Camp David

CAMP DAVID DECEMBER 2007: VINCENT PRICE

By • Dec 1st, 2007 • Pages: 1 2 3 4

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VINCENT PRICE
FROM A WHISPER TO A SCREAM

David Del Valle with Director Jeff Burr

“It’s as though the very foundation of the place was human suffering” Vincent price as Julian White

Towards the end of the 1980’s Vincent Price was hosting the PBS series MYSTERY, touring the nation as Oscar Wilde, and occasionally acting in motion pictures. After the lack of distribution for THE MONSTER CLUB and MADHOUSE it seemed that his last real horror film would be HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS, however he would make at least one more before his official swan song in Tim Burton’s masterful EDWARD SCISSORHANDS.

I had been planning to write about my experiences on one of Vincent’s lesser-known films of this period and just never seemed to find the time. I wish to rectify that now with my recollections of being the casting director and unit publicist on FROM A WHISPER TO A SCREAM (1986), one of the last films he made before his health began to fail, resulting in his death a few years later from lung cancer.

Let’s begin by first explaining how Vincent Price came to be involved with this project, which was the brainchild of four young film buffs with no connections to speak of in Hollywood, and not a lot of development money either, yet they all shared a unique vision and a childhood passion for the Horror genre.

Dan Golden, script girl, David del Valle and Alan White

At just 24 years of age, Jeff Burr, a then-recent-graduate of USC Film School, directed all four segments, working in concert with his brother William and Darin Scott as writer/producers. Super-film-buff and screenwriter Courtney Joyner, also from USC, completed the ensemble, putting together the wraparound material which would feature Price as librarian Julian White.

These guys had been sharing a house in Tujunga, struggling as a team in breakout mode with the four episodes already in the can. Their primary goal for months – looking for more backing, sending out screeners to most of the usual film companies, but even with veteran actors like Cameron Mitchell and Clu Gulager in the cast they still could not find a distributor to release their anthology project.

David del Valle sitting in Vincent Price's chair on set.

Jeff had raised most of the money so far by returning to his hometown of Dalton, Georgia. Dalton, not too far from Atlanta, is known locally as the Carpet Capital of Georgia. Jeff had the movie bug bad enough to hit up the local residents for money to help finance the screenplay. This included asking girls he went to high school with, his dentist and his other friends. From all of this humble pie came the independent film company known as Conquest Entertainment.

I think it was my friend, film maker Dan Golden, who first put Jeff Burr in touch with me regarding getting Vincent to look at one of the segments and chat him up about appearing in the film as a kind of avenging host, lending his legendary reputation to, yet again, get another horror film off the ground which otherwise might wind up unseen and forgotten in some straight-to-video release.

At the time I had an impromptu house guest in the person of British director Michael Armstrong who, as fate would have it, actually wrote the screenplay for another one of Vincent’s 80’s Horror films, HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS. This is discussed in greater detail in one of the other essays in the Camp David collection. The reason Mike is of interest to this situation is that every time Jeff and Bill Burr would come over to discuss the project, Mike was there gloriously unemployed and preparing endless cocktails to fuel things up a bit. Needless to say, the end result was the two of us drunk out of our skulls, chatting the night away about Hollywood, and now and then touching on how to convince Price to do the film.

Execution Scene: Martine Beswicke strapped in chair. Lawrence Tierney as the warden in black suit. Right to left; Tony Clay in suit, Susan Tyrrell, David del Valle and Alan White

Now since these novice producers were dyed in the wool Horror fans, the notion of having the director of MARK OF THE DEVIL on tap for advice seemed like a no-brainer. However the advice of a boozy veteran whose own anemic career was in dire need of a transfusion was not always prudent, to say the least.

I mentioned Michael to Vincent at one point during all this and he recalled one incident in particular: “I remember waiting in London for the rewrites for LONG SHADOWS to turn up one afternoon. They arrived hand-delivered in the person of Mr. Armstrong. The script’s front cover and some of the pages were somewhat soaked in booze.” I had been wondering all along why Michael had never sought Vincent out while he was struggling in Hollywood. Vincent’s comments kind of explained why, and it made me sad because Michael Armstrong should have had more of a career than he did with all the talent he possessed (to learn more, read the installment “Marked by the Devil”).

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3 Responses »

  1. Hi David, thank you so much for recounting this poignant story. I really enjoyed reading it – especially Vincent’s zombie comments about Joe Piscopo – v. funny! How about posting some of those pics of Vincent and Roger? I’d love to see those…
    all the best…

  2. Hello –

    I lived next door to Susan Tyrrell for four years in Laurel Canyon and we were close friends in the late 70’s. When she moved to Hancock Park I continued to see her at her parties. I have lost touch with her over the years. I know what I can read on her bio’s etc. Does anyone know how to get in touch with her?

    Thank you!

  3. Excellent stuff, David. (And, yes, you’ll get the Ronald Stein piece this week!)

    Someone posted a link to your story on Fred Ray’s retromediaforum.com site; you’ve got fans. Fancy that!

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