The Comedy of Terrors (1964)
The horror film has always been an easy mark for filmmakers to parody so Speakeasy’s Kristina and myself have decided to shine the light on the satires of horror and have some fun with them in our march toward October 31st.
Noted director Jacques Tourneur ( Out of the Past and Cat People) was enlisted by AIP to direct this Richard Matheson script featuring four icons of the horror genre. Vincent Price, Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre and Basil Rathbone. For the time of this film’s release this had to be looked upon as a fantasy film lovers dream cast of the old school variety.
Vincent Price plays the owner of a shady funeral home he has married into. Joyce Jameson stars here as his wife and daughter of Boris Karloff who originally started the business but is now in his nineties and overly senile. Price would like nothing better than to slip a little poison into Boris’ morning tea to get rid of the old man. Boris himself is so far removed from reality he would like nothing better than to get a dose of the medicine that Price is always offering him before daughter Joyce steps in.
Moon eyed Peter Lorre is Vincent’s assistant around the business and the whipping boy for Price’s drunken wrath and verbal abuse throughout the proceedings. It seems Peter has a criminal past and is a perfect mark for Price’s bully. While Price continues to berate his wife, it’s Peter the lover who longs for her kiss and is compassionate towards her predicament.
Into the story comes Basil Rathbone as the Landlord who demands payment of back rent or he will have Price and the floundering business put out on the street. And so the black comedy ensues. To keep the business afloat, Price and Lorre must go out and drum up business. In other words Price commits murders in order to offer his funeral services and keep dear old Basil off his back.
When things don’t quite go as planned with the first killing and no money coming in Price is heard to utter to poor Peter, “To… uh… paraphrase the venerable adage: we shall kill two birds, with one… pillow. ” Time to kill Basil and erase all his worries.
Playing to Basil’s Shakespearean strengths, the former Sherlock Holmes delivers a very spirited performance as he goes about enacting MacBeth and terrifying Lorre whom he has found breaking into his home at a late hour. It’s at this point that Basil succumbs to a heart ailment. Or does he?
It appears as if Basil suffers from catalepsy where his body gives all indications of being dead yet he continues to rise bringing grief and frustration to Price. “Confound you too, sir! Will you KINDLY have the goodness to die? ”
Rising from the crypt and scaring a few years off of the crypt keeper Joe E. Brown, Basil delivers a vengeful soliloquy while grabbing an axe and so begins the comical showdown culminating in all the characters at one point or another seemingly killed off with Dear Boris getting the final say.
Like the title points out, it’s all played for laughs and came on the heels of the Corman picture The Raven which was also more or less a comical farce. Price and Lorre only keep one coffin on the premises and have repeatedly used it for 13 long years. After each funeral they just remove the body and resell it to the next grieving family.
It’s more than obvious that for the more physical bits of comedy a stuntman in a Peter Lorre mask was in use but that doesn’t diminish the laughs that Peter and Vincent deliver in their banter and bickering. Boris was as well by this time slowing down and because of his health took on the old man role leaving the landlord character to the more physically able Basil. This allowed Basil the chance to once more wreak havoc with a sword as he had done in so many titles during his early years in Hollywood.
The star player at this time was Price and he is wonderful as the drunken husband of Joyce who has no qualms of taking a life to keep himself in money and the business doors open. He’s adept at playing comedy and poking fun at his image as are all the other three leading actors within.
If you happen to have the Vincent Price collection put out on blu ray by Scream Factory then you can see this title with a 1982 introduction and closing thoughts from Price himself that he had filmed for public television and his closing statements about his three co stars are oh so poignant. Proving once again how cultured and likable Vincent Price was. A true gentleman and friend to all.
Now it’s time to find yourself an underground cavern and see what creatures Kristina has in store for us as she takes a shot at horror spoofs telling us about a film featuring one of my favorite character actors while growing up, Fred Ward.
The Comedy of Terrors has been part of the Why Horror? Why Not? celebrations.