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.
When Lenora Locke (Maggie Pierce) travels from Boston to be reunited with her father (Vincent Price) in his decrepit and cobwebbed mansion, she finds him drunk, disordered, and depressed. He refuses her company, insisting that she killed her mother Morella (Leona Gage) in childbirth. Lenora then discovers her mother's body decomposing on a bed in the house. Lenora cannot return to Boston and remains in the house to care for her father. His feelings soften towards her when he learns she has a terminal illness. One night Morella's spirit rises, and kills Lenora in revenge for her childbed death. Morella's body is then resurrected, becoming as whole and as beautiful as she was in life. This is in exchange for Lenora's, which is now decomposing where Morella lay. Morella strangles her horrified husband as a fire breaks out in the house. Then Morella and Lenora return to their original bodies, Lenora smiling as she lies on her dead father, rotten Morella cackling as the flames consume the house. The cast includes Edmund Cobb as a coach driver.
Montresor Herringbone (Peter Lorre) hates his wife Annabelle (Joyce Jameson) and her black cat. One night on a ramble about town, he happens upon a wine tasting event and challenges the world's foremost wine taster, Fortunato Luchresi (Vincent Price), to a contest. Herringbone becomes drunk. Luchresi escorts him home and meets his wife. Time passes, and Annabelle and Luchresi become intimate. The cuckolded Herringbone then entombs them alive in an alcove in the basement. The authorities become suspicious and two policemen (John Hackett and Lennie Weinrib) visit the house to investigate. Hearing screeching behind a basement wall, they knock the wall down to discover the dead lovers — and Annabelle's black cat, which Herringbone had accidentally walled up with the lovers. Cast includes Wally Campo as bartender Wilkins and Alan DeWitt as the Wine-Tasting Chairman.
Dying from a painful disease, M. Valdemar (Vincent Price) employs a hypnotist, Mr. Carmichael (Basil Rathbone), to alleviate his suffering by putting him under various trances. He then remains between the world of the living and the dead. In a trance, Valdemar begs Carmichael to release his soul so he can die but Carmichael cruelly refuses. Months pass and Valdemar's putrefying body remains in his bed under the complete control of Carmichael. The hypnotist tries to force Valdemar's wife Helene (Debra Paget) to marry him. When she refuses, he attacks her. Valdemar's putrid body rises from the bed and kills Carmichael. Helene is rescued by Valdemar's physician (David Frankham) and carried from the scene of horror.
The film was announced in September 1961. It was shot in November 28.
Corman commented on how Tales of Terror differed from his earlier film adaptations released by AIP:
With Tales of Terror
, we tried to do something a little different. The screenplay was actually a series of very frightening, dramatic sequences inspired by several of the Poe stories. To break things up, we tried introducing humor into one of them..."
The three stories in the film took a total of three weeks to film. For the conclusion of "Morella", Corman reused some sets and event footage from the fiery climax of House of Usher. The story Morella was remade in the 1990s as The Haunting of Morella.
Price explained how the effect of slow decomposition was achieved in "The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar": "We settled for an old-fashioned mud pack - it dries and draws the skin up and then cracks open." To give the impression of Vincent Price's face melting away, a mixture of glue, glycerin, corn starch and make-up paint was heated and then poured over his head. The substance was so hot that Price could only stand it for a few seconds.
Richard Matheson's favorite of the stories was the final one, M. Valdemar. He thought it was "pretty well done. It was pretty straight, except I added the doctor and Valdemar's wife to the story... They acted it pretty well for a change."
The New York Times called the film a "dull, absurd and trashy adaptation." At the film review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film received 67% positive comments from 12 respondents. Time Out said the film was "elegant and funny, but the short-story format deprives Corman of the majestic, melancholic rhythm which characterizes his best work of this type."
The film was released on DVD.
Dell Comics published a comic book adaptation of the film.
A novelization of the film was written in 1962 by Eunice Sudak, adapted from Richard Matheson's screenplay, which was published by Lancer Books in a mass market paperback.
In 2011 La-La Land Records released on CD Les Baxter's music score from the "Morella" segment of Tales of Terror. It also features selections from his score used over the end credits for X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes.