Edgar Allan Poe is the biggest name in horror. Even Stephen King has never come close to being as prominent and influential in the genre. Even the highest selling living author can’t outrank the one true king. Poe’s influence on the genre has lasted decades and can still be felt today. Films are still being made to adapt his work for new generations and this is something that will likely never change.
What is it about Poe’s work that makes it stand out? It’s hard to say. Not because the talent isn’t clear, but instead because there’s so much that went into making Poe’s body of work the classic material that it is. From the sense of atmosphere to the tragedy of the characters to the use and structure of language, Edgar Allan Poe was a true master.
Given that, it’s no surprise there are so many films either based on or inspired by his works. Because there are so many, there are plenty that get left by the wayside, or often don’t get noticed at all. And those are the ones we’ll be digging up.
The Pit and the Pendulum (1991)
Roger Corman’s version of Pit and the Pendulum is by far more famous than this largely unnoticed Full Moon production. It’s one of the best things that company ever produced, due largely to director Stuart Gordon—of Re-Animator, From Beyond, Castle Freak and so many more—and Lance Henriksen’s portrayal of grand inquisitor Torquemada. It also features a ton of other great genre stars including Oliver Reed, Tom Towles and Jeffrey Combs.
Two Evil Eyes is an interesting, weird little experiment of a film. It’s an anthology of only two segments, which is almost a universal no-no in terms of that format, but they compliment each other well. The movie’s two short segments—both based on Poe stories—are directed by George Romero and Dario Argento, respectively. Both filmmakers have very impressive, very different styles. And even though neither of them were in their prime when they made this feature, it’s still worth watching and contains some great scenes from both masters of horror.
This Italian giallo, directed by Sergio Martino, was based on Edgar Allan Poe’s infamous short story “The Black Cat.” It infuses the great tale with traditional, gory giallo style with fairly impressive results. Sadly it’s a relatively unseen thriller, but it’s nonetheless one of the director’s best. The elements of the story are woven in nicely with the gory proceedings.
This is not explicitly based on one of Poe’s stories, but is worth including nonetheless. Vincent is the debut short animated film of Tim Burton, about a young boy who is obsessed with Edgar Allan Poe. The short itself is appropriately narrated by Vincent Price. While it’s only a few minutes long, it showcases everything that would be great about Burton’s style and visual sensibilities in the early years of his career. The respect and admiration for Poe is abundantly evident.
One of the lesser known of the Corman/Price era of Poe adaptations, The Tomb of Ligeia is nonetheless important. It’s based on Poe’s story “Ligeia,” appropriately, about a man who’s wife returns from the dead in a particularly unusual fashion. This one’s really important because it differs stylistically from the rest of Corman’s Poe adaptations with its use of visuals and its outdoor scenes in particular.
An anthology from the Corman/Price era, Tales of Terror should be more fondly remembered than it is. It adapts “Morella,” “The Black Cat,” and “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdimar.” “The Black Cat” is also somewhat combined with “The Cask of Amontillado.” This is especially interesting because “The Black Cat” and “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdimar” also comprised the two stories in Two Evil Eyes. In addition to Vincent Price, the cast also includes Peter Lorre and Basil Rathbone.