Tales of Terror (1962)

Tales of Terror (1962)
  • Time: 89 min
  • Genre: Comedy | Horror | Mystery
  • Director: Roger Corman
  • Cast: Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Basil Rathbone, Maggie Pierce, Leona Gage


Three stories adapted from the work of Edgar Allen Poe. A man and his daughter are reunited, but the blame for the death of his wife hangs over them, unresolved. A derelict challenges the local wine-tasting champion to a competition, but finds the man’s attention to his wife worthy of more dramatic action. A man dying and in great pain agrees to be hypnotized at the moment of death, with unexpected consequences.

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  • By the time the incredibly prolific Roger Corman came round to making his fourth entry in the now-dubbed Corman-Poe cycle, it seemed that the count-the-coppers director was getting a bit bored with Edgar Allen Poe. Although he would make four more adaptations, including one of the best – The Tomb of Ligeia (1964) – Tales of Terror lacks the gothic atmosphere generated in the likes of The Fall of the House of Usher (1960) and The Pit and the Pendulum (1961). There’s three tales here, but little of the terror. In fact, the film works best as a comedy thanks to some tongue-in-cheek camping from Corman-Poe stalwart Vincent Price, and one of the most convincing impersonations of a drunk I’ve ever seen from Peter Lorre (although the actor’s morphine addiction may have played some part).

    The first tale, Morella, sees Price don the familiar guise of a reclusive widower, Locke, holed up in a decaying mansion in solitude. His estranged daughter Lenora (Maggie Pierce) arrives to inform her father than she is dying. With his wife Morella (Leona Gage) having died during childbirth, Locke blames his daughter and to her horror, reveals his wife’s decaying corpse still lying in bed. After forgiving Lenora after she reveals her impending death, Morella’s vengeful spirit awakens to try and claim her daughter’s body. This first entry is relatively short and sweet, but will be overly familiar and too simplistic to any viewers who have seen Corman’s previous Poe adaptations.

    The central piece, The Black Cat, is a combination of two Poe stories – The Black Cat and The Cask of Amontillado – and is without a doubt the best. The permanently sozzled Montresor Herringbone (Lorre) hates his wife Annabel (Joyce Jameson) and her cat, and is frequently abusive to both. Broke, he stumbles into a wine-tasting event in the hope of some free booze. He challenges the world’s finest wine taster, Fortunato Luchresi (Price), to a contest but becomes too drunk to finish. Fortunato helps him home where he meets Annabel, and the two begin an affair. When he discovers he has been cuckolded, Herringbone plans to put an end to his wife and her lover’s affair, and rid himself of the black cat forever.

    The Fact in the Case of M. Valdemar, the final piece, sees Price again playing a dying man under the watchful eye of hypnotist Carmichael (Basil Rathbone). Putting him in a trance moments before his death, Carmichael manages to prolong his mind, and can hear the dead man’s thoughts as he experiences the finality of death. It’s certainly the most interesting story from a psychological perspective, but Corman side-steps Poe’s deeper themes for a more formulaic horror approach. The stories are certainly a mixed bag, lacking originality for the most part and certainly failing to capture the depth of Poe’s text, but the middle story is memorable and extremely funny, with Price and Lorre delivering exceptional performances in roles they could do in their sleep.

    Rating: 3/5

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