Saturday, 24 March 2012

Review : A Comedy of Terrors (1964)


Jacques Tourneur


Richard Matheson (screenplay), and 2 more credits »

A COMEDY OF TERRORS tells the tale of Waldo Trumbull, (Price), a 'morally dubious' undertaker trying to keep his business afloat in 19th century New England. His methods are less than noble, (right away we see him preside over a funeral, wait for the attendees to depart, then swiftly proceed to toss their loved one out the coffin into the grave, fill it, and head home with the coffin the grieving family have recently paid for!). Despite his money-making sins, he's still having a hard time keeping the business afloat, not to mention keeping the roof over his head, and alcohol in his belly. When things get too difficult, he decides to kill off his curmudgeonly, and rather insane landlord, (Rathbone), with the help from his none-too-happy assistant, (Lorre). Problem is, he's unaware that his landlord suffers from an affliction that periodically places him in death-like state. Cue much hilarity, high-jinks and farce.

The film finds its legendary director, Jacques Tournier, in an unusually frivolous mood; a million miles from his other forays into the horror genre. His classics, NIGHT OF THE DEMON and THE CAT PEOPLE are still terrifying to this day, but here he's cutting loose, as are all concerned, (the film is written by Richard Matheson, for god's sake).

The film looks and feels like its part of the Corman/Poe/Price pantheon, yet I assure you, it's not. It is an American International Picture, and it has the same charm and atmosphere that the collaborations the aforementioned artists managed to capture with their series; also, it features all three major cast members from Corman's THE RAVEN, (Boris Karloff, Vincent Price, Peter Lorre), and even throws in the mighty Basil Rathbone for good measure!

In fact, its THE RAVEN that this film most resembles in tone and delivery. Its high camp comedy, with an undercurrent of darkness that never crosses into anything remotely scary. This can be enjoyed by the kids just as easily as by the adults. It has plenty of slapstick humour, a nice dose of gallows humour and an infectious sense of fun that runs through the whole show.

Just as all the Corman/Poe films looked immaculate, and were all filmed on sets, (with the exception of the final film, THE TOMB OF LIGEIA), COMEDY OF TERRORS is mostly a set-based affair, and is none the less beautiful for it. The colours are vibrant, the sets wonderfully Gothic, and the atmosphere, like the Corman series, replicates the classic Hammer Studios films that came before. Its as enjoyable to look at as it is to watch.

With a cast such as this, A COMEDY OF TERRORS was always going to be worthwhile; that all are so strong here, and more than willing to ham it up for laughs, makes this classic an absolute delight....

Price is unabashedly mean-spirited as Turnbull, a drunk, verbally abusive husband to the wonderfully game Joyce Jameson's 'Amyrillis'. As her somewhat unrealistic illicit love-interest, Lorre knocks it out the park as usual, playing the downtrodden underdog to perfection. Rathbone is perfect as the foil for this distinctly un-dynamic duo's evil plan. He proves to be as adaptive to high-comedy as he is to playing his usual stoic, disciplined characters. And Karloff as the doddering Patriarch is an absolute blast, going all out to play his role for broad laughs, and almost stealing the show in the process.

Watching Price hamming it up as a drunken cad is something to be cherished by all, and its a refreshing contrast to the pair-up with Lorre in THE RAVEN and TALES OF TERROR which saw Lorre play the drunken, boisterous characters to Price's more subdued roles. The two make for a legendary pairing and are as great here as they always were. With the all-star cast surrounding them, you really cant go wrong.

A COMEDY OF TERRORS is a must-see for those who wanted more of the Corman/Poe series, (and lets be honest, who didn't?!), and is a perfect Sunday afternoon matinee movie for an easy-going, fun and frivolous time. It looks, sounds and is performed beautifully, and has an old school innocence that's as infectious today as it ever was. Your kid's will love it, you will love it, and your old-folks will love it. Its a cross generational horror-comedy fit for one and fit for all. If your lucky enough to find it, be sure to treat yourself. Brilliant.

9 Grave-Tossers out of 10

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