Tales of Terror is one of a series of seven horror movies Roger Corman directed in the 1960s based on Edgar Allen Poe stories. Actually, this movie is an anthology, with three stories–the first based on the Poe short story “Morella,” the second a sort of mix of “The Black Cat” and “The Cask of Amontillado,” and the third based on the short story “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar.” Richard Matheson, probably best known for writing a number of the Twilight Zone episodes (although he was also a prolific horror and SF novelist), wrote the screenplay.
The movie doesn’t lack for star power, as it features Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, and Basil Rathbone. Quite a line-up! I found the first story forgettable, while the third, about a man hypnotized on the brink of death and not allowed to die by his hypnotist, is somewhat creepy but slight (although my daughter found it frightening.).
The second story, however, is immensely entertaining. In it, Peter Lorre plays a wicked old drunk named Montresor Herringbone, who’s always trying to wheedle more drinking money out of his wife, while never failing to kick her black cat out of the way. One day he comes across a wine-tasting event, where he matches famous oenophile Fortunato Luchresi (Vincent Price) drink for drink in a hilarious tasting contest. Fortunato takes him home, where Montresor passes out. Fortunato really hits it off with Montresor’s long-suffering wife, and soon she’s cheerfully giving Montresor drinking money so she’ll have time alone to spend with Fortunato. The other drunks at the bar clue Montresor in to his cuckolding, however, so one evening he gives Fortunato a glass of amontillado (his favorite) with sleeping powder in it. When Fortunato awakens, Montresor has chained him and his wife to a wall in a niche in the basement, and bricks them in alive. Montresor thinks he’s committed an unsolvable murder, and practically invites the police to search his house for the missing persons. He overlooked only one little thing–the black cat was bricked in too, and begins yowling as the police search the basement, giving away Montresor’s secret.
Tales of Terror (1962)
Story/Plot/Characters–A top-notch script and great acting, with Vincent Price in the second story really outdoing himself as the foppish Fortunato. It might have been nice if they’d found a way to tie the three stories together in some way. (3 points)
Special Effects–The effects do what they have to do and are in line with other 1960s films. The color-wheel hypnosis machine in the third story is eerie. (1 point)
Scariness–The first two stories aren’t really scary, while the third is moderately creepy. (.5 points)
Atmosphere/Freakiness–Great atmosphere–the creepy mansion in the first story is the only good part of it, while the twisting streets of 19th century Boston in the second story really support the “drunk” viewpoint of Montresor. The third story gets definite points for freakiness. (1.5 points)