The Comedy of Terrors (1963) poster

The Comedy of Terrors (1963)


USA. 1963.


Director – Jacques Tourneur, Screenplay – Richard Matheson, Producer – Anthony Carras, Photography – Floyd Crosby, Music – Les Baxter, Special Effects – Pat Dinga, Art Direction – Daniel Haller. Production Company – AIP.


Vincent Price (Waldo Trumbull), Peter Lorre (Felix Gillie), Basil Rathbone (John F. Black), Boris Karloff (Amos Hinchley), Joyce Jameson (Amaryllis Trumbull)


Alcoholic wife-beater Waldo Trumbull has run the funeral business he inherited from his father-in-law into the ground. His landlord John F. Black threatens to foreclose unless Trumbull comes up with a year’s unpaid rent. And so Trumbull and his assistant Felix Gillie decide to resort to murder in order to drum up some business. When the wife of their first victim leaves town without paying their bill, they decide they can kill two birds with one stone by making Black into their next victim.

The Comedy of Terrors was not one of Roger Corman’s Edgar Allan Poe films but has enough in common that it could easily have been. It has more or less the same credits as Corman’s comedic Poe effort The Raven (1963), including stars Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre and Vincent Price – who is playing essentially the same part that Lorre did in the similarly comedic The Black Cat episode of Corman’s Tales of Terror (1962), screenwriter Richard Matheson, production designer Daniel Haller, musician Les Baxter and photographer Floyd Crosby.

The Comedy of Terrors was directed by Jacques Tourneur, who a couple of decades earlier had made distinction with two of Val Lewton’s finest psychological horror films Cat People (1942) and I Walked with a Zombie (1943). Here Tourneur is in broad burlesque mode and the film is aimed at a frequently buffoonish level of knockabout comedy. What saves The Comedy of Terrors from total silliness is a witty and adept script from Richard Matheson who wrote most of Roger Corman’s Edgar Allan Poe films.

Murderous morticians - (l to r) Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre, and Vincent Price with Basil Rathbone (rear) in The Comedy of Terrors (1963)
Murderous morticians – (l to r) Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre, and Vincent Price with Basil Rathbone (rear)

All the cast are on fine form – Vincent Price is in full fruity flight with some hilarious scenes threatening to poison Boris Karloff off, while Peter Lorre does his craven cringing thing with equally hilarious regard. There are some mercilessly funny scenes with Vincent Price and Peter Lorre trying to force Basil Rathbone to stay in his coffin. The film reaches an especially hilarious ending with Basil Rathbone maniacally quoting Shakespeare, everybody being killed off (sometimes multiply so) and an especially droll final scene where Boris Karloff feeds Vincent Price some ‘medicine’.

Jacques Tourneur made several excellent psychological horror films – namely Cat People (1942), I Walked with a Zombie (1943), The Leopard Man (1943) and Curse of the Demon/Night of the Demon (1957), as well as the lost city sf film The City Under the Sea/War Gods from the Deep (1965).

Richard Matheson’s other genre scripts are:– The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957) based on his own novel, Roger Corman’s Edgar Allan Poe adaptations The House of Usher/The Fall of the House of Usher (1960), Pit and the Pendulum (1961), Tales of Terror (1962) and The Raven (1963), the Jules Verne adaptation Master of the World (1961), the occult film Night of the Eagle/Burn, Witch, Burn (1961), The Last Man on Earth (1964) based on his novel I Am Legend, the Hammer psycho-thriller The Fanatic/Die, Die, My Darling (1965), the classic Hammer occult film The Devil Rides Out/The Devil’s Bride (1968), the historical biopic De Sade (1969), Steven Spielberg’s first film Duel (1971), The Night Stalker (1972) and The Night Strangler (1973) tv movies, the haunted house film The Legend of Hell House (1973), the tv adaptation of Dracula (1974), the tv movies Scream of the Wolf (1974), The Stranger Within (1974), Trilogy of Terror (1975), Dead of Night (1977) and The Strange Possession of Mrs. Oliver (1977), the tv adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles (1980), the time travel romance Somewhere in Time (1980) from his own novel, Jaws 3-D (1983), Twilight Zone – The Movie (1983), and numerous classic episodes of The Twilight Zone, Thriller and Star Trek. Works based on his novels and stories are The Omega Man (1971) from his I Am Legend, the afterlife fantasy What Dreams May Come (1998), the fine ghost story Stir of Echoes (1999), I Am Legend (2007), The Box (2009) and Real Steel (2011).

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