Director: Roger Corman
Stars: Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Basil Rathbone
So this is one of those anthology movies that include three stories in one film. The anthology film was a type of film that became extremely popular during the sixties and seventies due to the ever growing popularity of EC comics line of horror comic books like Vault of Horror and Tales from the Crypt. During those days, British film company Amicus was making anthology films left and right, films like The House that Dripped Blood (1970) and Dr. Terrors House of Horror (1964) were very successful back in those days. Roger Corman’s American International Pictures was not far behind making these types of films, they did quite a few of them. Corman went through what is commonly referred to as his “Poe Cycle” which was that time when he did a bunch of films based on Edgar Allan Poe stories. Most of them didn’t really stick to Poe’ s writings and only used the premises presented in Poe’s stories as a catapult to do his own thing. The films from Corman's Poe Cycle all starred Vincent Price.
On Tales of Terror, the three stories start out with a narration done by Vincent Price himself. Price talks to the sound and image of a human heart beating. Price (in that spooky horror movie voice of his) asks the question: “Have you ever wondered what happens after death?” And so the first story begins, the first one is called “Morella” and it’s about a man who gets visited by his young daughter Lenora. Her father (Vincent Price) hates Lenora because she killed his wife during birth. She refuses to leave even though he emphatically scorns her. Soon Lenora discovers that her father is so obsessed with his dead wife that he has kept her rotting corpse inside of his room! Is there some deeper darker secret to be revealed? You bet your ass there is!
What I loved about this first story is how spooky it is. Roger Corman had a knack for directing these spooky horror films. I love The Fall of the House of Usher (1960) for the same reason: it’s just so damn spooky! It’s a horror movies horror movie. Lots of spider webs, and old mansion at the edge of the sea, corpses, ghosts, dark hallways, the wind blowing, fog, all these elements that make an old school horror movie fun to watch. And this one has all these elements in abundance. This is a good one to watch if you’re in the mood for that sort of old school horror film. It’s the kind of film you’d love to watch on a Halloween night, and this first story is really the one that captures that Halloween like atmosphere the most. This story has some excellent make up effects for its time, and I was surprised to see they even used some visual effects. And very effectively I might add! My only real complaint with this story is that in certain scenes, Corman chose to use stock footage for the exterior of the mansion, he used scenes from Fall of the House of Usher, but really, its no big deal, cause these shots are so effective anyways, and they fit perfectly into the story. This story does fit in the same universe as The Fall of the House of Usher since both stories are extremely similar. But that’s really a minor thing that you probably wont even notice, this story is excellent. Specially when it comes to its more supernatural elements!
The second story is entitled The Black Cat. This one starts Peter Lorre, who worked together with price on various films after this one. Peter Lorre is a drunkard. All he thinks about is drinking drinking drinking! One day, when he runs out of money for drinking, he decides to walk into a wine tasting event, where all these wine connoisseurs are about to present an Expert in wines played by Price himself. Lorre sees this as an opportunity to get a couple of free drinks so he challenges Vincent Price's wine knowledge! Needles to say, they both get extremely drunk that night! Vincent Price ends up taking Lorre to his house, because he is too drunk to walk by himself. When they finally arrive at Lorre’s house, Price and Lorre’s wife decide to kick start a relationship between them, which of course infuriates Peter Lorre and leads him to take drastic measures for revenge.
The film was adapted into comicbook form by DELL comics
Thing about this story is that it’s not Edgar Allan Poe’s The Black Cat every step of the way, it also has elements from another Poe story called The Cask of Amontillado. It basically takes elements from both of these stories, which is something that Corman did a lot in his Poe Cycle. He would take elements from various Poe stories and made one movie. The Black Cat is told in a very morbid yet funny tone, very black humor type of stuff. Peter Lorre says the funniest puns all through out his evil doings. When Price and Lorre get drunk as skunks, its gold! Specially when it comes to Price's face expressions! Lorre and Price ended up working together again on a couple of films like The Raven (1963) and The Comedy of Terrors (1964). This was the story I liked the least, just because its not as spooky as the other two, and because of its slow pace. Sometimes, this story seemed to stretch things so much it got on my nerves. Sometimes you wish the scene would get to the point already! Its not a bad story, and you will laugh at times, but the pacing killed it for me. Also, the other two stories are so different in tone, that when this one comes in with its dash of comedy, it kind of like doesnt fit in. But its still highly watchable.
The last of the three stories is based on Poe’s The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar and it’s about a dying old man named Valdemar. He has a decease that has him under a lot of pain, so he asks a hypnotist to put him under some kind of trance so that he won’t feel so much pain. The problem comes when Valdemar is hypnotized…and he dies while under hypnosis! So he remains stuck between the world of the living and the world of the dead! What horrors hill he tell us from beyond the grave?
Again, yet another spooky tale. The simple fact that its about a guy stuck in a hypnotic state between the land of the living and the land of the dead, and that he can speak to us from “the other side” is an awesome premise! I got to say, Poe was a genius for coming up with that one! Some might find it cheesy that Valdemar’s spirit talks to us from beyond the grave and that Price’s lips are not moving. All we hear is his voice, like an echo or some sort of ghost talking from the other side. Cheesy or Eeerie? I lean towards eerie myself. Also, it’s cool as hell to see Price as some kind of zombie. Again, this movie surprised me with its make up effects toward the ending of the tale.
The interesting thing about this movie is that it was later remade by George Romero and Dario Argento, that film was called Two Evil Eyes (1999). In it, Romero directed The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar in his very own style and with his very own twists. It starred Adrianne Barbeau as the wife of Valdemar who is after his wealthy inheritance. This movie puts more of an emphasis on the zombie aspect of the story as is expected since Romero was behind the camera. Argento’s version of The Black Cat stars Harvey Keitel as the cat hating photographer of the dead. This story focuses more on the importance of cats in witch folklore. Argento’s version of The Black Cat is a bit more shocking and gory then Peter Lore and Vincent Price comedic version. The only bad thing I can say about Tales of Terror is that some of the more jaded movie watchers might find these movies to be slow in pace. Me? I think they are fun, I love that old school horror atmosphere. As they say, they dont make them like this anymore. Still, for a fun old fashion horror film, with loads of atmosphere and a touch of comedy you can’t go wrong with Tales of Terror.
Rating: 4 out of 5