In relation to basic 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 Nineteen Forties. However there may be one other nice basic franchise value consideration. The collection of movies directed by Roger Corman within the early 60s which have grow to be recognized collectively as The Poe Cycle are a really distinctive collection of movies. Although interval movies, completely dripping with gothic ambiance, most make the most of fashionable, experimental movie strategies. 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 demise, making them good fall viewing.
Starting within the mid-50s, Roger Corman grew to become 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 Photos (AIP) beneath 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, prompt combining the price of the 2 movies into one bigger price range movie, in shade and widescreen, shot in 15 days. For the primary of those, he pitched making a movie based mostly on Edgar Allan Poe’s brief story “The Fall of the Home of Usher.” Corman selected Poe for 3 major 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 vastly happy his producers. And eventually, Poe’s work was being taught in most American excessive colleges and could 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 intently to the recurring themes of his work. The ache of the lack of a partner, the mysterious nature of demise, concern 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 at all times involved about changing into repetitive and tried a number of strategies all through the collection to make them distinctive from movie to movie whereas remaining unified in general look and magnificence.
These are additionally the movies that cemented Vincent Value as one of many monumental figures of horror. Although often called one of many biggest of all horror icons right now, 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 Fort movies: The Tingler and Home on Haunted Hill (each 1959). This will likely look like 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 solely, with just a few notable exceptions, till his closing function movie look in 1990’s Edward Scissorhands.
The Fall of the Home of Usher (1960) units one thing of a template for the collection, 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 technology, was introduced on to write down the script. Floyd Crosby set the look of the movies along with his work as director of pictures on Home of Usher and would proceed as cinematographer on all six movies that have been shot in the USA. Corman mainstay Les Baxter composed the music, a few 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 fairly 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 components that might echo into different entries, coming each from Poe’s work and from Matheson and Corman. As with many movies within the collection, it begins with a personality using to a big home and ends within the conflagration of the property. It entails the sickness and obvious demise 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 many times, they continue to be partaking due to the variants in tone and character throughout the cycle. Home of Usher was an important success, partially because of the truth that it was performed on double payments all through the summer time of 1960 with Alfred Hitchcock’s huge 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 pleased to oblige, but additionally hoped to supply some variation to the collection.
1961’s The Pit and the Pendulum is essentially the most financially profitable movie of the cycle. In it, Vincent Value performs the twin position 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 demise 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, demise, loss, and guilt. “Morella” options Vincent Value as a person haunted by his useless spouse. When seen with everything of the cycle in thoughts, it performs very similar to a dry run from the ultimate movie of the collection, 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, needed to start out 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 beneath 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 that they had 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 few 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 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 collection as his long-suffering spouse. New to the collection composer Ronald Stein cleverly weaves the chorus of “Molly Malloy,” the well-known Irish people tune, into his rating as a repeated theme and harbinger of demise. Full of misty graveyards, crypts, and thriller, The Untimely Burial is likely one of the most original and atmospheric movies of the cycle.
Feeling that it could be practically inconceivable to show Poe’s poem “The Raven” right into a severe movie, Richard Matheson prompt making it right into a comedy. Corman, at all times involved with the collection 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 stage. It doesn’t precisely mock the earlier Poe movies, nor the gothic horror subgenre, but it surely 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 Value, all enjoying rival wizards and culminating in a “duel to the demise” between Karloff’s Dr. Scarabus and Value’s Dr. Erasmus Craven. Rounding out the forged 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 collection. First, it’s not based mostly 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 collection to write 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 a great 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 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 position as an ancestor and a descendant. On this case, Charles Dexter Ward is regularly taken over by the soul of his evil great-great grandfather, Joseph Kerwin, who was burned to demise by the villagers of Arkham 110 years earlier than. The movie finally 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 collection. It was additionally the ultimate movie of the cycle to be shot in the USA.
For a lot of, The Masque of the Pink Demise (1964) is the apex of the collection. 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 grew to become involved that it was too comparable in theme and story to Ingmar Bergman’s meditation on faith, plague, and demise The Seventh Seal (1957), so he opted for The Pit and the Pendulum as a substitute. Because the collection 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 authentic script, Corman felt it wanted slightly 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 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 rather more slowly than he was used to. Nonetheless, the additional time advantages the image vastly.
Vincent Value revels in his position as the one fully 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 and 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 Court docket, returning to the collection for a 3rd time as Juliana, a devotee of Prospero and his darkish allegiances. This movie holds explicit relevance to right now as we’re once more confronted with plague and the indiscriminate nature of demise. It’s a highly effective reminder of imminent mortality and the truth that demise will ultimately come for us all.
Although neither Masque of the Pink Demise nor its follow-up The Tomb of Ligeia (1964) have been as financially profitable as earlier entries, these stay the creative excessive factors of the collection. Ligeia is a very distinctive entry within the collection for 2 major causes. First, it’s the solely entry not written by Matheson or Beaumont, however by Robert Towne, who would go on to write 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 open air, making the most of the sunlit English countryside the place it was shot, fairly than in misty graveyards and behind fort partitions. The movie attracts extra from Hitchcock than the opposite Poe movies, notably Rebecca (1940) during which 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 position of Roderick Usher, who additionally has nice sensitivities to mild. Stephanie Shepherd superbly and subtlety performs the twin position 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 the whole cycle completely: “The boundaries which divide life from demise 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 exceptional collection of movies.
These eight movies mixed kind one of the constantly sturdy collection 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 collection might not have modified the face of horror the way in which that Frankenstein, Psycho, Night time of the Dwelling Lifeless, The Texas Chain Noticed Bloodbath, or Scream did, but it surely did affect a technology of filmmakers and writers alongside the way in which. Stephen King, Joe Dante, Martin Scorsese, John Landis, and lots of others all depend themselves as nice admirers of the cycle and noticed that Corman was doing rather 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. In case you haven’t but seen these classics, I humbly counsel taking a step again in time to this quiet revolution in horror cinema.