An Evening of Edgar Allen Poe(1970) came as part of a two sided disc (remember those) and is basically Vincent Price narrating the text of the particular Poe story to a hidden audience (i.e the camera lens) while on a stage. He is costumed and the set design is appropriate to the story's setting. There are Four Poe stories, three better known ones and one relatively obscure one (I never read it in school). I will comment on the story as well as the performance as it shows the talents of two men, a writer and an actor, separated by more than a century!
The Tell Tale Heart- Price portrays the madman narrating his murder of an old man because he cannot stand his 'evil eye' (which he thinks is looking at him all the time). The story is quite gruesome for the time it was written and the impending sense of dread from the old man who knows something is awry but not quite sure what, is still effective 150 + years later. Vincent's portrayal is quite manic and his use of his own blue eyes to convey the fear and dread of the killer is effective. The killer seems as much a victim as the poor old man (both living in some kind of boarding house ,effectively represented by the set design,so they are not doing too well in 19th century life). Also the ending of the performance goes a step beyond in the final reel with a gory surprise that is unexpected and not in the original story.
The Sphinx- This less well known story is one of my favorites as it mixes in a near apocalyptic mood with a 'giant monster'. A pair of upscale gentlemen enjoy their time up the Hudson river while a cholera epidemic ravages in New York City, just to their south. They receive news of many of their friends dying and the more neurotic one (the narrator and thus Vincent) begins to see something horrific in the nearby woods. Or does he? This is one of the lighter macabre Poe stories (plague aside) with a joke twist ending and you can tell Price is having a hoot here. Dressed as a jovial Gentleman its like night and day from the psychopathic killer of the previous story. Vincent Price like many classic horror actors were as adept at comedy as they were mayhem and this is just another example.
The Cask of Amontillado-The first Poe story I ever read, I always felt this was still one of his most eerie and messed up. An Italian gentlemen who feels wronged by the other takes his revenge in a most horrific fashion. Luring the drunk man on with the promise of a special vintage, he arranges for his living entombment in his family crypt. The most effective part of the story is the slow realization from the doomed man of his fate and then his final hopeful denial of the situation (keep hoping, son..). Vincent's performance is in a stylish old dining room and he uses an interesting way to play both characters..using a different camera angle for one side of his face or the other and with lighting he plays both men..the killer coy and sly, the victim, obnoxious and drunk (and easily goaded by mention of his rival as a superior expert on Wine vintage).
The Pit and The Pendulum- The biggest and baddest story for last, this is the experience of a nameless victim of the spanish inquisition undergoing horrific torture in a dungeon. He experiences both the title tortures and Vincent really goes for broke, portraying a desperate soul who nearly give up hope. Still the narrator finds a clever way to free himself from the pendulum.. a metal blade coming slowly down on him to maximize the terror of impending doom. I swore a man Vincent's age was going to have a coronary portraying the anguish and desperation of the hero. Amazing.
This was shot on Video back in 1970 (the year the first Black Sabbath album came out) and I remember seeing this on PBS (public broadcasting) on Halloween a few times as a kid and the DVD transfer seems a bit distorted but this actually adds to the darkness and atmosphere. Being shot on early video they use some effective video editing tricks, fades, dissolves (like a skull being superimposed on the killers face in the first story). It may seem cheesy to modern audiences but who the hell cares what the masses think.
Vincent Price still gets a bad rap from some horror critics (their heads are up their asses) as a super hammy/campy actor but I love the swine and this special shows the mans acting chops as being quite high caliber. Anyone with any brains would know this but alas..I have a posthumous mancrush on Vincent Price (lol!) and will watch any movie that he shows up in. His sense of menace with a smile is his trademark and there is a reason his nickname was 'Uncle Vincent'.
As for Poe, what else need to be said. A troubled man who lost his beloved early in life, the man wrote stuff that still holds up today and not just horror but also detective fiction. He was more appreciated in Europe and influenced like a million famous writers. In Poe's stories the horror was rarely supernatural or something demonic but rather the true horror of human existence.
Fears of insanity, living burial, the sins of ancestors haunting one and the brutality of other men who were not insane but rather respected authority. It is amazing that we read these stories in public school as macabre and dark as they were. Im sure that is changing now as America 'progresses'...
I love all the Corman Poe/Vincent Price films (Masque of the Red Death is one of the greatest films ever made) but they were "modified' to say the least. This is the most faithful adaption of the macabre master.