Saturday, May 16, 2009

Horror: Vincent (1982, Tim Burton)

Vincent (1982)
USA, 6 min

Directed by: Tim Burton
Written by: Tim Burton
Starring: Vincent Price (voice)

Vincent (1982) isn't the sort of film that you'd expect to come out of Walt Disney Productions, but it's exactly what you'd expect from Tim Burton. The director's first success, this six-minute animated short is both an affectionate tribute to the acting career of Vincent Price, and a vehicle for Burton's perverse sense of black humour. Vincent Malloy is a seven-year-old boy with an unhealthy obsession with the actor who shares his name, such that he actively wishes to become Vincent Price – or, more accurately, the range of characters that Price so memorably brought to the silver screen. Via increasingly-ghoulish flights of imagination, young Vincent envisages mutating his dog into a zombie henchman, dipping his auntie into hot wax, and attempting to dig up the totting corpse of his dead wife. Unfortunately, I'm not familiar enough with Price's body of work to spot all the references, but I'm fairly certain that among the movies Burton had in mind were House of Wax (1953), House of Usher (1960), The Last Man on Earth (1964) and, of course, The Raven (1963).

The film is animated in a style reminiscent of 1920s German Expressionism, with the continually-shifting walls and furniture serving to convey Vincent's escalating madness. A definite stylistic inspiration would also have been Ted Parmelee's The Tell-Tale Heart (1953), an excellent animated short film (based on Edgar Allen Poe's short story) that utilised Expressionism to emphasise the insanity of its narrator, voiced by James Mason. But Tim Burton goes one better than James Mason, employing the services of Vincent Price himself, who considered the film one of the most memorable tributes he'd ever received. Price narrates the story as a poem, in a manner than suggests the work of Dr. Seuss, but was probably aiming more to emulate Poe's "The Raven," the final lines of which is used to close the story. Like Poe's protagonists in both "The Raven" and "The Tell-Tale Heart," young Vincent is left at the whim of his insanity, offered little opportunity for redemption or resolution. If you can handle Burton's macabre sense of humour, then this is a gem.

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