Producer-Director Roger Corman began a thematic series of movies in 1963 based on the works of Edgar Allen Poe. Taking a cue from the very successful, colorfully lurid Hammer horror movies, in 1960 he made House of Usher. Having proved himself as a reliable and economic maker of genre pictures in the 1950s, American International provided Corman with a bigger budget to make better movies. It was a gambit that paid off. House of Usher was an immediate hit and he followed suit with more Poe movies.

By that point Roger Corman had assembled a team that brought him excellent production values at bargain basement prices. There was Director of Photography Floyd Crosby. Daniel Haller made the impressive sets. Les Baxter composed the music. Richard Matheson wrote screenplays. And his star was none other than the Master of Menace, Vincent Price.

Tales of Terror is an anthology picture of Poe adaptations. As with the other movies, Richard Matheson took liberties with the source material. Poe could be a bit dense for the youthful drive-in audience he was aiming for.

The first story is "Morella". In it, Price plays one of his best tortured and haunted characters. A reclusive man lives alone in his castle and is visited by his estranged daughter. The man's wife had died years before, and the blame was laid on the girl. The wife, Morella, was buried but exhumed by Price. His love was too great to allow her to rot alone in a grave. But she does not rest easy. Morella is an atmospheric story of spectral haunting, with some nice photographic tricks.

The second, "The Black Cat", is easily the most entertaining of the three. Price displays his flair for comedy in this one, and his co-star Peter Lorre is equally hilarious. I could picture Rodney Dangerfield in the Lorre role had Tales of Terror been made a couple of decades later. A drunkard abuses and neglects his wife, and meets a cultivated wine expert at a tasting contest. Matheson combines "The Black Cat" with "A Cask of Amontillado" in this uproarious segment.

The third tale of terror, "The Case of M. Valdemar", is by far the darkest. Price plays a dying man who allows mesmerist Basil Rathbone to hypnotize him right at the point of death. This one is very effective and actually gave me a few chills.

Tales of Terror is perfectly paced. The first story is haunting, the second provides comic relief, and the third is genuinely frightening. I love all the Corman/Poe movies, but this one is my favorite.

I try to think back to how these pictures were received by drive-in audiences back in the early sixties. They must have been shocking and ideal date movies. I caught up with Tales of Terror when I got my first VCR in the eighties. In those days I loved all horror equally. I was just as likely to watch a Herschell Gordon Lewis movie as I would something with Vincent Price. Usually with copious amounts of alcohol to enhance the experience. Last night I watched Tales of Terror with ginger ale and snacks.

Generations pass. Historical horror movies like Tales of Terror are timeless and continue to enchant movie lovers.

Written by Mark Sieber

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