Tales of Fear

Starring: Vincent Price, Peter Lorre and Basil Rathbone
RRP: 12.99
Certificate: 12
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This MGM film from 1962 is an anthology of Edgar Allan Poe short horror story adaptations, directed by Roger Corman, and starring Vincent Price in three different roles.

In Morella, a young woman called Lenora visits her father's mansion house, seeing him for the first time since she was a baby. The house is run down, having been left practically untouched for those years. Her father, Locke, is still in mourning for his wife Morella, who died of a weakness only weeks after the birth of their child. He has kept the corpse of his wife, and she is after revenge, having on her deathbed blamed the baby for her plight.

This is a rather mediocre short, and in my opinion the weakest story with which to hook an audience. Vincent Price is good enough as Locke, but there's very little plot to act out. It's a strange choice for a Poe adaptation, because much of this tale is literary; in other words, the horror is psychological.

In The Black Cat, Montrasor, a drunken man is cruel to his wife Annabel, and takes all their money meant for food. After a wine-tasting competition, he invites Fortunato, the expert, home. An illicit affair begins between Annabel and the wine-taster. When Montrasor finds out he invites Fortunato for dinner and drugs him with the sherry. He then proceeds to brick-up the wine taster and Annabel in the wall of the cellar, going out afterward to celebrate his genius. An indiscreet comment whilst drunk brings the police to the house the next morning. They carry out a search, but Montrasor believes he is home free because the wall is a professional job. That is until an unearthly noise emanates from the wall.

You might think it strange I've given a synopsis of this segment without one mention of a black cat. The truth is in this version of Poe's short story the cat is pretty much incidental until the end. In Poe's original, the man hates the cat to the point that it takes over his life. He even kills it, only to have another almost identical feline turn up to take its place. For the sake of this brief adaptation there is a certain amount of poetic licence used. However, it works quite well and is arguably the strongest of the trio here. Peter Lorre plays the drunken man with panache, and Vincent Price acts his well-to-do toff with tongue firmly in cheek. The wine-tasting competition is hilarious with Price taking dainty sips, inhaling, swilling, and pulling all sorts of faces, whilst Lorre has his glasses filled and swigs them down in one go.

In The Case of M.Valdemar, Valdemar (Vincent Price) has an incurable illness. The pain is kept in check by a rather sinister hypnotist called Carmichael, who asks only that he perform an experiment at the point of the man's death. Valdemar gives blessing to his wife Helene to marry Doctor James (of whom she is fond) after he is gone. With Valdemar on his deathbed, Carmichael performs a special hypnotism which means that as his body dies his mind lives on. They hear his mind speaking with a chilling voice. He is in an unknown dark place filled with people, and sounds tormented. Helene and Dr. James plead with Carmichael to release his hold on Valdemar, but he refuses. When the hypnotist tells Helene of his intention to take her as his wife - by force, if necessary - Valdemar returns to his grey corpse to exact revenge.

Although there's little substance to this story in cinematic form, the performances make it quite strong. Basil Rathbone, stalwart as the world's most famous fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes, is convincingly creepy here as Carmichael. There is the least amount of excessiveness here, with the handful of actors all playing it straight, as should be. Helene screams a few times and falls into a dead faint, but what would you expect if your father talked to you from beyond the grave, and then returned to his body to kill someone!

It would be easy to say that this film is not so much Tales of Terror, as Terrible Tales, but that would be too much of an injustice. Granted, it's cheaply made, with even the exterior scenes being shot on studio sets, but it's better than many of the films from around this period. Indeed, this could have been a lot worse, but for the professional screenplay from horror maestro Richard Matheson (Duel, A Stir of Echoes, Hell House, The Shrinking Man, Nightmare At 20,000 Feet, etc.), who plainly aims for a cocktail of fear and fun.

Ty Power

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