TV Review: An Evening of Edgar Allan Poe

Posted: September 14, 2010 in Movie Review, Reviews
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An Evening of Edgar Allan Poe (1972 AIP Dir. Kenneth Johnson)

Okay, so I’m cheating a little here. This isn’t really a movie, so much as it’s a TV special, and it’s not even a proper narrative because it’s actually a one man show. Vincent Price recites four Edgar Allan Poe stories. In order they are… The Tell-Tale Heart, The Sphinx, The Cask of Amontillado and The Pit and the Pendulum. If I seem to be a bit short on explanation, that’s because that’s really all this is. It’s a 53 minute made for TV special that probably bumped I Dream of Jeannie for a week. There isn’t a hell of a lot to say about this.

Doesn’t mean I won’t fill a few pages with wit and snark though. Come on! Let’s tear into this baby. Who’s with me?

We’re doing another Poe movie? Awesome! Where’s Roger?

So right from the start you know this is a real quality production. While I think it was shot on film, this DVD was mastered off what looks to me like a beta tape. You work in video production for a while, you learn how to recognize the formats when you see them. You also can recognize when the formats’ eccentricities lay on top of each other. The titles were done with a cheap CG font, and music that was clearly in the production library already. Oh American International, how I love you. Don’t ever change. Rather, come back to life, be like you were in the 60s and then never change from that. First things first though, the on screen title calls this “An Evening of Edgar Allan Poe”, while other sources use “with” rather than “of” which is why the wiki article I linked says “with” as does the file name on the DVD I’ve got. By the way, if you think the name of the director is familiar, that’s because it’s the guy who would go on to create the V franchise. Is that show still going on? The new series I mean. I’m just trying to be sort of topical, which is a mistake if I’m going to leave these reviews archived for years and years.

I can’t. I just can’t make an “anal tingler” joke with Vincent Price.

So, we start with Tell Tale Heart, which is what it is. Actually, you know what I’ve noticed? The main character is lying his butt off. He starts talking about the story and claims that he thinks it was the old man’s eye that bothered him. He then continues about the eye like it was always the object. Now, if it were the issue, he wouldn’t have spent a few sentences going on about how there was no reason before mentioning the eye thing. After he decides to latch onto the eye, he keeps on it, manically in fact. After having to decide that it was in fact the eye, he keeps coming back to it over and over again. There isn’t actually any action in the telling of the story, besides Price moving around the set while telling the tale. At the very end, he tears up the floorboards and pulls out a false heart to display to the camera. Far too often, the camera zooms way too far in on Price’s face. It makes the telling a little claustrophobic, and not in a good way. Not in a way that creates tension, but in a way that makes you want the camera to back up.

For years, I’ve scared the crap out of you, but today I’m here to talk about term life insurance.

The Sphinx is a slightly strange tale, and one that doesn’t usually get thrown in when making a list of Poe favorites. Price is wearing a wig in this one, and is using a different accent. You can accept him as a different character than he had been in the last story. Price is always at his best in situations like this anyway. The story itself is probably forgotten for a reason. For all the build up, the ending leaves you sort of shouting “Oh for Pete’s sake!” This can leave the reader, or in this case the viewer, to wonder why exactly all this time was spent on such a cheap trick. It’s interesting that the color scheme is completely different for each story. The hue of this tale is brown, almost everything in sight is brown, while it was black with a bit of white in the last tale. It doesn’t help the story being a cheap trick though. Our connection with what, besides the cheap trick, made the story scary is completely lost as far as I can tell.

Try as he might, he just couldn’t get the waiter’s attention.

The Cask of Amontillado is told in an opulently laid dining room, with Price sitting at the table, relaying the tale to the audience. I remember when I realized that Fortunato was an ignorant cockbag because he said that Luchesi couldn’t tell amontillado from a sherry. In case you are not as well versed as I, allow me to inform you that amontillado is a sherry. Fortunato also gulps fine and expensive wine indifferently. Strange that none of my English teachers never mentioned this, I wonder why. Perhaps they didn’t know either, which is disappointing, but interesting to discover for myself. Again, Price is dressed and made up entirely differently than he had been before. He looks a completely different character again. I’ve said this before, but it bears saying again, Price is magnificent in this. Were it another actor, one would likely have no interest. Since this is just a man, reciting stories that are more than a hundred and fifty years old. However, Price brings a delightful presence to these tales. This one probably has the best presentation. Out of all the stories, this one seems to do well with the camera zoomed way too close in on Price’s face.

The final tale is The Pit and The Pendulum. I always find this one odd, because it seems at odds with anything the Spanish Inquisition actually might have done. A room with walls that close in? A big bladed pendulum? Tying a victim up with a single, easy to remove bandage? Interestingly, W. B. Yeats hated this story and claimed it would have no lasting literary impact. He was probably right, I mean it’s not like we’re still talking about it. Authors aren’t still using it as an inspiration or anything. Oh, wait. No, for all its flaws the story is still a masterpiece of tension and the description of experience. There is some clumsy blue screen in this, and the camera turn on their sides to create effects within the story. This has the most production value to it, they were really trying to make the story of a man lying on his back and looking at a knife visually interesting. How well it works is probably up to the individual viewer. While this isn’t the best version of Poe’s work out there, it’s not the worst either. I’ve actually seen a DVD of people trying to do this sort of thing, reciting the stories and all. They looked like they’d rented costumes and borrowed one corner of an old house that looked like it would do for the purpose. This is far superior, trust me. You can judge for yourself by getting a copy of the DVD here as a double feature with The Tomb of Ligeia, which I’ve owned for years and still haven’t watched. I’ve seen this movie three or four times, but never flipped the disc to see what’s probably the superior movie. Odd. Must do that sometime.

And I said “Aw, hell no!” and that Fresh Prince kid stole my line. Can you believe that shit?

Official Score: 21 Degrees on the Graffiti Bridge Scale.

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