A Movie A Day: THE COMEDY OF TERRORS (1963)
I don’t think he’s quite dead enough to bury.
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with the next installment of A Movie A Day: Halloween 2010 edition!
[For the entirety of October I will be showcasing one horror film each day. Every film is pulled from my DVD shelf or streamed via Netflix Instant and will be one I haven’t seen. Unlike my A Movie A Day or A Movie A Week columns there won’t necessarily be connectors between each film, but you’ll more than likely see patterns emerge day to day.]
What a pedigree this movie has. Let me list some names. Richard Matheson. Jacques Tourneur. Boris Karloff. Peter Lorre. Vincent Price. Basil Rathbone. All involved with this film.
This rather ridiculous comedy centers on an alcoholic funeral home owner (Vincent Price) who is in a bit of a pickle. What do you do when your asshole wannabe Shakespearean actor landlord demands his year of unpaid rent in 24 hours and nobody in your town has the decency to die? Well, you have to help them along, of course.
Peter Lorre plays Price’s Igor-like henchman who is actually the softie of the two. He doesn’t have any real skill for the craft, but he is a criminal, he is obedient and he does kill, albeit reluctantly.
Boris Karloff has a relatively small role as the hard of hearing and slightly off his rocker father-in-law of Price’s. It struck me as a little odd that he wasn’t in the movie more, but a little research turned up that he was originally scheduled to play Mr. Black, the theatrical dickhead landlord played by Basil Rathbone, but due to his arthritis he couldn’t make it work, so they gave him this much smaller role.
Rathbone is pretty great as Mr. Black, the man who refuses to die. After a couple of comically failed murders Price and Lorre end up deciding to just cut out the middle man as it were and kill the landlord about to take the funeral parlor.
When Lorre is sent in to get him he hears a horrible racket, stumbling upon Rathbone losing himself (and kinda losing his mind) in Macbeth. When Rathbone catches sight of the more terrified Lorre he passes out, presumably dead.
But the trouble is he has a condition where he’ll sleep very deeply if disturbed and… well, the town doctor isn’t the best. So Rathbone awakens from “death” a few times in the movie, always quoting Shakespeare and causing a ruckus.
All that’s fine and good, but the real success of the movie and the reason I found myself enjoying it is in Price’s relationship with his busty wife, played by Joyce Jameson. Annoyance doesn’t even begin to describe his feelings towards his bride and he is a complete dick to her at every single opportunity.
Sure, I feel bad for the poor girl, I’m no monster, but goddamn it’s funny watching Vincent Price tear into this poor girl who wants nothing more than to be a good singer. He doesn’t give a shit about her in the least. He married her for her father’s funeral business and tries to poison the old coot every day, offering him “medicine” right in front of the man’s daughter. Of course, Karloff believes Jameson is being mean to him by constantly throwing away his medicine, which makes the constant attempts at murder even funnier.
It really is an Al and Peggy Bundy type relationship, but without the moments of genuine sweetness and love that shows through even with The Bundys.
There’s a moment in the film, fairly early on, when Lorre and Price are riding on a horse-drawn carriage. They’re running fast and need to stop suddenly. When Lorre pulls the reins instead of hooves we hear the screeching of tires. That gag in particularly struck me as fairly forward thinking… not just literally, but in terms of the future direction of comedy.
In fact, it reminded me a lot of something Mel Brooks would pull some 20 years later.
As always, Price is a class act and gets a chance to utilize his considerable comic ability here. There’s not many people that could pull off complete misogyny with such charm and stay oddly likeable. Price does it, by God.
I think he’s helped a little by the warmth and tenderness of the chubby socially awkward Lorre who is deeply in love with Price’s wife. That’s such a sweet character inside a weird dude. Price on the other hand can be greatly charming and eloquent, but in truth he’s a selfish, money-grubbing prick.
Final Thoughts: The flick isn’t entirely without flaws, sometimes the jokes fall flat, but the whole is worth the effort. Jacques Tourneur’s direction isn’t as stylized as his Val Lewton black and white work, but it’s still visually interesting. Matheson also proves his adept touch with pacing and oddly layered characters with this script. While it’s an easy one to catch on Netflix Instant, if you haven’t had the chance to see another great Matheson-written Boris Karloff, Vincent Price and Peter Lorre horror comedy The Raven, seek out a reasonably priced copy of the two for one disc as they’d make a great double feature! And Jack Nicholson even shows up in that one!
Currently in print on DVD: YES
Currently available on Netflix Instant: YES
Upcoming A Movie A Day Titles:
Friday, October 22nd: DOLLS (1987)
Saturday, October 23rd: SILENT SCREAM (1980)
Sunday, October 24th: SCREAM OF FEAR (1961)
Monday, October 25th: THE MEPHISTO WALTZ (1971)
Tuesday, October 26th: THE OMEN III: THE FINAL CONFLICT (1981)
Wednesday, October 27th: THE EVIL (1977)
Thursday, October 28th: THE DEVIL DOLL (1936)
Ran a little late with this column and tomorrow’s might be a little late, too. It’s my mom’s birthday and I’m gonna be the good son and take her for some Fondue. I’ll try to get Dolls watched and written up early on in the day, but know it’s possible I’ll have to write after!
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Previous AMAD 2010’s:
- Raw Meat (1972)
- Ghost Story (1981)
- Two on a Guillotine (1965)
- Tentacles (1977)
- Bad Ronald (1974)
- The Entity (1983)
- Doctor X (1932)
- The Return of Doctor X (1939)
- The Tenant (1976)
- Man in the Attick (1953)
- New Year’s Evil (1980)
- Prophecy (1979)
- The Other (1972)
- The Mummy (1959)
- The Gorgon (1964)
- Mad Love (1935)
- Repulsion (1965)
- The Church (1989)
- The Black Cat (1981)
- The Black Cat (1934)
Click here for the full 215 movie run of A Movie A Day!
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Oct. 22, 2010, 2:50 a.m. CST
It's my favorite Hammer movie by far.
Oct. 22, 2010, 2:53 a.m. CST
made up my childhood :-)
Oct. 22, 2010, 3:13 a.m. CST
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Oct. 22, 2010, 3:57 a.m. CST
..gets a credit on the poster? What's the deal there?
Oct. 22, 2010, 7:33 a.m. CST
For a long while, the original Omen was the scariest movie for me, I saw that when I was about 11 or so. Wasn't long after that I rented part 2 (decent enough thriller), but it took another year before I stumbled on part 3 -- this was when it was just called The Final Conflict (no Omen 3 in the title). Good way to wrap up the series, I thought, with one of the most unsettling deaths I've seen in movies (not saying any more so no spoilers). Avoid part 4 like it's a hand grenade, though -- BAAAD MOVIE!
Oct. 22, 2010, 9:25 a.m. CST
Oct. 22, 2010, 9:45 a.m. CST
Stuart Gordon pulled off a great film here.Sort of an epic TZ. Can't wait to read the review.
Oct. 22, 2010, 1:54 p.m. CST
I love seeing that poor guy get abused by taller actors.
Oct. 22, 2010, 2:34 p.m. CST
I tend to love those "Midnite Movie" double-sided discs. While you certainly can't go wrong with Deranged/Motel Hell, absolutely nothing comes close to The Comedy of Terrors/The Raven! Total classics from beginning to end, starring casts most filmmakers could only dream of.
Oct. 22, 2010, 4:24 p.m. CST
...the guy was practically on his deathbed yet they still wheeled him on the set to knock out 4 cheapie movies. And I agree about the midnight movies discs. The Phibes and Count Yorga double features were also great. I keep hoping that someone will do that with I was a Teenage Werewolf/Frankenstein.
Oct. 22, 2010, 6:15 p.m. CST
That last frustrated "I SAID tremble!" cracks me up. I concur with above posts about the Midnite Movies double features. Tales From The Crypt/Vault Of Horror is another good one.
Oct. 22, 2010, 7:58 p.m. CST
I just watched this DVD (both sides) yesterday. Of course, I always break out the Midnite Movies discs every October.
Oct. 22, 2010, 8:17 p.m. CST
Oct. 22, 2010, 10:08 p.m. CST
one of my top 5 favorites. The theatrical dialogue Rathbone had was super and the inter play between the characters was the best. Price was so sleazy in this!
Oct. 22, 2010, 11:28 p.m. CST
by Harry Weinstein
Still science fact.
Oct. 23, 2010, 1:05 a.m. CST
Orangey the cat (from RHUBARB) is in this movie, too... He had a long career. He's listed as "Rhubarb" in the credits cuz that's what everyone remembered him from.
Oct. 24, 2010, 10:04 p.m. CST
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Oct. 25, 2010, 12:04 a.m. CST
This is homage to COMEDY OF TERRORS: 3 iconic horror actors, each extremely gifted. Karloff, Price, Lorre (and, at least marginally, Rathbone; not really an actor indelibly linked to horror). Price afforded the full liberty to mug sands restraint. It's flawed but very underrated. great fun.
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