Tales of Terror is a triology of short stories penned by Edgar Allen Poe. The first, “Morella”, watches Lenora Locke as she returns to her parents’ estate. Her father is distant and drunk after 26 years apart, and where is her titular mother? Morella’s corpse lies in the master suite, as her husband found himself unable to bury her. Joined in sorrow and grief, the pair tries to find some way to reconcile with one another.
Morella allows Price to channel his defiant and brooding madness, instead of the over-the-top variety seen in other films. The interactions between Locke (Price) and his daughter (Pierce) are, at times, over-the-top and graced with soap opera dramatics. At the climax of the story, where it takes a very Poe type of turn, Price (combined with Les Baxter’s original score) commands the screen with wide-eyed insanity and fascination, leading to the story’s horrific conclusion. The payoff is perfect.
The second story is “The Black Cat”, which centers around Montresor Herringbone (Lorre) and his hatred of an invading kitten. The inebriated Herringbone battles with the feline and berates young Annabel (Joyce Jameson) as he seeks money for booze.
Price plays the well-to-do Fortunado, Herringbone’s opposition in a wine tasting competition wherein he shows a natural talent for wines, countered by the mass amounts he imbibes. Price approaches the role with grace and melodrama to provide his character with comedic charm.
When Herringbone catches Fortunado giving his wife the old…well…herringbone, the tables turn as Lorre’s character finds sobriety with a sinister turn.
The third short is “The Facts in the Cast of M. Valdemar”. Valdemar (Price) is treated via hypnosis by Carmichael (Rathbone). With his treatment, Valdemar is able to face his terminal illness without pain. He has agreed to be put under at the moment of death, to see how long that moment lasts.
Price’s Valdemar is a flighty rich old man, peacefully disarming his concerned doctor and doting wife. Rathbone makes Carmichael as foreboding and plotting, keeping his secrets locked behind his shifting eyes. Price is reduced to only an affected voice as his corpse speaks from beyond the grave for most of this story.
The consistency between the stories is the quality of the actors, and the delivery of a powerful closing scene. That speaks to both Poe’s source material and the adaptation by Richard (I Am Legend) Matheson.