Vincent Price will always be a favorite of horror fans for his iconic star-turns in classic horror movies, like the Roger Corman Edgar Allan Poe films, The Abominable Dr. Phibes, House on Haunted Hill, and many, many others. Yet, whenever he appeared on television, he did his best to entertain. Anyone who doubts that should check out his appearance on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, cooking trout in a dishwasher. According to Eydie Gormé, who was already sitting on the couch, his fish was delicious. Even in conventional dramatic appearances, Price always brought his typically devilish flair.
Price guest-starred on The Brady Bunch, Batman, and The Mod Squad, but sadly he never appeared on The Twilight Zone. He sort of made up for it by making two appearances on Rod Serling’s second anthology series, The Night Gallery.
In fact, “The Return of the Sorcerer,” based on a Clark Ashton Smith story and directed by Jeannot Szwarc, is some seriously deranged TV. Price plays John Carnby, a necromancer who killed his twin brother so as not to have to share the power of an ancient Necronomicon-like text they both coveted. Viewers can tell he is completely off his rocker when we see the goat seated at the dinner party he holds in honor of his reluctant translator (a completely freaked out-looking Bill Bixby). Carnby claims the farm animal is his father, who is now known as “The Falling Tower.” Yet, even the goat cannot upstage Price, who chews the scenery with delicious relish, as when he remarks on the wine’s “glorious bloody color.”
Previously on The Night Gallery, Price also appeared in “Class of ’99,” also helmed by Szwarc (whose credits notably include Somewhere in Time). It is more science fiction than horror, but it is certainly chilling, in ways that make it ripe for rediscovery. Price plays an unnamed futuristic Professor in the mold of Charles Kingsfield, who has assembled his students for their final oral exams. Initially his questions pertain to physics, but when he shifts to the social sciences, it is clear his line of questioning is designed to elicit racist and xenophobic responses. Clearly the episode, written by Serling, was intended as a critique of the prejudice it depicts. In any event, you really would not want to be grilled by Price’s Professor.
If the goat was a daunting co-star, the maniacal puppets in “The Deadly Dolls” episode of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea truly would have intimidated most thesps, but Price is at home in the middle of their surreal bedlam. He plays the master puppeteer, Professor Multiple, who performs a free show onboard the Seaview submarine. However, his puppets are actually doppelgangers designed to replace the crew and take control of the sub. Price gleefully smirks through the episode, but it turns out the real puppetmaster is the unhinged Richard Basehart doppelganger. This is Price working with puppets, ten years before his guest-spot on The Muppet Show, which cannot compare with the utter lunacy of “The Deadly Dolls.”
Indeed, Price was no stranger to children’s programming, where he still largely toyed with his horror persona, as he did with the Muppets. His silky-smooth voice also created a demand for plenty of narration and voice-over work. Such was the case for Price’s second gig on Shelley Duvall’s Faerie Tale Theatre, narrating “The Boy Who Left Home to Find Out About the Shivers,” one of the most macabre Grimm Fairy Tales, which is saying something. In this case, Price’s old friend and fellow genre legend Sir Christopher Lee plays the villain, King Vladimir V, who challenges adventurers to stay in his haunted castle, so he can loot their corpses.
In the 1980s, Faerie Tale Theatre was a bit like Shrek. It was produced for kids, but there was an elevated sarcasm meant to appeal to their parents too. Price’s voice definitely set a nostalgic tone for his fans. In addition to Price and Lee, Frank Zappa appears as the hunchback servant who befriends the young protagonist at the local inn. Weirdly, this piece is also turning into a Jeannot Szwarc tribute, who once again directed, reuniting with Price and a young Gary Springer (now a legendary New York film publicist, who previously co-starred in Szwarc’s Jaws 2).
Price always did his best to entertain, even in one-off TV appearances. He often poked fun at his association with horror to do so, while always still embracing it. You can see that in his unlikeliest of guest spots, even when they were painfully corny, like County Sfoza, the suspected vampire in F Troop. His command of his persona is a major reason why he remains a fan favorite, years after his death. Viewers can see it memorably showcased in the episodes above.