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PCR #461 (Vol. 10, No. 4) This edition is for the week of January 19--25, 2009.
The Enlightenment by Terence Nuzum

The 81st Academy Award Nominations  by Mike Smith
Holy Senior Sidekicks Batman! An Afternoon with Johnny Duncan  by ED Tucker
Edgar Allan Poe in Film  by Terence Nuzum
Barenaked Ladies: Snacktime  by Bobby Tyler
Walk The Plank…. .... Welcome To Tampa! .... Top 10 Things We Know About Wrestling .... Super Bowl Pick .... .... .... ....  by Chris Munger
Cue Beethoven's ‘ode To Joy’ .... Back On Track, Both Me And Kurt .... New Top Ten Challenge ....  by Matt Drinnenberg
Oscar Notes .... Good Awards .... Bad Awards .... Pres 1, Pope 0 .... .... .... .... .... My Favorite Films, Part 2...  by Mike Smith
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Edgar Allan Poe in Film


That was the name screamed out by Edgar Allan Poe, as he wandered the streets delirious wearing someone else's clothes, shortly before dying of causes unknown. January 19th may be famous world wide and in the USA for Martin Luther Kings Birthday but for horror fans it is also a time for celebrating and remembering the father of the horror genre. Born on January 19, 1809 he led a short and miserable life that started with the death of his wife, which led to his purging of his misery by writing some of the most haunting and morose tales in fiction, and drinking himself nearly to death. No other author has quite captured their own personal inner torment and misery on paper quite like Edgar Allan Poe. He was the ultimate ideal of a tortured artist that never saw fame in his lifetime. He has only Stephen King as an equal when it comes to Hollywood adaptations of his work, proving that his tales have withstood the test of time. So on what would be his 200th Birthday I will cover the essential Poe film adaptations. Most of you have seen these, Im sure, but for those who haven't prepare to be Enlightened once again.....

Murders in The Rue Morgue (1932): Bela Lugosi hams it up in this one, way before Vincent Price, in Poe's tale of a murderous simian in the streets of Paris. While Lugosi's mad scientist via Calgari role was creation of Hollywood the film does manage to capture the essence of the short story and includes the two murders as described by Poe. The film is worth it alone for being one of the last films to unabashedly relish in German Expressionism.

House of Usher (1960): With this film producer Roger Corman made Poe a household name and started his now legendary cycle of Poe adaptations. In Poe's tale a man visits his friend Roderick Usher, who suffers from an acute sense of nerves, to find that he has buried his own sister alive! The film follows the story closer than any other Poe film. With its creaking walls and mist shrouded bog the house itself is the villain of the piece and Price is unbelievably perfect as the tortured Roderick Usher, whom must have been Poe's reflection of himself. The best Poe film ever made so far and one that still comes closest to capturing the mood and dread of Poe's work.

The Pit and the Pendulum (1961): In Poe's original tale we enter the story already in progress where a man is strapped to the table about to be sliced in two by a pendulum for an unknown crime. That's about it. Corman managed to create a brilliant back story of revenge and childhood trauma in what may not be a true Poe story but a fantastic homage to the man's sensibilities in horror fiction. Price is great as always as is Barbara Steele in a brief but memorable role.

The Premature Burial (1962): Starring Ray Milland in what should have been a Vincent Price role is a notch below the others in the Corman Poe cycle.But it stays fairly close to Poe's original idea of a man who is so afraid of being buried alive due to catalepsy that he builds an elaborate failsafe tomb with ways to escape. The film makes the tomb a little too high tech but I guess it is expected that something elaborate must be shown to thrill moviegoers.

Tales of Terror (1962): Not only the best Poe anthology but one of the best horror anthologies period. The film consists of three of Poe's most famous tales "Morella", a fiendish story of a witch from beyond the grave who possesses the body of her daughter, "The Black Cat" about man who walls up his murdered wife only to be caught by the police when the cat he accidentally walled up with her starts meowing, and "The Facts in the Case of M Valdemar" which concerns hypnosis gone horribly wrong. Again like most all of Corman's cycle this one captures the spirit and page of Poe to a tee. Even adding in a bit of the sardonic humor that is an often forgotten staple of Poe.

The Masque of the Red Death (1964): The crowning achievement of Corman and Poe cinema. From the dreamlike visage of the crimson reaper to the dread and disease ridden countryside this reeks of Poe's works almost more than any other. While it adds some ingredients of its own to fit a running time it keeps Poe's main story about Prince Prospero and his masquerade, whose guests are citizens of high society safe from the Red Death that plagues the local peasants. Prospero answers for his inhumanity by receiving a visit from the plague itself in the form of a crimson grim reaper. Price drops some of his usual ham and puts in what for my money is along with Witchfinder General the best performance of his career. Corman's Technicolor massacre at the climax of the film has influenced many through the years and rightfully so. It also incorporates another Poe short story Hop Frog.

The Tomb of Ligeia (1965): While not one of the better of Corman's Poe adaptations it was the last. It, like all of Corman's Poe films, stays close to the source material but the story of Price's long dead witch wife possessing his new bride Rowena just cant carry a film's running time and remain interesting. If it was placed in an anthology like its twin "Morella" it would have worked better. Price is always great to watch though and the flame filled climax is still worth waiting up for.

Histoires extraordinaires (1967): Known in the US as Spirits of the Dead, this film was an attempt to have the greatest minds of European filmmaking adapt Poe in a three story anthology and it succeeds on all levels. The first story is based on Poe's "Metzengerstien" which concerns reincarnation and revenge among nobility. This segment is directed by Roger Vadim (Blood and Roses. God Created Woman) and is filmed in a dreamlike haze that one supposes is an attempt to recreate the odd feeling of reincarnation. Vadim stays true to Poe, with the exception of the main character, whom he changes to a princess played by Jane Fonda instead of prince as in the original tale. The second segment "William Wilson" as directed by French new wave director Louis Malle is the weakest of the three. His flat lighting and style work fine in a new wave film but not when it comes to an atmospheric horror story. Still it is the best and one of the only talkie versions of Poe's haunting Doppelganger yarn. The final segment is the reason alone to watch this film. Toby Dammit, adapted from Poe's "Never Bet the Devil Your Head", is director Fredrico Fellini's show stealer. A nightmare vision and satire on art house snobbery and pretentiousness. Poe's original story was a satire and attack on a group and movement he hated,Transcendentalism. Fellini applies it to the fashion and art film world, and instead of Toby having a run in with the devil disguised as an old man, Fellini makes the devil a blond haired little girl with a ball.A move which was undoubtedly inspired by Mario Bava's horror masterpiece Kill Baby Kill ,though no credit was ever given.

The above films are essential for all Poe fans and yes there were later adaptations but most were pale in comparison and some, like Two Evil Eyes, would have been better not being made at all. There is no doubt that Poe will continue to inspire filmmakers for years to come as the atmosphere of his tales lend themselves easily to the visual medium. It's still refreshing to know that 200 years later America's most famous horror author still has relevancy. So on one of these cold and dreary days this week light a candle, lock the doors, put in one of these Poe fright fests, and whatever you do don't answer that rapping at your chamber door!

"The Enlightenment" is ©2009 by Terence Nuzum.   All graphics (except where otherwise noted) are creations of Nolan B. Canova.  All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2009 by Nolan B. Canova.