From Wikipedia: The Comedy of Terrors is an American International Pictures horror comedy film directed by Jacques Tourneur and starring Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Basil Rathbone, Boris Karloff, and (in a cameo) Joe E. Brown in his final film appearance. It is a blend of comedy and horror which features several cast members from Tales of Terror, made by AIP the year before.
In the New England town of New Gilead during the late 19th century, an unscrupulous drunkard named Waldo Trumbull (Vincent Price) runs the funeral parlor he acquired from his former business partner Amos Hinchley (Boris Karloff) after marrying his daughter Amaryllis (Joyce Jameson). Trumbull enlists the assistance of a fugitive picklock named Felix Gillie (Peter Lorre) in conducting his business cheaply by reusing the firm's only coffin to unceremoniously dump the deceased while arranging the occasional murder of wealthy clients. Trumbull, being emotionally abusive to Amaryllis while attempting to poison the now-senile Hinchley under the guise of giving him medicine, ultimately wastes his money on alcohol as clientele is dwindling.
Trumbull decides to profit from gentleman shipping merchant Mr. Phipps after being threatened with eviction by his landlord John F. Black (Rathbone) if he does not produce the long-overdue rent. Trumbull forces Gillie to get him into the Phipps estate, smothering the old man in his sleep and then making a fortuitous return the following morning to get the job of burying him. But Trumbull is livid to learn on the day of the funeral that Phipps's attractive young wife had left town with her husband's fortune without even paying for the funerary expenses. Trumbull decides to murder Black after receiving a final warning for rent, having Gillie enter through the upstairs window of Black's estate. Gillie ends up in Black's bedroom as the man was reading from Shakespeare's Macbeth and forced to run out when spotted, causing Black to suffer a heart attack with the physician pronouncing him dead.
But Trumbull and Gillie, after taking him to the funeral parlor, are unaware that Black suffers from catalepsy as he awakens in the cellar due to his cat allergy and recognizes Gillie. After attempting to keep Black from running off as he collapses from another heart attack, Trumbull and Gillie place him in the coffin with the former knocking out Black when he came to and struggles to get out of it. Following a successive funeral, the supposedly deceased Black is placed in his family crypt with Trumbull celebrating his ill gotten fortune. At that time, having feelings for Amaryllis and tired of being bossed around, Gillie convinces her that they should leave Trumbull so she can live her dream of becoming an opera singer. But Black regains consciousness at that time and returns to the funeral parlor while quoting random Macbeth lines, grabbing an axe and causing Amaryllis to faint. Black then chases Trumbull and Gillie around the house with the latter knocked unconscious after falling down a flight of stairs before Black is seemingly killed by Trumbull, Black giving a lengthy monologue before finally dying.
Amaryllis comes down and assumes Trumbull to have murdered Gillie before being strangled by him when she threatens of reporting him to the authorities. Gillie awakens soon after and vengefully attacks Trumbull in a comical swordfight before being knocked out again with a poker. Mr. Black's servant arrives to report Black's sighting in the town before seeing the dead bodies and runs off for the police. A depressed Trumbull collapses in a semi-conscious heap on the floor by the stairs, failing to realize Amaryllis is still alive as she wakes Gillie and the two proceed to elope. Hinchley, who had slept through everything, comes down stairs and gives Trumbull the vial of "medicine" to sober him up. Trumbull sobers up once realizing he drank his own poison, dramatically dropping dead as an oblivious Hinchley returns to bed while regretting not getting a slip of his "medicine". It would be after Trumbull's death that the family cat Cleopatra walks over to Black, confirming him to still be alive when his allergy acts up.
- Vincent Price as Waldo Trumbull
- Peter Lorre as Felix Gillie
- Boris Karloff as Amos Hinchley
- Basil Rathbone as John F. Black, Esq.
- Joyce Jameson as Amaryllis Trumbull
- Joe E. Brown as the Cemetery Keeper
- Beverly Powers (credited as Beverly Hills) as Mrs. Phipps
- Alan DeWitt as Riggs
- Buddy Mason as Mr. Phipps
- Douglas Williams as the Doctor
- Linda Rogers as Phipps' Maid
- Luree Holmes as Black's Servant
- Rhubarb the cat (AKA Orangey and Orangey Minerva--squee!...there's a link to the cat's own Wikipedia page with credits!) as Cleopatra
Odds and ends about the movie:
A quote from writer Richard Matheson (who was one of the producers on this film):
It didn't lose any money. They [AIP] told me that the title itself cost them a lot. It's such a contradiction in terms, though. Terror sells and comedy makes them go away, so it's like they're walking in two directions at once. But I thought it was very clever to do a take off of Shakespeare's, Comedy of Errors.... I think they were probably sorry they didn't use a Poe title, because Poe had a certain marketability. I guess they couldn't figure out how to market it. But it was the last one because I was getting tired of writing about people being buried alive, so I decided to make a joke about it.
From the Special Features interview with Richard Matheson on the MGM Midnite Movies DVD:
- This was not a Corman picture, and is not a Poe-cycle film, but I include it as an honourable mention because the film includes many of the main cast from The Raven, and is included in the MGM Midnite Movies DVD as a Double Feature.
- Matheson mentions that AIP felt that the word "Comedy" in The Comedy of Terrors would lose them some box office, which may be why The Raven did better (with no hint in the title that it was a comedy film, all the regular Poe horror film fans were not put off), but Matheson insisted that this was the right title (James Nicholson had suggested Graveside Story, a bit of an homage to West Side Story, but Matheson knew his title was better).
- Basil Rathbone and Boris Karloff were originally cast in each other's roles, but since Karloff's legs were getting very painful with age and the original role called for more running around, he and Rathbone switched parts.
- Richard Matheson was the one to suggest Jacques Tourneur to direct.
This is probably my least favourite of the Corman-Poe cycle, to be honest. Funny, a comedy is my favourite (The Raven, made around the same time), and a comedy is my least favourite in this cycle!