"Much of madness, and more of sin" : Vincent Price, gender, and the Poe cycle, 1960-1972 /

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Lampley, Jonathan
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Middle Tennessee State University
For generations of moviegoers, the name Vincent Price (1911-1993) remains synonymous with horror and suspense. Between 1960 and 1972, Vincent Price appeared in a series of thirteen Edgar Allan Poe adaptations for American International Pictures (AIP). Various articles in both popular and academic journals offer intriguing interpretations of specific films, but thematic analysis of Vincent Price's body of work is virtually non-existent. Much of Madness, More of Sin: Vincent Price, Gender, and the Poe Film Cycle, 1960-1972 posits that the Poe cycle's depiction of women as villains, vixens, and objects of veneration, as well as Price's onscreen persona as a "camp" icon, challenged traditional gender norms during the sexual revolution of the 1960s.
This study, which is divided into ten chapters, explores the often ambivalent constructions of the cycle's male and female characterizations. At the same time, it argues that the films are not always "campy" in the sense of exaggerated self-mockery that other critics have claimed. In fact, the cycle demonstrates a surprising degree of fealty to the source material, implying both a fidelity to the spirit of Poe's output and an acknowledgment of gender ambivalence in the writer's fiction and poetry that makes the films effective vehicles of adaptation.
Chapter I provides relevant biographical information on Price, Poe, and founding Poe cycle producer/director Roger Corman and discusses the theories of critics Judith Butler, Barbara Creed, and Harry M. Benshoff that inform the study. Chapters II through VII examine six Poe adaptations directed by Corman between 1960 and 1965, the films that influenced Price's public persona long after the series abandoned any direct connection to Poe's material and featured many examples of contradictory and even subversive gender performance. Chapter VIII analyzes The Conqueror Worm (1968) and traces the influence of this acclaimed film and director Michael Reeves on the remaining entries in the series, helmed by Gordon Hessler. Of particular interest is how this film positions Price as a misogynistic Puritan witch hunter, foreshadowing the later feminist reading of the witch trial phenomenon as a mass repression of emerging female independence. Chapter IX discusses six productions that exist outside the established Corman and Reeves/Hessler "universes" but still feature Price, referencing the actor's familiar persona while continuing to challenge traditional masculine and feminine roles. Chapter X concludes the study by enumerating thematic similarities, such as the lack of male offspring among Price's characters in the series and the reoccurring motif of the ambiguously gendered protagonists (both male and female), that link the various films into an organic and interrelated whole, suggesting an overarching worldview derived as much from the iconography of Poe as from the details of his output.
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