Tales of Terror is a 1962 American International Pictures horror film, shot in color and Panavision, that was produced by Samuel Z. Arkoff, James H. Nicholson, and Roger Corman, who also directed. The screenplay was written by Richard Matheson, and the film stars Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, and Basil Rathbone. It is the fourth in the so-called Corman-Poe cycle of eight films largely featuring adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe stories directed by Corman for AIP.
The film uses an anthology format, presenting three short sequences based on the following Poe tales: "Morella", "The Black Cat" (which is combined with another Poe tale, "The Cask of Amontillado"), and "The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar". Each sequence is introduced via voiceover narration by Vincent Price, who also appears in all three narratives.
Tropes used in Tales of Terror include:
- The Alcoholic: In "The Black Cat", Montressor is a drunken sot who hasn't worked for 17 years and whose only concern is where the price of his next drink is coming from. Locke is implied to have spent the two decades since his wife died gloomily drinking himself into a stupor.
- And I Must Scream: In "The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar", Valdemar's soul is trapped at the very instant of his death. This leaves his soul trapped within his dead body (which is slowly putrefying), wracked in constant agony, and only able to communicate through the auspices of the man who trapped him in the first place.
- Bad People Abuse Animals: In "The Black Cat", Montressor is not content with abusing his wife Annabelle, but also torments her pet cat, and would undoubtedly kill it if it every stayed still long enough for him to get his hands on it. As might be guessed from the title, the cat provides him with his karmic comeuppance.
- Buried Alive: In "The Black Cat", Montressor shackles Fortunato and Annabelle to the wall of the cellar and the bricks them up alive.
- Cobweb Jungle: In "Morella", Lenore arrives back at her family home only to find the house deserted and covered in cobwebs: no one having cleaned it in 25 years.
- Damaged Soul: In "The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar", Valdemar's soul is trapped between life and death. This leaves his soul in constant agony and slowly drives him insane.
- Domestic Abuse: In "The Black Cat", Montressor heaps verbal, physical and economic abuse on his poor wife Annabelle. It is little surprise he winds up murdering her.
- Evil All Along: Mr. Carmichael, once he realizes what he has done to Valdemar, takes advantage of the situation by holding Valdemar's soul hostage to blackmail Helene into marrying him.
- Extremely Dusty Home: When Lenore returns to her family home in "Morella", she discovers all of the furnishings are buried under cobwebs and a choking layer of dust.
- Familial Body Snatcher: In "Morella", Morella's spirit possesses the body of her daughter in order to extract vengeance on her husband. And everything goes horribly wrong (or goes horribly right, depending on your perspective).
- Gone Horribly Right: In "The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar", Valdemar in fear of death hires a hypnotist in an attempt to make his oncoming death more comfortable. It works too well as when he dies, Carmichael's mesmerism has left his soul trapped in his own dead body.
- I Just Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Valdemar is approaching death and wants his younger wife Helene to find happiness after his passing.
- MayDecember Romance: In "The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar", the marriage between Valdemar and Helene is a case of this, with Valdemar being much older than the wife. Nevertheless, the marriage is shown to be a happy one, with the two of them being truly in love. As Valdemar is dying, he expresses his desire that Helene find happiness with someone else after he is gone. That things go hideously wrong after this is not the fault of either of them.
- Mummies at the Dinner Table:In "Morella", after his wife died, Locke dug her up and placed her in his bed, where she remains for 25 years. (This also has overtones of I Love the Dead.)
- Possessing a Dead Body: A variant occurs in "The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar" where M. Valdemar's soul is trapped in his own dead body. Carmichael's mesmerism captures soul Valdemar's soul at the moment of death. His body is dead and slowly putrefying, but his soul still resides within it, but is unable to cause it to act in any way. Eventually, Valdemar is able to summon up enough rage to be able to control the body long enough to kill Carmichael
- Pretty in Mink: In "Morella", Lenore is wearing an ermine stole and muff when she arrives back at her family home.
- Revenge Myopia: Morella returns from the grave to take vengeance upon her daughter and husband. Problem is, Morella died from overexertion at a party which she pressured Locke into throwing for her, despite his concerns for her health after the birth of Lenore: an event that'd happened months earlier, so hardly merited Death by Childbirth status. Not that she'd have been justified blaming Lenore for her death, if she had expired from giving birth.
- Scarpia Ultimatum: In "The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar", Carmichael tells Helene he will release her husband from the state where he is trapped between life and death only if she agrees to marry him.
- Screaming Woman: In "The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar", Helene reacts to every dramatic development by screaming and fainting.
- Severed Head Sports: In "The Black Cat", Montressor has a nightmare where Annabelle and Fortunato rip his head off and then toss it back forth between themselves.
- Slipping a Mickey: In "The Black Cat", Montressor knocks Fortunato out by drugging his sherry.
- Sympathetic Adulterer: In "The Black Cat", Annabelle is married is married to the abusive, boorish drunkard Montressor who has not worked in 17 years. It is only her sewing work that keeps them in food, and she has to hide the cash to prevent him spending it it on booze. Small wonder she begins an affair with the aristocratic Fortunato when Montressor makes the mistake of introducing them.
- Throwing Off the Disability: If being dead can be considered a disability. In "The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar", Valdemar's soul is trapped in his dead, putrefying body; unable to cause it to act in any fashion. Eventually his outrage grows so great that he is able to rise from bed long enough to extract wreak vengeance on his tormentor.
- Wine Is Classy: Played with in "The Black Cat". Fortunato is an aristocratic professional wine taster with an elaborate ritual for tasting whose ability to identify the chateau and vintage of a particular wine in a blind tasting is regarded with awe by the wine merchants. However, The Alcoholic Montressor is able to do exactly the same thing just by guzzling a glass.