Twice Told Tales (1963)

JANUARY 29, 2012


Not even a two hour runtime could keep me from being excited about Twice Told Tales, another anthology in which Vincent Price stars in every segment, but with stories based on Nathaniel Hawthorne instead of Poe. Since the Poe stuff tended to get a bit similar as time went on, I figured this would be a refreshing change of pace. And it’s pretty good, but a couple of things weigh it down, so that length ultimately DID start to get to me a bit, especially since the third segment was the weakest.

In fact it goes in order; the first story was my favorite, the 2nd was pretty good, and then the 3rd was kind of dull. Interestingly, the first was the least horrific of them all, depicting a sort of standard “Fountain of Youth” story in which things don’t turn out that well for everyone. There are only three people in the segment, and thus Price rarely leaves the frame (another reason it was my favorite). I was impressed with the old age makeup given to him and Sebastian Cabot (though his colored beard was a bit silly looking); in fact since I didn’t look at the date I was actually a bit surprised how aged he was – I knew they had done SOMETHING but not to what extent (and they did a pretty good job of guessing what he’d look like in 20 years). It’s also the only tale that benefits from the film’s rather bland style; director Sidney Salkow was from TV, and it shows – even for an early 60s film it’s rather static and “small”, a far cry from the lush colors and lavish sets of the Corman/Poe pictures. It’s also at the 1.66:1 ratio, unlike those films which were all 2.35 scope if memory serves. As it was clearly trying to emulate those other films (Tales Of Terror most obviously), the difference sticks out – you’ll never forget that this isn’t Corman. I sort of love the irony there – “It looks cheap compared to Roger Corman movies!” – but at least in this first story, where only three characters spend the entire time in one of two tiny rooms, it fits.

The second story is almost as good, and possibly would be the best if it was fleshed out a bit more. Price plays a scientist who has treated his daughter with a rare toxin that prevents her from touching anyone (they will die if she does), because his wife left him for another man and this is how he chose to deal with it. Of course, she falls in love with someone, and the young man gets too close and discovers the secret. Needless to say, things don’t work out too well for anyone, including a poor little lizard that gets offed when she is asked to prove that she has the deadly touch. Here’s where the film’s limited visual flair starts to hurt – the garden that houses the deadly plant is colorful, but fake looking, and too small to boot. For a plant that can kill anyone who touches it, it’s just sitting there in the middle of a yard – it seems like it would be difficult NOT to touch it if you wanted to get across. However, I did enjoy the rather tragic approach; and Price is pretty great at toeing the line between a mad scientist villain and a rather sad man who seemingly did really love his daughter but had a messed up way of showing it (fans of Repo might enjoy this one; it mirrors Nathan and Shilo’s relationship in some ways).

But then the third sort of drags the whole thing down. It’s based on Hawthorne’s novel “The House Of Seven Gables” (the other two were based on short stories from a collection of the same name), and even though it’s the longest of the three it still feels a bit rushed and underdeveloped. The whole thing is about a curse imposed by the house’s original owner, but he/his story barely appear in the proceedings, severely limiting the mystery angle. Too much of it is given over to our heroine (Beverly Garland) wandering around the house or hearing noises, and Price only really gets to cut loose in the film’ final 5 minutes or so. The story – an old house, inheritance, curses – also feels the most like one of his Poe films, which doesn’t help the feeling that this could have been done better. Oddly, Price actually starred in the first full length film based on the novel (as a different character); I’m curious if that one is more successful.

The FX are pretty fun. The first story has the always enjoyable “fade in/out to show aging or decomposing” effect, and it’s above average in its depiction, and the second has some fun “acid touch” moments. And the third makes up for its sluggish pace with the finale – bleeding walls, a scythe to the head (!), and a wacky skeleton arm that chokes Price. I assume it’s the same arm that we see in what passes for the movie’s wraparound segments, which is just a skeleton arm turning pages in a book as Price (as a narrator, not one of his characters) reads some text and basically plays us out. As wrap-arounds go, it’s pretty much one of the lamest, but the movie is long enough – anything more in depth would just be torture. Even Creepshow wasn’t this long and that had five segments AND a real wraparound story!

MGM’s DVD is nothing to write blog paragraphs about; the image is often over-compressed, and it’s non-anamorphic to boot. It’s annoying enough on any movie, but for 1.66 films it’s twice as obnoxious because most HDTVs can’t zoom in properly – you either have to watch it “windowboxed” (black bars on all four sides) or zoom in and crop the top and bottom. The trailer is the only supplement, and it’s a lousy one since it spoils the end of “Gables” along with most of the other “action” highlights. I’d say “it’s a good thing that they don’t do this anymore” but a very high profile, much loved movie that’s in theaters now had a trailer more or less built around the film’s closing moments (I won’t spoil it by saying the film’s title, but if you know what I’m talking about – I hope you stayed through the credits for a little bit of a bonus “epilogue”). Curious if anyone ever actually cares about such things though (oddly enough, before said film the same actor was in a trailer for another movie and that spot actually spoiled his death!), perhaps without the context it doesn’t register as a major spoiler? Eh, who cares.

Anyway, back to this movie: Starts off good but declines; I'd recommend watching in chunks.

What say you?


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