A capital summarization of Roger Corman's Poe cycle. The model is L'Amore, the meditation on the director's art in contrasting moods addressed by the actor -- Magnani playing urbane and then peasant for Rossellini, Vincent Price fitting Corman's sense of the grotesque into august and absurdist guises. Morella, the first tale, gives a deft synthesis of House of Usher and The Pit and the Pendulum. Maggie Pierce enters a crumbling castle, inside are tarantulas in crimson chalices and a cake wrapped in cobwebs, Price is her grief-consumed father, her dead mother (Leona Gage) looms in spirit (an overseeing portrait) and in the flesh (a mummy in the boudoir); the vengeful past averts family healing, so the climax mates incest with necrophilia amid the flames. The Black Cat is tilted towards A Bucket of Blood, keyed up to Peter Lorre's sublimely viscous feeling for farce. Lorre's soused stroll through mock-Victoriana ("Could you spare a dime for a moral cripple?") leads him to the wine-tasting convention for his mugging face-off with Price, distorted by an increasingly blotto camera eye. Conjugal infidelity soon is uncovered, Price and Lorre's wife (Joyce Jameson) are entombed behind a bricked wall, dubbed a "marvelous jest" by the desperate prey, a "nice, professional job" by the tranquil predator; Corman's knowing hallucinations are stretched through funhouse lenses on their way to the meowing punchline, and possibly to Jean-Pierre Melville's homage in Le Cercle Rouge. Morella unspools via tracking shot, The Black Cat follows freeze-frame with quick zoom, and The Case of M. Valdemar picks up the colored swirl of a mesmerist's glass wheel. Price is a dying man who, hoping for an end to his agony, offers himself to science -- hypnotist Basil Rathbone covets his wife (Debra Paget) and takes over his soul, the whole process filmed with Price in close-up to suggest Major Amberson's expiration turned psychedelic. Argento and Romero would later show how Poe's tales can inform modern terror, Corman shows how they can voice different facets of an artist's sensibility. With David Frankham, and Wally Campo.
--- Fernando F. Croce