Stars: Caroline Williams, Debbie Rochon, Adrienne King, Amy Steel, Randy Jones, Desiree Gould, Lesleh Donaldson, Alan Rowe Kelly, Brewster McCall, Michael Varrati, Andrew Glaszek, Susan Adriensen, Bette Cassatt | Written by Alan Rowe Kelly, Bart Mastronardi, Michael Varrati | Directed by Alan Rowe Kelly, Bart Mastronardi
It’s something of an understatement to say that the work of poet and short story writer Edgar Allan Poe has had a lasting effect on the horror genre. Especially when it comes to horror cinema in particular. It’s not so long ago that we had the likes of P.O.E.: Poetry of Eerie and it’s sequel Project of Evil, David DeCoteaus’s The Pit and the Pendulum, and the animated anthology Extraordinary Tales; and now comes Tales of Poe – which adapts Poe’s short stories The Tell Tale Heart, Cask of Amontillado and Dreams.
The first story, The Tell Tale Heart, sees a nurse – newly committed to an insane asylum – tell the story of how she got there to other asylum inmates. Featuring Debbie Rochon as “The Narrator”, the real star of the short is co-writer and co-director Alan Rowe Kelly who, hidden under some grotesque make-up, plays the woman in the nurse’s care; a woman whose appearance drives her nurse literally insane! The tone of this short is as odd as the camerawork within – helping to build an eerie, terrifying tale in a very short amount of time.
The second short, The Cask, once again stars Alan Rowe Kelly, this time acting alongside a surprisingly brilliant Randy Jones (aka the Cowboy from the Village People) in a short based on Poe’s Cask of Amontillado. This story takes place during the wedding of Fortunato Montresor (Jones) and his new bride Gogo (Kelly) and sees an ill Fortunato telling his guests the story of the cask of Amontillado before traipsing his peculiar wedding party into his wine cellar – where they are set upon by a stranger in a bird mask. However this “stranger” is anything but. Instead he is a part of a greater plot to steal the fortune of Fortunato… If you’re familiar with the original Poe tale (or Poe’s The Black Cat – with which this story shares a familiarity), you know how the story ends: as with all Poe stories, it’s badly.
The final part of this tryptic of tales is not based on a Poe short story, but rather his poem Dreams – which Poe wrote at the age of 18(!). Given that there is no solid story on which is base their tale, co-writers Bart Mastronardi and Michael Varrati turn this dream-like poem into a dream-like short; one that plays out with almost no dialogue. Yet it’s this short that features the “headlining” scream queens of Amy Steel, Adrienne King and Caroline Williams. In fact Steel narrates this tale, which is the longest – and spookiest – of the three. Playing out as a twisted, fevered dream of coma patient Bette Cassatt, this visually stunning short takes Poe’s poem as its base and runs straight into hell with it.
Whilst Poe adaptations are ten-a-penny, the big selling point – at least for the distributor of Tales of Poe – is the appearance of FIVE (yes, five!) iconic scream queens within this film’s cast: Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2‘s Caroline Williams; Friday the 13th Part 2‘s Amy Steel; the original Jason Vorhees victim, Friday the 13th‘s Adrienne King; Debbie Rochon (Sick Boy, The Theatre Bizarre, Hellblock 13 and a gazillion other horror films); and Lesleh Donaldson (Happy Birthday to Me, Funeral Home, Curtains).
I say those wonderful ladies are a selling point for the distributor as, at least for me, the true selling point of Alan Rowe Kelly and Bart Mastronardi’s film is the tone. Tales of Poe is a fantastic return to the gothic notes of the early Roger Corman Poe adpatations, yet brought into the modern age with a fresh-feeling script, some superb camerawork (you cannot help but love the off-kilter dutch angles strewn throughout), and outlandish imagery, including colour schemes the Dario Argento would be proud of, and special effects which help push each story forward. And like all good horror the gore – whilst VERY effective – is used sparingly and to dramatic effect, without ever feeling like a replacement, or worse crutch, for an incomplete script.
Much like POE: Project of Evil, Kelly and Mastronardi’s Tales of Poe offers a fresh new take on the gothic maestro’s work, revitalising it for a modern generation, whilst at the same time respecting the history of Poe both cinematically and literarily. Which means this is not only worth a watch for fans of Edgar Allan Poe, but also gothic AND Italian horror (yes, there are infleunces of Italian horror throughout this films running time too).
Tales of Poe is out now on DVD and Digital HD from Wild Eye Releasing.