Sunday, February 7, 2010
The Poe/Corman Film Cycle (1960 - 1964)
One of the most influential era's of Gothic horror films to be created was the film series in the 1960's on Edgar Alan Poe created by Roger Corman. Not only was it the most successful series that the studio American Pictures International (AIP) ever produced but it was the most exploited.
The 'Poe/Corman cycle' is the original 7 Poe films directed by Roger Corman between 1960 and 1964. Except for The Premature Burial, they all starred Vincent Price.
Despite the smaller $250,000 budgets and a 14 day shooting schedule, the Poe films always had a high degree of artistry and thought put into each of the films. Floyd Crosby (High Noon), his Director of Photography put together some amazing cinematography and created an incredible colour palette for each of the film: House of Usher (reds), Pit and the Pendulum (blues), Premature Burial (greens), The Raven (yellows) etc...
The primary writers for each of the movies was Charles Beaumont and Richard Matheson that had great success in writing for the Twilight Zone. The full credit has to go to Roger Corman himself, that who incorporated his own theories and views based on Sigmund Freud into each of the movies. These subconscious aspects I believe also helped the large appeal to teenagers when these were released that normally wouldn't want to sit through what was essentially a talky costume picture.
The Fall of the House of Usher (1960) is the first film in the series. Shot entirely in one large house set with a cast of only 4 people. This film set the standard for Gothic horror films in the next 14 years.
The Pit and the Pendulum (1961) is the second in the series and is my personal favorite of any of the Poe films and to me is the defining film of Vincent Price's career.
The Premature Burial (1962) stars Ray Milland instead of Vincent Price in the lead. He was cast primarily because of Corman's dispute with AIP (who had Price under contract at the time) but puts in a great performance of man paranoid of being buried alive.
Tales of Terror (1962) is the only one of the Poe films that was an anthology of 3 short stories all starring and narrated by Vincent Price. The first story Morella starts off with the same formula as House of Usher and Pit and the Pendulum. The Second story is The Black Cat a humorous tale that co-stars Peter Lorre. The final story, The Case of M. Valdema co-stars Basil Rathbone.
The Raven (1963) was the final of the original Poe films to be filmed in America. Corman was feeling that the series was starting to repeat itself so they mixed things up and made it into a comedy. This one is one of my favorites in the series. The banter between Price, Karloff, Nicholson and Lorre is excellent and you get the feeling that everyone is in on the joke and you are just in for a fun ride.
The Masque of the Red Death (1964) is Corman's Poe first film shot in England and has a look and feel that is completely different than any of the other Poe films. It lacks the humour and tongue in cheek feel to the other films but that is its strength. In its essence, the story is about death and how it is stronger than anything else earth. The main character decides that the best way to cheat death is to make a pack with the devil. This movie isn't about Satan but it shows the lengths than man thinks he can do to cheat death. The final shot in this film is one of the most powerful in all of 1960's cinema.
The Tomb of Ligeia (1964) was the final Poe film that Corman directed and the second one shot in England. For this film, Corman really changed up the style to be different than any of the other Poe films in its look. It was shot mostly outside using real settings (instead of the usual studio setting that are made to look outside). What also is unique is that there is more emphasis on the love story between Vincent Price and Elizabeth Sheperd.
Everything is reversed from the original film (House of Usher). Price has black vs white hair, sensitive eyes vs sensitive ears and everything is outdoors instead of being claustrophobic. This stays in keeping with the circular concept of the entire Poe series but doesn't feel like it is repeating itself like the others do sometimes.
I like Price in the role but I do know that Ray Milland was the original choice for the role and I think he would have been more suited as the romantic lead. My other issue with the film is that the ending is too similar to the other Poe films and it would have been more suiting to come up with a different style of ending. (Snow storm perhaps?) Having said that, it is still a marvelous film and a great way to end the series.