Saturday, October 22, 2011

Night of Terror #22: 'Tales of Terror'

I watched another Poe adaptation this weekend, this one containing three Poe tales into one movie. Apparently more than one filmmaker has thought the best way to overcome the "length problem" of doing Poe movies is to cram more than one story into a movie. Pretty clever.

This movie, from the director probably most associated with Poe, is from Roger Corman. He's famous for cranking out ultra low-budget exploitation movies, both as a director and a producer. But his Poe adaptations for American International Pictures are probably his most lavish productions, featuring elaborate costumes, Cinemascope, Technicolor, the whole bit. Tales of Terror is a Corman/Poe movie in that tradition, featuring, (of course), Vincent Price, this time in three different roles.

This first segment, "Morella," is the weakest of the bunch. It features a very straightforward gothic horror tale with Vincent Price as the estranged father of the girl who as a baby he blamed for the death of his wife. It turns out the wife shared this opinion, and might have some supernatural trouble to dish out on the daughter now that she's back in the house. It's short, and a little creepy, but not up to the standard of entertainment value of the other two segments (particularly the second one).

That second one is called "The Black Cat," and it might just be one of the best things Corman ever did. It's a masterpiece of comic horror, with Peter Lorre as a drunken cad who steals money from his wife to buy wine with, and who hates his black cat. Price is, dare I say it, in the role he was born to play: The World's Fanciest and Dandiest Man, a wine taster who eventually steals Lorre's wife. If you've ever read "The Black Cat" or "The Cask of Amontillado" you can guess what happens next, but I won't spoil it. Suffice it to say that there's a striking gearshift between the hilarious hijinks of a drunken Peter Lorre bumming around town and the horrific climax.

"The Facts of the Case of M. Valdemar" goes back to the serious tone of the first segment, but with more entertaining results. The original story is just about a guy who gets mesmerized "at the point of death" and remains suspended in this state for while, only to rot away instantly when he's brought out of hypnosis. The movie adds a bit of business about the one doing the hypnosis (Basil Rathbone) being in it for his own insidious purposes - oh, and Valdemar (played by a nearly comatose Price) turns into a zombie at the end. Good stuff.

All in all, this probably stands as one of the better Corman/Poe pictures, if for no other reason than the better pacing the anthology format provides for. Give it a watch, especially if you're a fan of Vincent Price or Peter Lorre (or if you're interested in becoming one).

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