For a long while, Hollywood didn’t really have much in the way of an Edgar Allan Poe film before The Raven – which is hitting theaters on April 27.
In this day and age, it would certainly be wonderful to see horror returning to more of a gothic direction, and Poe has many stories that are perfect for such movies.
Indeed, with so many horror classics being remade, it would certainly be far more interesting to see just what today’s filmmakers can do with Edgar Allan Poe – rather than watch yet another tired Friday the 13th or Halloween sequel.
Back in the 60’s, the legendary low-budget producer Roger Corman shot a great series of Poe films, beginning with House of Usher, because Poe was Corman’s favorite writer in high school. He was also Sylvester Stallone’s favorite writer in high school, and Sly’s been trying forever to get his own biopic of Poe in the theaters. (He came close a while back with Robert Downey Jr. slated to play the lead, which is perfect casting).
The Poe films of the 60’s were a big step up for Corman, who specialized in low budget cheapies, but he went ahead with House of Usher, which cost $300,000, a big budget for a drive in film of the time. (Corman used to make two movies back to back for $50,000). Usher was also shot on a 15 day schedule, which was unheard of for a low budget cheapie, as it usually took no more than a two to three day shoot, if even that.
The films came out through AIP, American International Pictures, the original independent company that Corman worked for. As AIP founder Sam Arkoff recalled in his memoirs, they didn’t mean to make a whole series, but the movies did so well, they didn’t want to stop. In addition to House of Usher, there was also The Masque of Red Death, a comical version of The Raven, which was written by Richard Matheson (I Am Legend), The Pit and the Pendulum, and Tomb of Liega.
Like the British Hammer films, the Poe films of the 60’s look remarkable, especially considering how little they cost, and Martin Scorsese is a big fan of them, along with the Hammer films, which both raised gothic storytelling to the level of art.
In the book Scorsese on Scorsese, the master director said the Poe films were an “important stimulus to would-be film-makers of my generation. House of Usher had a beautiful atmosphere in its use of color and CinemaScope. We loved this blend of English Gothic and French grand guignol mixed together in an American film.”