness in that. Nevertheless, it’s still a blast to watch him melodramatically fly off the handle on his way through a series of murderers based on Shakespearean drama. The closing line of the flick, following Price’s grim demise, probably sums it up best: “Yes it was a remarkable performance, but he was madly overacting as usual, but you must admit he did know how to make an exit.”

    • vivi

      a wonderful tribute to a talented and (sadly) underestimated man.

    • solerso

      wheres the Abominable Dr Phibes?..too sickeningly creepy?

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