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!
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, Amos Hinchley (Karloff), 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
"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?"
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
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.
"Have I expressed myself with clarity?"
"Who are you?"
Trumbull and Gillie take Black back to the funeral parlor and lay
him on a table. Suddenly Gillie notices movement.
"I don't think he's quite dead enough yet."
is this? Why am I here?"
"Why, you're here because you're dead,
"I regard your actions as inimical to good fellowship."
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!"
Eventually Trumbull whacks Black with a mallet, gags him, and chains the
coffin closed. Is he really dead this time?
The funeral scene is hilarious. Amaryllis sings "He is not dead, but
sleepeth," causing Gillie and Trumbull to exchange worried glances. Her
father, Amos Hinchley, gives the eulogy: "My friends, we have gathered ourselves together within these bud-wreathed walls to pay homage to the departed soul
After the funeral, Black is locked in a crypt (which annoys Trumbull and Gilliethey'll
have to buy another casket). When everyone has left we hear a voice "What
place is this?" Hearing yelling from the crypt, the cemetery keeper (Joe
E. Brown) unlocks the crypt and opens the coffin. Spouting lines from
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 diesor does he?
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?"
Plenty of laughs in this tongue-in-cheek AIP
horror-comedy. Price, Karloff, Lorre, Rathbone all ham it up for
fun. Exploitable item.
With cutlass in hand, ageless lothario Peter Lorre challenges
master-fiend Vincent Price to a duel to the death for the love of
luscious Joyce Jameson. The sheer ludicrousness of it all will give
this tongue-in-cheek American International release strong
exploitation values in the mass markets. Although there is
absolutely no suspense and the gags are antique, the players are so
wonderfully miscast that only the dourest of viewers will fail to be
amused. Picture a lovable Boris Karloff, a hammy Basil Rathbone, a
grim Joe E. Brown, and a seductive Rhubarb (that's a cat, man), and
you get the general idea. As usual with these James H. Nicolson-Samuel
Z. Arkoff productions, the Pathecolor processing is excellent and
the photography and production design by Floyd Crosby and Daniel
Haller, respectively, belie a modest budget. Richard Matheson's
screenplay and Jacques Tourneur's direction are adequate to allow
the players their hammy fun, Les Baxter's rollicking background
score, consisting mostly of player-piano ditties and other such
cornball devices, is pure delight. The story has opportunist Price
marrying Miss Jameson to gain control of papa Karloff's undertaking
business, and creating unhappiness for all by belittling and abusing
his spouse, attempting to poison his father-in-law with "medicine,"
and blackmailing his kindly assistant Lorre. Gradually, love
blossoms between wife and assistant and the two decide to run away
together, but their escape is prevented by Rathbone, a "dead"
customer who refuses to stay dead. Most of the humor arises from the
cataleptic corpse's efforts to escape from his casket (nearly
frightening grave keeper Brown to death), and is climaxed by
Karloff's absent-minded eulogy and by a death scene in which
Rathbone, having been shot by Price, re-enacts a host of
Shakespearean demises. Eventually, Price falls victim to his
"medicine," and Lorre and Miss Jameson are free to marry.
Film Bulletin, December 23, 1963
Production on The Comedy of Terrors began on September 4, 1963. The
film premiered in
Detroit on December 25, 1963; General release was on January 22, 1964.
According to TV Guide, the film "was shot in 20 days on a 12-hour-a-day
shooting schedule" (www.tvguide.com/movies/the-comedy-of-horrors/review/111208/
The Comedy of Terrors was the only film that Boris Karloff,
Vincent Price, Basil Rathbone and Peter Lorre made together. It was also
one of Peter Lorre's
last films, as he died on March 23, 1964. Lorre was in poor health already
during the filming of The Comedy of Terrors.
Trumbull (Price) checks to make sure that Black is bound and gagged.
Amos Hinchley (Karloff) speaks at Mr. Black's funeral.
Boris Karloff was 76 years old at the time, but still appeared too young for
the role of the aged and senile Amos Hinchley. The makeup artist had
to age Karloff by more than 20 years to look right for his role.
Initially Basil Rathbone was to play the role of Amos Hinchley, and
Boris Karloff was to play Mr. Black. The two actors swapped roles because
the role of Mr. Black required quite a bit of physical activity that
Karloff wasn't able to perform. Karloff suffered from arthritis and
emphysema in the last several years leading up to his death in 1969. Both
Rathbone and Karloff were excellent in their respective roles as Black and
Hinchley. It's hard to imagine Karloff as Mr. Black and Rathbone as
"Everybody is on character and doing good work. Karloff is hilarious as a dotard with a Cockney accent and Peter
Lorre looks quietly heartbroken as the coffin-maker in love with the boss's
wife. Price has fun being a complete dastard, while Rathbone is energetic as
the murdered man who refuses to die, who plays entire scenes from Macbeth each
time he pops back to life." Glenn Erickson,
"Rathbone is excruciatingly funny in satirizing the Shakespearean actor, who,
though ostensibly mortally wounded, keeps rising from the floor to give one more
line." Los Angeles Herald Examiner
"Rathbone is the best thing in the picture. ... He gets to act with
Shakespearean panache and even fences with Lorre with a fire-poker as he
spouts lines from Macbeth. He is obviously enjoying himself, a rare
occurrence in his final films." Laurence Maslon, Horrorfan, Fall
An authentic antique horse-drawn hearse, over one hundred years old, is
featured in some scenes of The Comedy of Terrors. The vehicle was built in 1862 and
retired soon after the turn of the century from the service of a mortuary
Hollywood's award-winning feline star, Rhubarb (also called "Orangey"),
was featured in The Comedy of Terrors . The 18-year-old cat was
actually billed above Basil Rathbone.
Black comes after Trumbull with an ax.
Rhubarb/Orangey the cat walks on Black's body.
Richard Matheson, who wrote the script, chose the title The Comedy of
Terrors as a pun on the Shakespeare play The Comedy of Errors.
Director James H. Nicholson preferred the title The Graveside Story
because of the then-current popularity of the musical West Side Story.
The film is also sometimes known as The Comedy of Horrors.
The film was not a box office success at the time but gained later
appreciation as a great horror spoof.
"The director, Jacques Tourneur who had directed Cat People (1942),
recalled that the actor hated having to lie in a coffin for a scene in the
film and 'fought like hell to avoid retakes' so he wouldn't have to lie in
it again. The actor was in good humor on the set though, because he
enjoyed working with Vincent Price, Peter Lorre and Boris Karloff again." Neil Doyle, "Basil Rathbone: Classic Villain/Classic Hero," Classic
Images, August 2001
"Lets give some props to Basil Rathbone for his
excellent use of physical humor. I personally never believed he had it in
him. His slap-stick role is not how I normally like my Rathbone I prefer
the stern, straight man Rathbone that can be oh-so-mean but he did a fine,
"Rathbone really stands out in a performance that is right up there
with his fantastic portrayal of Sherlock Holmes. Rathbones Mr. Black is
hilarious with his extremely animated character quirks of speedily reciting
Macbeth every chance he gets. The amount of work he put into his performance
must have been vast and his delivery is spot on without being
Lucinda Holt at Screen Relish,
COMEDY OF TERRORS
allowed Peter Lorre a number of wonderfully amusing moments, as well as
providing Basil Rathbone with a scene stealing turn that had this reviewer
howling with laughter." Derek M. Germano, The Cinema Laser,
David Stuart Davies wrote about a time when Scarlet Street
editor Richard Valley met Basil Rathbone. "It was in the early sixties in
a Paramus, New Jersey, department store, when the actor was signing copies
of his recently published autobiography, In and Out of Character.
Richard and Basil chatted amicably for a few minutes, Rathbone delighting
in talking about Guy of Gisborne, Sherlock Holmes, and even Wolf von
Frankenstein. However, when Richard asked Basil if he had enjoyed making
his most recent movie, AIP's The Comedy of Terrors, he returned with a brisk 'no' and
turned to the next customer." David Stuart Davies, "Our Man on Baker
Street," Scarlet Street #30, 1998
"Rathbone contributed some of the picture's funniest moments. The sequence in
which he hams a scene from Macbeth is classic." Michael
B. Druxman, Basil Rathbone: His Life and His Films (South Brunswick
and New York: A.S. Barnes, 1975)
Black's prolonged dying scene
"Is he really dead this time?"
"Price is unabashedly mean-spirited as a drunk, verbally abusive
husband to the wonderfully game Joyce Jameson's 'Amaryllis.' As her somewhat
unrealistic illicit love-interest, Lorre knocks it out the park as usual,
playing the downtrodden underdog to perfection. Rathbone is perfect as the foil
for this distinctly un-dynamic duo's evil plan. He proves to be as adaptive to
high-comedy as he is to playing his usual stoic, disciplined characters. And
Karloff as the doddering Patriarch is an absolute blast, going all out to play
his role for broad laughs, and almost stealing the show in the process." Kyle Scott,
Much of the film is pure slapstick which I personally don't care much
for. It does, however, balance the verbal humor. The slapstick appears to be a nod to Laurel and Hardy. Price even
exclaims "A fine mess you've made of things again!" 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 to see more pictures (screenshots) and Page Three to see
posters, lobby cards and promo photos from The Comedy of Terrors.
Watch the Trailer for the film:
See Page Two for screenshots from the
film. See Page Three for pictures of posters,
lobby cards and promo photos.
John F. Black
Vincent Price ...
Joe E. Brown
Joyce Jameson ...
Black's servant [CHECK THIS! imdb HAS HIM AS RIGGS.
AND SOMEONE CALLED LUREE HOLMES AS THE SERVANT.]
Harvey Parry ...
man knocked down on street
Charles Soldani ...
Cleopatra (the cat)
Alta Vista Productions
American International Pictures (AIP)
James H. Nicholson, Samuel Z. Arkoff, Anthony Carras
Production Design ...
Art Director ...
Set Decorator ...
Costume Design ...
Hair Stylist ...
Makeup Artist ...
Special prosthetics creator ...
Asst. Director ...
Sound Mixer ...
Sound Editors ...
James Nelson, Kathleen Rose
Special Effects ...
Harvey Parry, Jesse Wayne
Lighting coordinator ...
Music editors ...
Milton Lustig, Eve Newman
Music Coordinator ...
Harry Betts (trombone), Caesar Giovannini
(piano), Milton Kestenbaum (bass), Tommy Pederson (trombone),
Thomas Z. Shepard (trombone)