Tales of Terror (1962) Tales of Terror/Poe’s Tales of Terror (1962) **˝

     At last, the time has come to discuss the AIP Poe Movie. There are more of these damned things than you can shake a stick at; they were a fucking phenomenon. Beginning with 1960’s The Fall of the House of Usher, Roger Corman would direct eight Poe films, while other directors (even Jacques Tourneur!) began contributing to the cause in 1965. The series, if you can call it that, finally petered out in the early 1970’s, following Murders in the Rue Morgue. The AIP Poe flicks were among the studio’s most distinctive products, and they’re pretty easy to spot most of the time. In addition to the aforementioned characteristics of 60’s release dates, AIP production, and Corman (usually) in the director’s chair, they will be period pieces, they will generally have a title taken from one of Poe’s stories or poems (to which their scripts may be expected to bear little or no resemblance), and they will almost invariably feature Vincent Price in the lead role. Tales of Terror/Poe’s Tales of Terror, the fourth to be produced, diverges from the usual formula in two important ways, one of which follows logically from the other. To begin with, Poe never wrote anything called “Tales of Terror;” the title derives from the fact that, alone in the series to the best of my knowledge, it is an anthology movie, broken up into three roughly 30-minute segments derived (duh) from Poe’s work. Price, of course, plays a central role in each story.

     The first segment is called “Morella,” and is very loosely based on the story of the same name, or rather, on the events of its last three or four paragraphs. It begins with a young woman named Lenore Locke (Maggie Pierce-- and yes, you’re absolutely right, there is nobody named Lenore in the original “Morella”) arriving at her father’s palatial matte painting... I mean, mansion... somewhere on the Massachusetts coast. Like Miss Havisham’s place in Great Expectations, the whole house seems to have been frozen in time by spiders. Everything is covered in a layer of cobwebs so dense as to be opaque (Dr. Science would like to take a moment to point out that tarantulas don’t spin webs; they use their very primitive spinnerettes only for wrapping up their prey, making egg-sacs, and lining their burrows), and everything that meets the eye suggests that one day some years ago, life in this house just stopped. Eventually, Lenore does find her father in the house (he’s Vincent Price, in case you hadn’t figured that out yet), and it comes out that the two of them haven’t laid eyes on each other for most of her 26-year life. Lenore’s father disowned her, you see, because her birth somehow contributed to the death of her mother, Morella. Ah, now we see what’s going on here, don’t we? The day life stopped in this house was the day of Morella’s death; it happened while she was throwing a party, which goes some way toward explaining all the wine glasses lying around everywhere and the gigantic multi-layered cake that can be dimly seen beneath all the cobwebs on the dining room table. And there happens to be another level to Locke’s kink, which anybody with two working hemispheres will see coming a mile away. The dining room isn’t the only thing in the house that’s been mummified.

     Now, it might seem that Locke’s abandonment and disownment of his daughter and his decidedly creepy incorporation of Morella’s body into the decor of his parlor would present insurmountable obstacles to the formation of anything like a normal father-daughter relationship at this late stage of the game. But there are special circumstances at work here, in that Lenore has some kind of terminal disease that will do her in in a matter of months. Meanwhile, Locke has come to believe that he may have been overly hasty in accepting at face value Morella’s diagnosis of the cause of her own death. The combined result is that the estranged pair decide to make a go of acting like a family for Lenore’s last months on Earth. Unfortunately for all concerned, the stiff in the parlor has other plans...

     Next up, we have “The Black Cat,” which in this movie takes the rather startling form of a mutant hybrid of Poe’s “The Black Cat” and the equally famous “The Cask of Amontillado.” If, for some reason, you were going to amalgamate two of Poe’s stories, I suppose these two would be the most cooperative candidates, in that they both involve somebody being walled up in a basement, but I still think the whole enterprise is a pretty strange idea. From “The Black Cat,” we have the elements of the abusive, alcoholic husband (called Montressor Herringbone here, and played by an almost perfectly spherical Peter Lorre), the long-suffering wife (Joyce Jameson, from Death Race 2000 and Hardbodies), and of course, the cat that ruins the perfect crime. From “The Cask of Amontillado,” we have the foppish wine aficionado (still called Fortunato Lucrezzi, and played by Price) whose love of the titular beverage ends up getting him entombed alive in a wall. The main point of interest here is watching how screenwriter Richard Matheson (yes, that Richard Matheson) welds the two stories together into a remarkably entertaining black comedy. Lucrezzi and Herringbone meet accidentally when the completely sloshed Montressor staggers into a vintner’s convention one day and ends up challenging Lucrezzi (a famous wine-taster) to a duel of palates. It turns out that Montressor is a very discerning drunkard, and he loses the contest (which is much funnier than I could possibly describe) only because he drinks himself into an absolute stupor in the process. Lucrezzi has to help the man home, and in so doing, he meets the much put-upon Mrs. Herringbone, with whom he begins an affair. Just guess what Montressor’s answer to that is...

     Finally, we have “The Case of Mr. Valdemar,” which bears more than a passing resemblance to “The Facts of the Case of M. Valdemar.” In this story, the titular Valdemar (Price again), who is dying (in true Poe fashion) of an incurable disease, allows his hypnotist (Basil Rathbone, from Son of Frankenstein and the 1939 Tower of London) to put him into a trance at the moment of his demise. This turns out to be a really bad idea. Not only does it result in Valdemar getting stuck between this world and the next, it also gives the smarmy bastard hypnotist a lever with which to attempt to force himself on Valdemar’s wife (Debra Paget, of The Haunted Palace and From the Earth to the Moon). It’s a pretty good blackmail scheme, when you get right down to it: “Marry me, or I’ll see to it that your husband never finishes dying.” Too bad Valdemar is more closely tied to his body than anyone realizes...

     People who really like Poe might want to consider steering well clear of Tales of Terror. There isn’t too much left of his stories here, and the overall tone of the movie owes far more to the old E.C. horror anthology comics than it does to the original tales on which it is supposed to be based. On the other hand, if you really like Tales from the Crypt, The Vault of Horror, and their latter-day copycats like Pacific Comics’ late, lamented Twisted Tales, this might just be the movie for you.

 

 

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