The indie horror anthology Tales of Poe comes to us from indie horror directors Bart Mastronardi (Vindication, which I blog about here) and Alan Rowe Kelly (whose movies I cover here). Not only do they give two of Poe’s stories and one poem a modern revamp that delivers the gore, they also make it a celebration of scream queens we all know and love.
“The Tell-Tale Heart”
This story is as macabre and twisted as it must have been to readers back in Poe’s day, using modern conventions and b-queen Debbie Rochon as the main character. Yes, this time, our protagonist is female.
Debbie is a new patient at a mental institution. The nurse is played by none other than Desiree “Aunt Martha” Gould, and she’s as perfectly bizarre as she was in Sleepaway Camp three decades ago. Meanwhile, Debbie is harassed by a fellow patient, played by Lesleh Donaldson (of classics like Funeral Home, Happy Birthday to Me, Deadly Eyes, and Curtains).
Debbie humors Lesleh, telling her the story of the time she worked as a private nurse for a former silent film star, played by Alan Rowe Kelly, who looks freaky deeky with a fucked up eye. And that eye pretty much pushes Debbie over the edge.
The story captures a classic gothic horror atmosphere, complete with eerie shadows, thunder, and lightning. And when Debbie loses her shit and gives Alan Rowe a beatdown, it’s damn gruesome. Things only get worse (aka: better) as we come to the psychotic climax of this timeless tale….
In this major overhaul of “The Cask of the Amontillado,” it’s the wedding day for Alan Rowe Kelly and fricking Randy “cowboy” Jones of the Village People! What better way to celebrate than to take the guests for a tour of underground catacombs?
Rather than strictly follow the plot of the original story, “The Cask” adds a whole new dimension of twists, turns, and even more revenge. It also casts knee-weakening Brewster McCall as one of the leads. Swoon.
But what this horror fan loved most about this tale (well, loved equally as much as Brewster) was the addition of a fricking walking corpse that perfectly captures the look and feel of 1970s Euro horror while giving the classic story more of a Creepshow/Tales from the Crypt vibe. Loved it.
Moving away from the tangible horror and gore of Poe’s stories, this final segment dares to adapt a short poem by Poe into an artistic experience. It may not be for every horror fan since it is told through visuals with no dialogue and goes way beyond the scope of its source.
A woman dying in her bed has a surreal, sort of out-of-body experience. That trippy, fantastical journey begins with a freaky horned demon visiting her bed and launching her into a state of existence between dark and light, fear of the unknown and welcoming of peace. The film also captures the classic, feminine style of the very Romantic Movement period from which Poe came.
And for contemporary horror fans, “Dreams” brings together Friday the 13th final girls Adrienne King and Amy Steel, plus Caroline Williams of Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. Amazing.
Purists may revolt against this modern approach to Poe by indie horror filmmakers, but it was time for someone to bring the writer into the 21st century, just as Roger Corman did back in the 1960s, stretching short stories into full-length movies no less. I hope the directors are considering a second anthology.