Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Comedy of Terrors

A sleazy, alcoholic undertaker (Vincent Price) and his bumbling sidekick (Peter Lorre) decide to drum up some business for their fledgling enterprise by knocking off rich townsfolk and swooping in to offer their services to the family.

Part of what makes The Comedy of Terrors work so well is that they got a very skillful horror movie director to make it, rather than getting someone more known for comedies. Jacques Tourneur, who made a slew of top notch horror movies in the 40's and 50's, was a master of atmosphere, using a rich, detailed depth of field painted with starkly contrasted light and shadow. This has the aura of a real horror film, which makes all the absurdity even funnier.

What really pushes it over the top, though, is the cast. Especially Price. The movie can, at times, be a little too pratfall-y for my tastes, but Price is always there to save the day. His character speaks in a florid, showoffy series of faux-sophisticated bon mots, put downs and one liners ("Confound you too, sir! Will you kindly have the goodness to die?") that would leave Lost in Space's Dr. Smith tongue-tied, and chomp chomp chomp does Price savor every single word. He gets a plethora of laughs in the movie simply by the perfection of his reaction shots. There are also fun roles for Boris Karloff and Basil Rathbone. Joyce Jameson, who I was unfamiliar with, steals scenes as Price's nagging wife and verbal sparring partner. Lorre, unfortunately, would have been close to death around the time this was made and, if I'm not mistaken, plagued with a crippling morphine addiction. He has a few strong moments (and obviously can't help but bring his unmistakable Peter Lorre-ness), but often seems disengaged and worn out.

I know I saw this movie many years ago, as a child or early teen, and didn't like it. I don't know what was wrong with me. This movie is a hoot.

Grade: B

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