Synopsis: This triple treat of terror is a three-episode “blood-dripping package that includes murder, necrophilia, dementia, live burials, open tombs, exhumation, resurrection, zombies and feline vengeance,” resulting in nothing less than “juicy entertainment” and “spine-chilling cinema” (Cue). Mix in three of horrordom’s greatest villains, Vincent Price, Peter Lorre and Basil Rathbone, and you’ve got a shocker you dare not to watch alone!
Price stars in all three episodes, including Morella, in which a man is haunted after blaming his young daughter for the death of his wife. In The Black Cat, a pair of illicit lovers are buried alive by a jealous husband, and in The Case Of M. Valdemar, a sorcerer’s spell backfires when he sentences an innocent man to living hell.
Tales of Terror 6.75
‘Tales of Terror’ is another entry in the Roger Corman/Edgar Allen Poe series of films, of which there are eight: ‘House of Usher’, ‘The Pit and the Pendulum’, ‘The Premature Burial’, ‘Tales of Terror’, ‘The Raven’, ‘The Haunted Palace’, ‘The Masque of the Red Death Director’, and ‘The Tomb of Ligeia’. It’s an anthology of three short stories, each of which feature Vincent Price (for well over a decade Price was closely associated with Poe-inspired films).
What makes this one special is that he is joined by screen legends Peter Lorre and Basil Rathbone in two of three segments: “The Black Cat” and “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar”, respectively. While Peter Lorre’s appearance is far less appealing, due to the comedic aspects of the short he’s in, Rathbone brings enough gravitas to his role to be convincing – and to anchor Price along the way (Price, if unchained, could chew the scenery like none other ).
The segments are of varying quality as far as the execution goes, but they all have that unmistakable American International Pictures flavour to them: rarely shot on location, using cheap sets that look like they’ve been pulled from the stage, featuring a bevy no-name actors probably making their first and last appearance on screen, and a general feel of having been cobbled together in a hurry and with little time to lose.
Part one, “Morella”, was a nice way to start the film. While the acting is overdone (Vincent Price taps into his theatre persona here, and Maggie Pierce is absolutely risible ), the story is pretty good. It’s not exceptional, or particularly scary, but it sets an eerie mood that is most appropriate.
Part two, “The Black Cat”, is the longest piece of the bunch. Unfortunately, it’s hard to watch because it was mostly done for laughs, with Lorre stumbling about like a child play-acting drunkenness. Sadly, he’s not alone: most of the acting is farcical with nary a redeeming value in sight. What hurt the most was the editing: Corman chose to cut to new scenes by freeze-framing the old one and then zooming in. Then he would follow that by zooming out from another freeze-frame, this time from the next scene, and then start the action again. There was a lot of wonky camera work being used to translate Lorre’s drunken deliria. It’s amusing, original stuff, but it’s so low-budget that it proved annoying at times.
Part three, “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar”, was the most efficient of the bunch. While the science behind this story is dubious at best, the concept is quite chilling: the idea that someone could be trapped in their body after death and controlled by outside forces creeps me out. All the actors were solid enough to pull this one off, thankfully, and the tale was delivered adequately.
What was fun about this film is that each segment was introduced by a narration from Vincent Price, over some bloody graphics and a quote taken from Poe. It tied the bits together very nicely and added a certain amount of theatre to the proceedings, which was quite welcome in light of the static quality of the production, overall. I’d say that this was my favourite part of the film.
As a package deal, ‘Tales of Terror’ is hardly terrifying, but it serves up some really nice moments and it does so with enough style to make it work. I would be wary to recommend this to just anyone, because this genre of film is an acquired taste. Granted, it’s popular enough to have garnered quite the cult following, but it doesn’t hold any mass appeal some forty years after its release.
In fact, this is yet another whose rating I will have to average out: I would give it a 6.5 for the average viewer and a 7.0 for fans of Edgar Allen Poe and/or those who enjoy Hammer Horror and AIP. It’s no masterpiece, but it has its moments.