Reviewed by
Colin Jacobson

Title: Tales of Terror (1962)
Studio Line: MGM - A Trilogy of Shock and Horror!

This triple treat of terror is a three-episode "blood-dripping package that includes murder, necrophilia, dementia, live burials, open tombs, exhumation, resurrection, zombies and feline vengeance," resulting in nothing less than "juicy entertainment" and "spine-chilling cinema" (Cue). Mix in three of horrordom's greatest villains, Vincent Price, Peter Lorre and Basil Rathbone, and you've got a shocker you dare not to watch alone!

Price stars in all three episodes, including Morella, in which a man is haunted after blaming his young daughter for the death of his wife. In The Black Cat, a pair of illicit lovers are buried alive by a jealous husband, and in The Case Of M. Valdemar, a sorcerer's spell backfires when he sentences an innocent man to living hell.

Director: Roger Corman
Cast: Vincent Price, Maggie Pierce, Leona Gage, Peter Lorre, Joyce Jameson, Wally Campo, Basil Rathbone, Debra Paget, David Frankham
DVD: Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9, standard 1.33:1; audio English Digital Mono; subtitles French, Spanish; closed-captioned; double sided - single layered; 20 chapters; rated NR; 89 min.; $19.98; street date 9/19/00.
Supplements: Original Theatrical Trailer.
Purchase: DVD

Picture/Sound/Extras: B-/C-/D-

For folks of my generation, I think Vincent Price is often regarded as little more than a cartoon character. We know him best from his minor role in Edward Scissorhands plus his voice-over for Michael Jackson's "Thriller", but relatively few of us have actually seen much of his work.

As such, I must admit I was surprised to see the versatility he brought to Tales of Terror, a 1962 film that features three different stories. All were based - pretty loosely, from what I gather - on works by Edgar Allan Poe, and all feature Price in different roles. Not all of them work equally well, but I enjoyed each of the tales, and I found myself delighted by the broad talent shown by Price.

The first tale is probably the weakest. "Morella" shows Lenora (Maggie Pierce), an estranged daughter who returns to the home of her father Locke (Price) after a couple of decades apart. Her mother died soon after Lenora' s birth, and Daddy holds Lenora responsible for the demise of his beloved wife. The two kiss and make up, but someone else isn't so pleased.

This story is moderately enjoyable but all too predictable. It seemed like fairly standard horror fare and although I thought it was well-executed - Price portrays Locke's continued bitterness nicely - it lacked much excitement or spark.

Also somewhat predictable but much creepier is the third tale, "The Case of M. Valdemar". In this story, Price plays the eponymous character, a near-death man whose pain is eased by the hypnotism of Carmichael (Basil Rathbone). Carmichael's only request? To hypnotize Valdemar at the moment of death and gain insight into what happens at that time.

All of this occurs despite the protests of Valdemar's sexy but devoted young wife Helene (Debra Paget) and his physician Dr. James (David Frankham). However, they go along with Valdemar's wishes, and he encourages them to get married when he croaks.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to suspect ulterior motives in the case of Carmichael, and his true self emerges once Valdemar finally kicks. I won 't spill the beans, but the results are quite spooky. The story goes down an easily-anticipated path, but it's told with so eerily that it seems memorable and haunting nonetheless. The actors are all solid - especially Rathbone - and Price offers some terrific vocal work after he's gone from this world.

While both of those two segments have some merits, it's the middle one - "The Black Cat" - that easily is the best. In this one, we find drunken lout Montresor Herringbone (Peter Lorre). He doesn't work but he gets trashed a lot and he demands that his hot young wife Annabel (Joyce Jameson) foot the bill. (By the way, where is this universe in which not-very-attractive older men get these gorgeous women? I gotta move there!)

Montresor accidentally meets wine expert Fortunato (Price) and challenges him to a tasting contest. This apparently ends in a draw, but as Fortunato escorts Montresor home, he meets the sexy and neglected Annabel. The two hit it off and an affair begins.

Though he has no one to blame but himself for this state of affairs, Montresor feels otherwise - he's really a dreadful person - and takes action. The results of his response are what creates the "terror" in the segment. Frankly, there's virtually nothing scary happening here, as the tale more closely resembles the ironic offerings one would find on Alfred Hitchcock Presents; there's some nastiness afoot but not anything particularly chilling.

Nonetheless, the story works nicely because of the actors. Lorre is an absolute delight as Montresor; you hate him but in a giddy, bemused manner. "The Black Cat" is the longest of the three tales and is the only to feature any real humor, especially during the wine tasting contest; Fortunato provides detailed explanations of the qualities of each wine, whereas Montresor simply utters, "It's very good!" Without Lorre, the piece might have been a drag, but he makes it quite entertaining.

Also solid once more is Price, who provides his most typical work, at least to those of us who don't know him well; Fortunato is a flamboyant character who seems rather swishy, to be frank. In any case, Price does a nice job in the role and makes the part a lot of fun as well.

When I got Tales of Terror, I really expected little of it, but I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the material in this movie. Held together by some solid acting from Vincent Price, the three short pieces found in the film are all watchable to varying degrees, and they're usually quite entertaining. This movie would serve as good Halloween fare, especially since the different parts can be enjoyed in relatively small portions; that makes it less intrusive when the trick-or-treaters disrupt the showing.

The DVD:

Tales of Terror appears in both its original theatrical aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 and in a fullscreen edition on this double-sided, single-layered DVD; the letterboxed image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Only the widescreen side was rated for this review. Overall, I found the picture to appear rather erratic but generally quite good for its age.

Sharpness varied a mild amount throughout the movie. Most of the time it seemed acceptably clear and well-defined, but a fair amount of softness also occasionally interfered with the presentation. Moiré effects and jagged edges provide few concerns, and I also noticed almost no artifacts from the anamorphic downconversion on my 4X3 TV. In regard to print flaws, the movie displayed a fair amount of grain and quite a few white speckles as well; a few other defects like scratches, hairs and grit also appeared.

Colors seemed inconsistent but they often looked surprisingly rich and lush; we see some lovely reds and blues in clothing at times. However, at times the hues come across as somewhat pale and bland; the colors vary for no apparent reason throughout the movie. Black levels tend to be acceptably dark and deep, and shadow detail looked appropriately clear but not too heavy; though some scenes were a little excessively thick. In the end, I was pleased with the picture; warts and all, it often looked terrific, and those positive elements occurred often enough to warrant a solid "B- rating.

Less satisfying is the monaural audio of Tales of Terror. Dialogue often sounded rather rough and harsh, and I occasionally had trouble comprehending what the actors said; the speech was thin and flat at best but became very edgy at times. Effects were fairly dull and lifeless and also displayed some shrill elements. Music seemed bland and mildly distorted. A light layer of background noise can be heard at times during the film. For a nearly 40-year-old movie, the soundtrack isn't terrible, but it sounded pretty weak nonetheless.

Tales of Terror includes almost no supplements. There are a few "Fun Facts!" on the back of the DVD's case but the usual MGM "collectible booklet" fails to appear. We also get the movie's original theatrical trailer. One word of advice: if you haven't seen the film already, don't watch the trailer until you do. It gives away the ending of two of the three stories, and reveals significant plot elements of the third. So much for the belief that only modern films feature "movie-ruining" advertisements!

Despite the lack of extras, Tales of Terror offers a decent DVD. The movie was a surprising amount of fun as it provides loose but entertaining adaptations of some Edgar Allan Poe stories made especially good due to the presence of some fine actors. The picture seems flawed but generally very good, though the audio is weak and the package lacks significant supplements. Tales of Terror merits a look for fans of old-time horror.

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