Tales of Terror (1962)
Director: Roger Corman
Starring: Vincent Price, Peter Loree, Basil Rathbone, Debra Paget & Joyce Jameson
Released by: Kino Lorber Studio Classics
Reviewed by Mike Kenny
Continuing his cycle of Edgar Allan Poe adaptations, Producer/Director Roger Corman (X: The Man with X-Ray Eyes) would combine three short stories from the master of gothic horror inTales of Terror. All starring the great Vincent Price (House on Haunted Hill) with appearances from screen legends Peter Loree (20,000 Leagues Under the Sea) and Basil Rathbone (The Adventures of Robin Hood), this triple threat of frights delivers shriek-inducing scares and hilariously dark comedy in one fiendishly entertaining feature.
Once again re-teaming with Screenwriter Richard Matheson (House of Usher, The Pit and the Pendulum), Producer/Director Roger Corman would rummage through the noted works of Edgar Allan Poe to continue his long-running series of successful adaptations. Choosing shorter subjects, some of which mere pages in length, Corman and Matheson were concerned with not repeating themselves, opting to deliver an anthology of sorts and introducing humor to the gothic festivities. In Morella, Lenora Locke (Maggie Pierce, My Mother the Car), estranged from her father (Price), returns home to make amends in her ailing state. A depressed drunk, the elder Locke is insistent she’s responsible for the death of his wife Morella (Leona Gage, Scream of the Butterfly) as he houses her decomposing corpse in his mansion. Feeling sympathy after learning of his daughter’s short lifeline, Locke allows Lenora to stay as Morella’s spirit rises again to extract revenge on her child. Recycling sets and footage from House of Usher for a climatic inferno sequence, Morella breathes the tried and true gothic atmosphere from previous Poe adaptations with an intriguing story but, rushes itself to a fast-paced conclusion for a scare. Although, the opening tale could have benefitted from extended suspense, Price and company are in top form setting the stage for a most enjoyable anthology.
In the film’s finest short, The Black Cat finds hopeless drunk Montresor Herringbone (Peter Loree) as he challenges noted wine tester Fortunato Luchresi (Price) to a tasting competition. Pushing a noticeably more comedic tone, The Black Cat offers a memorable sequence as Price and Loree go drink for drink, utilizing their own unique tasting techniques leaving viewers in stitches. Before long, Fortunato meets Montresor’s unappreciated wife Annabelle (Joyce Jameson, The Comedy of Terrors) and the two engage in a secret love affair, eventually discovered by Montresor. Filled with jealously and consistently drinking, Montresor begins hallucinating venomous snakes and tarantulas as he hatches a devious plan to get rid of the happy couple. Hilarious and haunting, The Black Cat benefits from its use of comedy with the chemistry between Price, Loree and Jameson selling it beautifully. Corman’s satisfaction with the intentional tongue in cheek tone directly influenced repeating the formula with Price and Loree inThe Raven.
Finally, The Case of M. Valdemar once again stars Price as M. Valdemar. Slowly dying from a dreadful disease, Valdemar enlists the help of hypnotist Mr. Carmichael (Basil Rathbone) to ease his suffering. Agreeing to be hypnotized in his final waking moments, Carmichael places Valdemar’s subconscious in between the worlds of life and death as his body passes on. Fully in control, Carmichael attempts to force Valdemar’s widow Helene (Debra Paget, The Haunted Palace) into marriage until, unexpectedly Valdemar emerges from his deathly state. Incorporating dreamlike imagery and an icky decomposing sequence, The Case of M. Valdemargreatly entertains with old friends Price and the elderly Rathbone playing off each to much delight. In addition, David Frankham (Return of the Fly) makes a welcome appearance as the young hero that stands tall next to the likes of his fellow legendary co-stars.
Shot over the course of three quick weeks, Tales of Terror is an excellent addition in the memorable Corman/Poe series that dared to be different with its anthology storytelling and inclusion of comedy. Unsurprisingly, Price, surrounded by respected thespians Loree and Rathbone, charm the viewer and chew up the scenery while, Cinematographer Floyd Crosby (Hand of Death, Premature Burial) captures the film’s gloriously gothic atmosphere. With only minor grievances regarding Morella, Tales of Terror pushes its episodes of murder, resurrection and mind control with endless entertainment and wicked humor sure to cast a spell on its viewer.
Kino Lorber Studio Classics presents Tales of Terror with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Relaying naturally pleasing skin tones with sharp detail in facial features and its gothic backgrounds, Corman’s anthology stuns. Mild but expected instances of flakes are on display but, are outweighed by crisp black levels and popping colors during the trance sequences in The Case of M. Valdemar. Preserving its exceptional atmosphere with a vibrant filmic appearance, Tales of Terror has never looked better! Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, Tales of Terror registers respectable dialogue levels with nothing lost in delivery. Composer Les Baxter’s (Black Sabbath) impressive score and haunting sounds of ambiance serve the mix nicely and highlight more climatic moments appropriately. Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Film Historian Tim Lucas, Audio Commentary with Film Historian David Del Valle & Actor David Frankham and an Interview with Producer/Director Roger Corman (10:43) with Corman sharing fond memories of the shoot, his love for the comedic elements in The Black Cat and his enjoyable experience working with Rathbone whom he would also cast in The Comedy of Terrors with Price and Loree. In addition, Trailers From Hell with Roger Corman (2:32), the Original Theatrical Trailer (2:22) and a reversible cover art round out the generous and informative spread of supplements.
Serving as the fourth installment in Corman’s much beloved Edgar Allan Poe adaptations, Tales of Terror would be the only anthology of the series but, one that successfully attempted to stray from its formula at the risk of becoming too stale for its audiences. Beautifully shot with leading man Price sharing the screen with Loree and Rathbone, Tales of Terror’s experiment paid off with three vastly entertaining episodes that play in Poe’s gothic realm while delivering well achieved laughs and scares alike. Looking and sounding better than ever, Kino Lorber Studio Classics treats this Corman classic with the utmost respect, delivering a definitive presentation for dedicated fans. Accompanied with enlightening special features, Tales of Terror is an essential slice of 60s gothic horror that delivers three times the frights.
For more Blu-ray/DVD reviews from Mike Kenny, head over to Mike’s Pop Culture Playhouse!