Starring: Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff
Director: Jacques Tourneur
Arrow Video add to their already extensive Vincent Price catalogue with this offering from 1963, in which Price and Peter Lorre play a murderous undertaker and his bungling henchman. Struggling to make ends meet, they take a proactive approach to finding customers by suffocating people in their beds, and then decide to mix business with pleasure by targeting their own landlord.
Although the resulting farcical doings are watchable enough, this isn’t anyone’s finest hour. The script by Richard Matheson is light on plot and heavy on polysyllabic verbiage, and while legendary director Jacques Tourneur still shows plenty of flair for a shadowy, atmospheric mise-en-scene, he’s let down by some lame sight gags and unfunny comical sound effects. Still, The Comedy of Terrors is a good-looking film in a plush, cosily studio-bound way – apparently it recycled some of the sets from The Haunted Palace – with an energetic turn from Basil Rathbone as the landlord who just won’t die. Fans of Vincent Price will enjoy the star’s exuberant performance, which is made all the more impressive for the fact that he doesn’t get much help from Lorre, who was on his last legs during principle photography (the morphine-addled character actor died three month after the film was released).
There’s a small amount of scratching to the print early on and some of the two-shots look a little soft and granular, but on the whole this is an attractive transfer in full widescreen ratio. The long shots in the mortuary basement have plenty of depth and crispness, and all that velvet furniture comes up very nicely, as does Rathbone’s scarlet smoking jacket.
The key thing here is a 51 min interview with Price, recorded in 1987 and presented in standard def and 4:3 ratio. Showing a remarkable memory for his many films, which you’d think would blend into one another, Price shares polished anecdotes about such cults classics as The Tower of London, The Fly and House of Wax (he mentions the irony that the director of this famously 3D movie, Andre de Toth, only had one eye). It’s a bit padded out with trailers, but otherwise very enjoyable. There’s also a slick, stylish 17 min video essay about Tourneur, although the inclusion of some stunning high def clips from Cat People only serves to emphasize just how far the director had fallen by the time of Comedy of Terrors. We get to meet Richard Matheson in a 9 min interview – he reveals that Boris Karloff was originally slated to play the Basil Rathbone role, but because of his arthritic legs he was relegated to the less mobile part of Price’s aged father-in-law. Lastly, there’s an audio commentary with director David DeCoteau and critic David Del Valle, with the latter serving up dollops of juicy gossip about the cast.