Friday, July 29, 2016

Edgar Allan Poe Through the Eyes of European Film Makers

"THE 'Red Death' had long devastated the country. No pestilence had ever been so fatal, or so Hideous"--The opening lines of "The Mask of the Red Death" from 1842 by American author Edgar Allan Poe.

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Mention Edgar Allan Poe in motion pictures. Most fans would immediately associate Roger Corman and Vincent Price. Corman made a series of seven films between 1960 and 1964 with Price in all, but "The Premature Burial" which starred Ray Milland.

Horror is international. How many versions of Irish author Bram Stoker's "Dracula" have been made worldwide? How many of them were made in the United States ranging from Todd Browning's 1931 "Dracula" to 2014's "Dracula Untold" for example?

So it's natural that Edgar Allan Poe would make the transition to Foreign Counties. This article is a look at four such European Poe motion pictures starting 88 years ago with a silent film from France. All of which I have seen in my youth.


On October 5, 1928 French producer/director Jean Epstein released "La Chute de la maison Usher (The Fall of the House of Usher)". This picture appears on motion picture critic Rogert Ebert's list of great motion pictures.

I found a long article on the film, but it was in French without a means of translation. Here is a summary by Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil I found on IMDb:
A stranger called Allan (Charles Lamy) goes to an inn and requests transportation to the House of Usher. The locals remain reluctant, but he gets a coach to transport him to the place. He is the sole friend of Roderick Usher (Jean Debucourt), who leaves in the eerie house with his sick wife Madeleine Usher (Marguerite Gance) and her doctor (Fournez-Goffard). Madeleine is the beloved muse and model and is being painted by Roderick. When she dies, Roderick does not accept her death, and in a dark night, Madeleine returns.

My reader can enjoy this film with English subtitles on YouTube. Below are a group of images from the motion picture that gives you an impression of Jean Epstein's imagery.

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"Danza Macabra (Dance of Death)" aka: "Castle of Blood", in the United States, is a Italian/French black and white motion picture. The picture was originally released in Italy in July 1963 and in the United States one year later in July 1964, When I first saw it. France didn't see the picture until April 1965.

"Danza Macbra" is an original idea and not based upon a direct tale by Edgar Allan Poe. It was co-directed by Antonio Margheriti. Margheriti directed "The Golden Arrow" a terrible fantasy starring American Tab Hunter, "Wild, Wild Planet" a fun Italian space adventure and several Italian Westerns. Some starring Lee Van Cleef which included "Take A Hard Ride" with Fred Williamson.

The other director on the film  was Sergio Corbucci. Who wrote the screenplay for the Steve Reeves "The Last Days of Pompeii", directed Steve Reeves and Gordon Scott in "Duel of the Titans" and created the Western character "Django" starring Franco Nero among other films as writer/director.

This motion picture co-starred British actress Barbara Steele. Who appeared in Mario Bava's "Mask of Satan (Black Sunday)", Roger Corman's "The Pit and the Pendulum", Federico Fellini's "8 1/2" and Joe Dante's 1978 original "Piranha". Along with many none horror roles.

Below the French poster.

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The movie basically opens with Edgar Alan Poe is sitting at a table with two other men at an inn telling tales when a fourth approaches.

The fourth man is Alan Foster played by Steele's co-star George Rivere. Rivere is an Argentine actor who appeared in 1953's "The Black Vampire". Which was a misleading title as this is really an Argentine picture about a serial child killer that took its idea from Fritz Lang's classic "M". Rivere was also featured in Samuel Bronson's 1959;s "John Paul Jones" as a Russian Chamberlain and 1960's "The Longest Day" as a French Commando..

The conversation at the table turns on the words of Poe. When he states every story he has written is true and the dead do come back. Alan Foster doesn't believe a word of what Edgar Allan Poe is saying and one of the other men Lord Blackwood suggests to prove Poe is correct. Would Foster spend a night in his castle.

The following dialogue is from the English language version of "Danza Macabra" and is part of an excellent article on the film found at the website 'The Last Drive In":

“whether they still live or if they died, I’m certain that they left” Blackwood says ” Mr Poe is telling the truth…he happens to be right” Blackwood’s face for the first time shows some sardonic aspect to the taunting wager. As if to bate the young man even further.
“They remained there. They’re both resting there in the family cemetery” He leans in “Each year I search like this I seek to locate a courageous man to see if he’s willing to spend the night in the castle and dispel the legend…but you are quite a nice young man
and I feel grateful that you’ve decided to refuse to accept the wager”
“It’s not that I don’t want to wager My Lord, I’m not a coward, Ha, the fact is I lack a required sum, you see most journalists these days don’t have I right? For Ten I’d be glad to” ” you’d take the wager for 10 Sterlings” Foster answers “Right away.”

Foster is taken in a coach by Poe and Blackwood to the front gate of the "Castle of Blood".

Note the great use of shadows which was a trademark of Italian Horror films during this period.

Lord Blackwood and Edgar Allan Poe wish Foster luck and leave him to enter the castle's property alone.

Once inside Lord Blackwood's castle Alan Foster is about to discover that the dead do live on and one other thing. To survive they must have blood--HIS!

As he spends the night Foster will watch the ghosts relive, (?), their deaths.

Barbara Steele plays the ghost of the sister of Lord Blackwood Elisabeth.

Alan Foster starts becoming confused as he falls in love with Elisabeth and starts to meet other ghosts, but are they dead or alive? At one point in this strange evening Alan observes, as the clock strikes midnight, a ball with all of the ghosts dancing and interacting.

The other women of this story is a ghost named Julia played by Margarete Robsham. She is a Norwegian actress best known to European audiences for this movie and for American audiences in 1963's "The Young Racers" directed by Roger Corman that starred Mark Damon, Corman's "The House of Usher", and was filmed in Europe.

As Alan Foster continues to observe the ball he sees a younger version of Lord Blackwood interacting with the ghosts of Elisabeth and Julia. As the story progresses Alan has lost reality and believes everyone is real and wants to take Elisabeth away from the castle.

She pleads with him to go and he will not. Outside of the castle walls Elisabeth suddenly falls to the ground and Alan Foster finally is brought back to reality as the two are at her grave site.

Foster in terror starts to runs out of the castle. He opens the gate and crosses out of the grounds. Believing he is now safe and Alan Foster feels relieved, because the ghosts have not gotten his blood. Just then the open gate swings shut and Alan Foster is impaled upon one of the gate's spikes. The ghosts have won and that is the way Edgar Alan Poe and Lord Blackwood find him.

The French cut of "Danza Macabra" contains a nude scene by actress Silvia Sorrente who plays another ghost named Elsi. The complete "International Edit" of this picture is available on DVD.

The motion picture's box office was lower than expected and in 1970 Antonio Margheriti remade "Danza Macabra" as "Web of the Spider" in color. This was a co-production of Italy, France and West Germany. Playing Alan Foster was American actor Anthony Franciosa, German actor Klaus Kinski played Edgar Allan Poe and French actress Michele Mercier portrayed Elisabeth Blackwood.


Germany has been known to change titles of horror and monster movies to attract a wider audience. Toho's Studios "Godzilla vs Gigan" in English. Somehow became "Frankenstein's Hell Brute" in German. So it was no surprise that in 1972 Margheriti's "Web of the Spider" became "Dracula: The Web of the Spider". Somehow turning the excellent German character actor Klaus Kinski's Edgar Allan Poe into "Count Dracula".

German audiences would have to wait another 7 years to actually see Klaus Kinski play "Dracula", in director Werner Hertzog's outstanding remake of  F.W. Murnau's classic 1922 silent "Nosferatu".


The West German motion picture "Die Schlangengrube und das Pendel (The Torture Chamber of Dr. Sadism)" released originally on October 5, 1967 is that country was known also as: "The Blood Demon", "Crimson Demon", "Castle of the Walking Dead" and the closest to the source material "The Snake Pit and the Pendulum". Among other titles.

The picture was based upon Edgar Allan  Poe's 1842 short story "The Pit and the Pendulum". Which Roger Corman had made in 1961 starring Vincent Price, John Kerr and Barbara Steele.

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This film has Christopher Lee as Count Regula who was searching for immortality. He had sacrificed 12 maidens, but needed one more when he was captured and drawn and quartered.

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Forty years later enter Karin Dor as Baroness Lilian von Brabant inquiring about her inheritance. She has been invited to "Blood Castle" to claim it.  The Baroness is accompanied by her lawyer Roger Mont Elise played by American actor Lex Barker. Roger has his own motive for taking this journey. He is looking for the truth about his birth with may be connected to "Blood Castle" and Count Regula.

The Baroness, her maid Babette, and Roger arrive in Sander Valley where they meet a monk named Fabian. Fabian offers to guide them to the castle. While the group is passing through a forest filled with corpses and body parts hanging from trees they are attacked by a hooded riders. Suddenly the women and the riders just disappear.

The Monk reveals he is really a robber, but joins Roger in an attempt to rescue the two women. They enter "Blood Castle" and find the Baroness and her maid locked in a chamber made entirely of iron. However, Roger and Fabian are captured and taken to Count Regula's servant Anatole.

Apparently Anatole plans to bring the Count back to life using his own green blood. The plan succeeds and Count Regula appears to Roger and Fabian wearing the Iron Mask that was placed upon his face at the time of death. He also tells them he needs one more maiden to obtain eternal life and that maiden is of course the Baroness. The Count reveals the truth of Roger's birth. His last name is not Mont Elise, but von Marienberg. He is in reality related to Roger von Marienberg the prosecutor who found Count Regula guilty of the murder of the 12 maidens and sentenced him to death.

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The four prisoners attempt to escape, but are recaptured. Count Regula locks the Baroness in a snake and spider pit were she looses her sanity. Roger is placed in a room under the Pendulum, but manages to escape. The Baroness had a diamond encrusted crucifix which is the means to finally destroy Count Regula. Roger rescues the Baroness who regains her sanity and along with Babette and Fabian the four leave "Blood Castle".

This fairly unknown Christopher Lee motion picture is available on DVD. However, as with "Hercules in the Haunted World" you might find that the dubbed English voice is not the actors on some versions.


My last motion picture contained three stories by Edgar Allan Poe and was an Italian/French co-operation. The French title was "Histories extraordinaires (Extraordinary Stories) and the translation of the Italian title "Tre passi nel delirio" was the one it is mostly known by "Spirits of the Dead". The motion picture premiered on May 17, 1968 at the Cannes Film Festival and then started its run in France. On September 12, 1968 it premiered in Italy. It would not be shown in the United States, because of delays caused by American International Pictures. That wanted to cut some of the scenes until July 23, 1969.

The International cast was lead by Jane Fonda, Peter Fonda, Brigitte Bardot, Alain Delon and Terrence Stamp. The three directors who finally filmed the three stories were Roger Vadim, Federico Fellini and Louis Malle, Making this picture of interest to non-Poe fans as well.

The original three directors for the motion picture were of equal status as those that finally filmed "Spirits of the Dead". They were Italian director Luchino Visconti and Americans Joseph Losey and Orson Wells. Wells had written a script for an adaption of "The Mask of the Red Death", but for one reason or another they all dropped out of the project before filming began. One can only wonder how this interesting motion picture would have looked.

The first segment of the film was based upon the Poe story "Metzengerstein: A Tale in Imitation of the German". Which was actually the first story published by Edgar Alan Poe in Philadelphia's "Saturday Courier" in 1832.

What makes viewing this segment of further interest is it was directed by star Jane Fonda's then husband French director Roger Vadim. They two had just completed and released "Barbarella". Jane Fonda's co-star in the Poe tale was her younger brother Peter. Who during filming on his off hours started to come up with an idea for a story about a man "Looking for America" called "Easy Rider".

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Countess Frederique de Metzengerstein played by Jane Fonda is wicked as they come and has been searching for true love. She meets Baron Wilhelm Berlifitzing played by Peter Fonda and is attracted to him. The problem here is that unknown to the Countess, because of a family feud in the past, he is her cousin. Vadim's choice of having Peter Fonda play the Baron makes this tale of possible sex between the two gives this tale a twist on Poe not lost on the audience.

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The Baron refuses the Countess' advances and in anger she burns down his stables containing his horses. Which are his great love. Two events then result from fire. One is that Wilhelm was in the stable and burns to death. The second is a black horse escapes the stable and Frederique captures it.

The horse is very wild, but the Countess decides to tame it for herself. While this is occurring she discovers a torn tapestry and has it restored. To her surprise it contains a black horse looking exactly like the one from Wilhelm's stable. Is the horse the ghost of the Baron seeking revenge?

During a thunderstorm Frederique goes for a ride on the black horse. When lightening strikes and starts a fire. She is unable to control the animal and it carries her in to the fire.

Roger Vadim used a style popular in France at the time for filming "Metzengerstein". It relayed on imagery more than dialogue. As a result this segment contains narration to background and carry the story forward. Although of approximate equal length to the other two segments "Metzengerstein" seems overly long partly due to the style Vadim utilized.

The second segment is "William Wilson" filmed by Louis Malle and based upon the 1839 short story of the same name. The piece stars French actor Alain Delon and French actress Brigitte Bardot/.

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The time is the early 19th century and Northern Italy is under Austrian rule. One soldier named William Wilson, portrayed by Alain Delon, is seen running through the streets as we see what might be a flashback of a man in a similar uniform falling from a church tower. Wilson arrives at the same church and although not a Catholic seeks out a Priest to confess his sin of murder. He begins to tell a Priest his confession and as the story enfolds the audience learns that he has a doppelganger who first appeared at the military academy the young Wilson attends. When asked his name the doppelganger replies "William Wilson".

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After a decadent card game with Brigette Bardot's Guiseppina and whipping her in front of the others present. He is stopped from having her raped by his doppelganger.Next the real William Wilson confronts his other self and stabs the doppelganger in the heart killing him. His confession completed and the Priest believing he is drunk and hallucinating. Wilson runs to the Church's towers and claims it. He then commits suicide over his sin of murder by jumping off the tower of the "Palazzo della Ragione". When the Priest approaches his body the knife William Wilson stabbed his doppelganger with in in his heart.

The third part of this trilogy of tales is based upon Edgar Allan Poe's 1841 "Never Bet the Devil Your Head" and was directed by Federico Fellini. The setting is present day Italy and former Shakespearean actor "Toby Dammit", portrayed by Terrence Stamp, arrives in Rome. He is there not because its a chance to revive his career lost to alcoholism, but for a promise of a Ferrari.

Dammit has been having strange visions of a little girl playing with a ball that started right after accepting the role in the Italian film. At a weirdly staged television interview he mentions that he believes the girl is the Devil  During an Awards Ceremony based upon the Oscars. Toby has reverted to his old self and become drunk. However, much to his drunken delight once the ceremony is over. Dammit is given the Ferrari. Ignoring the pleas of the producers Toby Dammit gets in the var and speed off.

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Driving his Ferrari through the streets of Rome it appears that all the people he sees are fake. Eventually Toby finds himself in the countryside and as he speeds along crashes in to a work zone at a collapsed bridge. He gets out of the car and looking cross the ravine the bridge had once spanned.. Toby Dammit sees the little girl with the ball who has an evil smile on her face. He gets into the car and speeds in her direction as the car suddenly disappears.

The viewer sees the roadway with a thick wire spanning it which is dripping blood. Next the audience sees the ball rolling by as the little girl walks by it and picks up Toby Dammit's head.

Fedrico Fellini had fun with the Italian motion picture industry in "Toby Dammit" especially at the awards ceremony. Which includes a not so subtle poke at Spaghetti Westerns that were all the rage in Italy at the time.

It was this segment of "Spirits of the Dead" that caused American International Pictures Samuel Z. Arkoff to tell the producers that he wanted to edit some of it for American and Canadian audiences. At first they didn't want to accept the offer and looked for another distributor. No other could be found and AIP got the distribution.

Their is a great U,K, BluRay of "Histories extraordinaires" available. It has the original French compete cut of the picture. The BluRay has several amazing options. You can watch the film in multilaunguage. The first is in English, the second French with subtitles and the third in Italian with subtitles and Terrence Stamp speaking his lines in English. Then you can have the entire picture in either French, Italian or English. There is an extra of Vincent Price doing a voice over of Poe's original poem "Spirits of the Dead" on the opening and closing credits. This was from the American International Pictures release, Price's voice is so recognizable, but he had no screen credit. Another feature of this BluRay is a booklet explaining how each story was created and then goes into details about the filming. There is a section comparing Poe to the film's versions. It is really a very great release. Oh, and just for those not from the U.K. The BluRay has an 18 in a circle on the cover. This is to tell buyers that no person only 18 years of age is permitted to purchase it. Interesting that that age limit would still be in effect, at the time of this writing, 48 years after its release.

Like many American motion picture and television versions of Edgar Allan Poe's stories. European films have changed the plots, but as these four movies illustrate. Foreign film makers have an interesting take on the master.

Cecil B. DeMille: December 1913 to December 1923

 --- but DeMille said “Let There Be Biblical Sex” and it was good. The above line is from my article, "The Bible According to Hollywood...