On January 31, 1977, Vincent Price guest-starred on The Muppet Show.
I’ll say that again.
On January 31, 1977, Hollywood horror legend Vincent Price guest-starred on The Muppet Show.
I love the Muppets. I love them wholeheartedly, unabashedly and unironically. I’ve loved them since I was an infant, and my feelings have never waned. Do you think it strange that a horror fiend such as myself would have so much love for something as wholesome and family-friendly as the Muppets? Very well, I am large; I contain multitudes. But Jim Henson was no stranger to our favorite genre: this is the man who created Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal with Brian Froud, both dark fantasies with plenty of horrific elements. Plus, Sesame Street has taught hundreds of millions of children that monsters can be our friends. As for Vincent Price, he never took himself seriously and was always willing to play on his own spooky image for a laugh. So when the two came together, we got a perfect mix of horror and comedy with an entire episode devoted to creepiness and weirdness, and we got to see–and hear–some really great stuff.
The very first segment is magnificent, even though Price doesn’t appear in it. We meet two creatures: a small, nervous pink fellow by the name of Shakey Sanchez (performed by Jim Henson) and a gigantic orange beast called Behemoth (Richard Hunt). Behemoth wants to eat Shakey, who unsurprisingly disagrees with this plan, and their confrontation plays out as a duet performance of Frank Sinatra’s “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.” Shakey spends the duration of the song being repeatedly devoured by Behemoth and escaping again, at times singing from inside Behemoth himself. It looks simple enough, but what amazed me is that the entire thing is done in one single shot. No cutaways or anything. Even when Behemoth hoists Shakey bodily into the air (removing the puppet from Henson’s hand) and swallows him, and then mere seconds later Shakey (restored to Henson) sticks his head out of Behemoth’s mouth and starts singing again, there are no edits. It’s world-class puppetry, all done in the service of a goofy extended cannibalism joke.
Yes, a lot of Muppets get eaten by other Muppets in this episode, in case you were wondering.
I’ll gloss over the rest of the non-Price content of the episode, although it’s classic Muppet material with spooky and gruesome twists: a three-headed monster wants to audition, even though it can’t agree with itself on what its act is. A man’s living room furniture sprouts eyes and teeth, and he narrowly escapes, only to be eaten by his television set. In the UK spot (a segment of each episode which aired only in the UK, but can be found in the video and DVD releases), three chromakeyed transparent ghosts perform the Beatles’ “I’m Looking Through You” backstage, much to Fozzie Bear’s alarm. Great stuff, all of it.
But what of Price? Well, we first meet him in the role of a mysterious traveler, accompanied by a beautiful assistant and a hideously deformed monster, who seeks shelter in the Transylvanian castle being rented by Fozzie and Gonzo.
Later, Price, a gourmet cook and cookbook author, appears in a panel discussion on fine cuisine. The discussion is hosted by Kermit the Frog and includes Pierre LaCousse, one of the world’s greatest chefs, and Gorgon Heap, one of the world’s greatest eaters. While Price and Pierre debate the virtues of Escalopes de Veau a la Estragon, Gorgon devours the meal that Pierre has prepared (dishes and all), then Pierre’s hat, and finally Pierre himself. When he sets his sights on Kermit, Kermit seeks help from his guest star… only to learn that Price has his own taste for–what else–frog’s legs.
Kermit does get his revenge, though, in a one-on-one conversation in which Price reveals his hard-won technique for playing a convincing vampire, and the amphibian turns out to be a very quick learner.
Tragically, due to licensing issues, the episode’s pièce de résistance was cut from the Disney DVD box set, although it does appear on the old Time-Life DVD (which also includes the Alice Cooper episode, which is likely to receive its own blog post in the future). Simply put, Vincent Price, decked out in a shaggy wig and monster hands, is joined by a legion of Muppet monsters for a rousing rendition of James Taylor’s hit “You’ve Got a Friend.” You can tell that he loved every moment of it. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.
Images were taken from the Muppet Wiki.