Daily Archives: May 10, 2017

Il caso Valdemar (1936)

*. Poe has always been a film favourite, and I think we’re all familiar with the adaptations made of classic tales like “The Fall of the House of Usher” and “The Black Cat.” That some of these adaptations were very, very loose, sometimes borrowing nothing more than a title, is no matter. Hell, sometimes they don’t even get his name spelled right in the credits. It’s “Edgar Allen [sic] Poe” in The Haunted Palace, and “A. E. Poe” here. But as the creators of the P.O.E. series understood, it’s only the last three letters that count. Three letters and lots of atmosphere.
*. But while I think cinema’s fascination with Poe is natural, I’ve always been a bit puzzled by the amount of love his story “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar” has gotten. It was the final story in Roger Corman’s Tales of Terror trilogy, was George Romero’s entry in Two Evil Eyes, and was also adapted in P.O.E.: Poetry of Eerie. All of this for a story that’s basically about a dying man who is hypnotized so that he remains in a state of suspended decease until the “control” is released and he decomposes in a rush. That’s it. Just a guy rotting in bed.
*. Well, decomposing corpses have always been a horror staple, and having a corpse decompose very quickly right before our eyes is the sort of trick that effects people like to play. So I suppose that’s a big source of the attraction.
*. Il caso Valdemar is a silent film with only some scrawled notes (in Italian) to explain what is going on. Knowing the story would be a help, but perhaps not as much as you might think. Some matters remain obscure, though I don’t think they’re really necessary to enjoy the film.
*. As you should expect, the disintegration, or liquefaction, of Valdemar’s body is the star of the show, and it’s very well done. It even sounds better in Italian: the final title card tells us of how Valdemar is converted into “una massa semiliquida, una abominevole putrefazione.”
*. We’ve been prepared for the final effect by the heavy emphasis on close-ups of people’s faces, so that the fixation on Valedmar’s face turning into goo and sliding from his skull is all of a piece. It’s also shockingly gory for 1936. It’s much better than what Corman was able to do in 1962. This was Fulci nearly fifty years before the Godfather of Gore hit his stride!
*. Another nice bit of preparation for the climax comes with the women being ushered out of the room and the door shut. This adds to the sense of our getting to see something secret and forbidden.
*. It’s odd that this was such a one-off. It’s really quite well handled, arty but not too arty and with terrific effects. Nevertheless, co-directors Gianni Hoepli and Ubaldo Magnaghi never seemed to go on to do anything else and today this film isn’t very well known. It should be, and if you’re at all interested in horror cinema you should check it out.