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David James Elliott,
Three stories adapted from the work of Edgar Allen Poe. A man and his daughter are reunited, but the blame for the death of his wife hangs over them, unresolved. A derelict challenges the local wine-tasting champion to a competition, but finds the man's attention to his wife worthy of more dramatic action. A man dying and in great pain agrees to be hypnotized at the moment of death, with unexpected consequences. Written by
David Carroll <email@example.com>
This film is a very loose adaptation of three Edgar Allan Poe tales, "Morella", "The Black Cat" and "The (Facts in the) Case of M. Valdemar", each roughly one half-hour in length. All three feature Vincent Price. The Black Cat also features Peter Lorre, and M. Valdemar also features Basil Rathbone. Morella concerns a daughter returning to the home of her father, who is estranged because of the mother's death. The Black Cat concerns an alcoholic who makes a crucial mistake in covering up a crime. And M. Valdemar concerns a doctor experimenting with hypnosis (or "mesmerism") on a terminally ill man.
Although fairly clunky and uneven compared to the other Roger Corman/Vincent Price Poe collaborations (which tend to be excellent), and even compared to other similar collections of short films from the same era, such as Amicus' Dr. Terror's House of Horrors (1965), this is still a good film, and earned an 8 out of 10 from me.
It is usually very difficult to try to adapt Poe stories to film--similar to the difficulty of attempting to adapt H.P. Lovecraft to film. Both authors write very dense, poetic, often abstract prose, and Poe, especially, is sometimes not very plot-oriented. Each segment in Tales of Terror succeeds in its own way, however.
Morella, as Poe writes it, is an exploration of what personal identity means, particularly as it applies to continuation through offspring. In director Corman and writer Richard Matheson's hands, Morella becomes an even more abstract depiction of the ideas of personal identity, turned into more of a supernatural ghost story. It's also implied in the film that a lot of the events perhaps occurred in Locke's (Price) mind, leading up to the tragic ending. This segment is particularly notable for the set design, which is the best in the film.
The Black Cat, which is Poe's most conventionally plotted tale out of the three presented here, is also probably the most changed. The changes in this case are surely due to the still lingering studio-imposed moral and content restrictions of the "Golden Era" of Hollywood. The changes are understandable, if still lamentable, in historical context. Corman and Matheson turn Poe's very dark and somewhat grisly story into more of a comedy for its first half, then more a tale of moral retribution in the second half. It's a joy to watch in any event, especially seeing Price's hammy comic performance. The ending of this section is as chilling as the beginning is humorous.
Except for the addition of a couple characters, The Case of M. Valdemar is probably the closest to its source in spirit. This is a tightly scripted, creepy story, and the Carmichael (Rathbone) character is actually an improvement on Poe, and it's great to see Rathbone play someone so evil. In a fairly literal way, this is a great zombie story, although the ending of the filmed version is a bit more vague in both plot and in explaining the horrific dilemma than Poe's version.
Despite its slight flaws--mainly that it's a bit too bright and colorful and the mood of the segments could have matched better--Tales of Terror is worth viewing, especially for any Poe, Corman, Price or Rathbone fans.
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