The Comedy of Terrors

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.[2]

The Comedy of Terrors
Promotional poster
Directed byJacques Tourneur
Produced byAnthony Carras
Written byRichard Matheson
StarringVincent Price
Peter Lorre
Boris Karloff
Basil Rathbone
Music byLes Baxter
CinematographyFloyd Crosby
Edited byAnthony Carras
Distributed byAmerican International Pictures
Release date
  • December 25, 1963 (1963-12-25) (Detroit)[1]
  • January 22, 1964 (1964-01-22)
Running time
84 minutes
CountryUnited States


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 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.

Main cast

  • 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 as Cleopatra


The film was a follow-up to The Raven, meant to reunite Vincent Price, Peter Lorre and Boris Karloff.[3] The producers' original intention was for Karloff to play the part of the ceaselessly spry old landlord, Mr. Black, but, by the time production was set to begin, they realized that it would have been difficult (if not impossible) for Karloff to perform the physical requirements of the role, due to persistent back and leg problems which had worsened with age. So, Karloff traded roles with Basil Rathbone, and instead played Amaryllis' elderly father, Mr. Hinchley.

Richard Matheson later said he was "proud of that picture and of the fact that I got AIP [American International Pictures] to hire Tourner [sic]. Earlier on, I had asked for Tourner [sic] on one of my Twilight Zones... They said, 'Well, he's a movie director. I don't think he can handle this time schedule' . . . As I recall, he did the shortest shooting schedule of anyone—twenty-eight hours. He had this book with every shot in it and detailed notes. He knew exactly what he was doing every inch of the way. He was so organized."[4]


The movie was not a big success at the box office. Matheson:

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.[5]


Initial reception

The Comedy of Terrors received mixed to negative reviews upon its initial release. Howard Thompson of The New York Times wrote a scathing review, calling it "A musty, rusty bag of tricks rigged as a horror farce".[6] Variety wrote that the film "leaves much to be desired. The raw material for a jovial spoof of chillers was there, but the comic restraint and perception necessary to capitalize on those natural resources is conspicuously missing."[7] Philip K. Scheuer of the Los Angeles Times panned the film as "a series of predictable gags repeated ad infinitum, ad nauseum ... I felt ashamed to watch once reputable actors hamming it up all over the place, making a mockery of whatever is left of their poor images."[8] The Monthly Film Bulletin was somewhat positive, calling Price and Lorre "both splendid" and writing that Matheson's script "avoids the laxness which slowed down passages of The Raven, and constructs a soundly worked-out mechanism based on a minimum of running gags." [9]

TV Guide awarded the film 2/5 stars, stating, "Film is neither funny nor terrifying, and shows the fact that it was shot in 20 days on a 12-hour-a-day shooting schedule."[10]

Later reception

Later reviews of the film have been more positive. Author and film critic Leonard Maltin gave the film 2.5 out of 4 stars, commending the film's cast.[11] Paul Chambers from Movie gave the film a score B+, writing "An all-out horror comedy set in 19th century New England with some of the best names in the business. Besides Price, there's Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre, Basil Rathbone and in a small, but funny, segment, Joe E. Brown."[12] Time Out London felt that the film came dangerously close to failing, and criticized the script. However, it commended the film's cast.[13]

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 88% based on 8 reviews, with a weighted average rating of 7.3/10.[14]

Proposed sequel

Richard Matheson wanted to write a sequel film for AIP called Sweethearts and Horrors, which was intended to star Price as a ventriloquist, Karloff as a children's TV host, Rathbone as a musical comedy star, Lorre as a magician and Tallulah Bankhead. However Comedy of Terrors was not a big hit so plans to make the followup were shelved.[15]


A novelization of The Comedy of Terrors was written in 1964 by Elsie Lee, adapted from Richard Matheson's screenplay. It was published by Lancer Books in paperback (making certain changes in the story's ending).[16]

See also


  1. "The Comedy of Terrors - Details". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. Retrieved October 10, 2018.
  2. Jacobs, Stephen (2011). Boris Karloff: More Than a Monster. Tomohawk Press. pp. 460–461. ISBN 978-0955767043.
  3. Smith, Gary A. (2009). The American International Pictures Video Guide. McFarland. p. 40. ISBN 978-0786433094.
  4. McGilligan, Pat (1997). Backstory 3: Interviews with Screenwriters of the 1960s. Berkeley: University of California Press. p. 245. ISBN 978-0520204270.
  5. Sudak, Eunice (March 15, 2012). Riley, Philip J. (ed.). The Making of The Raven; Philip J Riley's Nightmare Series. Bear Manor Media. ISBN 978-1593934859.
  6. Thompson, Howard (January 23, 1964). "'Comedy of Terrors'". The New York Times. p. 26. Retrieved 24 August 2018.
  7. "The Comedy of Terrors". Variety: 6. January 29, 1964.
  8. Scheuer, Philip K. (January 23, 1964). "'Comedy of Terrors' Film Monstrosity". Los Angeles Times. Part IV, p. 9.
  9. "The Comedy of Terrors". The Monthly Film Bulletin. 32 (375): 55. April 1965.
  10. "The Comedy Of Horrors - Movie Reviews and Movie Ratings". TV Guide. Retrieved 22 July 2018.
  11. Maltin, Leonard (3 September 2013). Leonard Maltin's 2014 Movie Guide. Penguin Publishing Group. p. 247. ISBN 978-1-101-60955-2.
  12. Chambers, Paul. "Hollywood@Home: The Vincent Price Collection II". Movie Paul Chambers. Retrieved 22 July 2018.
  13. "The Comedy of Terrors, directed by Jacques Tourneur". Time Out London. Retrieved 22 July 2018.
  14. "The Comedy of Terrors (1964) - Rotten Tomatoes". Rotten Flixer. Retrieved 12 June 2018.
  15. McGee, Mark (1996). Faster and Furiouser: The Revised and Fattened Fable of American International Pictures. McFarland. pp. 205–206. ISBN 978-0786401376.
  16. Lee, Elsie; Matheson, Richard (1964). Comedy of Terrors. Lancer.
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