The Comedy of Terrors
the comedy of terrors | jacques tourneur | richard matheson | vincent price | peter lorre | boris karloff | comedy | united states | joyce jameson | joe e. brown | beverly powers | basil rathbone | alan dewitt | buddy mason | douglas williams | linda rogers
Film: The Comedy of Terrors
Director: Jacques Tourneur
Writer: Richard Matheson
Starring: Vincent Price, Peter Lorre and Boris Karloff
This was a film I got turned on to when working my way through my encyclopedia of horror films. I had never heard of this one, but I was definitely intrigued to see the cast this film was boasting. The synopsis of this film is dishonest undertaker Waldo Trumbull (Vincent Price) and his sidekick Felix Gillie (Peter Lorre) are creating their own customers when they cannot find willing ones.
We start this film off at a funeral. As everyone leaves, we see that Waldo and Felix are the two undertakers who are running it. The film then goes a bit old timey and slapstick as it speeds up. They dump the body into the grave, cover it up and then load the casket back into the carriage they have. I will admit this was a bit jarring, but I see the reason for this to get through the scene.
Waldo took control of this business by marrying the daughter of the previous owner. She is Amaryllis (Joyce Jameson) and her father is Amos Hinchley (Boris Karloff). He is out of it and gets on the nerves of Waldo, who keeps threatening to poison him. Amaryllis is a former opera singer who gave it up to be with Waldo. The problem though is that he is a drunk and business is struggling. He is also quite rude to his wife who he despises.
He goes to leave and he has a run in with the man who owns the building, John F. Black (Basil Rathbone). He tells Waldo that he doesn’t pay by the following day; they are going to be evicted. They can’t find any customers, so Waldo comes up with an idea. He decides to start to find some clients, forcing Felix to help as he has a criminal record. This plan isn’t as easy as they think as the first one doesn’t go as planned and when they set their sights on Mr. Black, he has an interesting condition to complicate matters.
As I was looking into this film, I was excited when I saw the cast that it had. Bringing in the horror greats like Price, Lorre and Karloff. I will get into their performances, but that is really a draw on this film if you’re fans of them. What is interesting though, this film comes out well after Karloff was working the likes of Bela Lugosi and Lon Chaney Jr. in the classic Universal Monster era. It is fun though to see a film that could get these horror greats together.
This actually has a pretty interesting story as well. I don’t think it is the most original, but for the time it really could be. I’ve always thought about if you were an undertaker in a small town, what you would do to stay in business? Amaryllis accuses Waldo of his drinking is why it is struggling. I could see that since that costs money. They do cut a ton of corners, which is something that you could see someone still doing even today in any business. Even with that though, their business is based on people needing to die to make money, if they don’t you don’t have any income coming in.
I will say though, that a good bit of comedy didn’t work for me. There is a running gag of Felix’s accent and not being able to say Waldo’s last name correctly. I liked that. Some of the slapstick made me chuckle and there is some really smart comedy as well that I was onboard with. They did have another running gag where Amaryllis singing and it breaks things. That I didn’t like, because to be honest as some really outrageous things happen.
Moving to the pacing of the film, I actually thought it moves along pretty well. The film has a low running time, so that is probably a big part of it. The film doesn’t waste any time either, which helps as well. The ending was a bit over the top, but being this is a comedy, it actually works. I will say that I never got bored and I was interested in seeing how this played out as well.
Next to the acting, which if you couldn’t already tell, I thought it was great. Price is such a villain in this film and I loved it. He is so mean to Felix, Amaryllis and Amos, but it is hard for me to hate him. He really just embodies the role. Lorre is also solid as the henchman. He doesn’t want to keep committing crimes, but he is blackmailed into it. He also truly loves Amaryllis, which makes him a sweet character as well. Karloff plays an old man who seems to have dementia. He is crazy and it is actually is pretty funny. He has a running joke where he keeps thinking Amaryllis wants the sugar and thinks Waldo’s poison is his medicine. What he does at the end of the film is fitting for the threats made throughout. Jameson is attractive, but quite annoying. I think it is fitting for the film though. They really show off her chest, which I wasn’t upset about. Rathbone was quite interesting. He is odd and really mean, but I can’t blame him. He is trying to punish Waldo, which is fitting and he kind of deserves. The rest of the cast rounded out the film for what was needed.
To the effects, there weren’t really a lot of them, but they also weren’t needed. We do get some things moving while Amaryllis is singing. The rest of the effects went back to the slapstick comedy, which of course are just done practically. The film was shot well also.
The final thing to cover would be the soundtrack of the film. It really was fitting for what they needed. I did point out earlier that Amaryllis does do some opera singing. It actually got annoying at times, which I think was part of the gag. She was learning to sing and dropped out, so it really can be shrill. She does have talent so I have to commend her there. The rest as I said was solid for the scenes. The other issue I had was some of the ‘Bennie Hill’ type music we get. It does fit the scenes it is used, but it didn’t work for me.
Now with that said, this film was fun. It has an interesting concept for something that I’ve actually questioned in the past. The acting is something that is impressive to have assembled a cast like this and they all play such unique, solid characters. The pacing is also good and the ending is fitting for a film. Not all of the comedy worked for me, but some of it did make me laugh. There wasn’t a lot in the way of effects and it really didn’t need them. Part of the soundtrack did get annoying to me as well, but the rest really did fit for what they needed. I had a good time with this one. I definitely think this film is above average and would recommend giving it a viewing if this sounds interesting. I will warn you though that it is from the 60’s, so if that’s an issue, definitely avoid this then.
My Rating: 7 out of 10