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‘Corman/Poe: Interviews and Essays Exploring the Making of Roger Corman’s Edgar Allan Poe Films, 1960-1964’ (review)

Written by Chris Alexander
Foreword by Roger Corman
Published by Headpress

 

Let me just state right up front that I am prejudiced in favor of Corman/Poe by Chris Alexander due to the fact that I have adored Vincent Price for nearly my entire life. In fact, Price’s 1959 House of Haunted Hill is the earliest horror film I remember ever seeing, around 1966 or ‘67. I would have been 7 or 8 years old at the time.

At such a young age, I wasn’t yet catching Vinnie at the theaters. He did turn up often on television, though, in everything from The Red Skelton Show to Hollywood Squares. I was blissfully ignorant of the fact that the 1960s was a renaissance in his long career.

By the end of the decade, though, as I discovered Famous Monsters of Filmland and Castle of Frankenstein, and we got our own local Saturday night monster movie series, Scream In, I began to discover what I had been missing.

In his endearing Introduction, author Chris Alexander relates his personal odyssey toward becoming a film fan and, in particular, a Roger Corman devotee. Corman himself provides a nice Foreword in which I can hear his speaking voice perfectly!

We should probably mention Edgar Allan Poe here as this book is ostensibly about Corman’s feature-length Poe adaptations. Anyone who has ever seen one, however, and has even a passing familiarity with the great author’s original written works, knows that they are more “inspired” by than adaptive. The Conqueror Worm, anyone? The Raven?

Straight adaptations or not, these low-budget melodramas proved to be big moneymakers and gave a whole new lease on showbiz life to aging character actor and minor horror star Price. Almost overnight, he was added to the singularly unique pantheon of horror stars alongside Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. Forry Ackerman’s FM helped Price’s new reputation along nicely so Corman, never one to jump off a bandwagon while it was still hot, continued making Edgar Allan Poe “adaptations” and, as often as possible, they continued to star Vincent Price.

Starting with The Fall of the House of Usher, Corman/Poe covers the American-International Poe films one by one, illustrated with lots of mostly color photo stills and posters. For each entry, a plot synopsis is followed by excerpts from conversations between Alexander and Corman, and then an Analysis by Alexander. The interviews are telling, with lots of background on Roger and moviemaking in the 1960s in general, not just his Poe films. His behind-the-scenes regulars, including writer Richard Matheson, cinematographer Floyd Crosby (David’s pop), and composer Les Baxter, get quite a bit of discussion, too. Alexander’s analyses offer not just reviews but corrections and speculation in regard to Corman’s memories and the memories of others involved about those heady days.

Toward the back, we even get to see scans of some censorship memos regarding The Masque of the Red Death, and end with a visual look at posters and comic book adaptations of the Roger Corman Poe movies.

At around only 150 pages, Corman/Poe by Chris Alexander is a lean but learned look at a series of motion pictures that continue to be discovered and appreciated by new viewers on their own every year, no matter how much—or how little—some of them actually have to do with the stories and poems of Edgar Allan Poe.

Booksteve recommends.

 

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