Edgar Allen Poe has always been a Halloween staple for us. Among us Americans especially, we bear a sense of pride in our nation’s black sheep writer of the macabre and phantastic. Not surprisingly, his works have inspired many fascinating movies like “The Masque of the Red Death,” “Murders in the Rue Morgue,” and “House of Usher.” Heck we’ll even count Corman’s “The Raven” as an adaptation, even though it only followed the loosest adherence to the plot. But when horror needs to find an audience, sometimes Hollywood needs to slip one past us. Slapping Edgar Allan Poe’s name, or the title of one of his stories onto a movie used to be a surefire way for a Horror movie to find a built-in audience (albeit a very disappointed one). Such a movie was the 1934 production:
The Black Cat
If you look closely at the title scroll in the opening credits you see something like THIS.
Yep. “Suggested” by. I’ve seen “based on” and “inspired by” in movie title credits, but this was the first one that seemed to shy away from it’s forced association with Edgar Allen Poe. Like, it was almost hang-dog ashamed of what it’s trying to pull. Nothing else succeeds in screaming so accurately, “this movie is absolutely nothing like Poe’s story, The Black Cat.”
Okay, so that aside, this was actually a very fun movie. It follows a pair of newlyweds who are traveling through Hungary when they get sidetracked by a car accident and are rescued by their tragic traveling companion, Dr. Vitus (Bela Lugosi), who takes them to an acquaintance’s house nearby. Bela departs from his usual monster role and plays a haunted, lovable, character with a heavy burden. I loved seeing Bela as such a sweet character, he was very endearing. His acquaintance, Poelzig, played by Karloff, was a swanning dramatic scenery chewer who was a delight to behold. It felt like I was watching Karloff trying to out-Bela Bela in his role as charming psychopath.
Oh, and Bela’s character has ailuraphobia (fear of cats). That’s it. That’s the cat. They try to make a big deal about it and cats and spirituality, but that’s it. The writing was snappy and fun, the honeymooning couple were a delightful dose of humor and were great tour guides through this dangerous war-torn country. I highly recommend this movie. Please see it on TCM streaming while it’s available. Just be prepared for a very good story that’s nothing to do with a drunken man murdering his wife and walling her body up with a cat.
But, wait. Haven’t we covered something like this on Carpe Scream before? Where Poe’s name was used on something that wasn’t Poe?
Yes, indeed we have, in Corman’s 1963 “The Haunted Palace” with Vincent Price. Years later, Hollywood convinced Corman that doing “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward” by magazine writer, H.P. Lovecraft would be too obscure to bring in an audience.
It was released under the title of a poem by Edgar Allen Poe, “The Haunted Palace.” They even stuck a verse of it at the end of the movie, just to drive home that this was totally “suggested” by Poe.
I also like The Haunted Palace a lot. The Case of Charles Dexter Ward is one of my favorite stories and I loved seeing it brought to light. Just don’t expect any real Poe story in it. You’d be better off looking for The Raven in a wacky magical romp about two wizards fighting over a woman.
Sweet screams, everyone.