Waldo (Vincent Price) is going through tough times. His trade is undertaking, which relies on one of life’s inevitabilities to keep business going. However, people just haven’t been dying lately.

In fact, they haven’t been kicking the bucket for at least a year. Waldo’s business has been badly suffering from this lack of custom. So much so that he hasn’t paid rent on his property during that time, and has taken to boozing heavily instead of searching for a solution.

Enter obnoxious landlord John (Basil Rathbone), owner of the building from which Waldo conducts his affairs. He’s there to collect back-payment of rents due. Only, Waldo doesn’t have it. His drunken mind comes up with one answer to this problem: creating new customers for his trade via the art of good old-fashioned murder.

With the help of trusty, hen-pecked assistant Felix (Peter Lorre), Waldo sets about his devilish scheme. But things are not always as straightforward as they sound in theory, especially as Waldo has to contend with hopeless Opera singer-wannabe wife Amaryllis (Joyce Jameson) and her invalid father Amos (Boris Karloff) in the meantime.

Oh, and then there’s the matter of certain ‘customers’ who just won’t stay dead …

Released theatrically in 1963, THE COMEDY OF TERRORS joined a wave of films seeking to merge horror with dark humour (SPIDER BABY and – lighter in tone – CARRY ON SCREAMING! are other examples). It came with an impeccable pedigree attached to it: as well as the stellar cast, COMEDY is notable for having been directed by Jacques Tourneur (CAT PEOPLE; I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE) and boasts a screenplay by Richard Matheson (THE OMEGA MAN; NIGHT OF THE EAGLE etc).

As proficient as Tourneur’s direction is, tendering a fine balance between mirth and the macabre, and as enjoyable as the frequent hammy one-liners of Matheson’s script are, the real stars of this show are its veteran actors.

Price has rarely been more malevolent. That he’s so charming and funny with it – his open disdain towards Amaryllis’ warbling arguably accounting for his funniest moments – is testament to his talents. He exudes icy charisma and makes for a likeable rogue, even when berating poor Felix.

Speaking of whom, Lorre appears to be having a whale of a time. He treats the action as if it were a stage-play, his theatrical expressions and asides to an imaginary off-screen audience bringing joy to watching his performance.

Karloff has less to do but still gets some memorable scenes: becoming forgetful at a funeral, making inappropriate quips round the dinner table etc. Another highly watchable, magnetic personality, the fact that he’s largely chair-bound doesn’t lessen the impression he leaves.

Price, Lorre and Karloff had worked together previously on THE RAVEN (also scripted by Matheson). Their chemistry resultantly translates very well. Despite which, it’s Rathbone who steals the show as the arrogant landlord who has a habit of appearing to have died, only to resurface quoting lines from "Macbeth". He’s as malicious as Price’s character, but with none of the latter’s sympathy: a real panto-style villain, in the greatest sense.

Collectively, the cast make every single scene pleasurable. Added to their indisputable charms, further aesthetic benefits can be derived from Floyd Crosby’s colourful cinematography and Les Baxter’s excellent score.

Arrow Films Video continue their love of all things Vincent Price with their dual format release of THE COMEDY OF TERRORS. We were sent a screener of the blu-ray disc to review.

The film looks nice on this dual layer 50gb disc. Presented as an MPEG4-AVC file in full 1080p HD, this restoration preserves the original 2.35:1 aspect ratio and – of course – enhances the picture for 16x9 televisions.

The print used is a largely clean one. Colours are rich and striking throughout, detail is sharp and there are no traces of noise reduction or unnecessary digital tampering. A very fine layer of natural grain helps retain a filmic quality, ensuring that THE COMEDY OF TERRORS has never looked truer on domestic release.

English audio is given the DTS-HD mono mix treatment. This is an adequate proposition – nothing remarkable but, at the same time, leaving nothing to quibble about. Optional English subtitles for the Hard-of-Hearing are well-written and easily readable at all times.

The disc opens to an animated main menu. Pop-up menus include a scene selection option allowing access to the film via 12 chapters.

The late Matheson is interviewed in the first of several interesting extras, chatting over the course of 9 enjoyable minutes about progressing from THE RAVEN to this film, the scuppered plans related to making a third comedy horror film with the same team, and his own philosophies as a filmmaker.

David Del Valle continues to prove his worth as the world’s premiere Price historian in a revealing audio commentary track. Not one to shy away from a chance of sharing anecdotes or dropping the occasional famous name into conversation, Del Valle is as much a raconteur as he undoubtedly was a great friend and fan of Price’s. He discusses the stylised look of COMEDY, its relation to THE RAVEN, offers insights into virtually everyone attached to the production, and discusses his time spent with its stars. It all makes for a great listen.

"Whispering in Distant Chambers" is a new 17-minute featurette in which David Cairns offers a well-illustrated overview of Tourneur’s impressive canon.

An archive interview with Price is, predictably, enormously entertaining. The man was a genuine star as this 51-minute chinwag through his career ably demonstrates.

The film’s 2-and-a-half minute original trailer looks good. It, along with all other bonus features here, is presented in HD.

I understand the DVD in this set includes identical content, albeit in standard definition.

Double-sided cover artwork and a glossy 24-page booklet containing a new essay by Chris Fujiwara are also included.

Arrow have done justice to yet another Price horror classic.

Review by Stuart Willis

Released by Arrow Video
Region B
Rated 18
Extras :
see main review