The Comedy of Terrors (1964) is an American comedy horror film directed by Jacques Tourneur (Cat People; I Walked with a Zombie) and starring Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Basil Rathbone, Boris Karloff, and (in a cameo) Joe E. Brown in his final film appearance. It is a blend of comedy and horror which features several cast members from Tales of Terror, made by American International Pictures (AIP) the year before.
Mid to late nineteenth century, New England: Unscrupulous undertaker Waldo Trumbull (Price), murders people in their own homes in order to keep himself in business and to have enough money for alcohol.
One night, after the widow of his last victim absconds to Europe without paying his fee, Trumbull and his reluctant assistant Felix Gillie (Lorre) decide to murder their money-grubbing landlord, Mr. Black (Rathbone), who is said to have bouts of death-like sleep, something that Trumbull and Gillie are unaware of.
Black seemingly dies of a heart attack after discovering Gillie (who had climbed into the house through an upstairs window and escaped the same way), but revives in the funeral parlor’s cellar. After a prolonged chase and struggle to keep Black inside a coffin, Trumbull knocks him out with a mallet to the head and places the supposedly deceased man in his family crypt, returning home to celebrate his new-found wealth.
However, Black awakes again, escapes from the coffin and crypt and returns to the funeral parlour, quoting random lines from Macbeth (from which he was reciting from a script at the time of his first cataleptic attack). Humorous events follow as Black chases Trumbull and Gillie around the house with an ax before (finally) being shot and (presumably) killed…
“There’s some fine comic interplay, and this time Corman hired genre-shaping director Jacques Tourneur (Cat People, Night of the Demon) to keep it all looking good and moving forward. And once again versatile composer Les Baxter proves that he can adjust to fit along with the rest of Corman’s band of brothers … Nonetheless, this is an 84-minute film spun from 42 minutes worth of material.”
Mark Bourne, Open the Pod Bay Doors, HAL
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“Another surprise in the acting category is Boris Karloff’s hilarious turn as the senile owner of the funeral parlor which Vincent Price has married into. Karloff had become so well-known as just playing Boris Karloff, that seeing him in makeup which aged him from 76 to 96 — complete with impeccable comedic timing –nearly steals the film from his co-stars. Only Joyce Jameson matches him in every scene they share.”David Del Valle, DVD-Drive-In
“Occasionally Richard Matheson’s witty script is undermined by ham-fisted direction that overplays the slapstick with under-cranked, fast-motion photography (look for the stuntman in the Peter Lorre mask), but overall The Comedy of Terrors is an amusing, surprisingly smart little movie.” Booze Movies