Tales of Poe
Based on the classic works of Edgar Allan Poe - a unique spin on three of Poe's popular stories (The Tell Tale Heart, Cask of Amontillado & Dreams). Directors Bart Mastronardi & Alan Rowe Kelly weave together a compelling and suspenseful anthology that will captivate Poe enthusiasts and horror fans alike!
Alan Rowe Kelly
Edgar Allen Poe
Alan Rowe Kelly
Most anthology films (The Twilight Zone, Creepshow) have some sort of surround story to keep things moving along. This tool is conspicuously absent from Tales of Poe. Here, there are simply title cards as each story begins.
What I most loved about Tales of Poe as a whole film, was the callback to those Amicus-style pictures of the ‘70s. In the overall look and feel of Tales of Poe, I was reminded of 1972’s Tales from the Crypt and 1973’s Tales that Witness Madness. So along with some of the better elements of this current film, it also brings with it a lovely and perfectly-captured sense of nostalgia.
The film is broken into three parts, so let’s take a moment to look at each of the three stories.
Chapter one is based on Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart”. It’s a period piece, somewhere in the 1930’s (just following the advent of sound motion pictures). A nurse (played by horror heavyweight Debbie Rochon) takes a job with an aging silent movie star (think Gloria Swanson’s Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard) who is now bed-ridden and touting a blind, white eye. This abnormality begins to grate upon the nurse, eventually driving her to madness and murder. There’s a small surround story for this segment, as the nurse is brought into a mental institution; where she then tells her story to her fellow inmates. Standout work in this piece from the actor playing fellow psych ward resident Evelyn (Happy Birthday to Me’s Lesleh Donaldson). She plays a pretty good mad-woman and when she’s on-screen, she steals the show. Silent movie star Miss Lamarr is played by co-director Alan Rowe Kelly. This piece is the least of the three segments.
The second chapter is titled simply, “The Cask” and is based on “The Cask of Amontillado“ by Poe. Recent newlyweds Fortunato and Gogo Montresor (The Village People’s Randy Jones and co-director Alan Rowe Kelly; respectively) are celebrating their nuptials with friends on Fortunato’s vast winery estate. Fortunato has not been feeling well, and attention is given to the fact that Gogo did not sign a pre-nup (take from that what you will). Now, this next comment isn’t meant to be any kind of insult, but this segment was soooo gay. I can’t imagine any queen not enjoying the absolute campiness of this second installment. There are melodramatic turns, raised eyebrows, cutaways to over-the-top reactions, and shirtless hotties (in the form of Brewster McCall). This one was a lot of fun (if painfully overlong – see below). The make-up effects are grotesquely well done, and I appreciated some of the very Creepshow-ish lighting – properly over-the-top to match the rest of the piece. Rowe Kelly’s deliciously ridiculous performance as Gogo (gotta love that name) is damn funny!
The third and final chapter is based on Poe’s poem “Dreams” and is easily the best of the three stories. With barely any dialogue – only a narration from Amy Steel (Friday the 13th Part 2, April Fool’s Day), the viewer is thrust into the dream-world of a young woman (Bette Cassatt) known only as “The Dreamer”, as she balances on the verge of death. While her mother (Steel) waits at her bedside, The Dreamer goes through many vignettes – some frightening and some enlightening (including a mesmerizing tap dance number!) Now, I could probably write an entire article on this segment alone – figuring and suggesting theories for the symbolism of each thing The Dreamer encounters. I won’t do that here, but I will say that the technical achievements in this portion are stunning, making for a hypnotic and yes… dreamy experience. Along with Steel, another Friday the 13th alum (the original’s Adrienne King) appears as two separate characters and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2’s Caroline Williams gives a haunting performance as the Angel of Dreams. The piece is emotionally powerful (surprising, considering the emotionally shallow stories of the first two segments), and honestly will have you sitting in silence as the credits roll. It was in this piece where the quick editing, wonky camera angles and hypnotic sound design work the best (see below). This short film (even if it were all on its own) is a clear standout and a clear winner.
And even with such horror luminaries as Williams, King and Rochon in the whole film’s cast – Amy Steel goes to much greater heights in her performance. With hardly any dialogue (again, mostly narration) and with a few looks to her on-screen daughter, it’s a remarkable reminder of how good this actress is. She’s always been my favorite final girl in the Friday the 13th franchise (and we know she’s got some tough competition), and to see her in new material is just exciting. She brings so much depth and emotion to her roles, and even with so little screen-time to actually test her gifts here, she still manages to amaze. Steel’s basically retired, but movie screens (and particularly horror fans) would welcome a return with open arms. Tales of Poe confirms that she’s still got it. Ms. Steel, consider this your invitation to come back. We miss you.
Back to the film as a whole… So many things in Tales of Poe began to feel excessive. Each of the pieces (including my beloved “Dreams” segment) was just too long. All of the segments began to drag and I frankly started to check my watch. I think that by adding a fourth (or even fifth) story, that it would have helped with the pacing of the overall film. So much fat could have been trimmed (particularly in “The Cask”). While I liked much of what was going on, it sometimes felt like “too much of a good thing”. Also excessive were the constant sound effect distortions. Practically every tap, breaking of glass or gulping of a drink was given an echo effect and not long after the film began, I started to feel irritated by this. If such effects are overused, they’ll lose all power. This was something that could have been easily avoided. And this was a problem in all three stories; albeit more acceptable in “Dreams”.
I was truly impressed with the locations used in the film. They’re extravagant and pitch-perfect for each of the tales presented. Castles, lavish gardens, towers and art galleries all fill in for the places where these characters live. It’s a true highlight of the film (in all three segments).
Truth be told, if I were making my rating based solely on the “Dreams” section, my score might have been a tad higher (like a solid 4). But since I must take into account the film as a whole, I will have to leave it at a 3 ½ star rating. Certainly not bad, but the first two tales couldn’t stand up to the mesmerizing third chapter.
Tales of Poe is definitely worth your time, but at a monster 2 hours, it’s a commitment. And despite my recommendation (with the above reservations), you may take issue with some of the film’s lesser elements.
Tales of Poe is now available on DVD and VOD.