Twice-Told Tales Blu-ray Review (originally published 2015)
The fourth film in Roger Corman’s Poe cycle series, Tales of Terror (1962), helped kick off a brief-lived ‘golden era’ of horror anthologies during the 1960s, including Mario Bava’s Black Sabbath (1963), Masaki Kobayashi’s Oscar-nominated Kwaidan (1964), and Freddie Francis’ Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (the first of a steady stream of popular anthologies released by the UK’s Amicus Studios, 1965). Producer Robert E. Kent’s Admiral Pictures/United Artists jumped onto the bandwagon in 1963 by ‘borrowing’ Vincent Price from AIP and releasing a pseudo follow-up to Tales of Terror entitled Twice-Told Tales (1963). Directed by Sidney Salkow, Twice-Told Tales is based on the short stories of Poe contemporary Nathaniel Hawthorne. The rights ended up under the control of MGM/UA, who later paired with Tales of Terror for DVD releases.
Part 1: Dr. Heidegger's Experiment
While celebrating his 79th birthday, Carl Heidegger (Sebastian Cabot) and his friend, Alex (Vincent Price), investigate the damaged family crypt to find that his dead fiancée, Sylvia (Mari Blanchard), has been perfectly preserved in her coffin for 38 years. Heidegger runs tests and discovers that the mysterious water dripping into the crypt has curative properties. When he and Alex drink the liquid, they become younger and, when he injects it into Sylvia’s corpse, she is resurrected from the dead. The celebration is cut short, however, when the dark truth about Sylvia’s death comes to light.
This first episode sets the stage for a talkier, more stage-like production than Tales of Terror. But, the lack of scares and languid pacing isn’t too much to bear, considering the handsome production design, colorful photography, and not one, but three cool lap-dissolve effects. It’s also hard to complain about ‘talkiness’ wherever Vincent Price is involved. The bigger issue is that Kent’s screenplay seems so incomplete, which leaves Price and Sebastian Cabot to stammer through what sounds like improvised lines of dialogue during the story’s early phases – before the real melodrama kicks in.
Part 2: Rappaccini's Daughter
When his wife leaves him for another man, botanist Giacomo Rappaccini (Price) retreats to a solitary life. Wrought with mourning and frustration, he exposes his daughter, Beatrice (Joyce Taylor), to an exotic plant with radioactive properties, leaving her unable to touch any living thing without killing it. Giovanni (Brett Halsey), a student boarder that moves in next door, falls in love with Beatrice, unaware of her deadly curse. After seeing how much his actions have hurt his daughter, Giacomo decides to treat Giovanni with the same plant extract to disastrous results.
Story two is more of the type of forbidden love story I’d expect from the author of The Scarlet Letter and includes very strong performances from Brett Halsey, who gets to act with his own voice at a time when he was working largely in the Italian film industry (he appeared in a number of peplum, spaghetti western, and Eurospy films during the era), Joyce Taylor, and, of course, Price. There’s also a rich vein of science fiction that cinematographer Ellis W. Carter taps into show off the capabilities of the Technicolor format. The radioactive plant at the center of the story reveals bright purple plumes of smoke that colors everything it (and, in turn, Beatrice) comes into contact with. Again, there are some pacing issues, but Kent’s dialogue is tighter and the three central actors are able to ham it up without so many awkward pauses.
Part 3: House of the Seven Gables
After 17 years away, Gerald Pyncheon (Price) returns to his family home, the House of the Seven Gables, with his wife, Alice (Beverly Garland), in tow. He is greeted by his sister, Hannah (Jacqueline deWit), the house’s caretaker, who recounts the details of a family curse, which was placed on the family by the house’s original owner, Matthew Maulle, when he lost it in a dubious land deal. The curse dictates that all Pyncheon men will die untimely deaths within the walls of the house. Meanwhile, a descendant of the original owner, Jonathan Maulle (Richard Denning), arrives at Gerald's request. It seems that Gerald plans on offering him the deed, providing he shares the location of Matthew’s hidden vault. While the two men bicker, Alice is seemingly possessed by the curse.
The anthology ends with an old-fashioned spooky house story that fits well into the Roger Corman gothic wheelhouse – especially the climax, which plays out an awful lot like The House of Usher (1960). It also evokes a bit of Hitchcock’s Rebecca (1940) and some of its motifs may have inspired Mario Bava’s far more twisted The Whip and the Body (Italian: La frusta e il corpo, 1963). Price and Jacqueline deWit bicker with the best of them, while Beverly Garland conjures a genuinely ethereal quality that makes me wonder why she was stuck in television for the bulk of her career. As the most traditionally horror-driven chunk of the movie and the one with the greatest shocks (bleeding walls, a pick-axe to the head, and a disembodied skeleton hand that strangles Price to death – all pretty rough stuff for a 1963 release), House of the Seven Gables seems like a logical endcap, but the more romantically tragic and colorful Rappaccini's Daughter is the best Twice-Told Tales has to offer. Note that Price also appeared in a different adaptation of the story, directed by Joe May in 1940 for Universal Pictures.
Twice-Told Tales was released, um, twice on North American DVD via MGM; once solo, and once on a double feature with Tales of Terror. Both releases were non-anamorphic. Kino’s new Blu-ray, I believe the first in any territory, is a big, big upgrade. The 1.66:1, 1080p image is swimming in detail and, give or take a few scratches and white spots, nicely restored (there are one or two instances of missing frames). Textures and patterns are sharp enough to make out the intricacies of the flamboyant production design, as well as the charming inconsistencies of the old-age make-up (the grey and wrinkles end at Sebastian Cabot’s hairline and Price’s neckline). Grain levels and chemically-induced edge haloes are certainly present, but are in keeping with expectations for a modestly-budgeted 35mm film from the ‘60s. As mentioned above, Salkow and cinematographer Carter shot Twice-Told Tales with Technicolor stock and the effect, though somewhat unnatural, is quite vivid. Colours are layered throughout the frame with brilliant and abstract lighting gels and everything is very neatly separated. It does appear that someone has tried to counteract Technicolor’s weak/bluish blacks by setting the contrast a bit too high, which leads to some crush (specifically during the first story). I noticed no DNR effects, but there are a few moments during the middle story where oversharpening reveals some machine noise.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono soundtrack is acceptable, but certainly not the best I’ve heard from an MGM HD release. The dialogue and incidental effects are discernible, but there are notable distortion issues at high volume as well as problems with flatness during quieter moments. The presence of hissing during aspirated consonants might verify that the original material was more damaged than, say Tales of Terror’s soundtrack, but it sounds more like the noise reduction software was misused and the middle ground noises cut short. Richard LaSalle’s romantic symphonic score fairs well, specifically when it’s not being overlapped by the slightly muffled dialogue and effects.
Commentary by Video Watchdog’s Richard Harland Smith and documentarian Perry Martin – This is a focused and info-packed track that delves head-first into Twice-Told Tales’ behind-the-scenes history. The participants clearly spent time preparing for the track, because they sound like they’re reading from scripts, which is a-okay for me, but might come off a bit dry for some listeners. There’s not a lot of theoretical discussion, I suppose, but the overall effect is similar to a number of Criterion tracks I’ve heard.
Trailers From Hell with Mick Garris (3:00, HD)
Trailers for Twice-Told Tales, Tales of Terror, and Black Sabbath
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