You could fill most of this page with the passions and projects of veteran Fort Worth journalist-author Michael H. Price. The 63-year-old currently writes a column for the Fort Worth Business Press as well as for the online edition of the horror fanzine Fangoria. The Star-Telegram employed him as its chief film critic from 1985 to 1998, and he was instrumental in helping get the original Fort Worth Film Festival (later the Lone Star International Film Festival) off the ground in 1998.
In addition, Price has been an occasional collaborator with legendary cult comics illustrator R. Crumb on plays that have been performed at Hip Pocket Theatre in Fort Worth. In the ’70s, Price did some work as a courtroom sketch artist, illustrating many of the dramatic moments from Cullen Davis’ infamous murder trial. As an author and illustrator, he’s delved into graphic novels as well as film history and regional music lore. His jazz piano skills aren’t half bad either –– he can sometimes be found performing with musician friends at Hip Pocket and Arts Fifth Avenue.
While his resumé would appear diverse, even scattershot, his various pursuits are connected by one thing: a love of the obscure, the eccentric, and the lurid — but only if they’re grounded in deeply American subject matter. In lost B-movies, forgotten comic books, and sin-saturated crime fiction, Price is always looking for the nonconformist voice.
He phrases it this way: “Let’s say Yo Yo Ma was playing at Bass Hall, but on the same night the carnival came through town with the freak show and hoochie-coochie dancers. [Between Bass Hall and the carnival], I know which one I’d choose.”
Price’s two most recent projects reflect his appetite for the low-rent baroque. Last fall, he self-published through Amazon.com Forbidden Horrors: Comix From the Gone World, a compilation of public domain comics that the long-defunct, New York-based S.M. Iger Studios produced during the early to mid 1950s. The twist in Forbidden Horrors is that Price and various contributors have rewritten the dialogue to introduce an improvisational, Theater of the Absurd-type vibe to the original cheesy horror/crime antics. And he’s about to publish the fifth volume of the B-movie reference book series Forgotten Horrors that he began back in 1979 with the late George E. Turner, former editor of American Cinematographer. Volume five is called The Atom Age, and like the other Forgotten Horrors compendiums, it provides reviews, essays, trivia, and factoids about independently produced genre pictures from what Price calls “the Poverty Row studios” in Los Angeles.
Price grew up in Amarillo attending the local moviehouses that his uncle managed for the regional Interstate Circuit Theater chain. (The Ridglea Theater in Fort Worth began as an Interstate Circuit operation.) Nicholas Ray’s 1954 gender-fuck Western Johnny Guitar and the 1953 Ray Harryhausen-animated The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms were examples of the kind of oddball movies Price adored. He met many producers and actors who came through town to promote their films, including the original movie showman William Castle.
“I got to help wire the theater seats when Castle came through for The Tingler,” Price recalled, referring to that movie’s gimmick of delivering small electric shocks to its viewers. “The victims were carefully selected.”
The Tingler is a mega-budget work of genius compared to the tiny schlock-fests that Price recounts in Forgotten Horrors, Vol. 5: The Atom Age. (His co-authors are Tulsa-based critic John Wooley and L.A. film and TV historian Jan Alan Henderson.) The book’s subjects date from the late 1940s through the early ’50s and include horror-crime-suspense titles such as Untamed Women, The Virgin Goddess, Souls of Sin, and some harder-to-classify novelties, including a Western by then-famous boxer turned comedian “Slapsie Maxie” Rosenbloom called Hopalong Rosenbloom.
“Space exploration and ‘The Red Peril’ are all over this book,” Price said, “and there are a whole lot of scantily clad prehistoric women for those red-blooded American ex-soldiers who spent so much time in the South Pacific.”
As for last year’s public domain comics compilation Forbidden Horrors: Comix From the Gone World, Price was careful to avoid an attitude of snarky condescension in the trippy, non-sequitur dialogue that he and other writers added to the original work. In his mind, it’s bad enough that so many doubtlessly sincere Iger Studios illustrators toiled in anonymity for their entire careers.
“I didn’t want to pull a Mystery Science Theater on these comics,” he said, referring to the hit ’90s basic cable show famous for snickering at obscure no-budget movies. “In order to make fun of something, you’ve got to study it and absorb it and appreciate it. The last thing these long-gone artists need is belittlement. They were probably just working for booze money.”