Thursday, November 11, 2010

Master of the Bloody Pen, Meet Vincent Price

By Chris Dimick

"Life is a turd surfing down a sewer," thought 8th grade Chris, slumped over his English classroom's desk in half sleep/half wallowing. Times were tough for a freshly-minted teen at Marysville Junior High School. You are two young to really live life, too old to be naive about its nature. Society was full of morons. School had no point. Life didn't either, when you really thought about it.

So when eccentric English teacher Mr. Vonault passed a batch of "dittos" down 13-year-old Chris's row, he didn't expect much more than the usual school-age dribble passed off as "education." Life sucks. Poetry sucks. Everything sucks. Nirvana is soooo right.

But when he turned over that cheap sheet of Xerox paper, he was shocked that its contents would actually hit home. It was a poem (but poems suck!). Named "The Raven (birds? sounds so lame!) By some guy named Edgar Allan Poe (just another dead guy!).

Meh, another ass whose stupid thoughts I have to read, Chris said in defense. But the first lines sucked him in, and my life was forever changed.

"Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
"'Tis some visitor," I muttered, "tapping at my chamber door-
Only this, and nothing more."

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December,
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow;- vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow- sorrow for the lost Lenore-
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore-
Nameless here for evermore.

And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me- filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating,
"'Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door-
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door;-
This it is, and nothing more..."

The immortal opening stanzas of The Raven. This was the first time I had read something that was both beautiful and horrifying. You feel so depressed reading this poem, yet so alive. I'd soon come to know that feeling well, as it is the holy grail emotion that most people producing horror movies try to elicit in an audience. Terror, horror, depression... but entertained! They seem like conflicting emotions... and they are. That is why it takes a master writer, like Edgar Allan Poe, to bring out this mix of feelings from the depths of the human psyche.
I felt a comfort in Poe's dark world. In a way, it helped me get though those horrifying middle school years. Someone else had it worse... Poe did, I thought. And I was right.

"The Raven" forver changed my impression of poetry, and classic literature. Who know that something old could still be interesting and poignant to life's current horrors.
"Poe got life!" thought 8th grade Chris, after polishing off the library's copy of The Unabridged Collection of Edgar Allan Poe.

I had heard of Poe prior to that first reading of The Raven, but didn't know him. And that is what's great about Poe... you read his work, and you can see directly into the shadows of his heart. And what a dark, dank, depressing place it.

Such is why so many of his works have been adapted into horror movies. And here marks the connection to the Rich Dimick Horror Project (yes, there is a point, thanks for your patience :)) Last year marked the 200th anniversary of Poe's birth. Though we are late to the party, this week the RDHP honors this brilliant writer of horror, and his direct and lasting influence on the horror movie genre.

For you see without writers, there would be no movies. And while we here at the RDHP tend to typically focus on movies as a whole, writers deserve their time in the spotlight.

I'm being somewhat self-indulgent in highlighting Poe out of the many great horror authors (Stephen King, you nearly got this write up instead of Poe). But for my money, Poe is still the greatest horror author of all time. His works are timeless, evident by their frequent use for the basis of horror films.

What's even better than a Poe-based movie? A Poe-based movie starring Vincent Price! Yep, the last great horror icon, Vincent Price, was a regular in many Poe-movies. Gotta appreciate that combination of ham and horror. Then you throw in the super-schlocky director Roger Corman... and it's movie Nirvana (no, not the band, 8th grade Chris!)

Below, a list of some of the so bad their good and just plain bad-ass Vincent Price films based on or inspired by the great, dark, brilliant bloody pen of Edgar Allan Poe. Happy 201st Birthday, Edgar. Though dismissed in life, you shall be forever celebrated in death... at least at the RDHP.

Edgar Allan Poe Meets Vincent Price
The Best Film Collaborations
of Two Horror Masters

An Evening of Edgar Allan Poe - 1972
For An Evening with Edgar Allen Poe, Vincent Price acts out many of Poe's stories, including "The Pit and the Pendulum," "The Black Cat" and "The Cask of Amontillado."


The Oblong Box - 1969
Starring Vincent Price and Christopher Lee. In Oblong Box, when Sir Edward is horribly disfigured, he is kept chained and out of sight by his brother (Price). But Sir Edward escapes and goes on a killing spree in an attempt for revenge.

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?

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.

The Raven - 1963
Don't know if you can really say this film is based on Poe's classic poem. It pretty much has nothing to do with it. But, eh, at least it says he was the inspiration. Roger Corman directs this hoot of a film featuring Dr. Erasmus Craven (Vincent Price), a washed-up sorcerer who turns a talking raven back into a man and learns that his presumed-dead wife is actually living with a rival magician (Boris Karloff). But when Craven tries to rescue his wife, he gets more than he bargained for. Loosely based on Poe poem, this tongue-in-cheek classic co-stars Peter Lorre and a young Jack Nicholson.

Tales of Terror - 1962
Also directed by Roger Corman. 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


Pit and the Pendulum - 1961
Another Poe inspired Roger Corman classic starring Vincent Price.
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.


The Fall of the House of Usher - 1960
After a long journey, Philip arrives at the Usher mansion seeking his loved one, Madeline. Upon arriving, however, he discovers that Madeline and her brother Roderick Usher have been afflicted with a mysterious malady: Roderick's senses have become painfully acute, while Madeline has become catatonic. That evening, Roderick tells his guest of an old Usher family curse: any time there has been more than one Usher child, all of the siblings have gone insane and died horrible deaths. As the days wear on, the effects of the curse reach their terrifying climax.

Edgar Allan Poe:
Worse off than Charlie Brown

Poe sure did have a horrible life. First, his father abandoned the family; then his mother died when he was very young, and his foster father, John Allen, erratically swung between lenience and extreme discipline; finally, Poe married his much younger cousin Virginia, who died at an early age. This gave him mommy and other female issues. Though a great writer, he was always broke, drunk, possibly high, and died penniless in a gutter. Ouch.
So, yeah, he had lots of baggage. But lucky for the world, Poe was able to channel his awful experiences into beautiful, gut wrenching, and brilliant works of art.
As a slaute to my favorite author of all time, I give you some random facts about Poe, provided by the authority on 19th century authors...the Internet Movie Database trivia section!

Poe didn't earn a cent from his most famous poem, "The Raven", having published it first in a newspaper for free and thereby losing any and all future copyright monies.

The original title of "The Raven" was "To Lenore" but upon having dinner with Charles Dickens and learning of the great writer's recently deceased pet bird, which just happened to be a raven, Poe reworked the poem to include the black bird as a central figure.

Poe wrote "The Raven" with the intent of creating what he called an "adult fairy tale" and when asked why he didn't start the poem with the traditional "Once upon a time" but used "Once upon a midnight dreary" Poe replied, "In my 'time' it's always 'midnight dreary.'"

All of Poe's stories took place at night, or if a day scene was required, it was the bleakest, foulest day of the year.

Appears on sleeve of The Beatles' "Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band".

Considered by many to have invented the American horror story, science fiction, and the detective story.

There is some mystery surrounding the actual conditions of his death. In October 1849, he was found lying in a gutter, drunk, barely conscious and wearing someone else's clothing. He died shortly thereafter of apparent alcohol poisoning.

However, some historians believe that there may have been other reasons for his untimely demise. The most common theory is that he was a victim of a political kidnapping and made to vote in a local mayoral election while dressed up in different clothes and under the influence of massive amounts of alcohol, so that he would not remember anything.

Others believe that he may have had a massive brain tumor that led to a stroke; this theory is aided somewhat by the fact that Poe had a rather large, oddly-shaped head.

Every year on the date of Poe's birthday, for 60 years, a mystery man left a bottle of cognac and roses on Poe's grave in Baltimore, Maryland. However, the ritual was broken this year, 2010, when the man failed to show. (read the USA Today story)

No comments:

Post a Comment