If you haven’t seen Tales of Terror, you’re missing one of the greatest vintage anthology films in existence. Stacked with a genre friendly cast that included the fantastic Vincent Price, the chameleon like Peter Lorre and the great Basil Rathbone, it seemed a foregone conclusion that Tales of Terror would be a successful film.
The film’s longevity only cements that belief, as fans still adore this amazing picture.
This is the fourth (of eight) in the Corman-Poe cycle, in which Roger Corman directed adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe’s haunting tales. And you may call me a lunatic for this statement, but I’ve always considered Tales of Terror to be one of, if not the best of this cycle.
The pic features three tales: Morella, The Black Cat and The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar.
Morella tells the tale of Lenora, whose mother died while giving birth. Lenora’s father (played by Price) is initially abrasive and neglectful of Lenora, but he could have played things a bit cooler, as the ghost of Morella, Lenora’s mother, eventually stalks and murders her daughter anyway. Tough break, I do say. Even tougher? Morella’s acts somehow revives her to the vibrant woman she once was, and in another strange twist, Morella murders her husband, enabling both Morella and Lenora to once more thrive as beautiful, seemingly living ladies. Pretty wild, eh?
The Black Cat actually has very, very dark overtones that in today’s society can be all too real. Peter Lorre’s character, Montresor Herringbone holds some serious disdain for his wife, Annabelle who soon finds herself entangled with a far more impressive specimen: Fortunato Luchresi (played by Price). The two hit it off, to say the least, and although he’s not fond of his wife, he’s even less fond of another man – perceived to be superior on all fronts – bedding the woman. So, he has them entombed, while still live, in the basement. Eventually shrieks from within the walls draw attention, and law enforcement finally finds a way to intervene. When they free the deceased bodies, they also free a black cat, still alive, the only beacon of justice for two deceased lovers. It’s creepy, and while I may be far off on this assessment, it certainly seems that Richard Matheson’s masterwork, Stir of Echoes (Matheson did help craft the screenplay) might have also helped inspire Roger Corman.
And finally, we’ve got The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar, which is the most outlandish tale in the lineup. The story sees Vincent Price’s terminally ill character recruit hypnotist, Mr. Carmichael, to help ease the physical pain as his final days waste away. But Carmichael isn’t the helpful gent he seems to be. Instead, he’s happy to watch as Valdemar rots away, the whole time infatuated with, and hoping to hook up with the dying man’s wife, Helene. Helene isn’t going for that nonsense, and refuses the man’s advances, only to be attacked. In a final spin that could’ve crawled from an EC comic, Valdemar’s rotting corpse rises one final time to end the life of the devious Carmichael.
The film is fantastic, and it’s one of the earlier genre anthologies to incorporate plenty of well-timed and well-executed humor as a companion to the terror of the film. Comedy in horror wasn’t an unknown commodity of the genre, but few films pulled off the funny in such endearing fashion, leaving Tales of Terror to stand as a genuinely unique viewing experience that, surprisingly, still holds up extremely well today.
Although I began this article as a simple “Happy Anniversary” piece, it somehow morphed into a review, which the film does deserve, as do the fans who have never had the pleasure of checking this pic out. Just as there are great performers on board, there are also some excellent set pieces that manage to put some modern day sets to total and complete shame.
Watch this movie, in honor of its anniversary, and because it absolutely rocks!