Trumbull’s ‘business plan’ takes a turn for the worse when he decides to kill two birds with one stone, and targets John F. Black (Basil Rathbone), a wealthy businessman and impatient landlord who threatens Trumbull with eviction unless he comes up with a year’s rent by the morning. Being the opportunist that he is, Trumbull figures that by smothering him in the night, not only would he not have to pay the rent he owes, but would also make a healthy profit by arranging for Mr Black’s funeral. The problem being however, is that Mr Black refuses to stay dead.
The Comedy of Terrors is a slapstick horror-comedy which features an impressive cast indeed. Price and Lorre put in performances of the Laurel and Hardy mould – albeit with much darker themes than those of which we are familiar of the classic comedy duo. Money, alcoholism, lust, greed and of course, murder are not what Laurel and Hardy are best known for! Price and Lorre do play off each other perfectly, as two individuals who both hate and rely on each other as they are chained together by their own mediocrity. They can’t even sneak quietly into a house at night, and together make the world’s worst murderers. The Comedy of Terrors is a fun film which doesn’t take itself too seriously, which makes the fact that it stars Price, Lorre, Karloff, Rathbone et al, even more impressive. Farcical scenarios that are highly improbable yet incredibly entertaining, all lead to a tragic yet equally hilarious climax, which is played out nicely by all.
This release by the folks at Arrow Video only adds to their reputation of having a good understanding of their customers. As has been the case many times in the past, The Comedy of Terrors is an example of plucking a long-forgotten favourite of genre fans and yanking it back into the light for them to revisit after so long - as well as giving the opportunity for first-time viewers to discover a new favourite. I remember seeing this film in my youth, and if it wasn’t for Arrow’s acquisition and release, one can only imagine when The Comedy of Terrors would cross my path again.
Of course, that’s not all Arrow Video offers. In addition to the High Definition presentation, you get all sorts of treats such as an audio commentary by Vincent Price historian David Del Valle, an extensive archive interview with Price himself, a specially commissioned video essay on the career of director Tourneur, a Richard Matheson archive featurette and of course the always brilliant collector’s booklet, featuring new writings on the film.
The Comedy of Terrors is available on UK BluRay and DVD from February 16th.
Review: The Comedy of Terrors
By Andreas Charalambous - 14th February 2015
Written by Richard Matheson and directed by none other than Jacques Tourneur, The Comedy of Terrors tells the story of a cruel undertaker on the verge of bankruptcy, who comes up with a novel method of creating more business. Set in 1800s New England, undertaker Waldo Trumbull (Vincent Price) and his long-suffering assistant Felix Gillie (Peter Lorre), resort to creeping into the homes of the old and wealthy under the cover of night to smother them to death. Similarly to the typical ambulance-chasing lawyers of today, they ‘happen’ to be in the right place at the right time to sensitively deal with the funeral arrangements of the dearly departed of the grieving relatives – or to “remove the carcass,” once the relative is out of the room. Price plays a very heartless undertaker indeed.
At home, he is not much better. At the kitchen table, the alcoholic Trumbull repeatedly attempts to poison his senile old father-in-law (Boris Karloff), who owns the undertaking business, and to take it all for himself. Thankfully, his daughter Amaryllis (Joyce Jameson) catches her husband in the act every time and removes the poisoned item before her father consumes it. The neglected wife takes a shine to the assistant played by Lorre, who in turn becomes increasingly infuriated by her treatment from her drunken and abusive husband.