Tales of Terror (1962)

DailyView: Day 159, Movie 240

I love Edgar Allan Poe. I teach an Edgar Allan Poe unit at my middle school every October/November. One of the key stories we look at is The Tell-Tale Heart and I always show the students the one man show version of the Tell-Tale Heart as performed by Vincent Price. In the 50s and 60s Vincent Price and director Roger Corman did a cycle of Poe stories together and this was the fourth one.

In fact, there were several stories included in this anthology. A couple that I did not recognize and a few more that I could see.

Part One: “Morella.”

This is a story I did not know and I was impressed with what the film did. The estranged daughter Lenora (Maggie Price) returned to her father Locke (Vincent Price) who had spent years mourning the loss of his beautiful wife Morella (Leona Gage). He had also spent years blaming her for her death. Morella claimed that the infant was responsible for her death. Lenora, who only had a few months remaining to live, discovered that her father had been keeping the corpse of her mother in his estate because he could just not say goodbye.

This was very creepy and Vincent Price does an admirable job selling the work, but it feels as if we are missing too many pieces of the story to really make this work. They seem to imply that she had died in childbirth, but it messes that bit up some. Locke changes his tune very quickly. At first he wanted no part of her, but he quickly changed that up. Too quickly. They could have used a few extra scenes to make it less like a slingshot. Then the weird ending really came from nowhere. This story needed more to it to have it make sense. Looking at the Poe story, it sounds as if those questions are all dealt with and it was more of the adaptation issue.

Interestingly, the daughter in the Poe story does not have a name and she is named here after one of the famous lost loves of Poe’s writing, Lenore from The Raven.

Part Two: “The Black Cat”

The Black Cat is one of my favorite Poe stories. I find that it is one of his most underrated ones. However, this version takes The Black Cat and mishmashes it up with The Cask of Amontillado. Those two stories do share a few similarities and this one works reasonably well together. Starring Peter Lorre as Montresor, Vincent Price as Fortunato, and Joyce Jameson as Annabel (perhaps after Annabel Lee?), The Black Cat tells the story of the drunkard Montresor who wants nothing more than to have his wife give him money to fund his nights of drinking.

When one of those nights introduced him to Fortunato, the wine tasting gentleman assisted the drunken Montresor home where he met Annabel. They began an affair on nights when Montresor would head out to do his drinking.

This story employs a more comedic tone, and Peter Lorre gives a solid comedic performance. However, I believe that the comedic aspect robs both of the two stories of their depth of emotion. Both stories end with someone being bricked up inside a wall, one of Poe’s favorite means of disposing of bodies. I was hoping that the film would maintain the wonderfully ironic twist at the end of the story of The Black Cat, and, to my pleasure, it did so. I thought this one improved as it went along, but truthfully, you did not need to combine the two stories into one.

Part Three: “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar”

I was unfamiliar with this Poe story, but it was the one that seemed to work the best with the time allotted. Price this time played M. Valdemar, a man dying of a painful disease. He had made a deal with a hypnotist Carmichael (Basil Rathbone of Sherlock Holmes fame) to allow him to hypnotize him to take away the pain. Then when the moment of death would come, M. Valdemar agreed to let him use his hypnosis to see how long they could put off his death.

Valdemar’s wife, Helene (Debra Paget, and another famed Poe female name) was horrified by the deal, but she could do nothing to prevent it. What turned into a horror show was when Valdemar’s body died, Carmichael was able to keep control of him and Valdemar was communicating with him from the afterlife. Carmichael refused to let control of him go no matter how much they begged him.

Seeing Vincent Price in the bed during this time was creepy as can be and the story was brought to a satisfactory conclusion. This was the best of the three tales in my opinion. The Black Cat suffered from my knowledge of the two stories and the Morella felt too short and missing some important information.

These were clearly low budget films with high class talent. There was one really great, one okay and one lacking of the three tales of terror, but they were all well worth the watch. Go read some Edgar Allan Poe.

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