The Comedy of Terorrs October 31, 2018
Joe E. Brown
1 Hr., 23 Mins.
s there no morality left in this world?,” Waldo (Vincent Price) gasps near a stairwell. He is in the home of the shipping merchant Mr. Phipps, who has just died. Waldo is shocked to learn, via a disgruntled chambermaid, that shortly after Phipps’ death, the latter’s buxom, gold-digging young wife skipped town. She bundled up her fortune, emptied the mansion of all its furniture and filigree, and failed to pay the servants before
disappearing. How rotten of her!
Waldo, one of the undertaker anti-heroes of The Comedy of Terrors (1963), is ignoring a few things. He is ignoring the fact that his funeral business, which he used to run with his wife’s (Joyce Jameson) father (Boris Karloff), is failing. He is ignoring the fact that he, in an attempt to stay professionally afloat, broke into the Phipps home a few nights ago and smothered the poor old paterfamilias with a pillow, with the assistance of his froggish, trusted lockpick Gillie (Peter Lorre). He is ignoring the fact that, after the smothering, he and Gillie waited, in the company’s horse-and-carriage ensemble, just a mile or so down the road, waiting for the inevitable screams of the morning to swoop in. He is ignoring the fact that he isn’t actually worried that morality is departing this cold, hard world. He is, more likely, exhausted just thinking about whom he’s going to have to kill now, since the Phipps clan didn’t pay him for his hard work.
In the Jacques Tourneur-directed The Comedy of Terrors, a bouncy-until-it-isn’t-anymore horror-comedy, Waldo and co. will scheme some more to get ahead in their professional lives. Most of the movie’s 83 minutes are spent trying to off, and then helm the funeral of, the nefarious landlord Black (Basil Rathbone), who threatens to evict our gaggle of protagonists as the film opens.
I’d say the movie were an all-out sinful delight if its deliciously black-hearted premise didn’t fail to retain some of its luster a little after the Phipps incident. It’s around then that screenwriter Richard Matheson begins to lose sight of the gleeful faux-Shakespearean brandishes of the first-and second-act dialogue, prioritizing screwball larks over knife-edged one-liners and exchanges. And it’s around then that the gist of the story — that it sure is funny to watch these bumbling small-time crooks try to get ahead in their miserable lives — starts dulling.
Still, The Comedy of Terrors is infectious and jovial. Made in the middle of a period during which the B-movie super-producer Roger Corman, with Price’s succor, was perennially bringing the macabre stories of the writer Edgar Allan Poe to life, the film works as a much-needed satirizing of all the gravestone-and fog machine-backed capers seen previously. The leads — Price (serpentine), Lorre (scared shitless), Karloff (humorously bemused), and Jameson (cartoonishly seething) — are wonderful together: it’s like a milked horror convention. This stuff’s minor, sure — but it sure is nice when the humor’s full-bodied rather than accidental and/or camp-related. B-