There’s no doubt that in America, during the early-mid 1960s, there was only one ruling King of Horror, and that was the great Vincent Price. Having often excelled in sinister roles, he graduated to the monstrous genre in 1953, with the classic House of Wax. Then, after a memorable William Castle detour (House on Haunted Hill, The Tingler), came a fortuitous association with AIP and Roger Corman (the company and the director/producer taking a gamble by expanding their shoestring budgets to color and CinemaScope – a viable alternative to the super-successful Hammer imports); the result were the goth Edgar Allan Poe box-office smashes, that not only paid many bills for all concerned, but even garnered critical kudos from both sides of the pond.
The Poe series is remarkable in its own right, the famed author being chosen not for his brilliant, eerie and incredibly cinematic prose, but because he was (like the Bible), public domain.
It was a given that the majors would eventually take notice of this phenomenon (aka “it’s Hammer Time”), but quicksilver-acting AIP cut to the chase and beat them to the American goth punch.
In 1962, Corman and Price released their latest effort, the wonderful trilogy TALES OF TERROR. That did it. Not to be outdone, UA decided to corral the star, and release their own gothic omnibus. Although Poe was p.d., and, thus, up for grabs, the cooler heads at United Artists prevailed, and they craftily chose a viable alternate scribe, none other than The Scarlet Letter’s Nathaniel Hawthorne. Why? Well, Hawthorne, like Poe, was American-born, wrote around the same period, had a penchant for atmospheric, foreboding terror…and, oh, yeah, was public domain. The Hawthorne triad, entitled TWICE TOLD TALES, was released in 1963, and happily filled the UA coffers in the AIP tradition.
Now, thanks to the groovy folks at Kino Studio Classics (in collaboration with 20th Century-Fox Home Entertainment and MGM Studios), both pics have been released in stunning Blu-Ray evocations. My joy at seeing these exquisitely re-mastered flicks in crystal-clear 1080p goes beyond the ga-ga factor. It’s truly like seeing them for the first time.
“It is with death and dying that we’re concerning ourselves,” are Vincent’s opening words that commence the happy tidings of 1962’s TALES OF TERROR, a triple-threat of Edgar Allan Poe stories, each starring Price and two featuring major genre costars. In Morella, the daughter (Maggie Pierce) of widower Locke (VP) arrives at her father’s grim abode to announce that she is at death’s door, and seeks reconciliation from the pater who banished her as a child (blaming the girl for her mother’s childbirth death). But, as Gershwin so eloquently stated, “It ain’t necessarily so,” and the evil that pervades every brick of the cursed home is about to go to town.
The most famous of the three tales is the comically fueled The Black Cat, with laughs courtesy of acerbic Peter Lorre. Lorre, the epitome of Poe white trash, plays Montresor, an abusive, drunken lout of a husband who cheats on his lovely wife Annabel (Joyce Jameson) with a full-bodied cask of anything holding spirits. When he stumbles upon a wine-tasting demonstration, guested by renowned grape connoisseur Fortunato Luchresi (Price), he challenges the expert to a drinking contest. It is one of the delights of horror cinema to see these two go at it in a hilarious display of imbibing with a ham chaser. Soon Luchresi becomes a regular in Montresor’s household, eventually succumbing to the neglected charms of Mrs. M. The feeling is mutual, and the pair become lovers; but even a perennial swacked sot like Montresor can’t be cuckolded forever, and he plots the perfect revenge.
The Case of M. Valdemar, the final episode, is also the most disturbing. Carmichael (Basil Rathbone), a famed mesmerist is called to the house of wealthy dying Valdemar. The naïve aristocrat wants to know if he can let go of his troubles after death before entering the afterlife. The troubles comprise making sure his ravishing soon-to-be widow, Helene (Debra Paget), is well-taken care of. Carmichael has ulterior plans in that department, having become rapaciously obsessed with the woman, and sends the weakening Valdemar into a lethal trance. Proving Christopher Bullock wrong about that death and taxes crack, M. Valdemar returns in oozing, mummified zombie form to pay back the predatory perv for his treachery.
TALES OF TERROR is not only one of the best of the Corman/Price/Poe flicks, it’s the most fun (no cheesy Jack Nicholson to go amateur-night stupid). The script by Richard Matheson is first-rate fright stuff with a satanic tongue firmly embedded in cheek.
The female leads are beautiful beyond words, although Paget is essentially window dressing, while Jameson is wonderfully deft and often riotous. This behavior was rumored to have extended beyond the camera; Price and Jameson supposedly spent down-time playing catch with Peter Lorre’s prop head while the unamused German thespian watched from the sidelines, shaking his own head and deadpan muttering, “Very funny.”
The one time I saw TALES OF TERROR in its proper Panavision aspect ratio, it was beet red, the result of awful PatheColor. The visuals here are magnificent Blu-Ray picture quality with amazing restored color, doing the marvelous d.p. Floyd Crosby proud.
That would be enough for me, but Kino has loaded the platter up with fantastic extras, including an on-camera interview with Corman, audio commentary by Tim Lucas, vintage archival commentary with Price, David Del Valle and costar David Frankham, a Corman-hosted Trailers from Hell segment, and more. What’s left to be said; it’s one helluva show!
Vincent, once again, serves as narrator for each story forward of the trilogy that comprises 1963’s TWICE TOLD TALES. As indicated, this was UA’s answer to AIP’s Poe pix, relying upon the works of The Scarlet Letter‘s Nathaniel Hawthorne. Now, one may not consider Hawthorne a rival of the Divine Edgar when comes to a sup o’horror; that’s because he really wasn’t (although admittedly he did occasionally toy with supernatural elements). To say that the producer (well, producer/scripter) Robert E. Kent took liberties is putting it mildly. Suffice to say that had Kent chosen to adapt the aforementioned Scarlet Letter, Hester Pryne would have been a demon spawned from hell. Kent, known more for his writing than producing, is the force behind such classics as The Gas House Kids Go West, Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome, Serpent of the Nile, Don’t Knock the Twist, Guns, Girls and Gangsters, Hootenanny Hoot, The Fastest Guitar Alive and The Christine Jorgensen Story.
That isn’t to say that TWICE TOLD TALES ain’t fun or entertaining or even handsome to look at. It’s all those things. Under the sure direction of Sidney “Give ’em what they want” Salkow (auteur of Girl Overboard, Las Vegas Shakedown, and the extremely interesting adaptation of Matheson’s I am Legend, released under the title The Last Man on Earth), TTT delivers the goods, literally in buckets. For a 1963 American fright movie, it’s incredibly gory, with its catalog of decaying corpses and walls, ceilings and paintings that split open gushing blood…them kind of gags.
Price, it should be mentioned, plays a variety of scoundrels, scallywags and scumbags (perhaps in a nod to the author’s most noted work, the trilogy intertwines forbidden fruit with horror), and is surrounded by a game cast, including Sebastian Cabot, Mari Blanchard, Beverly Garland, Richard Denning, Brett Halsey, and the drop-dead gorgeous Joyce Taylor.
The tampered tales include Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment, wherein aged besties Cabot and Price, celebrating the former’s inching toward his eightieth year, accidentally stumble upon a regenerative serum derived from rainwater dripping through the crevices in the late Mrs. Cabot’s crypt. First, the startled pair restore faded flowers, then themselves, and then…you get it. It’s my favorite of the three episodes, and I must confess, the horror of beautiful reanimated Mari Blanchard dissolving into loathsome decrepitude is quite a gasper.
In Rappaccini’s Daughter, obsessed professor Price has a too-close-for-comfort relationship with his grown daughter (Taylor). To this end, he has poisoned her with an excreted floral elixir of deadly radiated components that bring instant demise to whomever she touches (and vice versa). Sheltering the young woman takes a disastrous turn when budding student scientist (Halsey) takes a room across the courtyard. Price’s solution is horrific, guaranteeing that all doesn’t end well.
The final story is an adaptation of the author’s famed mystery, The House of the Seven Gables, by way of the Hostel franchise and the Karo Syrup Co., Ltd. In this version, raffish cad Gerald Pyncheon (with his new bride, or cad-ette) comes home to his creepy manse in an attempt to excavate a rumored buried treasure. The murderous fiend doesn’t figure on the participation of the secret’s guardians, demonic ghosts and ghouls who have anxiously awaited the blackguard’s return.
TWICE TOLD TALES’ production values have a slight advantage over those in the Corman/Poe pics. More so is the photography by television great Ellis W. Carter. Rather than relying upon AIP’s lowly PatheColor, UA opted for Technicolor. Even though the restoration of the AIPs look fantastic, there’s something about Technicolor that can never be matched. The velvety reds, greens and blues are stunningly luxurious; ditto, the rich, creamy flesh tones.
Extras in this excellent Blu-Ray include audio commentary by film historians Richard Harland Smith and Perry Martin, plus a Mick Garris-hosted Trailers from Hell supplement. Played together as a double-feature of six goth tales. TALES OF TERROR and TWICE TOLD TALES are nothing less than a Vincent Price orgy for his multitude of fans and admirers (of which I am definitely and proudly one).
TALES OF TERROR. Color. Widescreen [2.35:1; 1080p High Definition]; 2.0 DTS-HD MA. Kino-Lorber Studio Classics/20th Century-Fox Home Entertainment/MGM Studios. CAT # K1596. SRP: $29.95.
TWICE TOLD TALES. Color. Widescreen [1.66:1; 1080p High Definition]; 2.0 DTS-HD MA. Kino-Lorber Studio Classics/20th Century-Fox Home Entertainment/MGM Studios. CAT # K1780. SRP: $29.95.