Comedy Oddities: The Comedy Of Terrors

the comedy of terrors indexThere were quite a few comedy films made in the fifties and sixties whose main selling point is that brought together some beloved horror actors in the same movie, and The Comedy Of Terrors is yet another. This time it’s Vincent Price, Peter Lorre and Boris Karloff who have teamed up for some tongue in cheek fun, with Basil Rathbone present for a supporting role, and while enjoyable it stretches its central concept rather thinly.

That concept is that Waldo Trumbull (Vincent Price) and Mr Gillie (Lorre) run a funeral parlour together but they’re not getting any customers at all apparently, and so they have to create some of their own – via murder! Mr Gillie is a rather reluctant participant with it mainly being Trumbull’s idea, but he’s being blackmailed in to helping out, and to complicate matters their landlord John Black (Basil Rathbone) is demanding a year’s worth of rent, and so the twosome are soon planning his demise as well.

Boris Karloff has a very odd role as Trumbull’s father in law who seems rather senile and talks an awful lot of nonsense, with Trumbull attempting to poison him time and again and only prevented by his wife Amaryllis (Joyce Jameson). The script is decent enough but very uneven, and most of the laughs come from the great deal of daft physical comedy as when out and about murdering Mr Gillie is a clumsy so and so, and Rathbone hams it up in a delightful manner as the Shakespeare quoting landlord who really doesn’t want to die.

Prince and Jameson are great as the bickering couple who deliver withering put downs, and Lorre is strong as the reluctant partner in crime. But though Karloff gives it his all it’s an odd role, and there’s no real need for his character to exist until the very end. It’s also a little weakly paced, starting strongly and then becoming a tad bland after ten minutes and then not picking up until they decide to kill Rathbone. A couple of parts haven’t aged well at all too, early on Price comes across a sleeping woman, pulls faces Sid James would be proud of, before deciding not to rape her, which is a briefly horrible moment that really has no place in a film like this.

It’s a quite black comedy which is sometimes dark and sometimes a little pantomime-esque, when Price murders a man by smothering him to death with a pillow the sounds made really are quite unpleasant, but it’s also a work which includes a very silly running gag about Amaryllis’s dodgy singing voice causing flowers to wilt and glasses to explode. It’s an odd mix which they just about manage to pull off, but only just, and that’s mainly due to the committed performances, with Rathbone especially deserving kudos for how crazily over the top but still believable his performance is.

It probably would have worked better as a tv movie or an episode of an anthology series edited down to sixty minutes, as cutting twenty wouldn’t be an issue at all and it’s a shame that Karloff is wasted too, the film would have been even more fun if he’d teamed up with Lorre and Price on the murderous side of things. An inessential movie for certain, but if you’re fond of the cast and this kind of fare then you might enjoy it, and at the very least the ending does deliver.


Alex Finch.
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