Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Horror Of...Halloween Night, The Comedy of Terrors (1963)

Black comedy is always a pleasure, the macabre can do more than just make you scream. It offers many access to different emotions and different perspectives.

The 60's offered a number of black comedies from production companies like American International Pictures. So let's return to a follow up to The Raven. An opportunity to unite Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff, and Basil Rathbone on screen.

The Comedy of Terrors.

It is a change with a reference to Shakespeare, instead of Edgar Allen Poe. But we have no twins or mistaken identities. So the name is a curious choice.

The film is another one written Richard Matheson, whose list of works is amazing. This isn't the heights of his work (like I Am Legend, Hell HouseThe Twilight Zone, The Night Galley), but this period of his work tended to run between dark and fun. And he enjoyed writing stories that pulled together these horror greats on screen together. A win for the writer and the audience.

Originally Rathbone was not going to be in this film, with Karloff in his antagonistic role. But Karloff's ailments were proving too taxing to make it feasible for him to do the role (His Frankenstein role took a severe toll on his body years back.). So Rathbone came in to to do the role, and Karloff slipped over to a less active role.

The film is something of a comedic take on the infamous Burke and Hare case. It was a historic duo who sold corpses to doctors for research. But to keep up supply, they began murdering. Sadly, it is historically not uncommon when their is a premium given for dead bodies.

The film follows Waldo Trumball (Vincent Price), who runs a struggling burial service. He's a drunkard who looks down on everyone around him, including family and coworker. He will do anything for money. Anything.

Waldo is assisted by Felix Gillie (Peter Lorre), a quiet and sad man. He is struggling with what Waldo plots, then makes him do, but keeps going since he is in love with Waldo's wife.

The wife, Amaryllis (Joyce Jameson), is a put upon lady constantly put down by her husband, and stuck in the role of caring for her ailing father. Her life is rough as Waldo makes it clear he married her to get control of the business, and not to be with her. Waldo even loves to taunt his wife with the idea that he'll slip her father some "medicine" someday, which is labeled poison. She dreams of being an operatic singer, and has a voice that shatters glass.

Her father is Amos Hinchley (Boris Karloff), the elderly and disabled partner of Waldo Trumball. He is not all there any longer. Mostly, he putters around.

Lastly we have a harsh John Black (Basil Rathbone). He is the landlord for Waldo, and he is angry about unpaid rent. He's threatening to kick them all out if the unpaid rent isn't handled.

And this sets everything off/

As it is Waldo is cutting corners to a shameless extent, dumping bodies out of coffins, so he can resell them. Felix tries his best to build new coffins, but with no money and just scraps, his results are less than impressive.

So with debts coming do, Waldo plots a solution. And he has a devilish one. Kill up some business. So he starts targeting a wealthy elderly local. Felix is opposed, but Waldo knows all of his dirty secrets, like fact he's wanted for bank robbery.

With some trouble and near falls they make their move against an older wealthy citizen. And the man is dead.

Then, with in days, the widow races out of town, skipping out on all the debts, like the burial costs. He laments the lack of morality in the world.

With Black pushing Waldo, and one death on his hands, it is time to target a new victim.

So Waldo decides to go after Black. Kill the landlord, and get paid for it.

They target him in his home. Felix is sent in via the roof. He finds him reciting Macbeth in a fury. (And note to self. See if Rathbone is any available movies or TV Shakespearean plays.)

In the midst of it, he finds Felix, and is shocked. Felix flees and they later hear he died (mid Shakespearean reenactment). But he seems to be cataleptic.

So he keeps popping up, after seemingly dying.

And when they think he is finally, really, dead. Waldo is ecstatic. The body is in a tomb, and he finally gets paid.

Amaryllis, his wife, tries once more to connect to him. But he spurns her and drives her away crying.

As well, Black has awoken again. He escapes his tomb, and makes his way to Waldo. He breaks in, and grabs an ax.

"Heeere's Basil!"
As he is about to kill Felix, Waldo shoots Black (Twice! And he won't stop his monologue.). And he seems to finally be dead.

So he turns on his home. Striking at Felix and his wife. In the end, thinks he's had his victory over both, and collapses.

While he is down, his old partner trods down beside him. He gives him the "medicine" that Waldo was trying to foist on him earlier. And he quickly realizes that he's dead.

"No, really. I can't believe I drank the whole thing!"

At the same time, Felix and Amaryllis, wake up, and embrace. They decide to run off together.

Hmm. Some poison, some mistaken deaths. Some Macbeth. Maybe this is more Shakespearean than  I thought.

Over at Black's body, the house cat sniffs him, and Black sneezes. Black lives on. Geez, what is this guy? The Highlander? (Oh my god! Is Basil Rathbone the Highlander? I would watch that movie.)

And that is the end of this black comedy. It has it's silly moments. It has it's dark moments. It has it's goofy ones to. But it all makes for some good tongue in cheek fun.

The music they used in movies like this was so set in the day, but it works fine in the background. Sadly, it really wouldn't work today, it'd stand out. But in it's time and place it's amusing to hear.

And the collective talent this movie has is quite fun. It's great to see the shift in characters everyone gets to play. Nice guys become sneering villains. Greedy crooks become besotted stooges. These films gave these actors a showcase, and a chance to play ranges. And you get Rhubarb the Cat!

Be sure to not miss the chance to incorporate some classic black comedy into your Halloween marathon.

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