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Friday, April 24, 2015

Bay of the Living Dead: Tales of Poe

Posted By on Fri, Apr 24, 2015 at 8:01 AM

Welcome to Bay of the Living Dead, a twice a month column about the horror genre.

Edgar Allan Poe wrote that "The boundaries which divide life and death are at best shadowy and vague. Who shall say where the one ends and the other begins?" which may be why he remains a revered literary icon more than 150 years after his demise. He became a legend for his grotesquely morbid mysteries, his strange tales of terror, and his dark poetry. His mysterious 1849 death at age 40 remains unresolved — the circumstances could have been fodder for one of his own stories.

Poe has long been an influence on filmmakers. The great silent director D. W. Griffith's The Avenging Conscience (1914) was based on several Poe tales. During the 1960s, low-budget auteur Roger Corman made a number of impressive and highly regarded Poe films starring Vincent Price. These atmospheric chillers were the closest the cinema came to filming Poe's prose as written — such that Corman's highly stylized films were sometimes compared to the works of Ingmar Bergman. 

click to enlarge Tales of Poe poster. - ALAN ROWE KELLY
  • Alan Rowe Kelly
  • Tales of Poe poster.

It's been awhile since Poe's name has graced a theater marquee, but East coast directors Bart Mastronardi and Alan Rowe Kelly have joined forces to co-direct Tales of Poe, an anthology film which features three Poe stories: "The Tell Tale Heart," "The Cask of Amontillado" and "Dreams." Shot on a minuscule budget, Tales of Poe is a worthy successor to the Corman/Price films. Due to the skills of the filmmakers and their love of the genre, Tales of Poe transcends its low budget and becomes a haunting and eerie work. Horror buffs might recognize scream queens Adrienne King (Friday the 13th) and Debbie Rochon in the film's cast.

Also in the cast is co-director Kelly. In The Tell-Tale Heart, which Mastronardi directed, Kelly appears in drag as an aged, bedridden former movie star — the character is a biological female. The role wasn't a stretch for the openly gay Kelly, who often appears at horror cons in full, glamorous drag. 

Kelly is superb in the role of an embittered recluse, which is a far cry from his outgoing real life persona. He spoke to SF Weekly about being an openly gay man, and a drag queen, in the "straight boys' club" that comprises much of the indie horror world.

"A lot of folks didn't know what to make of me at first — story of my life," Kelley said. "But I'd win them over eventually. I let my work speak for itself."

He admitted that some industry people were "taken aback" when they realized that he isn't a woman "Most got over it pretty quickly," he said. "If the film is good and entertaining, folks will want to see it. The horror industry is a world of very different and unique people. Many of us have come from either troubled or misunderstood childhoods and horror has become a home and a haven to many."

click to enlarge Alan Rowe Kelly. - ALAN ROWE KELLY
  • Alan Rowe Kelly
  • Alan Rowe Kelly.

Kelly calls himself "a tough cookie". He says that there have been occasional run-ins with homophobia in his profession. "I've never had it directed to my face, but I can admit to some lost opportunities where receiving funding for a film, an acting role, or a crew position were denied me based on the face value of how I look," he said. "I never understood the innate fear that lives inside certain people and never will."

He addressed the influence that the Corman/Price films played in the making of Tales of Poe. "We looked at all the Corman and Hammer horror films as a reference," he said. "They were all done so beautifully in terms or art direction and production design. That was one point we took very seriously — we wanted the film to have a lush look." 

Though Poe's basic storyline remains intact, the filmmakers made a few updates which bring the tales into our current gender-bending world.

"Bart's goal was to create a new voice to Poe's classic tales," Kelly said. "He wanted more of a female perspective and did so by reversing the genders of the main characters. I think he was spot on with his instincts and that enabled us to bring in some very talented veteran horror actresses — these women know their craft and were able to take their characters to very interesting places."

Kelly tells SF Weekly that the filmmakers are currently talking to three distributors and should have a deal soon. In the meantime, please visit the film's official site,  where you can view the trailer.

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Tales of Terror Blu Ray box cover. - KINO LORBER
  • Kino Lorber
  • Tales of Terror Blu Ray box cover.

And while you're waiting for Tales of Poe, please consider checking out Kino Lorber's fabulous new Blu-Ray of Roger Corman's Tales of Terror (1963). Vincent Price chews the scenery in three classic thrillers by master storyteller Poe: Morella, The Black Cat and The Case of M. Valdemar. All three stories are set in a fogbound netherworld sure to chill your spine.

Price and the great character actor Peter Lorre are particularly marvelous in The Black Cat, a humorous tale of jealousy, madness and murder.  Kino Lorber offers a magnificent remastered print of this grand old chestnut, and the Blu-Ray includes a recently shot interview with the still active Corman.

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