Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Fool's Views: Edgar Allan Poe Double Feature

Being that Edgar Allan Poe turned 202 last month (Jan 19), it seemed like the perfect occasion to check out two as-yet unViewed cinematic offerings based on the man's work. While producer/director Roger Corman more or less staked out the claim as Poe's most proficient and prolific celluloid champion (via a series of eight American International Pictures features from 1960-1964, affectionately referred to as the "AIPoes"), there have been numerous others, ranging from the sublime (Jean Epstein's 1928 version of The Fall of the House of Usher) to the ridiculous (David DeCoteau's recent Pit and the Pendulum abomination).

The two below fall somewhere in between.

Evening of Edgar Allan Poe, An (1972)
(1st viewing) d. Johnson, Kenneth
Not really a film so much as a recorded concert reading of Vincent Price at his Vincent Priceyest, tearing into four Poe short stories for the benefit of the camera on what seem to be leftover sets from a traveling production of OLIVER! The howling histrionics will either delight or dismay, depending on one’s temperament, not to mention Price’s puzzling pronunciations of words like “bosom” as “BOOOZUM.” But for those who enjoy the “Merchant of Menace” at his hammy best, Uncle Vincent slices it thick and serves it sizzling.

Pit and the Pendulum, The (1991) (1st viewing) d. Gordon, Stuart
Re-teaming with frequent screenwriter and partner in crime Dennis Paoli, Stuart Gordon whips up another blend of comic yuks and graphic yechs for the Band boys (Charles and Albert). But like most of Gordon’s horror comedies following the one-two punch of RE-ANIMATOR and FROM BEYOND, it’s fairly uneven in tone and never really seems to know what it wants to be. Unless what it wants to be is a harsh and cruel Inquisition story following Lance Henriksen’s deeply disturbed monk, armed with a sadistic streak and a serious yen for Rona de Ricci’s female form (and hey, who can blame the guy? Chick is hot, and occasionally naked…), who just happens to be surrounded by the biggest bunch of bozos this side of Ringling Bros. To the point, Henriksen, de Ricci and her onscreen beau Jonathan Fuller seem to be the only ones taking the story seriously, as the rest of the hooligan cast (including Stephen Lee, Tom Towles, Carolyn Purdy-Gordon , William J. Norris and Jeffrey Combs) mug and swan about the place. That lovable lush Oliver Reed even shows up for a cameo, only to be walled up a la Cask of Amontillado. Oh, yes, as far as this being a faithful Poe adaptation…not so much. There is a pit, and a pendulum (a really sharp, spark-throwing one, too), both of which figure mightily into the full-steam climax, but the rest is pure Paoli pudding.

What are YOUR favorite big screen Poe outings?

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