Friday, April 22, 2011

Vincent Price's Contributions to Easter
Easter. For my family, it is a time for coloring eggs, eating our candy and pining for the Easter Beagle. My family does not neglect even an ounce of Easter fun, nor do we lack tradition, traditions such as watching our favorite Easter themed movies. However, one figure of Easter tradition seems to have such a small place in our hearts. Though this day be devoted to films in which he adds the richness of his character, he is often forgotten, passed over, swept to the wayside as we chow down on chocolate bunnies and eat way too many jelly beans. The time has come, at last, to put this grave injustice right, and atone for past indiscretions in his name. The time has come for the Nerd to rise up and give Vincent Price a place of honor at Easter.

That's right. Vincent Price.

Known for his frightening voice and looming stage presence, Vincent Leonard Price Jr. has contributed to at least two major Easter past times, for which he receives little praise. Born in St. Louis, Missouri, educated at Yale, discovered in 1938 and dead in 1993 from smoking too much, Vincent Price did everything from acting, writing, speaking, and teaching the art of fine gourmet from around the world. Of all of his major film contributions (such as House of Wax, The Fly, House on Haunted Hill), two stand out as lasting contributions to the Easter Holiday.

The Ten Commandments (1956)

(Right to Left) Lillian, Baka, Dathon.
In honor of the Passover weekend on the Jewish calendar that coincides with the unrelated resurrection of Christ that, in other sects, is the Easter holiday, San Antonio's KMOL Channel 4 runs a syndicated version of Cecil B. DeMille's three hour classic The Ten Commandments. Chronicling the life and times of Moses, leader of Exodus, DeMille's film features a wide range of characters and generous amount of romantic subplot. The names most likely to stand out are the film's leading male roles: Charlton Heston (Moses) and Yul Brenner--the first love of a young Nerd's life (Rameses). This Easter, however, we will try to look past Heston's amazing acting and Rameses petty chauvinism and gaze upon the worthy part of a minor character: Baka, the Master Builder, played aptly, though briefly, by a young Vincent Price. Baka's role is short, but by no means small. In an attempt to free a water girl and her lover, Moses enters Baka's house, dressed as a Hebrew slave. Moses confronts Baka, who threatens to kill him. Moses counters with, "Kill me? Master Butcher?" Baka instantly recognizes the insult and Moses for who he truly is. His cover blown, Moses has no choice but to ruthlessly strangle Baka. Killing Baka does no good, though, for another rat eavesdrops on the entire encounter and reports it to Rameses. With Baka's body as proof of Moses' deed, Rameses has Moses imprisoned and later exiled.

Vincent Price plays Baka as insidiously as his character demands. Lecherous and excessive, the role of Baka was perfect for Price. Despite the film's Academy Award, very few of my generation who bother with such classics are actually aware that Price was even in it. Vincent Price deserves credit for his short life and death in The Ten Commandments, and his contribution to a non-secular Easter tradition.

Here Comes Peter Cottontail (1971)

A Bass/Rankin (Rudolf The Red-Nosed Reindeer, Christmas in July) clay-mation special, Peter Cottontail is a family favorite around this time of the year. It tells the tale of a young Easter Bunny in training, Peter Cottontail, who must defeat a rival bunny, January Q. Irontail, in delivering the most Easter eggs. Irontail is a rotten, mean bunny whose name is derived from a clanking, horrific, top-of-the-line iron replacement prosthetic tail. Irontail's motivation is that in defeating Peter, he will be made the official Easter Bunny, after which he will effectively dismantle the holiday and turn it into some disgusting villain's clich├ęd anti-holiday. Of course, Irontail cheats, and succeeds in delivering the most eggs (just one). Peter has go back in time with his French caterpillar friend and try to give them to people throughout the year. To make matters worse, Irontail uses magic to turn all of Peter's eggs green, making his task virtually impossible. Of course, Peter prevails against his adversary and takes back Easter for the secular middle class.

The Mystery of Foulard
...He even looks like Vincent Price
Irontail is an example of Vincent Price's incredible voice acting. Even without his true face, his stage presence is enormous. His voiced characters are as heinous and insidious as his live roles, especially since he is notoriously cast as the villain. Price's Irontail gives this Nerd chills. How many bunnies ride around on pet bats? Not many. Irontail is truly evil. His magic is malign and impractical; his motivation is selfish; he is bent on vengeance. If Voldemort had been born a rabbit, that would be his criminal profile at MI: 5. January Q. Irontail is Vincent Price's contribution to my family's--and many others--secular Easter tradition.

Even as a child, I was a huge Price fan. His death in 1993, though vaguely remembered, came as something of a shock to my small  mind. This year, while the secular and non-secular alike keep Easter their own ways, I will keep Easter the Nerd way, by poking my nose down a rabbit hole for a green Easter egg and toasting Pharaoh's new treasure city with a handful of Jelly-Belly's. 

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