TALES OF
TERROR

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Tales of Terror
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TALES OF TERROR - 1962
American International Pictures, Alta Vista, MGM
Ratings: USA: N/A

This is a trilogy of Poe tales - mixed up, mashed up, and hacked up. It starts with Morella.

Back to Corman's stock footage of a fog enshrouded (smoke, fog, what's the filmic difference?), blighted landscape (that fire in Malibu was a goldmine!) and a mansion on a seaside cliff.

After the typical "long travel from Boston", a young woman, Lenora, (Maggie Pierce) returns to her family home to find it in disrepair. Dust and spiderwebs are everywhere and I mean thick! There are even thick spiders that don't actually make spiderwebs!

Lenora calls out for her father and of course, Director Roger Corman (FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER, THE TOMB OF LIGEIA, PANIC IN THE YEAR ZERO!, DEATH RACE 2000) has him burst into the scene. Vincent Price (THE FLY, THE RETURN OF THE FLY, THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL, THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER, THE TOMB OF LIGEIA, THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM, THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES, DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN!, EDWARD SCISSORHANDS) plays the alcoholic Pop, Locke, who hasn't seen his daughter in 20 years and had no desire to break that run.

It's a long trip back to Boston, 'natch, so daughter decides to stay one night in the old mansion. Pop could care less. She can do what she wants and be gone.

This hurts Lenora but Pop is uncaring. All he cares about is his dead wife Morella (Leona Cage). All he thinks of his daughter is that her birth murdered the woman he loved.

Wandering through the house, Lenora comes upon the open casket of her rotted mother, still in state.

This is too much for Lenora. Her father is cruel and crazy and Lenora realizes that any ideas she had about mending what remains of her family are hopeless.

In a confrontation it finally all comes out. Morella did not die in childbirth, but months later. That said she blamed her baby daughter for her death and Pop kept that curse in his heart. Now his daughter Lenora has returned from a broken marriage with a terrible secret of her own: She will be dead soon.

As the past comes to light, Father and Daughter make a new beginning with each other. Which enrages the spirit of the long dead Morella. The Mother invades the dreams of Lenora sending her into night terrors.

Lenora's father rushes to aid his daughter, but she dies and with her death, the terror begins.

If you watched the previous three years of Roger Corman's Edgar Allen Poe movies, then you know the house burns down and we see the same stock footage of a burning barn - a gimmick that Roger inexplicably thought audiences would never notice.

Now it's something of a drinking game: one you're guaranteed to lose (or win, depending on your definition).

The second tale is The Black Cat starring Peter Lorre and Joyce Jameson. Montresor Herringbone (Peter Lorre: THE RAVEN, A COMEDY OF TERRORS), drunk and violent, forces his wife Annabel (Joyce Jameson: A COMEDY OF TERRORS, DEATH RACE 2000) to give him money so he can continue drinking.

Soon Montresor is getting thrown out of a bar for being drunk and broke (Bartenders can't tolerate broken-ness). Stumbling down the street and begging or demanding money from passerby, Montresor stumbles into a wine tasting event. Mr. Fortunato Lucrezi (Vincent Price) is the honored guest as the foremost wine taster in the world. Montresor, stupid and belligerent, slanderously challenges Lucrezi and all the wine experts to a wine tasting contest. Impugned but ever the gentleman, Mr. Lucrezi accepts the challenge, and so the dark comedy begins.

"Haven't I convinced you of my sincerity yet? I'm genuinely committed to your destruction."

The third and final tale is The Case of M. Valdemar.

Vincent is Valdemar who is tended by his hypnotist Mr. Carmine Carmichael (Basil Rathbone: A NIGHT OF TERROR, SON OF FRANKENSTEIN, THE HOUND OF BASKERVILLES, THE BLACK CAT [1941], A COMEDY OF TERRORS, QUEEN OF BLOOD) for his pain. In the presence of his physician Dr. Elliot James (David Frankham: RETURN OF THE FLY, WRONG IS RIGHT) and his young wife Helene (Debra Paget: THE HAUNTED PALACE), Valdemar openly acknowledges he is "dying within the skull" and accepts it. All he wants now is to escape the pain and spend the last moments of his life with his beautiful wife.

We soon discover that both Elliot and Mr. Carmichael have designs on Helene, but she truly loves her husband Valdemar and no other.

The dying husband wants his wife to be happy after his death, and suggests Dr. James. Valdemar has noticed the bond of friendship between the two and believes it could grow into something more. He can't bear dying until he is assured of her happiness.

Of course, we realize that Mr. Carmichael is the invited viper that is prepared to derail all of Valdemar's plans for his own sinister designs.

The Black Cat middle vignette sags as it is an awkward graft of two terrifying tales, The Black Cat and The Cask of Amontillado. Either one would have worked on its own, but to combine the two and make them a comedy doesn't quite work.

While a few of Edgar Allen Poe's stories are practically interchangeable (The Black Cat, The Tell Tale Heart, and The Cask of Amontillado all follow the same plot - diabolical madman seals his victims behind a wall or floor), it's most noticeable with the Black Cat. True, there's also a lot of THE TOMB OF LIGEIA in Morella and vice versa. During Poe's life, these were the criticism's leveled against him.

Corman admitted to the difficulty in trying to find an originality in Poe's stories while remaining faithful to Poe, for the sake of his profitable, ravenous fans. They were growing on college campuses at that time, as the works of the late Poe were experiencing a renaissance in the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s. A rebellious college drop-out, anti-social, drug addled* and outcast literary genius? That's teen angst catnip! There's even the cat: Poe's only reoccurring character!

On the other hand, in The Case of M. Valdemar, Basil Rathbone chewed the scenery with his usual flair as Vincent Price assiduously held his own. The triple combination of Price, Lorre, and Rathbone in TALES OF TERROR is formidable. With the focus on scaring audiences, Writer Richard Matheson (FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER, THE TOMB OF LIGEIA, TALES OF TERROR, THE LAST MAN ON EARTH, THE OMEGA MAN, I AM LEGEND) and Producer Director Roger Corman threw themselves into it all, producing some of their finest work ever. The insanity that scurries through all of Poe's work has never been brought to the fore with the dramatic enthusiasm it found in TALES OF TERROR.

Because the movie was made on such a low budget, cuts were made that dampened the spirit of the required visuals, though not the story. As such, here is a movie ripe for remake.

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This review copyright 2012 E.C.McMullen Jr.

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