Conceptually, horror-tinged melodrama The Spectre of Edgar Allan Poe is fairly sound, offering a fictional set of circumstances to explain why the real Poe wrote stories about macabre subjects. Specifically, the film suggests that Poe (Robert Walker Jr.) fell in love with a beautiful woman named Lenore (Mary Grover), who suddenly fell ill, giving the appearance of death. During her funeral, Lenore awoke and screamed from inside her coffin, so Poe leaped into her grave and rescued her, but the experience drove Lenore insane. With no choice but to institutionalize Lenore, the movie proposes, Poe entrusted his love to Dr. Grimaldi (Cesar Romero), only to discover that Grimaldi was a madman engaged in perverse experiments on the human brain. Tragedy ensued. Executed with style and wit, this storyline could have generated a fantastic hybrid of character study and thriller, weaving allusions to Poe’s famous stories into the narrative. Alas, cowriter/director Mohy Quandour isn’t up to the task, the cast is unimpressive, and the whole production looks cheap.
Walker, who brought an affecting quality to roles as troubled young men in various films and TV shows of the ’60s and ’70s, cuts an interesting figure as Poe, but he gets stuck in a mopey groove, rendering his performance dull and one-dimensional. It therefore falls to Romero, of all people, to inject the movie with dynamism, but he, too, misses the mark, playing every scene broadly and obviously. As for the film’s thrills-and-chills quotient, don’t get your hopes up. Although the fright-factor highlight should be a long sequence of Poe trapped inside a literal snake pit—as in a soggy dungeon where serpents swim in brackish water—the snakes are too few and small to deliver the desired shock value. And while the picture also boasts lurid subplots about deranged axe murderers and the like, the filmmaking is so amateurish and clunky that Quandour never gets close to the immersive type of darkness the story would have needed to cast a gruesome spell. Points for trying, though.
The Spectre of Edgar Allan Poe: FUNKY