Sunday, October 10, 2010

Tales of Terror

An anthology of 3 Poe stories directed by Roger Corman, each starring Vincent Price in a different role. Unlike many other horror anthologies, there's no wraparound story; the segments are preceded only by a brief narration by Price. In "Morella," a young woman returns to the home of her estranged father, and finds out about the very bizarre circumstances of her mother's death. In "The Black Cat" (by far the most adapted of Poe's stories, in this instance combined with "The Cask of Amontillado" plus a bunch of extra funny business thrown in), a drunken louse schemes the murders of his wife and rival. Finally, in "The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar" a man is hypnotized while on his deathbed, with distressing results.

After visiting the rinkydink Edgar Allen Poe museum in Richmond last year, I decided to refamiliarize myself with his work, which I hadn't read since I was in high school. Poe is amazing, he had a control of atmosphere and a depth of imagination that are basically unparalleled. If you've read any of his short stories, however, you've probably noticed that they don't seem like good fodder for adaptation to film. The stories can be very short (sometimes no more than a few pages) and are reliant less on plot and character development than on mood, concept, and description. A faithful adaptation of many of his stories would probably end up about 20 minutes in length and maybe even strike viewers as uneventful.

That is why so many Poe adaptations over the years combine stories together, or pluck the famous scene out of a story and plug it into a completely fabricated master plot. Even Tales of Terror, which reduces the stories to 30 minutes or less each, has to embellish, add, and amalgamate in order to reach a reasonable length. Still, by going for the anthology format, it allows Corman to mainly focus in on the famous sequences from the stories, or at least pay homage to the original concept. As self contained short stories, each segment is an effective piece of horror.

It helps that Corman gives each story a different tone to help distinguish them. "Morella" is the shortest, and mostly a mood piece. "The Black Cat" aims more for dark comedy and is probably the most plot heavy. And "The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar" takes the creepy idea from the original story (that through hypnosis, the body could die but the mind could live on), milks it for tension and builds a more typically structured story around it.

Grade: B

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