It’s spine-tingling terror – in triplicate! “Virtuoso of horror” (Los Angeles Times) Vincent Price dials up the depravity in this spellbinding trilogy of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “all-chiller” (L.A. Herald-Examiner) classics! Dripping with “demented genius! Poisonous plants! Oozing blood! [And] a corpse in a wedding gown” (Variety), Twice Told Tales spins three gripping, diabolical nightmares of madness, mayhem… and MURDER most foul!
Price stars in all three stories, including “Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment,” about a scientist who finds the fountain of youth… and lives to regret it; “Rappaccini’s Daughter,” the twisted tale of a demented father whose love for his daughter turns poisonous; and “The House of the Seven Gables,” the ghostly legend of an ancient cursed family who lived for power… and died for GREED!
Twice-Told Tales 6.75
‘Twice-Told Tales’ is, for all intents and purposes, a counterpart to ‘Tales of Terror’.
While it’s not officially a sequel or companion piece, it was released hot on the heels of its predecessor, one year later, and it features comparable concepts: it is an anthology series of spooky stories, it is composed of three stories by the same author (in this case, Nathaniel Hawthorne), and the three stories are glued together with theatrical intros. And, like its forebear, it also features Vincent Price in all three shorts.
But there are key distinguishing marks that differentiate the two: the production teams, which appear to be completely different, the overall quality of the films, and the absence of notable guest appearances in this opus. One of the key improvements made with ‘Twice-Told Tales’ is that the acting, while very average, is far superior to that of ‘Tales of Terror’. As well, stripped of intentional kitsch, this film is graced with a more serene eeriness (which is natural in a slow-moving period piece ).
However, this does not mean that the film doesn’t dabble in exuberant theatrics by moments. For instance, each segment is introduced with a narration, courtesy of Price, of course, and… an overly-lit skeleton arm opening a large book to the title of the upcoming short. On paper, this may have seemed like a good idea, but its amateurish execution is such that it could, at best, squeeze squeals of glee out of preteens.
“Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment” is the most efficient of our trio of terror. While it reeks of cheapie midnight movie, at its core is a tale of friendship, decades-long yearning and betrayal – all in the context of the discovery of a fountain of youth. Despite being seemingly penned with a machete, the potential of the piece is self-evident and the actors make the most of the material.
“Rappaccini’s Daughter” is by far the dullest of the bunch: the romantic melodrama overshadows the fact that the father is an utter nutter, having transformed his daughter into walking death. The fact that the piece was shot on a stage, instead of a real garden court makes a huge difference, because it strips any life that could have come from this otherwise dreary affair. The concept of this story is decent, intriguing even, but the film was ill-conceived.
“House of the Seven Gables” is the most reminiscent of Poe, bringing to mind the ‘House of Usher’ film featuring Price himself. Again, the production is so unusually substandard as to make even the most intense moments somewhat risible. For instance, when the house shakes, we get the impression that the set is on a flatbed truck driving over potholes. Surrounded by cheap-looking props, much imagination must have been required of the actors to immerse themselves into character.
What isn’t helping the film is that the camerawork is almost non-existent; everything is static, with very little camera movement or editing. This was basically a “point and shoot” film; for the most part, they could very well have been filming a play. Snicker, snicker… it must have been an easy film to direct, though, and an effortless way to gain a screen credit, if not industry cred (by that point in his career, director Salkow was mostly doing TV work). But, at least, the results are less erratic than they were in ‘Tales of Terror’.
Peculiarly, even though ‘Twice-Told Tales’ is named after a Hawthorne collection of short stories, only one of the dozens of tales in that book was used for the film: ” Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment”. “Rappaccini’s Daughter” came from another collection, ‘Mosses from an Old Manse’, and ‘House of the Seven Gables’ was actually a full-length novel.
Why the filmmakers chose to ignore the rest of the material escapes me, especially since this curtails any chance or releasing the final story as a feature. Conversely, a title like ‘Mosses from an Old Manse’ had no chance in Hell of gracing a billboard, so perhaps the producers knew that they could take liberties with its material. Who knows… there is very little historical background on the film so I can only speculate.
In the end, ‘Twice-Told Tales’ makes for an okay collection of rather mild horror diversions. As with ‘Tales of Terror’, if not for the second and centerpiece segment, it would have made for a much more enjoyable anthology. I’d only recommend this film to the extremely curious, to fans of Vincent Price and to those who enjoy AIP and Hammer Horror-style productions. Beyond that, one shouldn’t bother giving it a once-over.