The old monsters and monster stars were out of vogue by the nineteen fifties. The atomic age brought on horrors for a new age. Psychological horror movies also put a crimp on the careers of actors like Boris Karloff and Basil Rathbone.

The monster craze brought on by horror-hosted TV shows revived the old monsters and those who portrayed them. Only it was mostly in the domain of independent producers. Teenagers and younger children were the biggest audiences for the creature feature programs, and the big studios weren't savvy enough to cater their productions to young audiences. Yet. All that would come later.

There were miserable little roles for the actors. Poor Boris Karloff suffered through disasters like Voodoo Island, Corridors of Blood, and Frankenstein 1970 (made in 1958). The old stars and the beloved old performers made walk-on appearances on sitcoms and variety shows now and then. They were able to find work, but it wasn't like the old days when monsters commanded large budgets and were in high demand from audiences.

The atomic horror craze died down by the end of the fifties, and as the sixties rolled in, Gothic horror was having a bit of a revival. Over in England Hammer Studios were remaking the classics in vibrant color. Here in the States Roger Corman and AIP made big bank adapting Edgar Allen Poe stories into lavish productions on a budget.

Corman was doing two cheapo films a year for American International Pictures, as well as really low budget features with his brother Gene and their Filmworks company. Rog persuaded Samuel Z. Arkoff and James Nicholson to allow him one movie a year instead of two. Twice the budget, twice the production schedule, and in color. The notoriously thrifty AIP pair balked when Corman suggested movies based on Poe stories. They asked him where the monster of House of Usher was. Roger replied that the house was the monster. A deal was made, as was a lot of money, and some damned good movies resulted.

Roger Corman assembled a winning team for his Poe ventures. His star was Vincent Price. Price was a regular in big budget historical films early in his career, but by the late fifties he was doing SF-oriented horror like The Fly.

Genre legend Richard Matheson was the main screenwriter. Floyd Crosby provided the cinematography and Daniel Haller was responsible for the set designs. Les Baxter composed evocative scores.

House of Usher was first, and it was a runaway success. The team followed with The Pit and the Pendulum, The Premature Burial, and Tales of Terror. Corman always had a flair for comedy, and after these somber movies, humor was injected into the films.The Raven and The Comedy of Terrors both came in 1963. Corman directed The Raven. I always liked Roger's directorial efforts, but thankfully another director came on board for The Comedy of Terrors.

Jacques Tourneur is one of the unheralded greats of Hollywood history. Among his many credits are horror classics like The Cat People and Curse of the Demon. He brought a great deal of visual flair to The Comedy of Terrors.

Vincent Price is a inebriate cad who has taken over a funeral service business. His wife's father, played by Boris Karloff, is senile, and Peter Lorre plays a dimwitted assistant.

In order to drum up business Price begins killing individuals in order to sell coffins to the families. He is wonderfully over the top in the role, and his literate dialogue is rich and hilarious. When they attempt to do away with their landlord, well played by Basil Rathbone, things go afoul.

The Comedy of Terrors is a delight from start to finish. The comedy is old fashioned and a little lowbrow, but it's also infectious. The entire production looks and sounds great.

Unfortunately not everyone agreed. Critics were unkind and audiences stayed away. The Comedy of Terrors was considered a failure. Matheson planned a sequel called Sweethearts and Horrors, but it wasn't to be.

Some will undoubtedly find The Comedy of Terrors to be too quaint, with outmoded humor and hopelessly corny slapstick. Not me. I love every frame of the movie, and how can anyone resist seeing Price, Karloff, Lorre, and Rathbone having the time of their onscreen lives?

Written by Mark Sieber

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