Relating to traditional horror, the Common and Hammer monster films come instantly to thoughts. Subsequent, maybe the Amicus anthologies or the movies Val Lewton produced for RKO within the Forties. However there’s one other nice traditional franchise value consideration. The sequence of movies directed by Roger Corman within the early 60s which have change into recognized collectively as The Poe Cycle are a very distinctive sequence of movies. Although interval movies, completely dripping with gothic environment, most make the most of fashionable, experimental movie methods. Although they by no means explicitly reference the autumn competition, these movies are crammed with cobwebs, coffins, and dungeons. They’re preoccupied with the skinny veil separating life and loss of life, making them good fall viewing.
Starting within the mid-50s, Roger Corman turned a B-movie making machine, churning out as many as 9 movies in a single 12 months. His main companion in these ventures was American Worldwide Photos (AIP) below the management of James H. Nicholson and Samuel Z. Arkoff. Nicholson and Arkoff’s enterprise mannequin on the time was to make two black and white quickies, shot in ten days, and promote them collectively for the value of 1. Corman, feeling that this methodology had begun to lose its luster, recommended combining the price of the 2 movies into one bigger price range movie, in colour and widescreen, shot in 15 days. For the primary of those, he pitched making a movie primarily based on Edgar Allan Poe’s quick story “The Fall of the Home of Usher.” Corman selected Poe for 3 foremost causes. First, he had been a lifelong fan of the author. Second, Poe’s materials had lengthy since fallen into the general public area and was subsequently free, which significantly happy his producers. And at last, Poe’s work was being taught in most American excessive faculties and could be acquainted to AIP’s audience.
Anybody who has ever had even a cursory studying of Poe will immediately acknowledge that these movies are extraordinarily free variations of his tales. They do, nevertheless, adhere carefully to the recurring themes of his work. The ache of the lack of a partner, the mysterious nature of loss of life, worry of being buried alive, guilt to the purpose of insanity over wrongdoing, and extra seem all through the cycle. That stated, they’re a surprisingly numerous group of movies. Corman was all the time involved about changing into repetitive and tried a number of methods all through the sequence to make them distinctive from movie to movie whereas remaining unified in total look and magnificence.
These are additionally the movies that cemented Vincent Value as one of many monumental figures of horror. Although generally known as one of many biggest of all horror icons at the moment, Value had solely made a couple of films within the style previous to signing on with AIP. He had appeared in Tower of London (1939) and The Invisible Man Returns (1940) throughout his Common days, each of which solely barely qualify as horror; Home of Wax in 1953, The Fly (1958) and Return of the Fly (1959) because the heroic police inspector; and two William Citadel movies: The Tingler and Home on Haunted Hill (each 1959). This will likely seem to be quite a bit however remember the fact that he had racked up dozens of credit by 1960, and these seven movies are the one ones that even remotely qualify as horror. The Corman movies modified all of that. From then on, he made horror virtually completely, with only some notable exceptions, till his last characteristic movie look in 1990’s Edward Scissorhands.
The Fall of the Home of Usher (1960) units one thing of a template for the sequence, in addition to establishing the artistic personnel that might collaborate with Corman on most of the movies. Richard Matheson, one of many legendary horror writers of his era, was introduced on to jot down the script. Floyd Crosby set the look of the movies together with his work as director of images on Home of Usher and would proceed as cinematographer on all six movies that had been shot in the US. Corman mainstay Les Baxter composed the music, a number of the nice unsung style music ever written. All eight movies characteristic manufacturing design by Daniel Haller who reused, redressed, rearranged, and constructed upon units from the earlier movie. Due to this, the units for The Fall of the Home of Usher, although moderately spectacular contemplating the price range, are dwarfed by the huge, cavernous halls and passageways of the later movies, notably The Haunted Palace.
Home of Usher stars Vincent Value as Roderick Usher, a person with a peculiar ailment that heightens his senses to the purpose of torture. In construction, it units up many parts that might echo into different entries, coming each from Poe’s work and from Matheson and Corman. As with many movies within the sequence, it begins with a personality using to a big home and ends within the conflagration of the property. It entails the sickness and obvious loss of life of a partner or lover and the opportunity of untimely burial. It’s the first to characteristic a surreal dream or hallucinatory sequence that entails experimental movie methods and visuals. Although these themes and pictures return time and again, they continue to be partaking due to the variants in tone and character throughout the cycle. Home of Usher was an incredible success, partially as a consequence of the truth that it was performed on double payments all through the summer season of 1960 with Alfred Hitchcock’s large hit Psycho. Corman didn’t intend to make one other Poe image, however Nicholson and Arkoff had been eager on capitalizing on the success of the movie. As a lifelong admirer of Poe, Corman was joyful to oblige, but additionally hoped to supply some variation to the sequence.
1961’s The Pit and the Pendulum is probably the most financially profitable movie of the cycle. In it, Vincent Value performs the twin function of Nicholas Medina and his ancestor Sebastian, who was a ruthless inquisitor who reveled in torturing his victims in the course of the Spanish Inquisition. The movie additionally options Barbara Steele as Nicholas’s spouse, whom he fears he has buried alive. Much more than Home of Usher, Pendulum leans into the themes of Poe, notably untimely burial, and the loss of life of a partner. The movie has a psychological depth not often current in horror movies of the period, and an virtually Hitchcockian thriller at its coronary heart. The ultimate shot is disturbing and iconic and lingers on with the viewer lengthy after the credit roll.
Tales of Terror (1962) is the one anthology movie of the cycle, telling three Poe tales in a single movie. Once more, these take care of life, loss of life, loss, and guilt. “Morella” options Vincent Value as a person haunted by his lifeless spouse. When considered with the whole thing of the cycle in thoughts, it performs very like a dry run from the ultimate movie of the sequence, The Tomb of Ligeia. Essentially the most well-known section, “The Black Cat,” is definitely an amalgamation of three Poe tales: “The Black Cat,” “The Cask of Amontillado,” and “The Inform-Story Coronary heart.” Right here, humor is infused into the cycle for the primary time, most memorably in a wine-tasting face off between a drunk performed by Peter Lorre and a pretentious wine connoisseur performed by Vincent Value. The ultimate story, “Mr. Valdimar” brings one other horror icon, Basil Rathbone, into the combo together with a climax that resembles one thing out of Creepshow.
After some monetary disputes between Corman and AIP, the director determined to make The Untimely Burial (1962) independently. Pathé, the movie lab that Corman had labored with beforehand, wished to begin a distribution division and agreed to partially finance the movie with the remainder of the cash being put up by Corman himself. As a result of Vincent Value was below unique contract with AIP, Corman approached Ray Milland, the Oscar successful actor of Billy Wilder’s The Lengthy Weekend (1945). On the primary day of taking pictures, Nicholson and Arkoff confirmed up on the set to let Corman know that they’d purchased out Pathé and he was making the movie for AIP. Luckily, the working relationship was optimistic and continued to be for a while.
The Untimely Burial is the primary of the movies to be written by Charles Beaumont, well-known for a number of the most memorable episodes of The Twilight Zone together with dozens of quick tales, novels, and screenplays. Beaumont’s sensibilities are fairly completely different from Matheson’s and the movie has a extra somber tone whereas remaining very partaking. Milland performs Man Carrell, a person obsessive about the thought of being buried alive. British actress Hazel Court docket makes her first look within the sequence as his long-suffering spouse. New to the sequence composer Ronald Stein cleverly weaves the chorus of “Molly Malloy,” the well-known Irish folks tune, into his rating as a repeated theme and harbinger of loss of life. Full of misty graveyards, crypts, and thriller, The Untimely Burial is likely one of the most unusual and atmospheric movies of the cycle.
Feeling that it will be almost not possible to show Poe’s poem “The Raven” right into a severe movie, Richard Matheson recommended making it right into a comedy. Corman, all the time involved with the sequence changing into too repetitive, agreed. Corman was no stranger to horror-comedy. A Bucket of Blood (1959) and Little Store of Horrors (1960) had been revolutionary within the methods they melded the 2. The Raven (1963) would take it to the subsequent degree. It doesn’t precisely mock the earlier Poe movies, nor the gothic horror subgenre, nevertheless it definitely is aware of simply the correct quantity of enjoyable to poke at it. The movie expands on its star energy by that includes horror greats Peter Lorre and Boris Karloff along with Vincent Value, all taking part in rival wizards and culminating in a “duel to the loss of life” between Karloff’s Dr. Scarabus and Value’s Dr. Erasmus Craven. Rounding out the solid are Hazel Court docket, returning to the cycle for a second time, and a really younger (and doubtless miscast) Jack Nicholson because the unappreciated son of Lorre’s Dr. Bedlo.
The Haunted Palace (1963) is an uncommon entry within the sequence. First, it’s not primarily based on the poem by Edgar Allan Poe of its title, however on the novella “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward” by H.P. Lovecraft. Charles Beaumont returned to the sequence to jot down the screenplay. At Corman’s suggestion, Beaumont introduced in parts from different Lovecraft tales to “give it extra depth,” in Corman’s phrases. Beaumont delivered a very good script earlier than transferring on to different work, however Corman wished a couple of adjustments, which he handed off to his assistant on the time Francis Ford Coppola, who did an uncredited dialogue polish. Right here, the horror cache within the supporting solid is equipped by Lon Chaney, Jr. because the caretaker, Simon. Moreover, Milton Parsons as Jabez, Elisha Prepare dinner, Jr., John Dierkes, and Leo Gordon are all acquainted faces from 40s and 50s Hollywood.
As in The Pit and the Pendulum, Value performs a twin function as an ancestor and a descendant. On this case, Charles Dexter Ward is step by step taken over by the soul of his evil great-great grandfather, Joseph Kerwin, who was burned to loss of life by the villagers of Arkham 110 years earlier than. The movie in the end turns into a revenge film as Ward, overtaken by Kerwin, dispatches the descendants of those that killed him one after the other. The look of the movie is darker and extra lifelike to match the tone of its story, making it a standout within the sequence. It was additionally the ultimate movie of the cycle to be shot in the US.
For a lot of, The Masque of the Purple Demise (1964) is the apex of the sequence. It’s definitely one of the vital visually beautiful horror movies ever made, thanks largely to the extraordinary cinematography by Nicolas Roeg. Initially deliberate because the observe as much as Home of Usher, Corman turned involved that it was too comparable in theme and story to Ingmar Bergman’s meditation on faith, plague, and loss of life The Seventh Seal (1957), so he opted for The Pit and the Pendulum as an alternative. Because the sequence continued to achieve success, Corman felt it was time to tackle Masque, which he felt was the perfect of Poe’s tales, comparisons to Bergman be damned. After reviewing Charles Beaumont’s authentic script, Corman felt it wanted somewhat extra complexity and requested R. Wright Campbell to do a rewrite. Corman and Campbell agreed so as to add parts of one other Poe story, “Hop Frog,” to attain this added depth. The movie was shot in London in 5 weeks, although Corman considers it extra like 4 as British crews tended to work far more slowly than he was used to. Nonetheless, the additional time advantages the image significantly.
Vincent Value revels in his function as the one fully irredeemable villain of the cycle, Prince Prospero, who humiliates members of his court docket and terrorizes his topics for his personal leisure. Francesca, a peasant that Prospero brings into his court docket in an try and corrupt and dissuade from her heartfelt Christian beliefs, is performed by English actress Jane Asher. The sturdy supporting solid is led by Patrick McGee as Alfredo, a member of Prospero’s court docket but additionally a rival to him, and Hazel Court docket, returning to the sequence for a 3rd time as Juliana, a devotee of Prospero and his darkish allegiances. This movie holds explicit relevance to at the moment as we’re once more confronted with plague and the indiscriminate nature of loss of life. It’s a highly effective reminder of imminent mortality and the truth that loss of life will ultimately come for us all.
Although neither Masque of the Purple Demise nor its follow-up The Tomb of Ligeia (1964) had been as financially profitable as earlier entries, these stay the creative excessive factors of the sequence. Ligeia is a very distinctive entry within the sequence for 2 foremost causes. First, it’s the solely entry not written by Matheson or Beaumont, however by Robert Towne, who would go on to jot down the classics The Final Element (1973) and Chinatown (1974), amongst others. Second, it was photographed by Hammer mainstay Arthur Grant, who brings a naturalistic look and a fluidity of digital camera to the movie.
Of all of the Poe movies, Ligeia additionally spends probably the most time open air, profiting from the sunlit English countryside the place it was shot, relatively than in misty graveyards and behind fort partitions. The movie attracts extra from Hitchcock than the opposite Poe movies, notably Rebecca (1940) wherein a deceased partner haunts her former husband and his new spouse, Vertigo (1958), and even a contact of Psycho (1960). Vincent Value as Verden Fell is analogous to his function of Roderick Usher, who additionally has nice sensitivities to gentle. Stephanie Shepherd fantastically and subtlety performs the twin function of Ligeia and Woman Rowena, maybe probably the most complicated heroine of the Poe cycle, and certainly all of horror cinema up till that point. The citation from Poe on the finish of Ligeia sums up the thematic thrust of the complete cycle completely: “The boundaries which divide life from loss of life are at finest shadowy and imprecise. Who shall say the place the one ends and the opposite begins?” It’s a becoming ending to this outstanding sequence of movies.
These eight movies mixed type one of the vital persistently sturdy sequence in all of horror historical past. They’re comparable sufficient to hold collectively as a cohesive complete, however completely different sufficient to stay partaking. The sequence could not have modified the face of horror the best way that Frankenstein, Psycho, Evening of the Residing Useless, The Texas Chain Noticed Bloodbath, or Scream did, nevertheless it did affect a era of filmmakers and writers alongside the best way. Stephen King, Joe Dante, Martin Scorsese, John Landis, and plenty of others all rely themselves as nice admirers of the cycle and noticed that Corman was doing far more than meets the attention in creating them. There’s an magnificence, sophistication, and undercurrent of political and psychological astuteness in The Poe Cycle that’s not often discovered within the so-called exploitation cinema or B-pictures of the period. For those who haven’t but seen these classics, I humbly recommend taking a step again in time to this quiet revolution in horror cinema.