A trio of stories by Salem-born writer Nathaniel Hawthorne are adapted for the anthology film TWICE TOLD TALES, which features horror movie icon Vincent Price in three different roles, now out on Blu-ray courtesy of Kino Lorber Studio Classics.
The first story, "Dr. Heidegger's Experiment”, involves two aged friends, Carl Heidegger (Sebastian Cabot, “Family Affair”) and Alex Medbourne (Vincent Price) who are raising a toast in celebration of Heidegger’s 79th birthday. Seeing a disturbance in Heidegger’s family crypt, they discover his fiancée Sylvia (Mari Blanchard, ABBOTT AND COSTELLO GO TO MARS), who died on the eve of their wedding 38 years earlier, perfectly preserved in her coffin. With water leaking on her body from above, the theory is that this liquid kept her body from decomposing, and when it’s poured on a withered rose, the flower is reborn. Both men then decide to drink it, instantly becoming 40 years younger, and then it’s injected into Sylvia who comes back to life, requesting that her and Heidegger get married and pick up where they left off. But the cause for celebration soon turns sour as a secret centering around her death is revealed, not to mention that the effects of the liquid elixir eventually wear off. In "Rappaccini's Daughter", the reclusive Giacomo Rappaccini (Price) keeps his daughter Beatrice (Joyce Taylor, ATLANTIS, THE LOST CONTINENT) under a tight leash, not letting her ever leave the confines of their garden. Years earlier, Rappaccini treated his daughter with an unusual plant extract that makes her touch deadly to all plant and animal life, as well as people. Not being able to lead a normal life or do anything about her natural desires, Beatrice falls in love with Giovanni (Brett Halsey, RETURN OF THE FLY), a young university student boarding next door. When Giovanni learns of Beatrice’s strange condition, he brings a lizard she destroyed with her touch to his professor, in hopes that an anecdote can be found. But domineering dad Rappaccini has his own plans for keeping his daughter under wraps, as well as the fate the interfering suitor.
In the last tale, “House of the Seven Gables”, Gerald Pyncheon (Price) returns to his ancestral home after 17 years, along with his wife Alice (Beverly Garland, IT CONQUERED THE WORLD). Greeting them at the house is his sister Hannah (Jacqueline deWit, THE SNAKE PIT) and she is warned by her estranged brother that there’s been a curse put on all Pyncheon men by Matthew Maulle, a former owner of the house who lost the property in an underhanded deal with the family. A descendant of Maulle named Jonathan (Richard Denning, THE DAY THE WORLD ENDED) soon arrives at the door, refusing Pyncheon’s offer to give him over the house if he tells him the location of the secret vault and its treasure. With Alice being visited upon by ghostly apparitions, the Pyncheon family curse declares that every male member of the family will die with blood on his lips, and greedy Gerald is soon greeted by bleeding paintings and blood-soaked walls, as well as a skeletal ghost hand which goes for his throat!
During a short early 1960s leave from American International Pictures (AIP), Price starred in DIARY OF A MADMAN for independent producer Robert E. Kent (INVISIBLE INVADERS, THE FOUR SKULLS OF JONATHAN DRAKE), and due to the success of AIP’s Edgar Allan Poe series, he followed that film up by taking on literary giant Hawthorne for inspiration (Kent also wrote the screenplay). With release through United Artists, the film went into production as “The Corpse-Makers” but was then changed to TWICE TOLD TALES to cash on the success of AIP’s latest Poe entry, TALES OF TERROR. Without someone with a great sense of ingenuity like Roger Corman (as well as his talented crew) to direct, the job was given to 1940s B-movie maker Sidney Salkow, who by this time was mostly doing episodic television (he would next direct Price in Italy for THE LAST MAN ON EARTH).
For fans of Price’s extensive 1960s horror output, TWICE TOLD TALES pales in comparison to his AIP Poe features. The film may be flawed but still has enough things going for it, starting with Price in three very different and distinct roles. He gives good performances but never really goes over the top (and he’s more or less playing a mad scientist in the second story), but he does get hammier during the third tale, which is the one which most resembles something out of the Poe cycle (especially FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER). Ironically, HOUSE OF THE SEVEN GABLES is the one vignette out of the three that drags the most, but it’s not afraid to showcase some grand guignol bloodshed in its condensed offering of the original literary source, with Price proving why he was perfect for such a meaty role (he also appeared in Universal’s feature-length 1940 version of the story). The two-hour running time could have been edited down a great deal, some of the casting choices could have been better, and the studio-bound direction by Salkov is rather flat and uninspired, almost as if he was doing costume-drama dinner theater. But the stories are actually not bad, the majority of the casting is good (Price and Cabot especially have an appealing on-screen chemistry), and Price also handles the narration. A pair of skeletal hands turning the pages of a book to introduce each story is a nice contrived touch. The destruction of the “House of the Seven Gables” during the climax is so obviously a model and is quite laughable, as you’d expect Rodan to fly in at any moment to stomp on it!
Another former MGM Midnite Movies DVD release (as a single non-anamorphic DVD, and later on a double feature disc with TALES OF TERROR), Kino Lorber Studio Classics now offers TWICE TOLD TALES on Blu-ray in an expected stunning looking transfer, presenting the film in 1080p HD in a 1.66:1 aspect ratio. The transfer boasts bold, lavish colors, and background clarity is striking, with skin textures also being well-detailed. The grain structure is tight and filmic, black levels are appropriately deep and dirt and debris are minimal. The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track is rich and resonant, particularly in the presentation of Richard LaSalle's melodramatic score. There are no subtitle options on the disc.
Film historians Richard Harland Smith and Perry Martin do an audio commentary, with both taking turns sharing information about the film and its production, its cast (such as Halsey and his success in Europe), crew, director Salkow and producer/writer Kent. They both touch upon the similarities in the stories with other horror films of the period, and at times mention the differences between the original Hawthorne stories and what’s presented on the screen. A “Trailer From Hell” segment on the film is narrated by Mick Garris, who tells of the great influence the film had on his childhood (he named a school light show, “Dr. Heidegger's Experiment”) and mentions when he met Price (he also confirms that the film is “well-worth checking out”). The original trailer for the film on its own is included (and it’s narrated by none other than Paul Frees), as well as trailers for TALES OF TERROR and BLACK SABBATH (two other essential 1960s anthology films available on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber). (George R. Reis)
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