Tuesday, October 29, 2019


Bethany Ruthven
Good evening, darlings, and thank you for reading. We are almost to the end of our little Halloween soiree, and today on The MonsterGrrls’ Thir13en For Halloween, we will discuss one of my favorite writers, the revered Edgar Allan Poe. And honestly, who hasn’t brought out “The Raven” or some of the Tales Of Mystery And Imagination for perusing during the Halloween season? But specifically, we’re going to talk about Poe’s connection to a celebrated horror filmmaker: Roger Corman, who directed a cycle of eight films based on Poe’s tales from 1960 to 1965, most of which starred Vincent Price.

The author
Poe himself, of course, is our first topic. Born in Boston in 1809, Poe’s family was abandoned by his father, and his mother died soon after. Formally adopted by John and Frances Allan of Richmond, VA, Poe would often clash with his father over the cost of his education and his frequent gambling debts. He enrolled in the University of Virginia but left after a year due to lack of money, and after a quarrel with his father, he enlisted in the Army in 1827 under an assumed name. The same year would see the beginning of Poe’s literary career with a self-published book called Tamerlane And Other Poems, credited only to “A Bostonian.” From there, Poe would ultimately switch to prose, and write the tales that he is best-known for, including “The Pit And The Pendulum,” “Hop-Frog,” “The Masque Of The Red Death,” “The Murders In The Rue Morgue,” and others. Poe’s life ended in 1849, with the ultimate cause of his death being a mystery: all known medical records concerned with his death are lost.

The tales of Poe, however, would survive to inspire future generations of authors, giving rise to the modern horror and mystery genres. In 1960, the film studio American International Pictures expressed interest in turning Poe’s story “The Fall of The House Of Usher” into a feature film. Roger Corman, who had been asked to direct two black-and-white low-budget horror flicks for AIP, convinced them to let him do “Usher” instead, and give him a higher budget than normal, which allowed Corman to film in widescreen and color and develop lavish movie sets. Celebrated genre author Richard Matheson provided the script, and Vincent Price was brought on board to star as the languishing Roderick Usher. The film, titled House Of Usher, was a hit for AIP, and Corman, Price and Matheson were tapped soon afterward to create a film version of The Pit And The Pendulum in 1961. Another hit ensued for Corman and AIP, and the Poe cycle began in earnest.

House Of Usher

The Pit And The Pendulum
The next film, The Premature Burial (1962), starred Ray Milland, as Price was unavailable. Corman’s
The Premature Burial
success with the first two Poe films caused him to decide to make his own Poe film, financed through Pathe Lab, which did print work for AIP. On the first day of shooting, though, James H. Nicholson and Sam Arkoff of AIP appeared and announced to Corman that they were working together again, as they had convinced Pathe to bring the movie back to AIP by threatening to pull all of AIP’s future lab work. The Premature Burial was not as successful as its predecessors, but brought in enough money to convince AIP to continue the Poe films.

Tales Of Terror
The fourth film, Tales Of Terror (1962), was an anthology film that heralded the return of Vincent Price to the series and showcased three stories, all based on works of Poe. “Morella” told the story of a woman (Maggie Pierce) returning to her childhood home to find that her father (Vincent Price) has performed a rite of witchcraft to allow her to swap bodies with that of her dead mother (Leona Gage), so that her mother can live again. “The Black Cat” combined elements of “The Black Cat” and “The Cask Of Amontillado” and showcased Price, Peter Lorre, and Joyce Jameson in the story of the cuckolded Monsieur Herringbone (Lorre) who exacts his revenge upon pretentious wine-taster Fortunato (Price) and his wayward wife (Jameson) by walling them up in his basement wine-cellar. However, Herringbone eventually gets his when the screeching of his wife’s black cat (who was also walled up in the basement) reveals his misdeed. (You never can trust those cats, you know.) The final tale was a reading of “The Facts In The Case Of M. Valdemar,” about a dying man (Price) who employs a hypnotist (Basil Rathbone) to put him into trances to relieve his suffering, but ends up trapped between life and death when Carmichael refuses to release him from his trance so that he may finally die. Price, Lorre, Rathbone and Jameson would all eventually be reunited for Corman’s 1963 horror-comedy The Comedy Of Terrors.
The Raven

1963’s The Raven, while not exactly a filmed version of Poe’s poem, did borrow elements from the poem to tell its story. Craven, a widowed sorcerer (Vincent Price) is visited by a raven who turns out to be a transformed wizard, Dr. Bedlo (Peter Lorre), who tells him that he has seen the ghost of Craven’s wife at the castle of the evil Dr. Scarabus (Boris Karloff). Joined by Craven’s daughter Estelle (Olive Sturgess) and her paramour, Bedlo’s son Rexford (Jack Nicholson in an early role), the pair travel to Scarabus’s castle and discover that Scarabus indeed has Craven’s wife (Hazel Court), who is aiding him in a plot to gain Craven’s magical secrets. Having enjoyed the comedy of “The Black Cat” in Tales Of Terror, Corman desired to make a completely comic Poe film; hence The Raven is neither fish nor fowl, as it were.

"Edgar Allan Poe's" The Haunted Palace
1963 would also see the release of The Haunted Palace. While regarded as part of the Poe cycle by some since it uses the title of Poe’s poem, the story of the film is actually derived from H. P. Lovecraft’s novella The Case Of Charles Dexter Ward, making THP a bit of an outlier in the Poe cycle. The eponymous Ward (Vincent Price), the great-great grandson of suspected warlock Joseph Curwen (also Price), returns to his relative’s ancestral home in Arkham, Massachusetts with his wife Anne (Debra Paget) to claim his inheritance. Because of Curwen’s shenanigans with sacrifices to ancient pagan gods and such, the strangely deformed townsfolk are naturally suspicious and hostile toward the couple, but they are encouraged to stay by the palace caretaker Simon (Lon Chaney Jr., of werewolf fame) who remarks how much Ward resembles Curwen’s portrait. Obsession blooms, and it isn’t long before poor Mr. Ward is carrying on Great-Great-Granddad’s work, dragging out the old Necronomicon, resurrecting old cronies, and exacting revenge on the town of Arkham. The eventual denouement results in the defeat of the evil threat and the destruction of the Haunted Palace via the same stock footage of Usher’s burning home, which the ever-thrifty Corman used and reused repeatedly (along with reused and redressed sets) as a cost-cutting measure.

The Masque Of The Red Death

1964 brought The Masque Of The Red Death, stylistically on a par with House Of Usher. Combining elements of Poe’s story “Hop-Frog” as a subplot within the overall tale of Red Death, we see the tale of hedonistic and unscrupulous nobleman Prince Prospero (Vincent Price), who responds to the threat of plague in a local village by ordering the village burnt down and having several members of nobility sequestered at his castle, which is stocked with food, wine and entertainments, some of which are provided by two dwarf dancers, Esmerelda (Verina Greenlaw) and Hop-Toad (Skip Martin). As Hop-Toad enacts revenge on the boorish Alfredo (Patrick Magee) for striking Esmerelda by tricking him into dressing as an ape, soaking his costume with brandy and setting it aflame (as per the tale) and Prospero prepares sacrifices to Satan, the Red Death (an uncredited John Westbrook) appears, and the disbelieving Prospero is led into a danse macabre as Red Death claims Prospero and all his company. Charles Beaumont, the well-known contributor to Twilight Zone, provided the script, with R. Wright Campbell working in the Hop-Frog subplot.

Tomb Of Ligeia

The Poe cycle would come to a close in 1965 with Tomb Of Ligeia, telling the story of widower Verden Fell (Vincent Price) who is haunted by the memories of his blasphemous and atheistic wife Ligeia (Elizabeth Shepherd) to the point that he impulsively marries a woman (Elizabeth Shepherd) who not only resembles Ligeia but is betrothed to his friend Christopher Gough (John Westbrook). Madness and mayhem are the order of the day as Fell, troubled by nocturnal visions and the presence of a sinister black cat who may be inhabited by Ligeia’s ghost, succumbs to distress and resolves to ultimately face his wife’s evil spirit in a final showdown that could cost him his life. Though the film does appear to suffer from padding (its corresponding story is one of Poe’s shortest tales), Tomb Of Ligeia was a fitting end to the cycle of Poe films, which are still regarded as stars in both Corman’s and Price’s bodies of work.

And so we come to the end, alas. Do return soon for our next Tale Of Unease in The MonsterGrrls’ Thir13en For Halloween, and don’t tarry, because we are coming to the end, and all this will be… nevermore!

Bethany Ruthven

Our Mr. Price displays his usual charm, wit and sophistication.  We love you, Uncle Vinnie.

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