Vinnie and the Vampires: He Was Legend

In ”My Cousin Vinnie vs the Vampires,” Michael H. Price speculates on the reaction of his distant cousin Vincent Price been to the upcoming I AM LEGEND, which is based on the same source novel that inspired Price’s 1964 film THE LAST MAN ON EARTH. Michael H. Price thinks Vincent would have been dismissive, quoting the actor’s reaction to the 1986 remake of THE FLY: “Hmph! You’d think we hadn’t done it right, the first time.”

Michael H. Price goes on to quote Vincent’s assessment of his role in the Italian-produced vampire thriller:

“That one, now — quite a change of pace for me,” as Price recalled The Last Man on Earth. “I had pretty well made my mark as a Grand Manner actor — which is a polite way of saying ‘a ham’ — and a perpetual villain, on top of that. When occasionally I got to play the good guy, as in The Fly, the role was usually not as emotionally demanding as I’d like. So this Last Man on Earth thing allowed me a sympathetic role that also called for some intensity. Very welcome, although I was disappointed that it never played all that widely.”

I’m a big Vincent Price fan – I co-wrote the 1989 Cinefantastique cover story on his career in horror films – but to be honest, LAST MAN ON EARTH is not one of his better outings. The movie is slow and dreary, and although I can see why Price relished the opportunity for a change of pace in terms of the character he played, he was, to use the words of author Richard Matheson, who wrote the book I Am Legend, “completely wrong for the part.”

The book’s Robert Neville is a hard-drinking, two-fisted everyman-hero, and although the book is a science-fiction-horror story, much of it reads like an action-thriller as Neville shoots, stakes, runs over, and punches out the undead. In the movie, Price captures the loneliness of the character, but a more accurate book-to-film casting would have been Clint Eastwood; even Charlton Heston, in the 1970s remake THE OMEGA MAN, comes closer to the source material.

Still, there seems to be no doubt that Price liked the film more than most critics and audiences, although he did acknowledge that it should have been done on a larger scale. In the filmography accompanying the Cinefantastique career article, we quote Price saying:

I think it was better than The Omega Man, which Charlton Heston did later. It had a kind of amateur quality bout it. We worked in a studio that was so cold we had to put ice water in our mouths so you wouldn’t see our breath! It should be done as a great spectacular. You know, just buy a city and empty it out!

Price’s remark regarding David Cronenberg’s version of THE FLY, which was based on the 1958 film in which Price starred, is not enough to conclude that the actor held a blanket prohibition against remakes of his old films. When I interviewed him on the set of DEAD HEAT in 1988, he expressed an ambiguous reaction to the 1986 FLY, including some admiration:

I kind of liked the new version. It was wonderful right up to a certain point. It just goes too far. I didn’t believe the end of it – it became laughable because too much happened.

Price himself starred in several remakes: HOUSE OF WAX (1953) is based on THE MYSTERY IN THE WAX MUSEUM (1933). He played a supporting role in the 1939 version of TOWER OF LONDON, then got to play the lead in a 1962 version. And of course, many of the Edgar Allan Poe films he made in the 1960s were based on stories that had been previously adapted.

My own guess is that, regarding I AM LEGEND, Price might have joked about it, but in the end he would have assessed the film, for good or bad, on its own merits, not merely on the fact that he had appeared in a previous version.

RELATED ARTICLES: House of Wax (1953) – The Fly (1958)

About the Author

Steve Biodrowski

Cinefantastique's Los Angeles Correspondent from 1987 to 1993 and West Coast Editor from 1993 to 1999. Currently the webmaster of Cinefantastique Online, I also run a website called Hollywood Gothique that covers Halloween Horror and Sci-Fi Cinema Events in the Los Angeles area.

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