The Comedy of Terrors (1963)

Waldo Trumbull (Vincent Price) runs a funeral home with his partner Felix Gilley (Peter Lorre), and somehow has been suffering a lack of customers. Trumbull gained charge of the funeral home when his partner and father-in-law Amos Hinchley (Boris Karloff) became too old to run it. Trumbull, during his tenure, has managed to drink away most of the profits and alienate his wife Amaryllis (Joyce Jameson) by a constant stream of abuse and attempts to poison Hinchley so he can get at the old man's money.

Meanwhile, Trumbull is a year behind in rent, and landlord John F. Black (Basil Rathbone) is threatening to evict if the money is not paid immediately. So, what is a beleaguered undertaker with no customers supposed to do? Well, create some, of course!

At first the scheme appears to be successful. That is, until the widow of a wealthy victim skips town without paying for Trumbull's services. So, deciding to kill two birds with one stone, Trumbull sets his eyes on Black. Unfortunately for him, Black is in no hurry to die.

The style of the film, the stars and the fact that it is an American International release would make one think this is another classic Roger Corman film from the 1960s. Truth is, however, this was directed by Jacques Tourneur (Night of the Demon), and written by none other than Richard Matheson. It is an excellent black comedy, with Price hamming it up as a morally deficient drunk, Lorre as a bumbling assistant, Karloff as the half-deaf father-in-law and Basil Rathbone as the half-mad, Shakespeare-quoting Black, who refuses to shuffle off this mortal coil no matter what.

Many people watching this will be amazed that all these actors, known largely for serious roles, can do comedy so well. Personally, I've seen most of them to the same in the name-only adaptation of The Raven, where they also managed lively comedy of this type. Of the two, I do like The Comedy of Terrors better, because it feels like a number of veterans still doing what they do best rather than a fond farewell.

The Comedy of Terrors (1963)
Duration: 83 minutes
Starring: Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Basil Rathbone, Boris Karloff
Director: Jacques Tourneur

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