For Edgar Allan Poe fans, film adaptations of his works have always been a mixed bag. Even the most faithful ones can fail to capture the author's unique essence, while others take his familiar name and story titles in completely different, often inferior directions.
Any feature-length screenplay based on his short stories, such as in the celebrated Roger Corman films, must use Poe's ideas as a starting point to be built upon and/or padded out, for better or worse. This is sometimes true even for the anthologies such as TALES OF TERROR and TWO EVIL EYES.
TALES OF POE (2014) is an anthology made up of three short films which, while not strictly adhering to the original stories as written, do a great job of retaining their mood and feeling--along with certain basic plot points--while offering up a wealth of fascinating surprises. The adaptations conjure a richly atmospheric mood that combines the subtlety of Poe's prose with moments that go shockingly over the top.
"The Tell-Tale Heart" gets a sex change, with scream queen Debbie Rochon (MODEL HUNGER, THE THEATER BIZARRE) outstanding as a nurse-for-hire tending to wealthy invalid and former silent screen star Miss Lamarr (Kelly) in her spacious, museum-like estate. Poe fans will know that the eccentric but otherwise harmless Miss Lamarr sports one blind, milky-white eye which the mentally-unstable nurse finds utterly repulsive to the point of plotting the old woman's murder in the dead of night.
Rochon's character tells the story in flashback to her fellow inmates in an insane asylum, retaining much of Poe's original prose and adding just enough to keep things enticingly unexpected for the viewer. Some well-rendered sex and violence also adds just the right measure of visceral impact for modern audiences. Desiree Gould (SLEEPAWAY CAMP's "Aunt Martha") makes a strong impression as a malicious nurse.
Once again centering around one or two particular events that stoked Poe's imagination enough to create a story around them, "The Cask" takes the horror of being imprisoned alive behind a brick wall--while watching it being constructed brick by brick--and fleshes it out into a whole new yet equally chilling story.
This time, wealthy wine connoisseur Fortunato Montresor (Randy Jones, better known as the cowboy from The Village People) and his blowsy new bride Gogo (Alan Rowe Kelly again) are leading a flamboyant assemblage of wedding guests through his vast wine cellar when suddenly one of the women (Zoe Daelman Chlanda), a psychic, starts hugging the cold stone wall and having convulsions. Apparently, she's foreseeing the horror that's in store for one of the newlyweds when the other proves to be, shall we say, "unfaithful."
Where "The Tell-Tale Heart" is unrelievedly Gothic and dark, "The Cask" mixes a bit more humor (nice and dry, like a good wine) with its chills, bringing to mind the "Something To Tide You Over" episode of CREEPSHOW. Jones acquits himself very well, as do Brewster McCall as family friend Marco Lechresi and genre stalwart Susan Adriensen (PRISON OF THE PSYCHOTIC DAMNED, THE BLOOD SHED), always a pleasure to watch, as their creepy housemaid Morella. But it's Kelly who once again impresses the most by playing the role of an overbearing woman to the point of caricature without going over.
The third and final story, "Dreams", is based on various poems by Poe and "A Dream Within a Dream" in particular. Here, we get the most surreal and non-linear interpretation of his works in the story of a young woman (Bette Cassatt, MODEL HUNGER) whose dreamlike delirium while on her deathbed provides an endless flow of free-form imagery steeped in symbolism that's both poetic and repellent.
Like a moribund Alice whose wonderland is the twilight world of her own life and death, The Dreamer wanders through ever-changing landscapes of her mind under the guidance of a benevolent Angel of Dreams (Caroline Williams, TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2) while being plagued by an evil woman in black (Lesleh Donaldson, HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME, CURTAINS) who represents negativity and fear.
Even the woman's hospital room is a dark and foreboding place presided over by a scary nurse (Adrienne King of FRIDAY THE 13TH). Other odds and ends from Poe's repertoire appear such as characters Dr. Tarr and Professor Fether.
Just as the plotless succession of images seems to be going nowhere, it's brought to a poignant conclusion thanks in part to a moving performance by Amy Steel (FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2) as The Dreamer's careworn mother.
The DVD from WildEye Releasing is in widescreen with 2.0 sound. No subtitles. Extras include a behind-the-scenes featurette, an interview with director Bart Mastronardi, some very intriguing deleted scenes, and trailers.
The perversely delightful TALES OF POE is brilliantly rendered by all involved and serves as an excellent primer for any contemporary viewer unfamiliar with Poe who might be wondering what the big deal is. Dark, mesmerizing, sometimes intoxicatingly nightmarish, it's absolutely top-drawer indy filmmaking which I believe many devotees of the original author will find irresistible.
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