Monday, July 1, 2013

Poe Week: Movie Monday

Edgar Allan Poe wrote with a very distinct and elegant brand of horror and suspense, and no one is better qualified to bring his works to screen than the inimitable Vincent Price, with his articulate, subtly sinister villains and flamboyant "heroes."  During his long reign as the king of suspense, Price starred in 7 films directed by the king of B horror movies himself, Roger Corman, that were loosely based on Poe's works.  (The cycle encompassed 8 films, but Price was absent from the cast of The Premature Burial.)  So let's take a look at the "collaborations" between these masters.

House of Usher:  based on The Fall of the House of Usher, this film stars Price as the ill-fated titular character.  While much of the film is true to Poe's story, the writers added a touch of romantic intrigue and turned Price into a conniving possessive villain, rather than the neurotic depressed character of the story to keep the movie audience interested.  The movie is short, barely over an hour, and the acting is as good as can be expected from an early Corman film (so it's moderately good).  Poe would probably have approved of Price's portrayal of Roderick Usher, despite the differences from the story.  Our rating: 3 out of 5 stars.

The Pit and the Pendulum:  now this one has very little to do with the original story.  The writers added a whole caboodle of torture devices and scenarios that weren't in the story, as well as another unnecessary romance.  Here we see the true Corman coming through, as he takes Poe's blood and terror to a whole other level, and Corman blood is always entertaining.  While Poe would probably have been dismayed by the gory sensationalism given to his work in lieu of psychological suspense, this is still a really fun watch and it moves surprisingly fast for an old film.  Our rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

The Premature Burial:  this doesn't star Price so it's missing a lot of charisma, but for a die-hard Poe fan who feels obligated to watch all adaptations of Poe's works, it's still worth a look.  It's actually fairly similar to the short story, and keeps the same frenetic neurotic feel.  Our rating 2 out of 5 stars.

Tales of Terror:  this is by far my favorite film adaptation of Poe's works.  Tales of Terror combines four short stories ("Morella," "The Black Cat," "The Cask of Amontillado," and "The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar") into three short films, which keep the same kind of tension and mood as Poe's stories, making them a closer adaptation than the other full length films.  Starring Price, Peter Lorre, and Basil Rathbone, all kings of horror and suspense, as well as other famous actors of the day, this is a star studded masterpiece of vintage terror.  If you never watch another Poe adaptation, at least watch this one.  You won't regret it.  Our rating: 5 out of 5 stars.

The Raven:  based very, very loosely on the poem of the same name, The Raven is more black comedy and farce than terror and suspense.  I don't even know what to make of it.  I've watched it twice, and I still can't think what possessed the writers to adapt the poem in this way.  The plot is tenuous but mildly entertaining, and if you watch it you'll get to see what Jack Nicholson looked like when he was young and handsome and couldn't act his way out of a paper bag.  And you'll get to see Boris Karloff make an utter fool of himself.  And I'm not really convinced that's a good thing.  Our rating: 2 out of 5 stars.

The Haunted Palace: The Haunted Palace isn't based on a Poe story at all; it's based on an H. P. Lovecraft story and merely borrows its title from Poe.  I haven't watched it.  If you have, give us a recommendation in the comments!

The Masque of the Red Death:  I don't know what to make of this movie.  I'm still not sure what the plot was.  I know that it was supposed to be like the story, but... I'm confused.  There's a lot of lavish scenery and costumes, but even Price seems confused by this script.  There is a despotic, out-of-touch prince, and there is a masque, and there is the Red Death, but everything in-between is a blur.  Is that some class warfare I saw for a moment there?  Who knows.  Watch it for yourself and see if you can figure out how close this film is to the story.  Our rating: 2 out of 5 stars.

The Tomb of Ligeia:  based on "Ligeia," this film's modicum of brilliance lies in its frustrating suspense.  I spent the whole 81 minutes desperately wanting to see what was going on, but just like the story, we only see snippets from the point of view of the narrator, Price.  The main gist of the story is intact in the film, and it's cool to see the same  actress playing both ill-fated wives, though this device is by now quite common in supernatural movies.  Our rating: 3 out of 5 stars.

For an almost complete list of Poe's works and life in film and TV, check here.

The Lonely Alchemist

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