Wednesday, February 20, 2013
Tales of Terror
Adapting Poe's work for screen is probably more challenging than adapting other authors. It might be difficult to condense a 500-page Stephen King novel to two hours, but Poe's are mostly short stories that build to a single shock effect, and that's really hard to fill for feature length without resorting to padding or substantially alteration.
B-Movie King Roger Coman, along with his star Vincent Price and sometimes writer Richard Matheson, was frequently the most successful at translating Poe on screen. From 1959 to 1962, Corman directed eight films based on tales by Poe, including House of Usher, The Pit and the Pendulum, and The Masque of the Red Death. Tales of Terror (1962) falls in the middle of the cycle. Directed Corman, written by Matheson, and starring Price, this film is an anthology, containing three (well, technically four) Poe adaptations. Among the Corman-Price work, this is probably one of the weaker efforts but remains entertaining throughout.
"Morella" is ok, but it doesn't really cover any ground that Corman, Price, and Matheson hadn't already covered "House of Usher." You've got the spooky, crumbling mansion, a family in decline, Price as the tortured nobleman, and a vengeful female coming back from the dead. This is the shortest of the three tales and feels over just as soon as it gets going. There is a nice, spooky sequence in which the ghost of Morella passes through the halls and goes after her daughter.
"Valdemar" is easily the best piece of the three. The makeup effects on the decaying Price are pretty gruesome for their time, and Rathbone makes an enjoyably despicable villain, even if final actions don't hold up to much scrutiny other than he's evil. Price has to carry much of his role on his voice alone, and he pulls it off magnificently.