Saturday, May 5, 2012

Upon a Midnight Dreary

“…the agony of my soul found vent in one loud, long and final scream of despair.” – POE

Thus ended The Pit and Pendulum, at least the 1961 movie version of the classic Edgar Allan Poe story.

The movie was the second in a series of eight from producer and director, Roger Corman, that were loosely based on stories by Poe.  All but one starred Vincent Price. Some other notable actors that appeared in the series were Boris Karloff (the original Frankenstein’s monster) and Peter Lorre (whose voice and acting style would send chills through the strongest of men). In the movies, Vincent Price portrayed a demonic yet sympathetic character capable of doing great harm and commanding complete attention.  Even in real life, his sneering smile and impish glare could frighten the bravest soul.  I heard him tell in an interview of watching one of his own movies in a theater. When the house lights came up, he leaned forward and poked his head between the women sitting in front of him. “Did you enjoy the movie?” Price crooned, and the women ran screaming out of the theater.

This was also a time in film making before green screen and digital effects. Camera angles, distorted lenses, smoke, colors and chilling music all played into the macabre atmosphere.  Cob webs, plenty of cob webs, touching the hero’s face and tangling in the pretty girl’s hair added to the suspense. Then came a scream just when things seemed to get better, sending the cast running to see what new horror waited for them. The background shots in the movies yielded a mood that Poe had created in his stories, being both melancholy and somber, although I expect many were created with a movie technique back then called matte.

At age ten, after days of begging my mother to take me to see The Pit and Pendulum, I got my wish.  I spent much of the time in the lobby, sneaking peeks through the crack in the doors that went into the theater and listening to the shrieks and sound effects. I laid awake much of the night unable to sleep and when I did I dreamed of Vincent Price wearing a henchman’s cowl  and pulling a chain that slowly lowered the swinging pendulum to slice John Kerr in half. Did that deter me from ever seeing another one of these movies? Of course not! I also caught Tales of Terror, Premature Burial and House of Usher.

Now the movie The Raven is out with John Cusack playing the role of Edgar Allan Poe.  I’ve watched the trailer and wonder if it will capture the chills and thrills of those old movies? Will it be so memorable that decades from now I’ll still relive those horrifying moments?

“…And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor shall be lifted–nevermore!”– The Raven, Edgar Allan Poe

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