Tales of Terror

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 10/21/09 14:24:34

"Not bad at all, times three."
3 stars (Average)

I like the Idea of Roger Corman's "Tales of Terror" quite a bit, although I'm surprised it got made as a feature: Television anthology programs were enough of a going concern in the early 1960s that it would seem to make more sense to have Corman adapt various Edgar Allen Poe tales with Vincent Price there, rather than as an anthology feature. Of course, even a Corman production probably had more to work with than television at the time, and maybe the movie wouldn't have ended up with such a nifty cast.

The first story told is "Morella", in which a young woman by the name of Lenora (Maggie Pierce) visits her father Locke (Price) for the first time in twenty years, having spent her entire life at boarding schools and with relatives. She finds him still mourning - and haunted by - the loss of his wife Morella (Leona Gage), for which he blames his daughter.

Take out the "scary movie" elements, and this would still be a pretty good piece. Price's theatricality is there, and Corman is ever aware that he's not making a movie called "Tales of Awkward Reconciliation". Price and Pierce play the part of a wounded family very well, though, and it's a pleasure to see that even though Price's job description by a certain point was "being Vincent Price", he had range beyond the genial monster.

Next up is "The Black Cat", though it certainly has had "A Cask of Amontillado" poured into it. It centers around Montressor (Peter Lorre), once an officer during the Revolutionary War but now the town drunk, whose wife Annabel (Joyce Jameson) is pretty well fed up with him. Looking for a drink when thrown out of his usual bar, he comes upon a wine tasting where he meets expert oenophile Fortunato (Price), who is impressed not only with Montressor's expertise with the grape but also his sadly neglected wife.

Lorre is not quite so indifferent here as he was in The Raven, although he tends to have two modes in this role: Angry drunk and bitter wisecracker. Price, meanwhile, seems to get a kick out of his role, a genial fop who happily enters into an affair with Annabel but seems to have no issue with Montressor at all. It's an odd tone, a bit of light sandwiched between a couple grimmer tales, but it mostly works.

Finally, there's "The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar", in which Price plays the title character, a man dying of an illness that leaves him in chronic pain - until he starts getting treatment from hypnotist Dr. Carmichael (Basil Rathbone). The condition he attaches is that Valdemar must allow Carmichael to hypnotize him just before the moment of death, testing his theory that this will keep someone from passing on fully. Valdemar's wife Helene (Debra Paget) and doctor James (David Frankham) aren't thrilled with this, especially since Carmichael's intentions appear sinister.

Rathbone makes for a great villain; unfortunately, he's not given a whole lot to do. He's got the right attitude, and he makes a fine foil for Paget and Frankham in their scenes. Matheson just doesn't give him a lot to do; it's a very passive story. That changes quickly toward the end, with a fairly satisfying finale (and pretty nasty, for the period).

None of the stories are great, but all of them are good. Three times good isn't quite great, but it's a decent enough way to spend an hour and a half.

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