Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Roger Corman's Poe-sters Addenda Part III

This is a bit of a cheat in that they’re not Corman movies, but they did come from the American International Pictures stable and all three starred Price.

The director of the first two was Jacques Tourneur, at pretty much the nadir of his career, a long way, artistically-speaking, from Cat People, Out of the Past and FNB movie Night of the Demon.

Scripted by Richard Matheson, who had written all the earlier Corman Poe films except Premature Burial, Comedy of Terrors (1964) is in the comedic vein of The Raven, but it seems the director, although initially expressing admiration for the script, later claimed he was unhappy with the film and wouldn’t talk about it. Like Price, the other key members of the cast had all appeared in Corman’s Poe adaptations, although Lorre was ill at the time and it’s clear in some shots that he is replaced by a none-too-convincing ‘double’.

War-Gods of the Deep/The City Under the Sea (1965) was written by Charles Bennett, who had worked with Tourneur on Night of the Demon and with Alfred Hitchcock during his British period, but had latterly scripted Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea for Irwin Allen, so perhaps he seemed a good choice.

The plan was to reunite Price with Boris Karloff, but the latter had to opt out due to ill health. Tourneur allegedly liked this script too, but another writer, Louis M. Heyward, was brought in to add some broad humour in the shape of the David Tomlinson’s comic character Harold Tufnell-Jones and his pet rooster and the director felt he completely ruined the film. It was Tourneur’s last movie; Charles Bennett claimed the director was blamed for the film’s failure but noted, “He was not to blame at all.”

Although it was allegedly inspired by Poe’s poem, the only reference is when Price recites it at the end. No doubt Poe’s name on the poster was intended to exploit the success of the Corman-Price movies.

The final movie is Michael Reeves’ British horror film, The Witchfinder General (1968), which has built up a good critical reputation after its initial largely disappointing reviews. While it was distributed by American International Pictures, it has no Corman connection whatsoever and was made a few years after AIP’s Corman/Poe cycle. However, it did star Vincent Price, giving a more restrained performance than usual, and when it was distributed in the US, it was given the title Edgar Allan Poe’s The Conqueror Worm to cash in on the earlier films’ success, even though the only Poe reference is Price’s reading of extracts from Poe’s poem during the epilogue and prologue.

One point of interest is that the man who ruined the script of War-Gods of the Deep, Louis M. Heyward, was one of the film’s producers and, after the initial filming was finished, took it upon himself to oversee the shooting - with no involvement from Reeves - of some alternate scenes involving nudity for the release of the movie in Germany.

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