Tales of Terror

| April 8, 2015

It’s not October and yet we’ve a new Vincent Price Blu-ray on the way. What did we do to deserve this? I don’t know but clearly the cinema gods are smiling on us. Of course, it’s not like we have to find ourselves in the month of October to have cause to watch Vincent Price movies. Being wrapped up in the Halloween season isn’t a prerequisite for the viewing of horror greatness. And Kino recognizes that. They know that horror hounds are horror hounds all year long and that waiting until October to put such a thing as Roger Corman’s Tales of Terror (1962) out on Blu-ray (which they’re doing on April 14, 2015) would just be senselessly delaying the inevitable: you offer us Vincent Price, we give you our money. It’s that simple.

And when you’ve the opportunity to pick up a terrific new transfer of a film as solid as Tales of Terror, how can we resist such things? I can’t. I knew the moment I heard that Kino Lorber would be adding Tales of Terror to its Studio Classics line of Blu-rays that I must have it. After all, not only is it a Blu-ray featuring Vincent Price (which qualifies it for immediate purchase by me right out of the gate), but the film features one of my favorite Price scenes of all time: the drinking challenge between Price and Peter Lorre’s characters in “The Black Cat”!

As the title of the film implies, Tales of Terror tells more than one story. The script here is adapted from a number of Edgar Allen Poe short stories by Richard Matheson (the author of I am Legend), who penned almost every single other Corman/Poe picture. This time, Matheson divides the film in three parts: “Morella,” “The Black Cat,” and “The Case of M. Valdemar,” and all three stories centrally star Vincent Price, who also provides some wraparound narration. For an anthology film, Tales of Terror is a remarkable work. The expectation of anthology films is that you’ll find one great story at most among the offerings, but Tales of Terror features two phenomenal stories with only one less-than-great entry.

“Morella” is that lone average story here, easily the most forgettable and inconsequential of the three. Though featuring a solid performance from Price, it perhaps too closely resembles any number of other Poe-inspired Price vehicles. His character, Locke, lives miserably and alone in the manor in which he once lived with his now long-deceased wife. As any maddened Poe hero might, he keeps his wife’s mummified corpse on display and he wanders the manor in a drunken haze while perpetually wrapped in a purple, paisley robe. The story begins when his daughter, who he blames for his wife’s death, returns after a lifetime of exile, and with her comes the newly revitalized spirit of Morella. It’s a simple story with some simple but chilling effects, but again it’s overall quite the forgettable affair.

Next up is “The Black Cat,” and I’m not alone in thinking that the film doesn’t really start until this second tale. This section stars Peter Lorre in the central role with Vincent Price coming in later to play his unlikely nemesis. Rather than simply adapting Poe’s “The Black Cat” for the screen, Matheson here combines elements from “The Black Cat,” “The Cask of Amontillado,” and even “The Tell-Tale Heart” into a single story here. About a third of the way through the narrative, in what I consider one of the most memorable scenes of either man’s career, Lorre’s Montresor challenges Price’s delightfully foppish Fortunata to a professional wine tasting contest at a Wine Merchants Convention. This single, seminal scene would pave the way for the duo’s subsequent comedic pairings in the The Raven (1963) and The Comedy of Terrors (1963) and is an absolute joy to behold.

The film rounds out with “The Case of M. Valdemar,” starring Basil Rathbone as a mad scientist who determines to hypnotize Mr. Valdemar (Price) at the moment of death just to see how long he can prolong that moment. It’s a story that, while featuring a predictably great performance from the sinister-looking Rathbone, is really all about the ending. But I won’t spoil that for you here if you haven’t seen it.

Now I know some of you might be concerned about whether or not this film can hold its own as a standalone Blu-ray release. After all, by now many of us are used to getting our Vincent Price Blu-rays by the boxful thanks to Scream Factory’s Vincent Price Collections. Moreover, the last few times we saw Tales of Terror released, it appeared as but one of many films packaged in a variety of double or triple features, or as but one entry in the seven-picture-strong Vincent Price: MGM Scream Legends Collection. That’s how many of us are used to seeing it by now, but I can assure you that Tales of Terror holds its own as a standalone release.

For starters, the picture itself stands among the most exciting of the Corman/Poe pictures given its triptych structure. Additionally, Kino’s April 14 release of Tales of Terror boasts a stunning transfer and a host of special features that make it well worth the individual purchase price. The picture quality in this transfer is (by my recollection) as clean and clear as anything in the Scream Factory sets, if not more so. And any drop in picture quality is obviously the result of issues resulting from the film’s production or the age of the materials, rather than laziness on Kino’s part. Obviously any time the film was run through an optical printing process, the quality necessarily drops right out. And there are a couple moments plagued by either slight over-exposure or faults in the processing of the film stock somewhere along the way. And none of these things can be blamed on Kino.

Special features on the disc are also terrific. To begin with, the release boasts two extras featuring director Roger Corman discussing the film, including an on-camera interview with Corman as well as the episode of the web series Trailers from Hell featuring Tales’ trailer with audio commentary from Corman. Additionally, the release is predictably packaged with the original theatrical trailer, but also includes two audio commentaries. These commentaries are invaluable resources. Both provide insights into the film that enrich the experience of the picture immensely overall as well as add terrific value to this disc. Film historian Tim Lucas provides the first feature-length commentary, but it’s the second commentary, consisting of a feature-length conversation between Price historian David Del Valle (who does a stupendous Lorre impression, I must say!) and actor David Frankham, who appears in “The Case of M. Valdemar.” The two of them have a great rapport and allow their conversation to naturally veer from Tales of Terror into the careers and private lives of all actors involved, Frankham included. So engrossing is their discussion that I found myself basically watching the film two times back-to-back once I turned on that commentary, though I certainly hadn’t intended to do sit through it a second time. Take my advice and do not skip this release of these commentaries!

About the Author:

Jef is a writer and educator in Chicago, Illinois. He holds a degree in Media & Cinema Studies from DePaul University, but sometimes he drops it and picks it back up again. He's also the Editor-in-Chief of FilmMonthly.com and is fueled entirely by coffee (as if you couldn't tell).
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