In relation to basic horror, the Common and Hammer monster motion pictures come instantly to thoughts. Subsequent, maybe the Amicus anthologies or the movies Val Lewton produced for RKO within the Forties. However there may be one other nice basic franchise value consideration. The sequence of movies directed by Roger Corman within the early 60s which have grow to be identified collectively as The Poe Cycle are a really distinctive sequence of movies. Although interval movies, completely dripping with gothic environment, most make the most of fashionable, experimental movie strategies. Although they by no means explicitly reference the autumn competition, these movies are stuffed with cobwebs, coffins, and dungeons. They’re preoccupied with the skinny veil separating life and dying, 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 yr. His major associate in these ventures was American Worldwide Footage (AIP) underneath 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 worth of 1. Corman, feeling that this methodology had begun to lose its luster, advised combining the price of the 2 movies into one bigger funds 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 brief story “The Fall of the Home of Usher.” Corman selected Poe for 3 primary 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 due to this fact free, which drastically happy his producers. And at last, Poe’s work was being taught in most American excessive colleges and can be acquainted to AIP’s target market.
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 dying, 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 various group of movies. Corman was all the time involved about changing into repetitive and tried a number of strategies all through the sequence to make them distinctive from movie to movie whereas remaining unified in total look and elegance.
These are additionally the movies that cemented Vincent Worth as one of many monumental figures of horror. Although generally known as one of many biggest of all horror icons right now, Worth had solely made a couple of motion pictures 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 Fort movies: The Tingler and Home on Haunted Hill (each 1959). This will appear to be rather a lot however take into account 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 function 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 inventive 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 have 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 function 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 funds, are dwarfed by the huge, cavernous halls and passageways of the later movies, notably The Haunted Palace.
Home of Usher stars Vincent Worth as Roderick Usher, a person with a peculiar ailment that heightens his senses to the purpose of torture. In construction, it units up many components 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 driving to a big home and ends within the conflagration of the property. It entails the sickness and obvious dying of a partner or lover and the potential for untimely burial. It’s the first to function a surreal dream or hallucinatory sequence that entails experimental movie strategies and visuals. Although these themes and pictures return time and again, they continue to be participating due to the variants in tone and character throughout the cycle. Home of Usher was a fantastic success, partially attributable to 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 have been eager on capitalizing on the success of the movie. As a lifelong admirer of Poe, Corman was completely satisfied to oblige, but additionally hoped to supply some variation to the sequence.
1961’s The Pit and the Pendulum is essentially the most financially profitable movie of the cycle. In it, Vincent Worth performs the twin function of Nicholas Medina and his ancestor Sebastian, who was a ruthless inquisitor who reveled in torturing his victims through 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 dying 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 cope with life, dying, loss, and guilt. “Morella” options Vincent Worth as a person haunted by his lifeless spouse. When seen with everything of the cycle in thoughts, it performs very like a dry run from the ultimate movie of the sequence, The Tomb of Ligeia. Probably the most well-known phase, “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 Worth. 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, needed 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 Worth was underneath unique contract with AIP, Corman approached Ray Milland, the Oscar profitable actor of Billy Wilder’s The Lengthy Weekend (1945). On the primary day of capturing, 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. Happily, the working relationship was constructive 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 brief 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 participating. Milland performs Man Carrell, a person obsessive about the concept of being buried alive. British actress Hazel Courtroom 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 dying. Crammed with misty graveyards, crypts, and thriller, The Untimely Burial is without doubt one of the most original and atmospheric movies of the cycle.
Feeling that it will be practically unattainable to show Poe’s poem “The Raven” right into a severe movie, Richard Matheson advised 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) have 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, however it actually is aware of simply the correct amount 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 Worth, all taking part in rival wizards and culminating in a “duel to the dying” between Karloff’s Dr. Scarabus and Worth’s Dr. Erasmus Craven. Rounding out the forged are Hazel Courtroom, 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 isn’t 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 components from different Lovecraft tales to “give it extra depth,” in Corman’s phrases. Beaumont delivered script earlier than transferring on to different work, however Corman needed 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 forged is provided 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, Worth 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 dying 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 practical 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 Loss of life (1964) is the apex of the sequence. It’s actually one of the visually gorgeous 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 related in theme and story to Ingmar Bergman’s meditation on faith, plague, and dying The Seventh Seal (1957), so he opted for The Pit and the Pendulum as a substitute. Because the sequence continued to achieve success, Corman felt it was time to tackle Masque, which he felt was the most effective of Poe’s tales, comparisons to Bergman be damned. After reviewing Charles Beaumont’s unique script, Corman felt it wanted a bit of extra complexity and requested R. Wright Campbell to do a rewrite. Corman and Campbell agreed so as to add components of one other Poe story, “Hop Frog,” to realize 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 drastically.
Vincent Worth revels in his function as the one utterly irredeemable villain of the cycle, Prince Prospero, who humiliates members of his courtroom and terrorizes his topics for his personal leisure. Francesca, a peasant that Prospero brings into his courtroom in an try to corrupt and dissuade from her heartfelt Christian beliefs, is performed by English actress Jane Asher. The sturdy supporting forged is led by Patrick McGee as Alfredo, a member of Prospero’s courtroom but additionally a rival to him, and Hazel Courtroom, returning to the sequence for a 3rd time as Juliana, a devotee of Prospero and his darkish allegiances. This movie holds specific relevance to right now as we’re once more confronted with plague and the indiscriminate nature of dying. It’s a highly effective reminder of imminent mortality and the truth that dying will ultimately come for us all.
Although neither Masque of the Purple Loss of life nor its follow-up The Tomb of Ligeia (1964) have been as financially profitable as earlier entries, these stay the inventive excessive factors of the sequence. Ligeia is a very distinctive entry within the sequence for 2 primary 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 essentially the most time outside, making the most of the sunlit English countryside the place it was shot, fairly than in misty graveyards and behind fortress partitions. The movie attracts extra from Hitchcock than the opposite Poe movies, notably Rebecca (1940) by which a deceased partner haunts her former husband and his new spouse, Vertigo (1958), and even a contact of Psycho (1960). Vincent Worth as Verden Fell is similar 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 essentially 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 your complete cycle completely: “The boundaries which divide life from dying are at greatest shadowy and imprecise. Who shall say the place the one ends and the opposite begins?” It’s a becoming ending to this exceptional sequence of movies.
These eight movies mixed type one of the persistently sturdy sequence in all of horror historical past. They’re related sufficient to hold collectively as a cohesive entire, however completely different sufficient to stay participating. The sequence might not have modified the face of horror the best way that Frankenstein, Psycho, Night time of the Residing Lifeless, The Texas Chain Noticed Bloodbath, or Scream did, however 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. Should you haven’t but seen these classics, I humbly counsel taking a step again in time to this quiet revolution in horror cinema.