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With: Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Basil Rathbone, Debra Paget, Maggie Pierce, Leona Gage, Joyce Jameson, David Frankham
Written by: Richard Matheson, based on stories by Edgar Allan Poe
Directed by: Roger Corman
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 89
Date: 07/04/1962

Tales of Terror (1962)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Ebb and Poe

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Tales of Terror is one of Roger Corman's eight-film Edgar Allan Poe cycle, and the only anthology film in the series. Perhaps because of this short-story format, the movie isn't really considered one of the series' high points, but it's still quite fun, and Vincent Price is terrific in his three roles. A major miscalculation may have been making the second segment longer than the first and third, and giving it an absurd, comic tone (as well as combining elements from two Poe stories into one segment).

The first segment, "Morella," tells the story of a young woman, Lenora (Maggie Pierce), who travels to find her father (Vincent Price) living in a remote mansion, only to find that he doesn't want her there. She learns that her mother died in childbirth and that her father blames her for the death. Lenora finds her mother's creepy, decomposed body in the house and terrible things begin to happen.

The second segment is the long, funny one, with Peter Lorre as Montresor Herringbone, an out-of-work drunk who harasses his beautiful young wife Annabelle (Joyce Jameson) for liquor money, and abuses her pet black cat. He stumbles into a wine-tasting and befriends master wine snob Fortunato Luchresi (Vincent Price). Luchresi falls in love with Annabelle, and Herringbone concocts a plan to lure his new enemy to his doom with a cask of amontillado. Obviously, this segment combines "The Black Cat" and "The Cask of Amontillado," but has little to do with either of the original stories.

Finally, we have "The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar," in which the dying Valdemar (Price) agrees to be hypnotized by Mr. Carmichael (Basil Rathbone) at the moment of death, and finds his soul preserved in a kind of netherworld between life and death, able to speak to the living, but unable to pass into the next world. Carmichael becomes obsessed with his discovery and refuses to break the spell, unless Valdemar's wife Helene (Debra Paget) marries him.

On the whole, Tales of Terror has the usual set design and attention to detail as the other Corman/Poe films, but it lacks a sense of atmosphere. Nevertheless, the great horror writer Richard Matheson adapted the screenplay and added his own sensibility to the storytelling; even the "serious" segments don't take themselves too seriously. (I own a bizarre paperback novelization that offers not the original Poe stories, but new stories by Eunice Sudak that are based on Matheson's screenplay.)

Kino Lorber released Tales of Terror on a fine new Blu-ray for 2015. Extras include an interview with Corman, two commentary tracks, one by historian Tim Lucas and another by historian David Del Valle and actor David Frankham; a "Trailers from Hell" segment with Corman, and the original theatrical trailer. The company is also set to release The Premature Burial, and we can only hope that they will eventually supply the entire eight-film set.

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