VCI Entertainment: The Edgar Allan Poe Heart-Quaking Double Feature (1960 - 1971) - Reviewed

Images courtesy of VCI Entertainment

MVD Visual and VCI Entertainment have been working together for some time to release special digitally remastered versions of obscure if not forgotten older public domain titles either on DVD or blu-ray disc release.  Among their recent releases through VCI Entertainment’s lineup of older classic movies is an unusual double-feature dedicated to none other than American author Edgar Allan Poe’s horror literature and in particular his timelessly macabre story The Tell-Tale Heart.  Originally published in 1843, it told a confessional of an elderly murderer who kills a person, dismembers the body and hides it under the floor.  However, over time the storyteller complains of hearing a thumping sound radiating through the household which they conclude is the dead man’s still-beating heart. 
While the story has been adapted countless times over the years, including but not limited to Ridley Scott and Robert Eggers getting involved in their own respective interpretations, VCI and their uniquely named The Edgar Allan Poe Heart-Quaking Double Feature have zeroed in on two distinct versions made in 1960 with The Tell-Tale Heart and the Magicmotion effects editing trick version from 1971 Legend of Horror.  Though the set presents the films out of order, starting with Legend of Horror as the first option despite being assembled eleven years after The Tell-Tale Heart, it nevertheless offers a unique dual riff on the legendary macabre horror tale and makes for a decent Halloween party background.  Not necessarily the definitive takes on this story but definitely worth a look.
The Tell-Tale Heart (1960)
In director Ernest Morris’ British produced version of The Tell-Tale Heart financed by the prolific Danzigers who generated lots of television and noirish exploitation movies, this take on the story mixes things up a bit by incorporating a triangular romance of sorts that steadily goes from bad to worse as things ramp up.  Adapted by Brian Clemens and Eldon Howard, this take on the story is perhaps best known for prominently featuring actress Adrienne Corri who achieved cinematic infamy for her turn as the elderly rape victim in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange.  There’s also more than a bit of a peeping-tom connotation peppered into this kind of spicy spin on the Poe fable.
Edgar Marsh (Laurence Payne of Ben-Hur) is a withdrawn socially awkward librarian with a fixation on pornography who after spotting his sexy neighbor Betty Clare (Adrienne Corri) undressing and he makes it his top priority to woo her with dinner and gifts despite her visible discomfort around him.  However, the plot thickens after Edgar eagerly introduces her to his best friend Carl Loomis (Dermot Walsh) and the doe eyed Betty is immediately smitten with Carl before quickly engaging in an affair with him under Edgar’s nose.  After spotting them in bed together one night, Edgar murders Carl with a fireplace poker and buries him underneath the floor in his piano room.  However, the anxiety, fear and guilt radiating through him becomes too much to bear and he begins hearing what sounds like a metronome interlinked with a faucet dripping, the sound of Carl’s still beating heart weighing heavy on Edgar. 

Unlike most adaptations of The Tell-Tale Heart, this one takes place in the present rather than being told to us in flashback and despite ostensibly being a B-movie production it is generally regarded as one of the better British film adaptations of Poe to come out of this period.  Handsomely photographed by James Wilson and blocked with a subtly macabre yet slightly Jazzy score by Tony Crombie and Bill LeSage, this period piece bears the distinction of being moody and atmospheric with acute attention to costume and period details.  The three central performers do a great job of conveying the awkward tension and burning jealousies generated by their triangular love affair with Laurence Payne conveying nebbish tendencies leading towards sociopathy and Adrienne Corri exuding unattainable beauty as well as discomfort from her unwanted beau hunk’s come ons.  Also strong is Dermot Walsh who is cool, clean and collected until his eyes meet Betty Clare’s and the two fall hopelessly in love.
Released two years later in the US under the title The Hidden Room of 1,000 Horrors, The Tell-Tale Heart though compressed under a tight seventy-eight minute length serves up the Poe goods, thrills and chills with a surprisingly creepy use of sounds and heartbeats and an altogether spooky macabre premise.  While far from being considered the definitive adaptation, the love-triangle spin is interesting and the period details make this horror story something of a trip back into time.  Far from a bad way to start off this double feature centered around one of Poe’s most infamous, timelessly creepy tales. 
Legend of Horror (1971)
In the one-and-done Bill Davies’ Legend of Horror, a young man named John is arrested for hitting on the mayor’s wife and sentenced to fifteen years in a wooden cell with another wrinkly bearded elder named Sidney (Ben Daniels) who keeps a pet rat for company.  After Sidney suffers an injury after trying to lift a heavy log outside for the prison guards dressed in what looks like 19th century wartime outfits, John discovers a hidden tunnel beneath their cell, prompting Sidney to tell his life story to the youth before leaping into a flashback to a much younger twenty-something Sidney who has taken refuge in his stingy disfigured uncle’s clock shop for room and board.  Sidney helps out a young cripple named Tommy by giving him milk in the morning, much to his uncle’s chagrin.  From there it kind of becomes a prison-escape thriller in real time while flashing back to the past-tense story of Sidney and his uncle culminating in what will or will not become the story of The Tell-Tale Heart.

A bit sluggish, lopsided and disjointed, trying to tell two stories at once, the film as it turns out was a pastiche of footage from the Argentinian Poe film Obras Maestras del Terror directed by Enrique Carreras from 1960s.  Plucking out The Tell-Tale Heart from the anthology horror film and splicing in some American footage from around 1966, the film is a smorgasbord of old-and-new scenes mashed together like many other foreign imports slated for domestication in the hopes of turning a quick profit.  More of a slog than a scare, it is a film that clearly doesn’t look like it was shot in 1972 and despite the short seventy-five-minute running time this mashup movie ala Curtis Harrington’s Queen of Blood doesn’t really work that well or compellingly as narrative horror cinema. 
Despite being a cacophony of repurposed footage from other movies that doesn’t always come together gracefully, in terms of this set it feels like the appropriate companion piece to the 1960 British film.  Horror fans and Poe disciples will likely come away bored by this despite the appearance of some Ed Wood legends like Fawn Silver from Orgy of the Dead and the Magicmotion editing effects designed to make it look like someone is being stabbed in the face or throat with stop-motion animation will raise some eyebrows if only for a second.  A bit of a whimper on an otherwise decent Poe horror set focused on The Tell-Tale Heart, Legend of Horror is sure to disappoint but the Magicmotion effects were nifty.

--Andrew Kotwicki