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Tales of Terror
Directed by Roger Corman in 1962 after finding some serious box office success with earlier Edgar Allan Poe adaptations, Tales Of Terror takes on three of the renowned author's short stories. The first story in this anthology picture is Morella and it tells the story of a man (Vincent Price) who lives alone and, after losing his beloved wife Morella, has fallen inside a bottle. When his daughter Lenora (Maggie Price) appears to visit one day after not seeing him in ages, she's arrived not to catch up with him but to tell him that she's terminally ill. He blames her for Morella's death even all these years later but when she tells him this, he starts to let his guard down just enough that maybe father and daughter will be able to reconcile. That is, if Morella doesn't interfere from beyond the grave!
The second story is The Black Cat (though this adaptation borrows just as much from Poe's The Cask Of Amontillado as it does the titular tale). Here we meet Montresor Herringbone (Peter Lorre), a man more interested in his wine than his wife, Annabel (Joyce Jameson). As such, he's a bit of a bar fly and it's during one of his many stints at the local tavern that he meets a man named Fortunato (Price again). They engage in a wine tasting contest and then later, Fortunato has an affair with Annabel. When Herringbone learns of this, he sets out to get his revenge, but there's the small matter of the family cat to contend with before he can get away with anything.
The third story is The Facts In The Case Of Mr. Valdemar and once again, Price is in the lead here playing a man of power and importance who is essentially dying. To ‘help' him deal with the pain, Carmichael (Basil Rathbone) uses hypnosis but when he goes too far in his tactics, Valdemar manages to get Carmichael to promise to marry his wife, Helene (Debra Paget) after he passes on. When that actually happens during one of the hypnotism sessions, we learn the truth about what exactly Valdemar was up to when he got that pledge out of Carmichael.
Each of the three stories that make up this feature have their own thing going on. Morella is the most ‘pure' horror story of the bunch and it's loaded with atmosphere and a wonderful sense of impending dread. Like the best Poe material it deals in the dark side of romance and love and those themes loom large over this take on the story. With The Black Cat, Corman was obviously experimenting here with the more comedic take on the Poe stories that he'd exploit to a much larger degree shortly after in The Raven. The scene in which Price and Lorre, who shows a fantastic sense of comedic timing and ability in this short, engage in their win tasting competition is genuinely hilarious and a lot of fun to watch and it allows Corman and his production team to get creative with the visuals. The third story takes a little while to hit its stride but it offers the chance to see Price and Rathbone act alongside one another. That's reason enough to want to see it but it manages to come to a really strong finish, one that those unfamiliar with the material probably won't see coming.
Performance wise, Price, starring in all three stories, is in fine form here. He gives his typically solid performance and is as fun to watch here as he's ever been. Lorre really steals the show in the second story though, he plays his character perfectly using his strange facial features and expressive eyes in interesting ways. Rathbone is good here too, bringing his classy style and screen presence to the movie and making the picture all the better for it. Add to that some really nice production values, sets and costumes as well as some fantastic cinematography and a genuinely impressive score courtesy of Les Baxter and it's easy to see why Tales Of Terror has remained a fan favorite over the years.The Blu-ray:
Tales Of Terror arrives on Blu-ray from Kino in an impressive AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed at 2.35.1 widescreen. This is quite a nice picture, offering considerably more detail than the past domestic DVD releases and nicer color reproduction as well. The disc is single layered but there are no obvious problems with compression artifacts to note. The elements used for the transfer appear to have been in excellent shape as there's no serious print damage to note. Texture and depth are impressive and there are no signs of any noise reduction or edge enhancement. Things look very good here, this is a nice looking disc to be sure.Sound:
Audio chores are handled by a DTS-HD Mono track, there are no alternate language options, subtitles or closed captioning options provide. Levels are properly balanced and there's a good amount of range in this mix, particularly when it comes to Les Baxter's score. Dialogue stays clean, clear and crisp and there are no issues with any hiss or distortion.Extras:
The main extras on the disc are a pair of commentary tracks, the first with Video Watchdog's Tim Lucas. This is a well-researched track that gives us all the historical insight and critical analysis you could want. Lucas talks about how this film fits in with some of the other's made by Corman around this time and shares some interesting details about the involvement of the different cast and crew members. He also shares some details about the source material adapted in this particular movie. The second track features film historian David De Valle and actor David Frankham who played Doctor James in The Case Of M. Valdemar. This is an interesting discussion as it lets Del Valle share what he knows about the film and really share a lot of the knowledge he's acquired over the years in regards to classic horror and Vincent Price in particular while Frankham is able to share his experiences from the shoot, talk about what it was like acting alongside some of the genre's greats and talk about his experiences working with Roger Corman.
Additionally, we get an eleven minute interview with director Roger Corman in which he speaks about his part behind the camera, putting the cast together and where some of the story ideas came from. Rounding out the extras are a Trailers From Hell! segment with Corman, the film's original theatrical trailer, menus and chapter selection. The disc also features a pretty slick reversible cover.Final Thoughts:
i>Tales Of Terror holds up well decades after it was made, a really enjoyable mix of horror, drama and comedy performed by a great cast and with some really impressive visual flair. Kino's Blu-ray release is a good one, offering up two fine commentaries and a few other supplements to go alongside them. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.