Friday, 22 May 2015


I don't just watch a lot of horror here at the House — I read a hell of a lot of sinister fiction too.
While Stoker and Shelley are quite rightly hailed as writers of legitimate classic novels, to me there are three fathers of modern horror.
The first of these is HP Lovecraft, whose unique, otherworldly, SciFi-influenced writings spawned a whole new genre.
The second is M.R. James, the man whose works are quite simply among the very finest, most atmospheric supernatural tales from the Victorian era, a time in which the ghost story was an art form.
The final one is Edgar Allan Poe. THE master of psychological horror, Poe's Gothic stories of madness, obsession and the macabre are masterpieces.
Several of Poe's works have already been adapted for the big screen, with efforts as widely varied as Roger Corman's The Pit and the Pendulum and the Cat From Hell segment of Tales From The Dark Side.
Now there's another movie to add to the list, and this one adapts not one, nor two, but three of Poe's most famous works. It is the aptly titled Tales of Poe.
A fine theme for an anthology indeed, but could directors Bart Mastronardi and Alan Rowe Kelly do the great man's work justice?
Read on...


Dir: Bart Mastronardi, Alan Rowe Kelly
Starring: Debbie Rochon, Lesleh Donaldson, David Marancik, Alan Rowe Kelly, Desiree Gould, Joe Quick, Michael Varrati, Andrew Glaszek, Randy Jones, Brewster McCall, Douglas Rowan, Amy Lynn Best, Zoe Daelman Chlanda, Susan Adriensen, Jerry Murdock, Cartier Williams, Bette Cassatt, Caroline Williams, Adrienne King, Amy Steel

SPEEDY SYNOPSIS: I'll try not to spoil too much here but continue at your own risk.

Tales of Poe is split into three segments, the first of which is based on The Tell Tale Heart. Set in a mental asylum we follow a new inmate (played by Hickey's House of Horrors fave Rochon) as she is introduced to two fellow patients, the childlike Fritz (Marancik) and tough Evelyn (Donaldson). When pushed as to how she got there, Rochon's Narrator reveals that she was a nurse and was tasked with caring for an elderly star of yesteryear, a silent movie ingenue named Miss Lamarr (Kelly). However, it is just a matter of time before the intense loneliness of the work starts to take a toll on the nurse's sanity — with deadly consequences.

The second segment, The Cask, is based on Poe's The Cask of Amontillado. Wealthy wine mogul, Fortunato Montresor (former Village People musician Jones) is finally marrying his partner, Gogo (Kelly again). However, as the party are joined by an unexpected guest, old friend Marco (McCall), the ailing Fortunato is taken ill… and then the manipulative Gogo's true colours come to light.

The final segment, Dream, is based on Poe's poem of the same now. A far more experimental take on Poe's work, it is largely without dialogue (the only lines spoken are the poem itself) that follows a sick young woman, the Dreamer (Cassatt) who experiences a series of surreal visions as she lies between life and death. These visions feature a host of top actresses including Caroline Williams (who will be familiar to genre fans for her roles in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 and 3, Leprechaun 3, Halloween 2 and Hatchet III); Amy Steel (Friday the 13th Part 2 and April Fool's Day) and Adrienne King (Friday the 13th, Friday the 13th Part 2, The Butterfly Room and Silent Night, Deadly Night: The Homecoming).


THE BEST BITS (mild spoiler warning): Well obviously one of the very best things about this anthology is the tremendous source material. Poe was a master at telling creepy, fucked up and haunting horror stories that could crawl inside your head and haunt you for days and writers Kelly, Mastronardi and Varrati run with that vibe. Each part of Tales of Poe tells a classic story, but not necessarily in the way you might expect. The writers and directors provide clever twists to these stories, giving them a fresh life while still showing a suitable degree of reverence to the source material. This is wonderfully executed and really helps to hook the audience.

Obviously, like any anthology some segments are stronger than others, but this is one particular film where I imagine there'll be quite a lot of debate as to which is the best or weakest segment. There's a huge amount of room for personal taste and, as each segment has such a different feel to the others, there's plenty to entertain the viewer in one part of the movie, even if they aren't particularly into one of the others.
But let's discuss these segments, shall we? The first, directed by Mastronardi, feels more like your classic old-fashioned horror movie, carried along by a pair of incredible performances and some stellar visuals. I've been a big fan of the the lovely Rochon for some time and I'm going to say this might well be my favourite of her roles yet. She brings boths scariness and sexiness to the role, exuding that trademark toughness she does so well but also hinting at a mental fragility that is ultimately destined to lay everybody low. I've raved more than enough about Rochon before, so let's just say that everything I've said about her in the past holds up here, but even more so. She's fantastic.
I didn't realise just how familiar I was with the supremely talented Alan Rowe Kelly's work prior to watching this movie, but the prolific filmmaker and actor has worked on several films that I'd seen and enjoyed. After seeing him once again in this film (both as Lamarr and Gogo) I shall be looking out for anything else with his name attached. 
One of the cleverest things that the crew did with this tale was to flip the gender roles, making the protagonist and victim female in this version of the tale. It added a whole new side to the story, especially the infamous closing scene of the Narrator's tale in which a nosy policeman investigates.
As well as a compelling take on the story and some awesome performances, this is a visually stunning piece of film. With Argento-esque lighting and cinematography, it looks sumptuous, each scene evoking the mood of damaged Narrator. Of the three tales, this may well have been my favourite, it's that good.
The second has a quirkier, more outlandish feel. With Kelly having a massive part both in front and behind the camera, this feels more showy, more theatrical, with an OTT campness and Grand Guignol feel that I absolutely loved. The story spins The Cask of Amontillado out into a shockingly horrifying melodrama — in the very best sense of the word! It had an air of seminal anthology flick, Creepshow about it and combined its flamboyant characters and some wonderful sound design (especially the way in which Fortunato's haunting whistle shifts from an object of annoyance to utter terror by the end of the segment) and again comes with some extremely strong acting to hold the segment together. McCall is a polished and capable actor and completely nails his role, while Jones' work was a real surprise to me. I'd not seen him act before and had concerns that this could be some wacky stunt casting, but my concerns were misplaced. He was excellent in the role, infusing his character with enough manic energy to keep him entertaining yet never overplaying the role and descending into caricature. It's a difficult balancing act but one that Mr Jones walks with ease. I may not have seen him act before, but after seeing his wonderful work I shall definitely be looking out to see more of him in the future.
Yet as great as McCall and Jones are, the MVP of this segment is the truly incredible Kelly. He was pretty damn good in first part of the film, in this he's an utter revelation. Cold, calculating, oozing with a smooth charm and cold hatefulness in equal measure, Kelly is just brilliant. Bravo!
The final segment, Dream, may prove to be the most divisive. Obviously the Allstar cast is impressive and each actor accounts for themselves to their usual incredible standard. Visually it is mesmerising, combining some quite beautiful locations and sets with quality, confident camerawork. It has an arthouse feel, a riot of colour and shade, rife with symbolism. 
I praised the cinematography earlier and it's worth reiterating that Azmi Mert Erdem, Bart Mastronardi and Dominick Sivilli hit a high standard in all three segments of this movie. This is not a particularly high budgeted film but this crew, along with Kelly's inspired production design, ensure that it always looks marvellous. Kudos.

THE WORST BITS (mild spoiler warning): There has been a tidal wave of overwhelmingly positive reviews for Tales of Poe. While a lot of this praise is certainly due, I'm not sure that it's entirely deserving of the hype it has received. Perhaps this hype raised my expectations impossibly high, but the fact is that the film is not entirely without issues.
While the stars are all excellent, some of the supporting players are noticeably weaker than their more established colleagues. I suppose that's only to be expected when you manage to assemble a cast this talented.
Often anthology films feel overly long. I really do believe that horror works best in short sharp shocks building tension then springing its scares before the fear can wear off or fade. As many anthologies try to squeeze in five or more tales the runtime ends up padded. When I saw that Tales of Poe consisted of just three stories I breathed a sigh of relief, confident that the movie would be a punchy affair. Alas, despite this comparatively small number of stories, it still clocks in at close to two hours long.
This isn't necessarily an overly long runtime for a horror movie but it wasn't helped by the fact that it felt like each segment could easily have lost anywhere from 10-15 minutes without cutting anything too important.
Unfortunately I found this to be especially true of the Dream segment. While its brave attempt to deliver something a little different to the usual horror fare is certainly to be applauded, there were a couple of points at which it definitely felt like it was dragging rather than building towards any particular goal. I'm sure there will be plenty of viewers who will call Dream one of the greatest anthology segments they've ever seen (it is certainly one of the most imaginative), but alas it didn't quite tick every box for me.
But then that's the wonderful thing about true art — it provokes thought, discussion and debate. In this regard Dream, and Tales of Poe as a whole, is a resounding success.

THE VERDICT: Despite plenty of imagination, style and talent Tales of Poe is not the miracle that some reviews are painting it out to be. However, for precisely those reasons, it is a very, very good one. Thought-provoking and well-made, it is a feast for the eyes with a sterling cast and some real wit and imagination. If you're a fan of Poe (and what Horror fan isn't?), this is an easy recommendation. However, if you're unfamiliar with the great man's work you could do a hell of a lot worse to familiarise yourself than starting here. Either way, if you find yourself with the chance to watch Tales of Poe, you should do so — pronto.

To find out more about how you can catch the film, head to its official Facebook page. Give it a Like while you're there too, these guys deserve it!

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Until next time, I hope you enjoyed your stay.

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