Tales Of Terror (1962 USA)

The fourth venture into Poe adaptations for Roger Corman and Vincent Price sees them taking on the portmanteau format with a trilogy of creepers.  Somewhat a turning point in the series. Tales of Terror implements a wicked sense of humour for the first time that’ll become more and more a trademark in the later movies. It is usually very difficult to try to adapt Poe stories to film–similar to the difficulty of attempting to adapt H.P. Lovecraft to film. Both authors write very dense, poetic, often abstract prose, and Poe, especially, is sometimes not very plot-oriented. Although each segment in Tales of Terror succeeds in its own way.

Roger Corman’s directorial lavishness served to give the entire a film a certain air of pomposity that lacked from some of his previous efforts, and the varying directorial styles that Corman utilizes throughout the production, are the most prominent reason for the enjoyability of the movie. In the first segment, entitled ‘Morella, Vincent Price stars as Locke, a man traumatised to the point of insanity following the death of his wife (Leona Gage). Locke blames the early passing of his wife solely on his daughter Lenora (Maggie Pierce) and is therefore unimpressed and enraged when she shows up at his door twenty-six years since he last saw her. However, the relationship between the two starts to grow strong, before events take a horrifying turn. Easily the most solemn and horrific of the three stories, ‘Morella is, unfortunately, too short a segment for one to really extract full enjoyment from it.

Of the three vignettes, I enjoyed the Black Cat story the best, particularly with Peter Lorre in full bloom matching wits with Price in a wine tasting challenge. Both actors go a bit over the top in their characterizations, and one might best describe the facial expressions of Fortunato Luchresi as, well, Price-less. (His reaction to being called a “poseur” is a highlight!) The ending was somewhat telegraphed by the frequent appearance of Lorre’s hated black cat, nevertheless an ironically classic Poe ending. The Black Cat, which is Poe’s most conventionally plotted tale out of the three presented here, is also probably the most changed. The changes in this case are surely due to the still lingering studio-imposed moral and content restrictions of the “Golden Era” of Hollywood. The changes are understandable, if still lamentable, in historical context. Corman and Matheson turn Poe’s very dark and somewhat grisly story into more of a comedy for its first half, then more a tale of moral retribution in the second half. It’s a joy to watch in any event, especially seeing Price’s hammy comic performance. The ending of this section is as chilling as the beginning is humourous.

The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar, the final part, is perhaps the goriest and definitely the most eerie. It is also extremely disturbing in the sense that it shows, with great pain, what happens when a body dies but the mind still lives, in this case Price being the victim of the witch doctor-like Basil Rathbone. It is the fact that Price considers Rathbone a friend that this ends up being the most evil of all actions in the three stories, because there seems to be no reason for Rathbone’s obsessive desire to keep Price’s mind still alive, in torture with a dead, decomposing body, and it seems to be even more horrific than being buried alive. In watching these Gothic horror films from American International, the viewer can find a ton of entertainment, but there are some elements of each of these stories which classifies women in general in three ways: absolutely evil, absolutely good, and absolutely unfaithful. There are no in betweens for his female characters, while Price’s characters are all urbane, witty, romantic and all of a sudden nefarious. Another aspect of many of these stories is the way Price turns from noble to insane, and the gruesome ways (usually a fire) his characters are dispatched.

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Comments

  1. Excellent review! I can’t believe I almost forgot about this gem, I saw it years ago and thoroughly enjoyed it. You can’t beat a good portmanteau for enjoyment value – I wish they’d produce more nowadays!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you…yes, we could do with some more. I thought the success of Creepshow in the 80s was a new beginning for portmanteaus but then they just seemed to fade away.

    Like

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