‘Tales of Terror’ – a trilogy of Poe stories on Criterion Channel

Vincent Price stars in all three short films that comprise Tales of Terror (1962), a trilogy of Edgar Allan Poe stories scripted by Richard Matheson (who takes liberties with the stories) and directed by Roger Corman.

The first story, “Morella,” recalls The House of Usher with Price as a haunted, hollow-eyed widower who has spent decades in isolation mourning the death of his wife, who died in childbirth, and Maggie Pierce as the neglected daughter who rouses him from his walking death. The final story, “The Case of M. Valdemar,” co-stars Basil Rathbone as a mesmerist who hypnotizes the dying Price to hold him in a state of suspended animation at the edge of death.

The most famous and entertaining story comes in the middle of the anthology: the comic “The Black Cat,” which also borrows from Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado.” Price is a prissy wine tasting dandy who begins an affair with the wife of Peter Lorre, a sloppy wino who poisons them both and bricks up their bodies in his cellar. Lorre practically steals the episode—and the film—when he, in a drunken stupor, tries to sort out what’s hallucination and what’s not with the tired resignation and offhanded ease of someone who’s quite used to it.

All three episodes play like miniature versions of Corman’s earlier Poe features distilled into 25 minutes. They are moody and elegantly claustrophobic, shot in vivid color and widescreen, and they all end with vengeance from beyond the grave.

It’s the fourth feature in Corman’s popular Poe cycle and while I don’t rate it as his best Poe adaptation—The Pit and the Pendulum, The Masque of the Red Death, and Tomb of Ligeia are superior films—”The Black Cat” is a classic, thanks to the comic chemistry of Price and Lorre and a woozy hallucination scene.

Leona Gage, Joyce Jameson, Debra Paget, and David Frankham costar.

Streams for a limited time on Criterion Channel

Also on Blu-ray and DVD and on SVOD through Amazon Video, iTunes, GooglePlay, Vudu and/or other services. Availability may vary by service.
Tales of Terror [Blu-ray]
Tales of Terror [DVD]

Don’t miss a single recommendation. Subscribe to the Stream On Demand weekly newsletter (your E-mail address will not be shared) and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

The Kino Blu-ray and DVD releases feature two commentary tracks and an interview with Corman.


Sean Axmaker is a Seattle film critic and writer. He writes the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website, and his work appears at RogerEbert.com, Turner Classic Movies online, The Film Noir Foundation, and Parallax View.

Related posts