Tales of Terror


Year 1962

Vincent Price as   Locke
("Morella")
  as  Fortunato Luchresi
("The Black Cat")
  as  Ernest Valdemar
("The Case of M. Valdemar")
Peter Lorre as Montresor Herringbone
("The Black Cat")
Basil Rathbone as Carmichael
("The Case of M. Valdemar")
Maggie Pierce   as Lenora
("Morella")
Joyce Jameson   as Annabel Herringbone
("The Black Cat")
Debra Paget   as Helene Valdemar
("The Case of M. Valdemar")  
 
Director - Roger Corman
Screenwriter - Richard Matheson
Original Stories - Edgar Allan Poe

 


One of the first "Trilogy of Terror" films, Tales of Terror brings three of Edgar Allan Poe's short stories to the screen. Because they are short stories, each can be told in about half an hour. The common threads for the movie are Vincent Price having an important role in each story, the writer being the inimitable Richard Matheson, and the direction by the budget conscious Roger Corman.

Morella

To begin, the stories are presented in the most effective order with the slightly scary but weak "Morella" starting off. It's typical fare and you can see where Richard Matheson had a hard time trying to turn "Morella" into one act of the movie.

The short story, and it is short, varies widely from the screen interpretation. In both, the mother, Morella, dies as a complication of childbirth. In both, the child grows up. In both, the ending follows nearly identical paths.

The story in the movie begins with Locke's daughter Lenora coming home after decades of exile. (In the short story, the daughter has no name. The choice of Lenora, or Lenore, is straight from Poe.) Lenora finds that Locke loved his wife, her mother, Morella so much that he exhumed her body after her death and placed it in a bed in an alcove.

She also finds out that the reason for her exile was because her father blamed her for the death of her mother. In fact, Morella's last words were to blame the baby for her death.

Now comes the wrap-up with Morella getting her revenge, Locke being attacked for good measure, and the whole place being consumed by fire. This is where it got weak. Oh, I don't mean the burning down of the house, although the cliché gets old after a while. I mean, why is Locke attacked? Didn't he love Morella?

The short story was more effective and doesn't suffer from some really poor special effects.

The Black Cat

The next entry is "The Black Cat". Everyone knows this one, right? A drunk man hurts a cat and the cat gets revenge. It's touch and go until the man kills his wife and walls her up to hide the crime. He's believes he's gotten away with it, but when the cops investigate, they find that the cat, still alive, is walled up as well and howling like a banshee.

Then there's another short story called "The Cask of the Amantillado" where Montresor walls up Fotunato while the latter is still alive. Even though the name of the movie piece is "The Black Cat" most of the motivation and action comes from "The Cask of the Amantillado". In fact, nearly the entire final exchange in the movie is taken verbatim from the latter.

So why call it "The Black Cat"? I think it's because Montresor got away with the deed in "The Cask of the Amantillado" but the wife killer in "The Black Cat" got caught. The blending of the two isn't that bad and the additions made by Richard Matheson are worthwhile embellishments.

In the movie for example, Montresor drinks so much that he hallucinates. So, when he hears the caterwauling is he imagining the sound or is it real? But then there's Montresor's motivation - he has been cuckholded by Fortunato. This wasn't in the short story and gives a quick reason for Montresor's decision to kill Fortunato.

This segment starts nearly as a comedy and winds itself into a tight little creepfest.

Although it's a close contest, the dilapidated Peter Lorre steals this segment from Vincent Price. Price's Fortunato dandy is memorable, especially the wine tasting scene where the sommelier's actions are exaggerated to the point of caricature. But Lorre's delivery of lines like, "I'm a veteran of the Revolutionary War" or "Pardon me, ladies, but could you spare a coin for a moral cripple?" run away with episode.

The lines from the final exchange between the two men, taken from the short story "The Cask of the Amantillado" are delivered peerlessly.


Fortunato: For the love of God, Montresor!
Montresor: Yes. For the love of God.

I'd have to say that this is one of those episodes that you've got to see at least once, even if you don't want to watch the rest of the movie. I'll always remember the wine tasting competition.

The Case of M. Valdemar

"The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar" is one of Poe's most terrifying stories. What if, through hypnotism, a man was prevented from passing on? His body lifeless and his spirit unable to break away.

Of course, there's a love interest in the movie that wasn't in the short story. It doesn't add and even mildly detracts from the short story but does provide Basil Rathbone with an excuse to be the bad guy. Basil Rathbone competently and convincingly portrays the hypnotist Carmichael who has designs on Helene Valdemar (Debra Paget). (I can understand why.)

The effects of having Valdemar in this suspended Limbo are quite chilling. The eerie "voice" issuing from unmoving lips was well done. In the short story, there is some decomposition and a blackened tongue. In the movie, the jaw is clenched.

It's quite the ending to the Tales of Terror.

Overall

The worst thing about the movie is the special effects. The frequent use of "Starving Artist" paintings to depict actual buildings and locations was detrimental. One scene of a transparent overlay that moved with an odd speed and seemed too large when compared with the rest of the set ruined the ending of "Morella".

Fortunately, because of the skill of actors like Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Basil Rathbone, and even Debra Paget, Roger Corman's direction was probably heeded only minimally. I can't say enough good things about the acting. Even Maggie Pierce as Lenora did a servicable job, although her occassional quick changes of mood meant that she'd been listening to Roger Corman.

Even the background score was effective and not grating.


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