Bag of the Red Death

October 26, 2012 — Yesterday was the 19th anniversary of the death of horror actor Vincent Price. I know this not because I’m an appreciator of his work. Although I am. A huge one. I also don’t know this because I’m good at dates. I’m not. In three days, I’ll forget the significance of October 25.

I know the date because one of my ideas for the Halloween blog this year was to put together a Halloween calendar: 31 spooky things that happened on each of the 31 days of October. Like the Orson Welles War of the Worlds scare on October 30, 1898. The Twilight Zone series debut on October 2, 1959. And Vincent Price’s death on October 25, 1993. He was denied just one more Halloween.

Anyway, I got too busy for the calendar idea, but somehow on the night that I was researching Price’s last day on the planet, he caused me to buy a candy bag on eBay. Not a bag of candy, mind you, but a small, yellowing empty bit of paper bearing the name of the long defunct, “National Candy Co.” It cost me six bucks. But I had an idea. A way to honor Vincent Price on his death day.

The National Candy Company was started in the early 1900s by Vincent Leonard Price, Sr., Vincent Price’s father, and some other gents. VLP, Sr., ending up president of the company, and it was headquartered in Price’s hometown of St. Louis, Missouri, and was the biggest candy company in the country at one point with a couple of dozen factories churning out jellybeans, jawbreakers, and other tooth-rotters. Today, the 115-year-old, seven-floor factory on Gravois Avenue in St. Louis is considered a historical monument.

In 1948, when Vincent Price was in his late 30s, the company was sold to Chase Candy Company. Price was just about a decade into his film career at the time and I don’t know how big he was on being a Willy Wonka. Hm. Price as Willy Wonka. No. Still doesn’t beat Gene Wilder.

Chase Candy Company was started in 1876, and is still in existence today; however, it long ago dissolved the original National brand. According to the eBay listing, this 6x4-inch bag dates back to 1940s. I believe it, because we need much bigger bags to consume our allotments of candy today.

Anyway, the idea was to watch one of Vincent Price’s movies on the night of his death, while eating candy from this artifact of his grandfather’s company. Seems a tad convoluted, but my big idea is literally to eat candy and watch a horror movie. It’s not exactly an exemplar of creativity.

The real quandary, though, was what to fill that bag with. The candy National was known for was either generic or not around anymore. Plus, I wanted to pair it thematically with whatever Vincent Price movie we ended up watching. Gummy flies and The Fly? Peppermint Patty Bats and The Bat? Wax bottles and House of Wax? Tongue Tinglers and The Tingler? Obviously that last one is the winner, but apparently Tongue Tinglers are an Australian candy brand, and I didn’t have enough time or money to get something as silly as candy shipped across the world. I mean, I bought a 70-year-old paper bag, that should be enough, right?

I eventually decided to go simple. Red candies and Roger Corman’s 1964 The Masque of the Red Death. After all, Edgar Allan Poe’s death anniversary was less than three weeks ago. You learn a lot of dates when putting together half of a calendar.

For our own particular Red Death, we went out and bought Swedish Fish, Twizzlers, Cinnamon Bears, Hot Tamales, and Boston Baked Beans, mixed them all together, stuck as many as we could in the National Candy Company bag, and watched the movie, our recently carved Jack-O-Lanterns glowing and grinning at us like puppy dogs waiting for our scraps. They can have my Hot Tamales. Those things always taste like stink bugs smell. Just kidding. There’s no candy I won’t eat if I can just get through the first handful or so.

The Masque of the Red Death is one Poe’s more surreal stories, and one of the more surreal Corman-Price adaptations. In it, a hedonistic, cruel, Satan-worshipping prince (played perfectly by Price, naturally) tries to hide himself and his fellow nobles in a sealed-up castle from a plague sweeping the country, the titular Red Death. The film is basically one long, depraved party. Its mood is consistent and unrelieved, and if it were remade today would be full of bizarre sex. And it has one of my favorite movie posters of all time.

They padded Poe’s short story into feature length by adding the Satanist angle and merging it with Poe’s story Hop-Frog, which was based on the horrific and real-life Ball of The Burning Men, a tragedy that makes me happy I’m a wallflower.

As to my own story, when you’re just eating candy and watching a movie, there’s no way to bring it to a satisfactory conclusion. By the time the rainbow of personified diseases was walking somberly around the haunted forest at the end of the film, I’d done some good damage to all that Red No. 5. And came close to destroying my National Candy Company bag by almost dropping it in a Cherry Pepsi spill. When I find a theme, I stick with it, man.

I said at the beginning of this post that Vincent Price wasn’t allowed one more Halloween. However, he was given every single Halloween from then on out. When you dedicate such a big part of your life to the macabre as he did with his acting career, you’ll be remembered every October. Also, the appropriate pun there is “deadicate.”

Happy Death Day, Mr. Price.

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