This struggle has endured countless attempts by the four deities to dip the proceedings in vats of anodyne fluid to quell the continuous eruptions of wrath on both sides. Lined up on one side, blank video tapes for shoes, riding imaginary chickens, are the John Waters brigade, each oathed into allegiance to their quirky, camp master amidst great antenatal turmoil in the womb. The opposite lengths are crowded by towering statuettes, clad in velvet tank-tops, and police sirens spilling forth from their mouths – they are the Vincent Price contingent.
The great voice wars were initially sparked off as the two grand masters sat in the lobby of an advertising agency, each awaiting proclamations from the auditions happening beyond a vast iron door made of melted prophecies and the screams of lemurs. Under the miasma excreted by the gateway, their polite small talk turned into a tennis match of abuse as one would declare his superior talents in the voice department while the other would lambaste those declarations with hammer-blows of dexterous speech. Very quickly the entire building had crumbled to dust around the two barking gentlemen in suits, bounding in and out of monologues soaked in auditory tones so transcendent passersby would be eviscerated on contact – a fatal call-and-response was searing the fabric of existence.
Waters versus Price. Comparable talents on every side. Skills to articulate every possible sentence in the most joyous of vocals – never could a world hold the two of them without some sort of armageddon taking flight in the air. And now here it is, gusting along the grasses of the avenue as a pair of gargantuan heads take up residence in the sky, clouds lacquering sweaty brows, facing each other in preparation for the mighty end confrontation that will decide who has the best voice in the business.
A blurring at the centre of the image, minds are thrust backwards. Heading deep into memories long exfoliated by shower gel, vortexes are smacked sideways as a picture enters the frame. It’s painted in black and white and gesticulates to the mores of 40s
Flanked by a freeze-frame of the epic duelling luminaries of camp, the tale ushers along our interest. The discourse unwinds and we learn of Janet. She’s been missing her husband – ‘long dead from the foreign conflicts,’ thought her perm. But no, not only is he upright with life, but he’s coming to reignite the fires of marriage, to ring the death knell on her widow tax-breaks. Loaded up on anticipation, she erodes the rocks of temporality by casting her gaze out the window of her hotel room. It’s while doing this that she catches a glimpse of the mannerisms of one Mr Vincent Price – he’s engrossed in an argument with his spouse. Extending her voyeurism into extra-time, Janet gets to view the agitated Price introduce his wife’s head to a candlestick, a meeting that proves fatal for the lady. This homicidal hobby causes our empathetic voyeur to fall into shock, and the state her partner discovers her in is a dedication to Malcolm McDowell, as she sits, eyes wrenched open, ogling fluff sliding down her corneas.
Luckily, Price is a doctor in the psychiatric arts and he takes her to his sanatorium for what he reassures her husband to be some TLC – and not the band, the real stuff, the sort that comes with certificates of authenticity. Price knows that his actions were not unspotted, the woman now his patient had perpetrated a cruel act of panopticism on his murderous pastime. Yet he thinks that manipulation of her remembrance can prevent ten to twenty in the pen. So Price inaugurates a regime of mental terrorism: vetoing desires of her husband to see her, hurtling hypnotic bullets of re-education at her in the night, confiscating her Diagnosis Murder DVDs, etc etc.
Residual shouts from the present fail to rupture this pictorial illustration – Price’s sanatorium goads us to dare look away, sneakily attentive to the fascination flowing out our saliva glands. With Jimmy Stewart bouncing past on the back of a massive bunny, ruminations materialise concerning this house of Dr Price and how eye-catching a location it is for the narrative. Glistening in unison with the pillars stapled to the front lawn, Price spins pseudo-psychiatric poems to offset the damsel’s beau to great effect, while also accruing the coupons necessary for a sojourn with his clandestine lover, a nurse from the clinic. Soon knowledge is issued informing one and all that she’s the vindictive half of this amorous duo – he may be swallowed in regrets and nervous energy, but she ain’t felt a sympathetic sentiment since the last beheading of the Terror. Watch as she reproaches his doubts as to the best way to handle the bedridden patient, as she tears the morals from his body, thus ensuring a hefty dose of injections intended to silence Janet permanently by death.
Shock may smell uneasily like something the studios threw together in-between production meetings for Double Indemnity, but its endearing simplicity is carried by the presence of the gentle vocal strains of Vincent Price. His soothing tonalities rub smooth the jagged dialogue and give added impetus to the suspense effectuated by the question of just how he will deal with this damn witness. Harry Ford had to become Amish and almost surrender the grandiosity of the Ford Punch, but Price need not do anything quite so pious – his voice carries all mystical qualities needed, for it is an arbiter of teleological masturbation. At this time, his raised eyebrows had yet to be steeped in Poe, and not even old Phibes had entered the scene, but bliss is nevertheless communicated with every line of dialogue affixed his person.
Then, under the dusk red of spontaneous cataclysm, the credits polluted the screen and a misty ecstasy filled the room. The blotchings of Shock became faint and a knife-edge lacerated its heart, causing reality to spill forth. There, projected high above the earth, the faces of Vincent Price and John Waters, glances floating locked in time, giving birth to reptilian shards of disdain, on the cusp of a conflict of words, wherein all stands still but for the flaming vowels and detonating consonants streaming across the heavens. And just then the mythical giants were roused, accelerating indeterminably towards annihilation.