The Comedy of Terrors

October 3, 2011 at 1:33 am (6 Heads, Comedy of Terrors) (, , , , , , , , , )

The Comedy of Terrors – 1963 – United States

Produced by Samuel Z. Arkoff, written by Richard Matheson, scored by Les Baxter, and starring Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff, Basil Rathbone, and Rhubarb the Cat (a.k.a. Orangey—feline thespian of This Island Earth, The Incredible Shrinking Man, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and Village of the Giants)—The Comedy of Terrors is a potpourri of high profile talents. Predictably, it’s good too.

Vincent Price and Peter Lorre are sleazy undertakers, murdering for clientele. A bumbling attempt on the Macbeth-spouting Basil Rathbone ends in a mess of slapstick violence as the victim survives a heart attack, suffocation, and multiple gunshots. Meanwhile subplots are haphazardly tossed off: an aspiring diva, a rocky marriage, and Boris Karloff as a senile codger.

The scatter-brained plot and repetitive gags are more amusing than funny, but the outlandish performances are charming. See Vincent Price at his most sneeringly cruel and Peter Lorre at his most nervously demure. Basil Rathbone shouts Shakespeare and Boris Karloff is charismatic as always.  Also notable is a busty blonde’s unforgettably prolonged piercing shriek. And don’t miss Peter Lorre’s stunt double in a rubber Peter Lorre mask.

Though overshadowed by its players, Comedy of Terrors’ set design deserves mention. Misty graveyards with gnarled trees and manors cluttered by taxidermies exude cartoonishly gothic ambiance. Interesting details abound. Similarly intricate is Les Baxter’s dynamic score. Melding funeral hymns with circus marches, it’s alternately mysterious and bombastic.

Considering its cast and crew, Comedy of Terrors couldn’t be bad. Sure, mixing horror and comedy is rarely funny, and Comedy of Terrors is no exception. But it’s fun and energetic with plenty of personality. It’s easily thrice as entertaining as a dumb Abbott and Costello monster mash-up.

Rating: 6/10 Shrunken Heads. Samuel Z. Arkoff always puts butts in seats.

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