The Film (3.5/5)
Roger Corman as both a producer and director crafted some of the most memorable low budget genre films of the latter half of the 20th Century. Corman, now into his 80’s continues his career as a producer to this very day. However, as a director he essentially stopped after 1971's Von Richtofen and Brown, with a few uncredited directing stints for some early 80's New World productions, and one last feature with 1989's Frankenstein Unbound. However, Corman's possible Crowning achievement as a director may be his series of 8 Poe films that he crafted in the early to mid 1960's. 7 of the Poe features featured Vincent Price (House of Wax, Baron of Arizona) as his leading man, with one the Premature Burial starring Ray Milland (The Uninvited).
Corman's Poe films may not have always been entirely accurate to Poe literature. Corman on some of the films, such as The Raven, which rather then tell the story of the poem became a comedic horror-fantasy about dueling magicians takes a seedling of concept from the work of Poe, and then expands it into another direction. Others “Poe” films like the Haunted Palace were actually adaptations of H.P. Lovecraft only connected to Poe by title, and a text based crawl at the end. Tales of Terror released to Blu-ray by Kino Lorber Studio Classics in late April 2015 sees Corman creating 3 Poe-inspired short films with short interlude segments between creating a interesting Poe inspired anthology film.
The film opens with Morella, which tells the tale of Lenora (Maggie Pierce) a daughter estranged from her Father, Locke (Vincent Price). As the story begins she goes to visit him for the first time since her Mother, Morella's, passing. For reasons that are not explained, Locke blames Lenora for his wife's death, and has been drowning his sorrows with alcohol since that time. Rather, then move on he has kept her corpse in a bed in his mansion. Lenora's visit, however, is not a simple one, and she comes to tell her Father, that she has a terminal illness, and only has months to live. Locke, then invites Lenora to stay in the house, and tries to extend the hand of forgiveness to her, but forgiveness will not come easy with the eyes of Morella still watching.
Morella, is my least favorite segment of the 3 that compromise Tales of Terror. It is the shortest of the 3 stories, yet has always felt dull to me. Yet, when watching it again on this viewing I was struck by a melancholic atmosphere that pervades the whole piece that I never felt before, and also a sense of impending doom. The short feels a bit like an extension of concepts explored in the first Poe film the Fall of the House of Usher, just on a much smaller scale.
The second story is the Black Cat, which is not so much an adaptation of that story, but a blended variation of the Black Cat and the Cask of Amontillado. The story revolves around Montresor(Peter Lorre), a drunkard who doesn't work, and spends the day drinking at the local tavern spending the little money his wife earns on booze. One night while looking for a cheap drink, he ends up at a wine tasting where he meets wine authority Fortunato Lucharesi (Vincent Price). The pair get hilariously drunk, and Fortunato escorts escorts him home where he meets his long suffering wife. The two hit it off, and have an affair. Of course, it does not get by Montresor, who kills them both, and hides them behind a basement wall, but Montresor's obnoxious behavior clues in the authorities, and during an investigation the sounds of his wife's pesky cat reveal the truth.
The Black Cat brings Vincent Price and Peter Lorre together pre-Raven, in a film that exploits the comedic talents of both much like that latter film would. The Poe films when watched in succession can feel like very similar stylistically, however, it was very obvious that throughout the series Corman was both experimenting, and refining his concept. While there were certainly humorous elements in the earlier Poe films, it appears that Corman used the Black Cat to see if he could bridge the worlds of comedy and horror in the guise of the Poe gothic, as he had done so successfully in his non-gothic horrors such as the Bucket of Blood and Little Shop of Horrors earlier in the decade. Vincent Price is once again excellent, but it is Peter Lorre who steals the show in this short.
Tales of Terror concludes with The Case of M. Valdemar which sees Price co-starring with Basil Rathbone. In this short Price plays M. Valdemar a man dying slowly, who uses a hypnotist named Carmichael to help ease his departure from this world. During the hypnosis Valdemar is placed under the suggestion that he must not die, that he must stay in between life and death forever. Valdemar is my favorite segment of the 3 parts of Tales of Terror. The short has a completely doom-laded and tragic atmosphere, and Price's performance is possibly his finest in any of the 3 shorts found in this anthology.
Tales of Terror is presented by KLSC in a very good 2:35:1 1080p AVC encoded transfer that offers very natural, but sharp colors, good detail, and accurate flesh tones, and a nice grain field present. There is not much in the way of source damage present here, and no digital sharpening appears to have been done. The audio is handled in an English DTS-HD mono track. The track is serviceable, and gets the job done. The dialogue, effects, and Les Baxter's score come through nicely, and I did not detect any issues with pops, cracks, or hissing on the track.
The extras include a pair of commentary tracks. The first is by Video Watchdog editor Tim Lucas who offers a great amount of depth and insight into the film. The second is by horror historian David Del Valle, and M. Valdemar actor David Frankham, which offers a more loose atmosphere with Del Valle sharing information on the late Price, classic horror, and Tales of Terror, and Frankham offering up details on the film. We also get an 11 minute interview with director Roger Corman, who is always a pleasure to listen to, and a Trailers from Hell segment with Corman regarding this film.
Not the best of the Poe Films, yet Tales of Terror offers a very unique and fun horror experience. The A/V restoration from Kino Lorber Studio Classics is quite good, and the extras add a lot of depth to the package. RECOMMENDED.