The Comedy of Terrors
also known as "The Comedy of Horrors"
and "The Graveside Story"
(1964), 88 min. color

Rathbone opening the coffin

If you like horror films and you like camp, you'll love "The Comedy of Terrors"!  Richard Matheson, who wrote the screenplay for "The Raven," "Tales of Terror," "The Fall of the House of Usher," "The Incredible Shrinking Man," and many others, went all out for humor in this masterful farce. Horror legends Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff and Basil Rathbone headed the excellent cast.

Price portrays a financially challenged undertaker (Trumbull) who attempts to boost his business by murder. Although the graveyard scene at the opening of the film appears solemn, it soon becomes clear through fast-motion photography and hokey music that the film is a spoof. Trumbull and his bumbling assistant Gillie (Peter Lorre) are so hard up financially that they dump the body out of the casket so that the casket can be reused!Price and Rathbone

Trumbull is a character who is not only broke, but drinks too much. He has no love for his wife Amaryllis, and would like to do away with her father, who lives with them. Mr. Gillie secretly loves Trumbull's wife, who imagines that she gave up a promising career as an opera singer to marry Trumbull. (But when she sings animals hide and glasses break.)

Rathbone plays Mr. John Black, a wealthy man and owner of the home occupied by Trumbull and Hinchley's Funeral Parlor. Trumbull is one year behind in his rent. Black gives him 24 hours to pay up, or he'll be thrown out into the street. Black's manner of speech is very amusing:

"And much as I regret to dun, dear sir, it is unhappily incumbent upon me, as owner of these premises, to regard your monetary dereliction  as, shall we say, inconvenient to my purposes...So vastly inconvenient, one might add, that should the debt remain outstanding for as much as 24 hours more, I fear that legal machinery must perforce, be set in motion, unless Hinchley and Trumbull face the incommodious prospect of taking up residence in the street.  Have I expressed myself with clarity, Mr. Trumbull?"

Black's ultimatum forces Trumbull to create some business for himself. His first attempt at increasing his income by knocking off a wealthy old man backfires when the widow doesn't show up for the funeral. She has packed up and run off, without paying Trumbull and Hinchley. "Is there no morality left in this world?" wails Trumbull. Rathbone, acting a scene from MacBeth

In a flash of inspiration, Trumbull decides that Mr. Black will be the next victim. He will not only get some income, but also get rid of a creditor. Trumbull forces Gillie to help him by threatening to expose Gillie's shady past. Climbing in through an upstairs window, Gillie laments, "I don't think this is a good idea. Why did I ever escape from prison? Is was so peaceful there."  Then he hears Black's voice, reciting from "MacBeth" (Act V, Scene VIII). Black sits in bed, reading aloud, with passion and feeling. Suddenly he leaps from the bed, grabs a sword and wields it, as he recites the lines. He thrashes the sword about, then suddenly sees Gillie in the hall. He manages to say "Who are you?" then appears to have a heart attack, and falls back on the bed, unconscious. Gillie flees, and Black's servant fetches the doctor, who pronounces Black dead. The servant asks the doctor to make sure, explaining that Black has been prone to catalepsy for several years; several times he was thought to be dead, only to wake several hours later. As you can imagine, that's exactly what happens again.

Trumbull and Gillie take Black back to the funeral parlor and lay him on a table. Suddenly Gillie notices movement.


"What place is THIS?"
Gillie: "I don't think he's quite dead enough yet."
Black
(awakening):
"What place is this? Why am I here?"
Trumbull: "Why, you're here because you're dead, Mr. Black."
Black: "The hell I am!"
Trumbull: "Everyone else knows you're dead, except apparently you."
Black: "What jiggery-pokery is this?"
Trumbull: "Not jiggery-pokery, Hinchley and Trumbull."
Black: "You wouldn't dare!"
Trumbull: "Have we a choice?"
After a brief scuffle, Black has another "attack" and falls over, apparently dead. Trumbull and Gillie get him in the coffin, but shortly he wakes up, lifting the lid of the coffin and saying "What place is this?" Gillie and Trumbull force Black back into the coffin,  and both of them sit on top of the lid. "Let me out!" cries Black. "We most certainly will not let you out. Will you kindly have the goodness to die?" retorts Trumbull. "I've never had such an uncooperative customer in my life!"

Rathbone as Mr. Black
"I regard your actions as inimical to good fellowship."

Eventually Trumbull whacks Black with a mallet, gags him, and chains the coffin closed. Is he really dead this time?Price and Rathbone

The funeral scene is hilarious. Amaryllis sings "He is not dead, but sleepeth," causing Gillie and Trumbull to exchange worried glances. Mr. Hinchley (Karloff) gives the eulogy: "My friends, we have gathered ourselves together within these bud-wreathed walls to pay homage to the departed soul of--uh--what's-his name."

After the funeral, Black is locked in a crypt (which annoys Trumbull and Gillie--they'll have to buy another casket). When everyone has left we hear a voice "What place is this?" Hearing yelling from the crypt, the cemetary keeper (Joe E. Brown) unlocks the crypt and opens the coffin. Spouting lines from "MacBeth" again, Black, a.k.a. the corpse that wouldn't die, grabs an ax and heads for Trumbull's house.

With murderous intent, Black enters Trumbull's house and goes after Gillie, Trumbull and even Amaryllis with the ax. Trumbull shoots Black, and Black has the longest dying scene I've ever seen, during which he continually quotes "MacBeth": "out, out brief candle....All the sound and fury, signifying nothing."  Finally he dies--or does he?

Rhubarb the cat and RathboneIn the end Gillie has declared his love to Amaryllis, so she leaves with him, and Trumbull gets his just desserts from a surprise source. But we haven't heard the last of Mr. Black. The cat climbs on Black's body, causing him to sneeze, and as the film fades out, we hear, "What place is this?" 

"The Comedy of Terrors" was the last film that Karloff, Price, Rathbone and Lorre made together. Peter Lorre passed away on March 23, 1964.

Much of the film is pure slapstick which I personally don't care much for. It does, however, balance the verbal humor. I also find the music annoying in places. But the positives outweigh the negatives. Overall, "The Comedy of Terrors" is a delight to watch.

Go to Page Two  and Page Three to see more pictures from "The Comedy of Terrors."

Cast

 

Credits

 
Basil Rathbone ............ John F. Black Production Co. .............. AIP
Vincent Price ................ Waldo Trumbull   Producers ........................ James H. Nicholson,
Peter Lorre .................... Felix Gillie  

Samuel Z. Arkoff,

Anthony Carras, Richard Matheson
Boris Karloff ................. Amos Hinchley   Director ...................... Jacques Tourneur
Joe E. Brown ............... Cemetery Keeper  

Writer ........................

Richard Matheson
Joyce Jameson ............ Amaryllis Trumbull   Cinematographer ......... Floyd Crosby
Beverly Hills ............... Mrs. Phipps   Editor ................... Anthony Carras
Paul Barselow ............. Riggs   Music Composer ........ Les Baxter
Linda Rogers ............... Phipp's maid   Art Director  ............... Daniel Haller
Alan DeWitt ................ Black's servant   Set Decorator ............ Harry Reif
Lurie Nicholson ........... Girl   Costume Design .......... Marjorie Corso
Buddy Mason .............. Mr. Phipps      
Douglas Williams ........ Doctor    
         

Images on this page and pages two and three are from the film "A Comedy of Terrors," copyright AIP.

 

 

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All original content is Marcia Jessen, 2007