This is my introduction to Roger Forman, the King of B-movies. They say it is better to be a king in the god forsaken Place rather than a lackey elsewhere and the title bestowed on Corman is indicative of his phenomenal success in the niche he chose to inhabit—low budget quickies catering to a market which does not fancy subtlety. He boasted having made a hundred films and never losing a cent.
The movie under review is based on a story of Edgar Allan Poe, and this is what attracted me to it. But as a matter of fact it is a potpourri of several of Poe’s tales, trying to glue them into something one may be able to consume in an undiscriminating mood.
An epidemic of a dreaded disease called the red death visits the kingdom of the cruel and perverted Prince Prospero. The prince has already sold himself to the devil and his pleasures in life consist in tormenting his subjects with unspeakable acts of violence, degradation and humiliation. Among his courtiers is the dwarf Hop Frog (borrowed from the story of the same name) and his beloved, a midget dancer. Part of the story is about how Hop Frog avenges the insult to his friend, and that itself could be the material for a tightly knit tale of minutely contrived revenge, but is here perfunctorily inserted as if to make up the stipulated weight of the consignment.
Poe’s stories, springing from his demented personality, are visions of hell, with a unique macabre beauty. Death, decay, premature burial, chilling vendettas (The Cask of Amontillado), terror of painful death approaching inch by inch (The Pit and the Pendulum)—such are the themes that sprang up from this fertile but sick imagination. I remember in my teens to have been star struck by this small collection of tales.
The flavor and Gothic majesty of Poe’s fevered mind is altogether missing. Corman’s movie is merely a juvenile high school drama. I have a feeling most of the audience would comprise of that age group. The acting is stiff and labored and the characters are either marching like soldiers on parade or overdoing the bacchanals. The canvas is crimson, more the color of overflowing chilly sauce than blood. The idea seems to assemble and deliver the product at the earliest, assembling the available parts like lego pieces.
A movie need not be faithful to source material but here the product is sold on the strength of Poe’s renown, even using the title of one of his stories. Everything is in the public domain so the late Mr Poe can do no more than groan in his grave.
But as an ardent Poe aficionado, I claim the right to protest this desecration. In the unlikely event of my visiting the US, one of my acts would be to lay a wreath at the writer’s grave. Certainly, nobody should judge Poe, genuine if not great artist that he was, by this tomfoolery.
Incidentally, I have heard it said by no less than Roger Ebert that Poe could have been a fine film director, by virtue of his strong visual imagination. I wonder how he would have reacted to this. I am reminded of the film Hannibal, in which the musically inclined and cannibalistic Dr Lector makes mince pies out of a violinist whose playing was out of tune in a musical performance the previous evening, and serves it graciously to other members of the symphony orchestra (of course without disclosing the recipe), much to their approbation. Perhaps that was a bit extreme.