NEW YORK — At 73, Vincent Price, "The Merchant of Menace," has found a new generation of fans because of his monologue on Michael Jackson's hit song, "Thriller," and the current film festivals and late-night TV broadcasts featuring his old horror flicks.
"You really feel ancient when they start showing retrospectives of your work," said Price. "That, and when you're in a wax museum. It all makes you feel as if you've been buried."
Back from the casket, Price's career received a boost from the spooky verse he performed on "Thriller." All it took was one day to tape his rap, and now kids are turning up at his lectures, where he performs a campy version of Jackson's trademark dance, the moonwalk.
"I'm finally famous," he told the newsletter for his alma mater, Yale University.
Price, the suave host of public television's "Mystery!" series, is also friendly with other rock stars, including Alice Cooper and members of the group Kiss. "They work late and get to see many of my movies on the telly," he said.
It was Price's work in Cooper's music video, "Welcome to My Nightmare," that interested Jackson's producer, Quincy Jones. "I think I might be the only one left who is identified with that kind of title," Price said.
About the enigmatic Jackson, Price said, "he couldn't be more adorable. I really don't know him very well. But he did send me a platinum album."
It might surprise some that Price was born and raised in St. Louis. Even as a kid he had a distinctive voice. His deep resonance gained a continental flavor when he was a young art student in England.
"To me, I sound like everybody else in Missouri," said Price. "I think I sound just like Harry Truman."
Price has appeared in more than 100 films, the bulk of them straight dramatic roles ("Laura," "The Three Musketeers"). He says his career direction took a turn toward the bizarre when actors like "James Dean and Marlon Brando came along and stopped speaking English."
His serious films and musical sojourns aside, Price's legacy will always be his horror movies, including "The Pit and the Pendulum," "The House of Wax" and the spoofy "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein" and "Dr. Goldfoot and the Sex Machine."
"I'm not the least bit disappointed that I'm remembered primarily for my horror roles," he said. "We were all very serious about those pictures. Boris (Karloff), Basil (Rathbone), Peter (Lorre) and I knew we weren't doing 'Hamlet,' but we also thought we were doing marvelous entertainment."
Price says many of today's horror films are repugnant, not scary, substituting sex and gore for the good old-fashioned surprises and shockers.
"The old ones had a sense of humor. They had a sense of the ridiculous," he said. "A movie like 'Comedy of Terrors' had a great, simple plot: a family of out-of-work undertakers had to drum up business, so they tried to kill this rich man, but Basil refused to die.
"Some of the new movies are extremely well made, but they all have sex, which is completely irrelevant. Suddenly in the middle of the movie there's this sex scene, just to draw audiences."
Price said the public has become desensitized and immune to violence, but it still appreciates a good BOO! now and then.
"I saw one new film that had this grossly violent scene and nobody moved," he said. "Then the film used one of the oldest tricks -- somebody walked out of the shadows at the just the right moment -- and everybody jumped out of their seats."
"Mystery!" is more faithful to the old classics, and that's why Price thinks viewers are so loyal to this clever, well-crafted PBS series, which has the three-part "Praying Mantis" underway on Thursday nights now, followed Jan. 31 by the six-part "Agatha Christie Mysteries"
In April, TV audiences can see Price as Sir Desfard Murgatroyd in Gilbert & Sullivan's "Ruddigore." A gourmet chef with two cookbooks to his credit, the veteran actor also pops up in TV commercials for the American Dairy Assn. and other products.
And TV buffs might remember him for appearances on "Batman," "The Brady Bunch" and "Ellery Queen." "I always wanted my two children to see me do some things that are identified with their generation," he said.
What could be more now-generation than singing a duet, of sorts, with Michael Jackson?