Classic Review: An Evening of Edgar Allan Poe
I hope you night was filled with bumps. Mine certainly was… and the poor soul whose room I was in was terrified. I don’t think they will ever sleep the same again. And after I was done haunting, I came home and thought to unwind with a bit of fright myself. So I dusted the cobwebs off of some old shelves and selected a little film from it to make sure I would toss and turn in my sleep. The film was An Evening of Edgar Allan Poe starring the ghoulish talent of one of horror’s greatest fiends… Mr. Vincent Price. So how well did it do at keeping me up?
This film was originally a television production for American-International Television and aired on New Years Day in 1970. Vincent Price, it is said, believed this was the best production of Edgar Allan Poe’s work he had ever done. Running at less than an hour in length, An Evening of Edgar Allan Poe is not like any other adaption of the author’s work… except for copycat productions. It is an anthology film containing performances of four classic stories; all of which star Vincent Price and no one else. Yes, this is a one man show in which Price took to the stage as the narrator characters from the tales before a live studio audience.
The Tell Tale Heart
Price depicts the unnamed narrator of Poe’s most famous short story to open the film. He sits in a drab room fashioned to resemble one might find in a Victorian era apartment. With absolute glee and pride, he goes on to convince us that he is not mad. How could he be? He had planned the murder of the old man that lived in the building with him. It took him eight days to stalk the man and then, to the sound of a steadily beating heart, he tells us how he killed the man and then proceeded to chop him to pieces. He hid the body beneath the floorboards of the home and then, when police come to investigate a shriek heard by neighbors, he can hear the beating of the man’s heart. It starts driving him mad, yet the police didn’t seem to hear… they were mocking him. He grows more and more agitated until he admits the murder and throws back the floorboards, lifting the bloody heart up for them to see.
The narrator has come to vacation at a colleague’s cottage on the bank of the Hudson. As he looks out, regarding the gray gloom of the Cholera plagued neighboring New York City, he spies a chimera of a monster. With growing dread he describes the beast in great detail as it descends a hill into the forest below. Once gone, he faints. A few days later he spies the creature again and points his host’s attention to it. Yet, the host can not see it. He describes the monstrous thing to his host who then pulls a book from the shelf and reads a description of it to the narrator that fits the being. It turns out that the narrator has been sing nothing more than an insect, crawling along the length of an invisible, spiderweb and letting his imagination run wild.
The Cask of Amantillado
Price depicts a man decided upon revenge for some insult. With matter of fact calm he tells us how he lures Fortunado to his vault in order for them to sample a cask of fine wine called Amantillado. He gives the man several chances to back out. The bold and brazen Fortunado refuses, thinking himself a wine expert. They sample a wine and then travel deeper into the crypt lined with human remains. He finds it quite easy to chain the drunken man up in the crypt and then start to wall up the niche in which he had trapped Fortunado. Fortunado doesn’t seem to understand what is happening… until the wall is almost completely done and terror sets in. He then places the rampart of human bones in front of the wall… which, to this day, have not been disturbed.
The Pit and the Pendulum
A man sits in a dungeon, telling us of his experience standing before the Spanish Inquisition for some unknown offense. Impending doom consumes him and then there is blackness… until he wakes and finds himself in a dank cell. Exploring, he falls to the floor and discovers a deep pit before he falls asleep. When he wakes, he finds himself bound to a table. Above him, a giant blade sweeps back and forth, getting lower and lower with each pass. Soon, it would cut the man in two. Thinking quickly, he manages to get the rats squirming through the cell to chew through the ropes holding him. He manages to escape just as the blade bites into his flesh… but still a captive of the Inquisition. The hot iron walls start to close in, pushing him closer and closer to the edge of the pit. Just as he is about to fall in when he is saved by the invading French army.
If you watch horror films for the action, jump scenes, and gore, this film may not be for you. That said, this is an amazing film. It is, quite possibly, the best performance I have ever seen of Mr. Prices. He manages to convey the emotions felt by each narrator perfectly. Matched with excellent sound engineering and cinematography, this is a truly dramatic experience and the best adaption of Poe’s works I have ever watched. My only complaint is that “The Tell Tale Heart” had the most dramatic ending and the only gore scene. I believe it should have ended the film instead of opened it. That said, I highly recommend this film and give it ☠☠☠☠. As a matter of fact, I happened to find a copy of it on Youtube.