BLU-RAY REVIEW: TALES OF TERROR / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: ROGER CORMAN / SCREENPLAY: RICHARD MATHESON / STARRING: VINCENT PROCE, PETER LORRE, MAGGIE PIERCE, LEONA CAGE, JOYCE JAMESON / RELEASE DATE: MARCH 9TH
There are whispers in certain horror circles the only reason Tales of Terror works is little to do with Allan Edgar Poe at all. That the real reason this anthology works is due to Vincent Prince and the master of low budget gothic, Roger Corman. Poe is almost an afterthought in these tales. Screenwriter Richard Matheson and Corman use the Poe catalogue as a Pick ‘n’ Mix selection to build this adaptation in their own loose style.
The overall technique works well for the most part. The first story, Morella, is an exquisite gothic period piece. It has Corman’s trademarks of burning castles and prodigal relatives. This time, Lenora (Pierce) returns to the father (Price) who abandoned her as a child, only to discover the spirit of her dead mother (Gage) has deadly plans for their daughter. Full of dust, cobwebs and melancholy, Morella is a delight that takes you back to a more innocent age of horror.
The Black Cat is the second segment and is offered as something of a comic relief or a breath between the two real terrors. Peter Lorre is on form as the drunk playing against Vincent Price’s upstanding wine expert Fortunato Luchresi. This is a rebadged version of The Cask of Amontillado. The Black Cat is a battle of wills as much as a battle of swills and swigs. The story is an examination of guilt as much as revenge. Two of Poe’s great themes. Though often dismissed as the weak link in Tales of Terror, The Black Cat is still enjoyable to watch.
The final story, The Case of M. Valdemar, reverts back to a straighter gothic horror element and has Price playing the protagonist completely from his deathbed. He hopes the mystic hypnotist Carmichael, played by Basil Rathbone, can successfully arrest his life at the moment of death. Carmichael’s intentions toward Mrs. Valdermar (played wonderfully by Debra Paget) are unscrupulous. As this is Poe, we know the path to desire and immorality will not be without manifestations of guilt. The sight of Price in the final scene is shocking even after all these years.
Tales of Terror is a film that takes the viewer back to matte-painted scenes, soundstage sets, and 19th century romantic gothic sensibilities and is a treat for all of that. It’s also become a classic for good reasons; it was the first film to pick up Ealing’s Dead of Night legacy, even before Amicus, for example. It also set the tone for gothic horror for a generation on TV as well as cinema. So it’s fantastic Arrow Films have remastered it for a new generation of viewers to enjoy.
This transfer is better than average quality while any defects or flaws only add to the charm. That’s a statement that could describe the whole of Tales of Terror, in fact.
Special Features: The Directors: Roger Corman documentary / Cats in Horror Films featurette / Kim Newman on Edgar Allan Poe / The Black Cat short film / Trailer / Collector’s booklet
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