Tuesday, February 24, 2015

THE COMEDY OF TERRORS (1963)

THE COMEDY OF TERRORS (1963) 
Label: Arrow Video
Region: B/2
Rating: 12 Certificate
Duration: 83 Minutes
Video HD Widescreen (2.35:1)
Audio: English LPCM 2.0 Mono with Optional English SDH Subtitles
Cast: Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff, Orangey, Joe E. Brown, Basil Rathbone
Director: Jacques Tourneur

SYNOPSIS
Price plays Waldo Trumbull, a perpetually inebriated, down-on-his-luck undertaker who has struck on an interesting way to boost business – by hastening the deaths of those whom he buries. When landlord Mr. Black (Basil Rathbone) threatens to put him out on the street for falling behind with the rent, Trumbull, together with his reluctant and bumbling assistant Felix Gillie (Lorre), hatches an ill-advised plan to “kill two birds with one stone”, so to speak…


There's a lot to love about this comedy classic, an American International Pictures production directed by a truly talented man, Jacques Tourneur who helmed the Val Lewton produced classics of suspense I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE and CAT PEOPLE in the '40's for RKO Pictures. By the sixties his career was somewhat waning, and the same can be said for a few of the stars of this movie, too. Both Boris Karloff and Peter Lorre's best days were in the rearview mirror by this point, though Karloff featured in a few decent b-movies afterward, notably Peter Bogdanovich's meta thriller TARGETS (1967). The exception being Vincent Price who would have a string of notable  film throughout the '60s and '70s with directors Robert Fuest (THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES), Roy Ward Baker (THE MONSTER CLUB), Michael Hickcox (THEATRE OF BLOOD) and his chilly turn as Anthony Hopkins in Michael Reeve's classic THE WITCHFINDER GENERAL. All three had previously appeared together in the films THE RAVEN and TALES OF TERROR just a few years previously and were reunited here with the aid of the very talented director Jacques Tourneur. 

The addition of Tourneur secured a stylish production and the script written by master storyteller Richard Matheson guaranteed the cast are in top form with a macabre combination of wit and physical comedy from start to finish. We have Price as drunken undertaker Waldo Trumbull, who along with his diminutive bug-eyed assistant Gillie (Peter Lorre) find that business has dried-up and the landlord Mr. Black (Rathbone) hounding them for over a year of back rent. In a desperate attempt to put some money in the coffers Trumbull devises a macabre plan to murder an elderly and wealthy member of the community to drum up business, but his plan backfires when the widow leaves town with the money stiffing Trumbull. He's quite a character, plenty of time for his drink but very little for his busty wife, we are shown the extent of his cheapness in the first scene establishing that he has used the same coffin for thirteen years, after the ceremony they just dump the corpse in the open grave and shine up the coffin for the next burial. 

With the threat of winding up penniless on the street looming over him it is decided that Mr. Black would be an ideal candidate for a premature death, but what the duo are unaware of is that Mr. Black suffers from a history of death-like sleep, which leads to a fun romp as the undertakers try to keep him dead long enough to stick him in the ground.


A terrific comedy, reuniting Lorre, Price and Karloff gain, with Karloff portraying the nearly deaf father in law of Price's mean-spirited undertaker. Trumbull's wife is Amaryllis (Joyce Jameson) ho dreams of being an opera singer but cannot carry a note to save her. Price does not have any time for his affection starved wife who craves attention, but his assistant (Lorre) has quite a fondness for her, and dreams of the pair running away together.

The surprise here for me was how damn funny Rathbone was as the landlord who fancies himself quite the Shakespearean actor, reciting selected scenes from the Bard in the privacy of his bedroom before he drifts off to sleep for the night. 

All of this is wrapped up in a cinematic presentation directed by Turner who casts this comedy against a New England Gothic backdrop which is a feast for the eyes, beginning with a fog drenched cemetery scene with whooshing winds, some very nice set design throughout the film and a fun film score from Les Baxter. don't forget about the appearance of Orangey the cat in the role of Cleopatra, a talented cat who features prominently in the film and during a fun end credits sequence.  

A fun time from start to stop, no scares, just macabre comedy executed to perfection by a cast of legends aided in no small degree by a superb script from Richard Matheson and the directorial style of Jacques Tourneur. 

BLU-RAY AUDIO/VIDEO
THE COMEDY OF TERRORS arrives on Blu-ray (Region B Locked) in the UK from Arrow Video with a transfer provided by MGM. It looks quite pleasing with a finely managed layer of film grain bringing with it some fine detail with a decent amount of depth and clarity. Skin tones look accurate, colors saturation is nicely robust and shadow detail is strong. A few instances of print damage and dirt do crop up throughout but are mostly relegated to the occasional white speckling. The LPCM Mono 2.0 audio is crisp and clean, striking a nice balance of dialogue and the very cool Les Baxter scorer, optional English subtitles are provided. 

BLU-RAY SPECIAL FEATURES
- High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentation of the feature, transferred from original film elements by MGM
- Original Mono 2.0 audio (uncompressed PCM on the Blu-ray)
- Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
- Audio Commentary with author and film historian David Del Valle and cult director David DeCoteau
- Vincent Price: My Life and Crimes (52 Mins) – The previously unreleased, alternate cut of the 1987 David Del Valle/Vincent Price interview in which the actor looks back over his extraordinary career
- Whispering in Distant Chambers: The Nightfall of Jacques Tourneur (17 Mins) – A specially-commissioned video essay by David Cairns looking at the various themes and stylistic motifs which reappear throughout the director’s work
- Richard Matheson Storyteller (10 Mins) – An archive interview with the Comedy of Terrors writer
- Original Theatrical Trailer (3 Mins)
- Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Paul Shipper
Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Chris Fujiwara, author of Jacques Tourneur: The Cinema of Nightfall



The disc from Arrow is nicely stuffed with bonus content that bests the US Blu-ray from Scream Factory (on the VINCENT PRICE COLLECTION II) with an arsenal of cool extras beginning with a fun commentary from film historian David Del Valle and cult director David DeCoteau (PUPPET MASTER III) filled with a rich history of the film and the stars. 

There's also a 50-minute Vincent Price interview conducted by David Del Valle, and is apparently an alternate version different than what appeared on the Scream Factory THE VINCENT PRICE COLLECTION. A fascinating journey with Price as he speaks about his long and storied career in cinema, for Price fans this is an essential interview. 


Borrowed from previous releases is the Richard Matheson Storyteller (10 Mins) archival interview, there's also brand new content including the video essay Whispering in Distant Chambers: The Nightfall of Jacques Tourneur (17 Mins) which walks us through the films of Tourneur from the Val Lewton era and beyond. Extras are finished up with a theatrical trailer for the film, a sleeve of reversible artwork, and an illustrated collector's booklet with 
new writing on the film by author Chris Fujiwara.



VERDICT
A fantastic and macabre combo of wit and comic timing performed by legends of both comedy and fright over a backdrop of 19th century Gothic atmosphere and light-hearted chills, this one did not disappoint in anyway. The AV presentation from Arrow Video is superb and the extras are bountiful and informative, this might be the definitive edition of the film for some time to come, a very high recommend for those who can appreciate a few macabre laughs without the benefit of gore and scares.

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