Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff and Basil Rathbone - Titans one and all
Auteur Jacques Tourneur managed to turn his hand to many differing genres and he handled them all with great aplomb. At his best with independent productions it was there that he made his best features, unencumbered by larger studio interference. This was to change as his fame and reputation grew and towards the twilight of his years found solace in directing episodes of TV series – all with his imitable style. His penultimate film was a horror comedy, The Comedy of Terrors, for American Independent Pictures, written by Richard Matheson and starring four giants of the screen: Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff and Basil Rathbone (all reunited after 1962’s successful Tales of Terror for Roger Corman).
With that pedigree success should have been guaranteed and it was, upon its release, moderately successful. However it does struggle throughout by the melding of ‘terror’ and comedy not quite gelling as they should. Each and every actor hams it up to the full (conversely that actually works in Price’s favour), which gives the film a very silly feel and this along with the slapstick nature, eloquent though it is at times, over the top dialogue and a score from Les Baxter that is clearly inspired by ‘Tom and Jerry’ means the film titters along without much conviction.
So whilst the story of an undertaker murdering wealthy town people to keep his business afloat contains both the necessary horror and comedy the result is something more akin to the ‘Chuckle Brothers’ than any serious attempt at mixing genres. There are still flashes of brilliance from Tourneur throughout (watch the end credits!) and there is suitable mood in places, but all too quickly it does become farcical. Carry on Screaming, made just three years later, showed respect to its genres and although was played for laughs, was in fact a far more comedic and terrifying film than The Comedy of Terrors could ever hope to achieve. Still, it did make me laugh out loud on occasion so it isn’t all bad.
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