BLU-RAY REVIEW: THE COMEDY OF TERRORS (1963) / DIRECTOR: JACQUES TOURNEUR / SCREENPLAY: RICHARD MATHESON / STARRING: VINCENT PRICE, PETER LORRE, BASIL RATHBONE, BORIS KARLOFF, JOE E. BROWN, JOYCE JAMESON, BEVERLY POWERS (HILLS), ORANGEY THE CAT (CREDITED AS RHUBARB) / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
We always approach horror-comedies with a great deal of trepidation; they so often fail to be either funny or frightening and when you miss both your benchmarks, that’s pretty much a bad movie. With the title like The Comedy of Terrors, this one certainly nailed its colours to the mast so it’d have be pretty special to avoid the all too frequent fate of these not-rare-enough cinematic beasts. Ooh, Richard Matheson wrote the screenplay? Why didn’t you say so? Oh alright then, we’ll give it a go...
We’re in 19th century America and Trumbull and Gillie (Price and Lorre) are the local undertakers who only actually have one coffin (so they have to chuck the corpse in the hole when everyone has left the funeral). To be fair, that’s a pretty decent gag, but we hope there’s more. They’re short of money and the landlord (Rathbone) is hassling them for rent so they decide to “hurry along” a few inevitable deaths to drum up business. So that’s your plot, but does it work? Well apart from the aforementioned Matheson on writing duties, we have no less than Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Basil Rathbone and even Boris Karloff as Trumbull’s mad old father-in-law to deliver the laughs and scares. Apart from being horror royalty (two of that lot were in Son of Frankenstein and three were in that “historical” classic - Tower of London!) they were actually top-notch comedy actors. They had the timing, the delivery and the straight faces; you couldn’t go wrong with that lot. What’s more, they all deliver the goods with cracking performances. Throw in Joe E. Brown (you know him as Jack Lemmon’s “love interest” in Some Like It Hot – “Well, nobody’s perfect”) and this should be brilliant.
Unfortunately, it isn’t. The first inevitable problem is that it doesn’t function in any way as “horror”. So the best we can hope for is a decent black comedy. But it’s one of those ‘60s comedies that thinks it’s far cleverer than it really is (there were rather a lot of those). There are actually a couple of brilliant lines delivered expertly but there just aren’t enough to fill a half-hour comedy, let alone a feature film. Despite the cast’s sterling efforts to save the movie it just comes across as self-indulgent. A complete disaster? Well when you consider the talent on display, pretty much! This could have been the horror-comedy’s ‘60s moment to shine. As it was, we had to wait until Carry on Screaming’s Hammer send up. Nothing saves the day like Carry On and Hammer.
Not scary and not funny enough so you can probably live without this disc, but we will point out that the lush ‘60s sets look great on Blu-ray. If you want something undemanding with a Sunday afternoon hangover, it might serve your purposes.
Extras: Trailer, commentary, three documentaries and booklet