Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Watching Poe

     Halloween is fast approaching, and the best place to see pre-1980s horror films is the Turner Classics Movies cable channel. Here are some Edgar Allan Poe-based films on the TCM schedule in the coming weeks that are worth a look.

      The Tell-Tale Heart (1953): A rare opportunity to see an animated version of the Poe tale, narrated by James Mason. I’ve never seen this, but I shall. Oct. 21 at 11 p.m.

From Wikipedia

     The Raven (1963): Poe’s most famous work, and a large source of his income (it was much reprinted, and he would give dramatic readings of it), but it is still a poem and thus a seemingly odd choice for a film. (It doesn't help that the poem consists of a man asking questions of a bird, who only answers "Nevermore.") But after doing several Poe films, director Roger Corman, screenwriter Richard Matheson and actor Vincent Price wanted to have some fun with the formula, so they made a comedy loosely based on the opening lines of the poem. (The poem’s narrative goes out the door after Price asks the raven if he will ever again see Lenore, and the bird replies not “Nevermore” but “How should I know? What am I, a fortune teller?” in Peter Lorre’s voice). It's not faithful to the canon, but is a lot of fun. Boris Karloff and a young Jack Nicholson also star. Oct. 21 at 8 p.m.

     The Black Cat (1934): OK, this has about as much to do with Poe as a po’boy sandwich, but it’s a creepy, almost surrealistic Satanist classic, with Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi facing off in an art deco mansion. Karloff’s architect allegedly betrayed his own troops, Lugosi included, then married his presumed widow and built the mansion on the site of the betrayal. There is a black cat, but it's not central to the action. Oct. 24 at 11 p.m.
     The Fall of the House of Usher (1949): A short feature film version of the story. I’ve never see this one either, but it’s on my DVR list now. Oct. 24 at 12:30 a.m.

     The Tell-Tale Heart (1941): Another version of one of Poe’s best, this time a live-action short subject, originally intended to be shown before the main film (presumably before one of the Thin Man films, as it's included on some DVD sets). According to its Wikipedia page (that doesn’t mean it’s wrong) it was allegedly filmed in a style inspired by Citizen Kane. Oct. 24 at 1:45 a.m.

     Spirits of the Dead (1969): A European anthology film based on Poe, and generally about as faithful to the originals as The Raven or The Black Cat (see above). The (English) title is from a Poe poem, but it adapts three Poe tales: “Metzengerstein” (directed by Roger Vadim and starring his then wife, Jane Fonda, and her brother, Peter), “William Wilson” (directed by Louis Malle and starring Alain Delon with Brigitte Bardot) and “Toby Dammit” (also known by the title of the Poe story upon which it is based, “Never Bet the Devil Your Head,” starring Terence Stamp and directed by Federico Fellini). The second is probably the most faithful to its source, but the third is the most interesting to watch. The first is just cringe inducing once you realize Jane's character is attracted to Peter's character (eewww). Oct. 24 at 2:15 a.m.

     I don't see it scheduled, but if you'd like to go the rental route, I recommend Corman’s 1964 The Masque of the Red Death, starring Vincent Price as Duke Prospero. It's the best looking of the Corman Poe films, and sticks closest to the original story, with some additions (notably the plot of Poe's “Hop-frog,” although the character is named Hop-toad in the film).
     If you want to make it a double feature, look for Corman's 1962 Tales of Terror, another anthology film. The sequences based on “Morella”  and “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar” are nothing special, but the middle story --  which combines the plots of “The Black Cat” with “The Cask of Amontillado” to create a fabulous dark comedy -- is worth of the price of admission by itself. It was the first pairing of Vincent Price and Peter Lorre, and could be seen as a dry-run for The Raven.

     The best way to enjoy Poe is, of course, to read the original stories. There are hundreds of editions available. I recommend “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Cask of Amontillado” and “The Masque of the Red Death” for starters.


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