P.O.E.: Poetry of Eerie (2011)

*. When Roger Corman launched his cycle of Poe adaptations with Tales of Terror (1962) he included three stories. In 1990, the Poe double-bill Two Evil Eyes only had two. In 2011 our attention span had been whittled down to the point where this anthology presents 13 stories in slightly less time.
*. Just as an aside, two stories that all three movies adapt are “The Black Cat” and “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar.” I mentioned before, in my notes on the Italian short Il caso Valdemar (1936) how odd it is that this story has attracted so much attention. Not totally odd, since it’s all a build-up to a great effects moment, but it’s not much of a story. I guess the feeling of being stuck in limbo (close to Poe’s obsession with being buried alive) is a timeless anxiety.
*. One thing that has stayed the same as in Corman is the tight filming schedule. And indeed the producers of P.O.E.: Poetry of Eerie even matched the Master (Corman, not Poe) in this regard, requiring that each segment here be filmed in only three days.
*. One thing that has really changed from Corman is the script. As with the even more abbreviated ABCs of Death movies, these short films are billed as the work of a collection of “international” directors (though, aside from the final segment, their names all sound Italian), and I assume there was some sort of directive about not having a lot of dialogue. Or not having any dialogue at all unless absolutely necessary (the first and last stories do entirely without it). This results in rather abstract version of Poe, especially compared to Corman’s talky ventures, which were in large part vehicles for Vincent Price’s voice.
*. The silence here is golden. When the characters do speak, the results are brutal. And the narration is just awful! Really, the language issue is crippling.
*. I’ll go through the episodes quickly in order.
*. “Silence”: kind of predictable, but well done. Gets things off to a good start.
*. “The Sphinx”: a 10 Cloverfield Lane set-up, but without any payoff.
*. “Glasses”: creepy, nasty bit of work. One of the best of the bunch, but again quite conventional. The body-on-tap ending had been used in the Amicus anthology The Vault of Horror (where it had been taken from a Tales from the Crypt comic).
*. “Valdemar”: goes for humour, which makes for a change of pace. The basic idea had potential, but I think it needed more explaining.
*. “The Tell-Tale Heart”: the most accomplished of the twelve films visually, but that voiceover! And the woman reading the story! They don’t sound like they understand any of the words they’re saying. If they knew the actors were going to have that much trouble with English couldn’t they have got someone else to do it? I mean . . . the narration is a voiceover. Literally anyone could have done it. I could have done it!
*. “Gordon Pym”: I didn’t see how they were going to pull this one off, as “The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym” is an unfinished novel that is still quite a lot longer than any of the other source stories here. Well, they didn’t pull it off. In my opinion this was the worst of all the films. As the cannibal feast began I was thinking Fulci must have been a big influence, and then the music started up and these suspicions were confirmed. But it’s not 1980 any more.
*. “The Black Cat”: who doesn’t like Claymation? This is lots of fun, though I have serious doubts that it was produced in only three days. It’s also almost ruined by more godawful voiceover work. I repeat: if you’re not dubbing an actor, but just getting someone to provide a voiceover, why the hell wouldn’t you get someone to do it who has at least a basic competence in the language?
*. “Ligeia”: now this is a short film that looks like it was made in three days. And I mean from the initial idea right through post-production. They couldn’t even find a t-shirt for the guy to put on.
*. “The Raven”: I used to be able to recite this whole poem by memory. I can only do the first couple of stanzas now. I only bring this up because I have a history with this poem, so I was really interested to see what they’d do with it. What they did isn’t all bad — they actually have the (at least competent, this time) voiceover recite a good chunk of the poem — but it plays a bit too much like a 1980s music video. It’s also the cheapest looking of all the movies. There are a couple of interesting ideas — the Raven as a mysterious guy dressed in black, a wraparound ending — but overall I thought it was really poorly done.
*. “The Man of the Crowd”: what? I think I missed something. Or everything.
*. “Berenice”: another one I have no trouble believing was shot in three days, or less. I haven’t said anything about how bad the acting in these films is yet. It’s terrible.
*. “Maelzel’s Chess Automaton”: this might have been one of the better stories, but for the life of me I couldn’t make out half of what was being said. Part of that was due to the deliberate distortion of the audio, but I think something was also due to the lines not being delivered properly. Whatever the reason, I found it frustrating.
*. “Song”: presumably we’re in Japan. Someone kills himself and/or is executed. I don’t know what this has to do with Poe. Seemed like a waste to include it, and it’s the shortest of the films.
*. Some final thoughts.
*. For a 2011 release that has spawned (as of this writing) two follow-ups, I wasn’t able to find anything about this movie online. I mean nothing. I think I may be one of only a couple of hundred people who has seen it. Which is weird because I did find some reviews of the sequel, P.O.E.: Project of Evil, and it’s not nearly as good.
*. I didn’t think this was a great movie, and two things stood out for me while I was watching it. The first a specific criticism I had, the other more general.
*. The specific criticism has to do with the limitations the producers put on the contributors. Telling everyone they had to shoot their movies in three days sounds to me like a film school stunt. It might be good training for people who want to learn how to make movies quickly and cheaply, but it’s not clear why audiences would be interested in the results. A lot of the horror anthologies that were being made at this time were presented as showcases for new directors, but why would you want to be showcased when your work was being made under such harsh strictures? Did any of the directors here think that this was the best they could have done if they’d had more time?
*. The general criticism relates to the short film as a separate genre. Is it? I think it is, just as the short story or novella is something very different than, but not inferior to, a novel. The short has its own aesthetic, its own formal considerations, and its own traditions. Too often, however, the shorts we see in anthology horror films play like mere finger exercises or calling cards. They just aren’t as ambitious or as interested in exploring what can be done with the form. Poe was a master of the short story, and it seems to me his work could have been taken as inspiration for filmmakers to take a fresh look at what might be achieved. For the obvious reasons I’ve mentioned — the language barrier, the restrictions on production — this didn’t happen, but I can’t help feeling that this was due to a failure of imagination as much as interpretation.

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