Nathaniel Hawthorne is regarded as one of the greatest fiction writers in American History. His famous works include “The Scarlet Letter” and “The House of the Seven Gables”, but Hawthorne was a very prolific writer. Nearly a century after his passing, Admiral Pictures released Twice-Told Tales; a trio of Hawthorne stories brought to the big screen with horror/thriller legend, Vincent Price as the lead. Sidney Salkow, who had already directed dozens of Westerns (among other things), headed the project.
Twice-Told Tales features three Hawthorne stories, beginning with “Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment.” As Dr. Alex Medbourne, Price joins an old friend for a drink and reminiscing on the years they have shared. His colleague is Dr. Carl Heidigger (Sebastian Cabot (“Family Affair”, The Jungle Book)); a man who lives with the memory of his departed wife. As they visit, the storm surrounding Dr. Heidigger’s home damages the crypt of his late wife, Sylvia. The two doctors open the coffin and find Sylvia preserved in precisely the condition she died 38 years before.
Heidigger becomes obsessed with the formula that has preserved his departed bride. The doctor has held on to a rose given to him on his wedding day, in hopes of being buried with it. However, given the discovery of this new miracle formula, he tests it on the rose, with profound results. The rose returns to full bloom (accompanied by fantastic score composed by Richard LaSalle). Naturally, Heidigger decides a human test is the next step. Medbourne continues to warn him of the potential scientific and spiritual dangers of defying death.
Despite his Jiminy Cricket role, Medbourne joins Heidigger and drinks the formula. They both regain 20 years from their age. Heidigger then decides that he must use the formula on his dear Sylvia, even though she’s been dead for decades. Medbourne freaks again, worried about how the formula can affect a corpse.
Sylvia returns to life, and she believes not a moment has passed. The doctors, in a fit of uncharacteristic stupidity, reveal quickly that not only has Sylvia skipped 38 years, but she did so sleeping the Long Sleep. Heidigger disappears to find fresh clothes, and the Cricket is revealed for what he truly is. Suddenly, eternity as a couple tastes more like kissing a corpse than ever. Betrayal dominates the story, and sets Heidigger, Sylvia, and Alex down an inevitable path.
The second featurette is “Rappaccini’s Daughter.” In this tale, Price portrays Dr. Giacomo Rappacini, a rich and extravagant man whose eccentric nature is only equaled by his drive to protect his daughter. Dr. Rappacini’s daughter, Beatrice (star of the TV series “Men into Space”), walks in the fearful shadow of her father. She becomes the obsession of Giovanni Guasconti (Brett Halsey (a B-movie actor who later managed others)).
Rappacini has a bizarre hold over his daughter. The scientist has pinned his daughter in the heart of a poisonous garden. However, the plants are too powerful for even the scientist to bear. His daughter, however, can roam among the plants unaffected, and can carry out the experiments that would kill him outright. She, in her own words, is a “specimen of the most deadly thing that was ever given life.” Beatrice and Giovanni’s relationship blossoms into long conversations and distant displays of affection. However, the two cannot meet face-to-face. Beatrice alone can survive the garden, and cannot survive outside of it. Beatrice must choose between loyalty to her devoted father, or the risk of true romance.
Giovanni puts the ultimatum on Dr. Rappacini, and the wise old scientist delivers everything the young heart-throb has ever wanted…at a price. The theme of choices, just as in the previous story, becomes paramount. The paths are set… to love, to destruction…possibly to both.
The final story is the aforementioned “The House of the Seven Gables.” Price leads as Gerald Pyncheon, returning to the family home with his new wife, Alice (Beverly Garland (“Scarecrow and Mrs. King”, “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman”, Where the Red Fern Grows)). The house has been run by Gerald’s sister, Hannah, who warns them the moment they enter that they’ve made a grave mistake.
(Let’s not overlook the odd parallel between this story and Price’s role in House of Usher just three years before this.)
Gerald and Hannah match wits; their relationship nothing more than a battle of selfish motives. Each is determined to find the hidden family treasure in a vault rumored to lie on the premises. Hannah reveals the family history to young Alice. Every male member of the Pyncheon clan has died with blood on his hands. Gerald challenges Hannah for her disclosure to Alice, even as he holds other cards close to his vest.
Gerald’s ace-up-his-sleeve arrives in the form a mysterious man named Jonathon Maulle (Richard Denning (from Radio’s “My Favorite Husband” and TV’s “Michael Shayne”)). Maulle and Alice display an instant infatuation, which triggers resent from Gerald and curiosity from Hannah. As it turns out, Maulle’s family was betrayed by the Pyncheon, and Maulle has his own proposition for Gerald. The family histories of all the key players are revealed, slowly, one at a time, leaving Alice with the decision that sets all the parts in motion, sending the Pyncheon siblings down one final path of selection.
Seven Gables attempts to encompass the greatest source material into the tightest timeline, and loses some of the original material’s nuances. Viewers are given a quick-hit, visually-driven tale of contempt and condemnation. The short still delivers a strong payoff in the final conflict of the Pyncheon rivals, and the delivery of the family curse.
“Twice-Told Tales” is one of the films included in MGM Pictures Scream Legend Collection: Vincent Price. The other feature films include Tales of Terror, The Abominable Dr. Phibes, Dr. Phibes Rises Again!, Theater of Blood, Madhouse and Witchfinder General. These films are joined by an hour of behind the scenes material titled Vincent Price Collection: Disc of Horrors.