TALES OF TERROR (1962)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 29 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

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Directed by: Roger Corman

Written by: Richard Matheson

(based on short stories by Edgar Allan Poe)

Starring: Vincent Price, Maggie Pierce, Leona Gage, Peter Lorre, Joyce Jameson, Basil Rathbone & Debra Paget

During the 1960’s it seemed like Roger Corman was filming every Edgar Allan Poe story he could get his hands on. His unfaithful, but mostly entertaining, Poe adaptations usually benefitted from classy horror veteran Vincent Price playing the lead role. With 1962’s TALES OF TERROR, it seemed like Corman was worried that he wouldn’t get to make feature films of every Poe story, so he just threw three into one movie. This anthology runs at under 90 minutes (leaving slightly over 20 minutes for each tale), so Corman doesn’t exactly have a ton of room to work with here. As a result, TALES OF TERROR isn’t quite as fun as Corman’s other Poe movies or most Vincent Price films of the time. That being said, there are merits to be found in this mixed bag anthology. Let’s get into the TALES themselves…

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MORELLA: Lenora Locke has traveled a great distance to meet her estranged father. What she didn’t expect was for her dear old daddy (played by Vincent Price) to be a drunk living in a decaying mansion. Cobwebs litter the dining room and a perfectly preserved corpse dwells in a room upstairs. Lenora’s return seems to have awakened a curse, much to her father’s dismay. This is the first and easily the worst tale of the three presented here. It seems like the story doesn’t even know what it wants to be or why. That being said, I don’t think Poe’s original version of this story was all that great either. Moody sets and costumes aside, there’s nothing remarkable about this dull opening story. D+

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THE BLACK CAT: Combining two of Poe’s stories (THE BLACK CAT and THE CASK OF AMONTILLADO), this second segment is the best of the bunch. Peter Lorre plays a drunk who is wasting away his wife’s funds at the local bar. He’s an abusive and intolerable man who happens to run across a dignified wine-taster (played to comedic perfection by Vincent Price). The wine-taster soon falls for the drunk’s wife and things take a deadly turn. All the while, a black cat occasionally pops up…because that’s the title of this story after all. This segment has a dark sense of humor that’s brought to life by Lorre’s wildly over-the-top performance and Price having a blast as the goofy wine-taster. Watching these two play off each other is a joy to behold. A nightmare sequence is also memorable, if only for one cheesy over-the-top special effect. Despite having a dark (true to the source material) ending, this tale balances the horror and humor quite well. B+

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THE FACTS IN THE CASE OF M. VALDEMAR: The terminally ill M. Valdemar (Vincent Price) enlists the help of a hypnotist (Basil Rathbone) to ease his suffering. The hypnotism seems to be a smashing success, but Valdemar soon passes away with an unforeseen side effect of the hypnotist’s experiments. While Valdemar’s body lies dead, his soul becomes trapped between the world of the living and the afterlife. What results is a struggle between Valdemar’s wife and the evil hypnotist that leads up to a grisly (for the early 1960’s) conclusion. This story is by-the-numbers. Even if you haven’t read Poe’s original work, you can easily guess where this one’s heading. Though Price and Rathbone are fun to watch, I think this segment might have benefitted from a feature-length running time. This might have left room for a grander conflict as well as a bigger finale to cap it all off. In its current (short) state, it doesn’t leave too much of an impression. B-

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TALES OF TERROR isn’t exactly one of Corman’s best, nor is it a shining star in Vincent Price’s vast filmography. In spite of its faults, it still remains an entertaining anthology for fans of Poe and old-school horror films. MORELLA is easily the worst story of the three. M. VALDEMAR is a decent segment that’s fun while it lasts. THE BLACK CAT is the best of the bunch. TALES OF TERROR is worth recommending, if only to watch Vincent Price and Peter Lorre act opposite one another. Even if you’re not necessarily inclined to watch the whole anthology, I recommend checking out THE BLACK CAT on its own.

Grade: B-

TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE (1983)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 41 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG

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Directed by: John Landis, Steven Spielberg, Joe Dante & George Miller

Written by: John Landis, George Clayton Johnson, Richard Matheson, Melissa Mathison & Jerome Bixby

Starring: Albert Brooks, Dan Aykroyd, Vic Morrow, Doug McGrath, Charles Hallahan, Scatman Crothers, Bill Quinn, Martin Gamer, Selma Diamond, Helen Shaw, Kathleen Quinlan, Jeremy Licht, Kevin McCarthy & John Lithgow

From 1959 until 1964, Rod Serling made a splash on the small screen with a hugely influential and acclaimed anthology series called THE TWILIGHT ZONE. The episodes could range from scary to heartfelt and almost always had an otherworldly edge around them. During the early 80’s, four influential directors became attached to a big screen adaptation of Serling’s small screen series. Drawing inspiration from original episodes and turning them into four distinct segments of this movie, each director delivers their signature style in a TWILIGHT ZONE story of their own. What results is a sometimes mixed bag, but mostly quality horror/sci-fi anthology. Now, onto the stories themselves…

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PROLOGUE: This opening segment (running at just under 10 minutes) follows two men driving along a desolated road. When the radio breaks, the pair entertain themselves through casual conversation and little road games, but this all takes a dark turn when one man asks the other if he wants to see something “really scary.” This opening runs a bit too long as it’s just one big set-up for a jump scare that is tame by today’s standards. This brief prologue is not particularly great, but still has its charming qualities. B-

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TIME OUT: Bill Connor is an ill-tempered bigot. After getting drunk at a bar and going on a verbal insult spree against black people, Asians, and Jews, Bill finds himself stuck in a shifting timeline of hatred as he runs for his life from Nazis, American soldiers in Vietnam, and the KKK. This segment gave the film notoriety after a fatal on-stage accident claimed the lives of Vic Morrow and two illegally hired child actors. That tragedy and legal trial overshadow what is a fairly good story with a grim moral message. In spite of never actually completing this segment (which originally had a far more uplifting ending), the continuity blends together well. It’s a dark segment with great acting from Vic Morrow as a hate-filled man forced to sympathize with those he despises. Good moral, good ending, but a horrible on-stage accident casts a shadow over the whole film. A-

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KICK THE CAN: It’s pretty easy to identify the worst story in TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE. Ironically enough, it comes from the biggest name out of the four directors. Steven Spielberg strays from the dark and eerie tone of the rest of the anthology to tell a charming/cheesy story about old folks in a retirement home recovering their youth in a magical game of Kick the Can. This segment starts off well enough, but quickly devolves into an overly sappy, melodramatic mess. Besides the story going far too over-the-top and not tonally blending in with the rest of the film, the child actors are really bad. It seems that Spielberg had the kids try to imitate elderly people as opposed to just being kids and it doesn’t work at all. C-

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IT’S A GOOD LIFE: Based on one of the TWILIGHT ZONE’s best episodes, this story follows a schoolteacher who befriends a young child named Anthony. After she driving Anthony to his home, it becomes quickly clear that his living situation is abnormal to say the least. The teacher quickly learns the frightening truth that the saying “If you can dream it, you can do it” takes on a whole new meaning when it comes to Anthony. This second best installment of the bunch manages to nail down the right balance of over-the-top and scary. It starts off a little slow, but quickly gains momentum with impressive visuals and a crazy storyline. Honestly, I think director Joe Dante would have been right at home doing a whole TWILIGHT ZONE anthology all by himself, but then we wouldn’t have this film’s closing segment (more on that in a moment). A

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NIGHTMARE AT 20,000 FEET: Talk about going out on a high (no pun intended), NIGHTMARE AT 20,000 FEET is an adaptation that’s actually better than the iconic episode that inspired it. A nervous passenger on an airplane is flying through a turbulent storm. He’s scared out of his wits, but tries to maintain a positive attitude that the plane will land in once piece…that is, until he sees something on the wing of the plane. This story truly is the best this film has to offer. Directed by George Miller (the same man who brought us the MAD MAX series), NIGHMARE AT 20,000 FEET literally feels like a nightmare put onto the screen. To merely call this story intense or creepy would be doing a disservice to the material. Aided by John Lithgow’s stellar performance, Miller manages to capture a sense of claustrophobic chaos that will have you on the edge of your seat through the whole story. Also, there’s a nice call-back to an early segment that will at least get a chuckle out of you (if not a shiver down your spine as well). A+

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TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE is, like most anthologies, a bit of a mixed bag. There’s only one really disappointing story (ironically enough, it happens to be from the most accomplished director attached to this project), a decent prologue, and three tales that measure up to varying degrees of greatness. This film is worth seeing if only for the last two segments. Overall, TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE is an anthology film that’s well worth seeking out.

Grade: B+

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