Edgar Allan Poe was one of the first adult authors I read and I loved how gloomy, scary and depressing his stories were. I was particularly frightened by the thought of being bricked into a wall a la The Cask of Amontillado. Where I saw gloom, guilt and despair, Roger Corman apparently saw fun. All of the below films are available on instant Netflix.
The Pit and the Pendulum (1961)
Francis (John Kerr) visits the gloomy Spanish castle of his late sister Elizabeth’s husband, Nicholas (Vincent Price), to learn the reason for her death. Nicholas fears his wife isn’t really dead and that her spirit wanders the halls at night. Seems Nicholas’s father was a feared leader of the Spanish Inquisition; as a child, Nicholas saw his father torture his mother and bury her alive, and he’s convinced Elizabeth has suffered a similar fate.
Oddly Corman’s first Poe adaptation, House of Usher (or Fall of the House of Usher) has no Netflix listing. This is a shame because it is the most faithful of Corman’s Poe adaptations in both plot and mood.
The Pit and the Pendulum is his second effort and is less serious. Most of Corman’s Poe films exist solely to showcase the talents of Vincent Price and this one is no exception.
Tales of Terror (1962)
It’s a triple threat of terror from the master of the genre: Edgar Allan Poe. This collection of three films — The Black Cat, Morella and The Case of M. Valdemar — offers everything horror fans can’t get enough of, from murder and dementia to live burials, open tombs, resurrection and zombies. And with three of horrordom’s greatest villains (Vincent Price, Peter Lorre and Basil Rathbone) in the lead roles, the chills are guaranteed.
The Black Cat is an adaptation of my favorite The Cask of Amontillado. Unfortunately it’s played for laughs and the ending is from another story altogether but don’t let that stop you from watching. Vincent Price is always a hoot and here he is joined by Peter Lorre and Basil Rathbone in their waning years. The other two stories are taken a bit more seriously even if the effects in Valdemar are a bit on the goofy side.
The Tomb of Ligeia (1964)
From director Roger Corman comes this supernatural tale of undying love set in the early 19th century. After the death of his wife, Ligeia, eccentric Verdon Fell (Vincent Price) will do anything to replace her, even if he must sacrifice his new wife, Rowena (Elizabeth Shepherd). Plagued by eerie events in her new home, the terrified Rowena seeks help from former suitor Christopher (John Westbrook), but can he thwart Fell’s plan to revive Ligeia?
Ligeia evokes a nice sense of dread and Price is quite subdued. The atmosphere is appropriately moody as Rowena finds herself in way over her head. Not much actually happens in the film but it is still entertaining.
The Masque of the Red Death (1964)
At a 12th-century masked ball from hell, dissolute satanist Prince Prospero (Vincent Price) torments his guests, forcing them to participate in a variety of gruesome lethal games in this Roger Corman-directed horror flick based on two stories by Edgar Allen Poe. While most of the games end in someone’s death, those who survive Prospero’s amusements must endure the nightmare of torture and unthinkable depravity.
Masque is one of my favorites. Vincent Price hams it up (a bad thing for other actors but Price is the ham master) and Hazel Court has a lot of fun as Juliana, taking increasingly desperate measures to keep Prospero.
The costuming is wonderful. Masque has an expensive sumptuous feel in part because Corman was able to use the sets left over from Becket. Corman even manages to squeeze the short story “Hop Frog” in as a small subplot to the overall story. If you pick one of these to watch, this is probably the best one.