Friday, August 12, 2016

Using Edgar Allan Poe's Work as the Basis for a Movie

"Do you know where you are, Bartolome? I'll tell you where you are. You are about to enter hell, Bartolome, hell! The netherworld. The infernal region. The abode of the damned. The place of torment. Pandemonium. Abaddon. Tophet. Gehenna. Naraka. The pit! And the pendulum."

Don Nicholas Medina (Vincent Price)

Stephen King is one of my favorite authors. No one can write a thriller the way he can. But he sure can be wordy sometimes. Maybe that is unavoidable when it is necessary to explain every character's mental perception of the events that are at the core of King's book — and that frequently is necessary in a Stephen King book.

Edgar Allan Poe was different. Many of his works were short stories, and they were really short, sometimes just a few pages; his poems were even shorter.

Take "The Pit and the Pendulum," for example. It was a short story that was quite short.

I saw director Roger Corman — who directed and produced a full–length motion picture that was based on that short story and made its debut on this day in 1961 — being interviewed about it on Turner Classic Movies a few months ago. He conceded that, in order to make a full–length movie, it was necessary for writers to speculate — a lot — about the characters and events that led up to the climactic event of which Poe wrote.

That was something with which Corman was quite familiar. A year earlier, he directed and co–produced an adaptation of Poe's "The Fall of the House of Usher." And his writers' efforts to be as true as possible to the spirit of Poe's writing were good enough that Corman went on to direct six more adaptations of Poe's works. All but one starred Vincent Price.

Price actually started out as a character actor and transitioned into horror movies in the '50s so he was already a veteran of several horror movies by the time he started appearing in Corman's films.

But he was seldom the star — nor did he have a reputation for appearing in horror movies — until he teamed up with Corman.

I've heard that Corman believed that, after "House of Usher," Poe's strongest works were "Masque of the Red Death" and "Pit and the Pendulum." As I recall, his preference for his second film based on Poe's work was "Red Death," but he ultimately concluded the name (not the subject matter) would be seen as too similar to a Swedish movie that was in the theaters a few years earlier so "Pit and the Pendulum" became his followup.

Corman did make a movie based on "Red Death" a few years later.

I don't know if Price's work with Corman was entirely responsible for his reputation as a horror movie villain, but it is sure to have played a role.

By the way, in case you didn't know it, Corman made some appearances in front of the camera, too. I always think of his role as one of the lawyers in the law firm that Tom Hanks sued in "Philadelphia," but he was also in "The Godfather Part II" and "The Silence of the Lambs."