Saturday, October 9, 2010

31 Days of Halloween: The Comedy of Terrors

The horror comedy is a tricky thing. It requires a delicate balance that can elude some very gifted filmmakers, and even one of the driving forces behind the finest example of the horror comedy (Young Frankenstein) can find it impossible to duplicate its success(look no further than Dracula: Dead and Loving It).

One film that gets it right is AIP's 1964 release The Comedy of Terrors. AIP had great success releasing films that were mostly independently produced, most notably with a seemingly endless stream of Roger Corman films. These included the fondly remembered Poe series starring the great Vincent Price.

The Comedy of Terrors boasts an all-star cast, some beautiful sets, and lovely cinematography by Floyd Crosby. Waldo Trumbull (Price) is a greedy, alcoholic lout who married his neglected wife Amaryllis (Joyce Jameson) just so he could take over the undertaking buisness owned by her elderly father, Amos Hinchley(Boris Karloff). With his abused assistant Felix Gillie(Peter Lorre), Trumbull saves money by re-using the same coffin over and over again, just tossing the bodies in the dirt after the families have left the funeral. All the while, Trumbull must dodge his Shakespeare-quoting landlord, John F. Black, Esq(Basil Rathbone).

Amaryllis has aspirations of being a great opera singer, unfortunately for Trumbull(and the viewer!).This provides several of the film's funniest moments, as do Trumbull's endless attempts to poison his father-in-law. Karloff is delightful as Hinchley. The eulogy he gives is one of the film's high points. Lorre's hapless, lovesick Felix is endlessly endearing, and Rathbone is wonderful as the energetic (and unbalanced) Mr. Black. Price is charmingly roguish, despite the rotten things he does over the course of the film.

Much of the humor in The Comedy of Terrors is rather broad, but there are many subtle moments as well. The film presents a nice mix, and the twists and turns as the plot races toward its conclusion easily hold the viewer's interest. The film is loads of fun through and through, and gives these great actors a rare opportunity to display their comedic talents. If you're in the mood for some more lighthearted Halloween-friendly fare, The Comedy of Terrors is right up your alley.

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