Poe: Project Of Evil
Directed by: Domiziano Cristopharo, Donatello Della Pepa, Edo Tagliavini, Giuliano Giacomelli
Written by: Andrea Cavaletto, Edo Tagliavini, Giuliano Giacomelli
Starring: Angelo Campus, Dario Biancone, David D'Ingeo, Francesco Malcom
AVAILABLE ON R1 DVD
RUNNING TIME: 91 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
DISTRIBUTED BY: Brain Damage Films
Edgar Allan Poe must surely be one of the most adapted writers for the screen [the most famous probably being the Roger Corman Gothic classics, usually starring Vincent Price, that began with The Fall Of The House Of Usher in 1959], despite his stories all requiring significant expansion if they are to last the duration of a feature film. The morbid and disturbing themes of his tales remain totally compelling, though to my mind his writing is so beautiful that no movie can totally capture it. In 2011, 15 filmmakers were brought together to do versions of 13 different Poe tales in an Italian anthology film called Poe: Poetry Of Eerie. The focus was on the writer’s poetic and macabre work. The success of the project brought about the follow-up we have here, which focuses on the bloody, violent and disturbing.
I’m going to own up and admit I haven’t seen the first movie, but it’s something I’m going to correct, because Poe: Project Of Evil is a film which is very worthwhile of you time even if you’re not a Poe enthusiast. In fact, you may very well enjoy it more if you’re not a fan of the Boston-born writer, because some of the shorts here do take great liberties with the source material [though whilst watching them I was reminded of how few adaptations take the tales out of their period setting] and they are also often extremely graphic, sometimes mixing sex and violence in a way that our BBFC, despite their overall leniency these days, may very well have a problem with if some brave distributor decided to try and release Poe: Project Of Evil in the UK. With these two warnings in place, there is a lot to enjoy and appreciate in this anthology for the broad-minded horror fan. In the manner of much of Italian horror [which is one of the reasons I like it so much], there is a great deal of artistry on show here and proves that Italian horror is alive and kicking.
The Pit And The Pendulum
A man finds himself alone in a white room with no exits and a pit that opens up before him that grows wider and wider in diameter….
One of Poe’s most famous stories is adapted without the actual pendulum of the title, though there is a strange ticking sound at one point. In any case, this short does maintain the unbearable suspense of the original story, which had a man wake up strapped to a bed with a slowly descending knife threatening to slice him in two. The THX 1138-style white room is an interesting setting and the black hole rather surreal in a simple but effectively told film which climaxes in a rather frightening and certainly unexpected manner. There’s also some graphic self-mutilation, though it’s nothing compared with what is to follow!
A man finds himself tied to a chair in a warehouse, where a guy who he bullied in high school tortures him mentally and physically. The kidnapper also has the prisoner’s wife, who he was once in love with….
The original, very short, poem of this title is an introspective and very personal work revealing the writer’s isolation and torment, though exact interpretation is difficult. I’m sure, though, that Poe wasn’t writing about what I’ve described in the synopsis above. Nonetheless, this is a particularly grim affair of the ‘torture porn’ kind, quite convincing and well played, though sometimes the Italian accents are hard to understand, even if the latter is remains preferable to dubbing. The nasty image of a limbless torso strapped to a table will recur in the mind in what is nasty but compelling stuff.
Loss Of Breath
A boastful porno star insults the wrong man for having a smaller dick, and has to contend with the other guy’s heavies and losing his voice….
This one has a little bit more to do with the original story, which is one of Poe’s more obscure and more comical in tone than normal, and actually the ending only really makes sense if you’ve read it. Far more stylised than even the first short, this is mostly in black and white and much like a silent film, with intertitles and exaggerated acting, though I don’t ever remember seeing a silent film that featured a castration scene to make Ruggero Deodato and Eli Roth jealous. There’s also more bloody torture, torture seeming to be a major feature of this collection of films. The weird atmosphere is intoxicating, helped immensely by the disturbing ambient scoring by Kristian Sensini. An odd, distant but somewhat invigorating exercise chiefly by dint of its style.
Two prostitutes are paid a visit by a customer and then his murderous, lustful gorilla….
Loosely inspired by, as you can probably guess, The Murders In The Rue Morgue, this depraved short really is gross with its scenes of razor slashing and rape by gorilla, though the none too convincing, in fact almost comical, ape costume takes away the nastiness a little bit. I’m not sure if this device benefits the segment or not – some might say it makes it even more tasteless because it gives it a comic edge – but it was clearly done for a reason. In the manner of much Italian horror, it’s almost contradictory in that it’s gorgeously lit, with flashing blue and red lighting recalling Mario Bava. There’s also a great ‘jump’ which mimics one in Suspiria. Again, the final scene is a little baffling and almost out of synch with what’s come before.
The Tell-Tale Heart
A man decides to murder his boyfriend because he has “the evil eye”, but deeply regrets it afterwards….
Poe’s tale of a killer haunted by his conscience is one of his best written and most compelling stories, though little of that comes through here in what to me was the poorest of the short films. It’s just about someone who kills and badly regrets it, and it seems to end suddenly too. There’s more bodily mutilation [you could say that bodily mutilation, torture, and murder are the main themes all throughout this collection!], though a little less graphic than before, but this story didn’t really make much of an impression on me except for its Thailand setting.
The System of Dr. Tarr & Prof. Fether
A journalist stops by the asylum of Dr. Tarr and Prof. Fether to interview them about their controversial methods – only to find them to be complete lunatics….
Poe’s light-hearted story dealing with a serious matter – the treatment of the insane – is adapted slightly more faithfully than most of the others in this collection, though of course not that faithfully. Set for some reason in Albania 1977, it’s another black and white affair with lots of Dutch angles emphasising the themes of madness and confinement. The Italian accents really are hard to make out here – I kept having to rewind the DVD to understand what one particular character was saying – and the antics of the title characters are more funny peculiar rather than funny ha ha, but the disturbing atmosphere is well maintained, there are some especially upsetting images here [a man chewing off another’s face], and Poe’s The Cask Of Amontillado is also nicely referenced.
The Premature Burial
A man awakes to find himself in a coffin, several feet below ground. After initially losing it, he gets his senses together, scratches his way through the coffin cover, and digs his way to the surface….
The oft-depicted but always horrifying concept of being buried alive is given an interesting twist in this rather haunting final short which almost comes across as a tribute to Lucio Fulci, riffing on City Of The Living Dead and The Beyond, replete with a piece of music at the end that is very similar to a Fabio Frizzi track in The Beyond. There’s one of the best ‘hand bursting out of the ground’ scenes in ages, some very unsettling zombies especially a young girl, and a cheap but rather effective depiction of the afterlife, all barren wasteland and digital fog or clouds rushing by. I loved the feel of this one and the Godfather of Gore would have loved it.
So there we have it. Though the films vary somewhat in quality, something that can’t really be avoided, I would label only one as being particularly disappointing. This is overall a strong collection, with mostly pretty good performances throughout too. Some may find the obsession with torture, confinement, mutilation and insanity tiring, but Poe was certainly about three of these things too. As for the extreme blood and gore, even the sexual element to some of the violence, the horror genre is about these things too, no matter how unpalatable some may find them [though the huge amount of male nudity is unusual]. The filmmakers here were given the freedom to do exactly what they wanted with the material, unconstrained by things like censorship and taste, and while the result will not be to every horror fan’s taste, there’s a great deal of talent and style on display too. I feel that Poe: Poetry Of Terror would have benefitted from being in Italian with English subtitles, as the dialogue really is hard to make out at times, and the odd element is somewhat puzzling, but this is still a very good anthology indeed, and I don’t think Poe would have been that displeased with it either despite the looseness of much of the adapting. I will be obtaining Power: Poetry Of Eerie in due course and will let you know what I thought.