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Best of Poe on film

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Films based on the stories of Edgar Allen Poe have been around pretty much as long as cinema itself.

Poe was an American writer and literary critic mostly associated with the horror genre, but he could just as easily be considered a founding father of the mystery story and even science fiction.

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The first film adaptations of his works began in Europe around 1910, with his stories The Gold Bug and The Pit and the Pendulum produced in France and Italy, respectively.

For the best or most interesting Poe adaptations, seek out:

Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932)

Bela Lugosi followed up Dracula (1931) with this Poe-inspired mystery playing a mad scientist who uses his simian assistant to kidnap various women for his unnatural experiments. It was not a hit at the box office, but this somewhat kinky fright fest is considered one of the better Gothic thrillers of the era.

Murders in the Rue Morgue

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Murders in the Rue Morgue

The Pit and the Pendulum (1961)

Roger Corman directed no less than eight films based on Poe, including House of Usher (1960), The Raven (1963) and the Robert Towne-scripted The Tomb of Ligeia (1964). This may not be the best, but it's a wonderfully lurid piece of work starring Vincent Price as the son of a Spanish Inquisition torture-freak driven mad by the machinations of his evil wife (Barbara Steele). The climactic scene in which hero John Kerr watches as the razor-sharp pendulum descends closer and closer to his bound torso may represent some of Corman's finest work as a director.

 

 

The Pit and the Pendulum

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The Pit and the Pendulum

Spirits of the Dead (1968)

Louis Malle, Roger Vadim and Federico Fellini all contributed short films to this cinematic Poe omnibus including, respectively, Metzengerstein, William Wilson and Toby Dammit. Though the first two films boasted the likes of Jane Fonda, Alain Delon and Brigitte Bardot in the cast, the best was saved for last: Fellini's adaptation of the droll Poe story Never Bet the Devil Your Head stars a delightfully dissolute Terence Stamp as an alcoholic actor who takes a job in Rome in exchange for a Ferrari. The movie's incarnation of pure evil -- a little girl playing with a white ball -- became a much-copied horror movie trope.

Spirits of the Dead

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Spirits of the Dead

Two Evil Eyes (1990)

Horror icons George Romero and Dario Argento divided up the Poe duties with this two-episode anthology of Poe stories. Romero (of the Living Dead movies) exploited his zombie experience for The Facts in the Case of Mr. Valdemar, the story of a gold digger (Adrienne Barbeau) who conspires with her doctor-lover to keep her elderly husband alive through hypnosis until she can clean out his bank account. The scheme works too well: The hubby dies, but the corpse cannot be at peace until released by the hypnotist who put him under. The giallo vet Argento piles on the gruesomeness (and references to other Poe short stories, such as the chilling Berenice) in his version of The Black Cat starring Harvey Kietel as Rod Usher, a crime photographer driven to grisly murder by the titular feline. Gorehounds may prefer Argento, but the Romero story is actually the better thriller.

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 26, 2012 E9

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