Wicked Wednesday: The Demon Murder Case (1983)

Talk about going out with a fart. After a month of (relatively) fun TV movies, we reach the finish line at a crawl with The Demon Murder Case.

On the surface. This movie has all the right ingredients: true crime, supposed demon possessions, and Kevin Bacon. But what’s delivered in a confused and poorly-paced film that I wish I would have napped through.

Slight based on a true story, the movie opens with a young man, Kenny (Bacon), in a courtroom. What has he done? Well, whatever it is the Devil made him do it.

We then jump back to the time before Kenny’s crime. Young Brian is a nice kid, but has become possessed by a demon. His family try to help him by asking btoh the curch and a couple of demonologists (a fictionalised version of the Warrens) to intervene.

Though neither helps. Brian stays possessed. His family become increasingly frustrated, especially Kenny, who can’t seem to hold his temper. Kenny threatens the demon possessing Brian, ignoring the fact that the experts’ explicitly said not to do so.

Kenny is then possessed by the demon himself. While possessed, he becomes jealous of his girlfriend’s new boss – a man who needs help…grooming his dogs? During a party, the boss becomes drunk and harrassess Kenny’s girlfriend. Then “the demon” takes control and stabs the drunk man.

The police later arrest Kenny. The last act of the movie is Kenny’s trial. Honestly, it’s very boring.

The biggest issue I had with this movie was the pacing. For the first half of the film, we’re watching an Exorcist rip-off. Brian’s demon speaks through him using a gravely voice. He injures himself. He said TV-appropriately unappropriate things to his family.

We’re 30 minutes in when Brian’s exorcism begins. The build up is pretty quick. Then we have to forget about Brian (who, by the way, we have no idea if he’s still possessed) and begin focusing on this Kenny character. Kenny, bless Kevin Bacon, is an incredibly boring and unlikable character. The fact that he’s just suddenly possessed is weird.

The trial of Arne Cheyenne Johnson (the real murderer) is the subject of the third Conjuring film, which is (hopefully) being released this summer. It will be interesting to see how the story is tackled. Hopefully there is more focus. The issue with the story in The Demon Murder Case is that it is essentially two in one: Brian’s possession and Kenny’s trial (David Glatzel and Arne Cheyenne Johnson in the true tale). By including both, the typical climax, the exorcism, is too near the beginning. All the suspense is spent before the movie is even halfway over.

That being said, the first half of this movie can be visually interesting. At times it’s almost more ambitious than the usual TV move fare at the time. For some reason, these directoral decisions are discarded once Kenny becomes the main focus.

And I do think a story just about Kenny/Arne could be interesting. This is the first case in the US where demonic possession was part of the defence. As I mentioned before, I’m interested to see what happens with the story when it’s in more modern hands.

Wicked Wednesday: Satan’s School for Girls (2000)

When I first started Made-for-TV March, I was surprised at how many TV movies had modern remakes. They don’t exactly seem like the type of thing to be ripe for that. After watching 1973’s Satan’s School for Girls back in 2017, I spotted the 2000 remake and immediately blew it off. At that point, I didn’t want to touch anything made after 1990.

But after a few years of running this, I slowly began to get over my fear of more modern films. Though I vowed that wouldn’t watch the remake until I had forgotten most of the original.

Only… I maybe forgot a little too much. For one, I thought I had really liked the original. Though glancing through my original write up, I was apparently less-than-enthusiastic. And the plot? I had to reread the entire thing to jog any memories at all.

So watching 2000’s Satan’s School for Girls felt like being introduced to an entirely new story. And in many ways, I was.

In 2000’s remake, Beth goes to Fallbridge College for Girls when her sister’s death is deemed a suicide. Her one piece of evidence is a sympathy card from a group simply called “The Five”. She begins to look into the lives of the girls around her, suspicious particularly of the goths.

She soon learns that The Five were a group of women who all went on to become wildly successful. Senators, bankers and the like.

But Beth’s detective work is not as subtle as she thinks. All eyes at the school seem to be on her. And it’s not too long before she’s forced to call upon her own psychic powers to battle the witches at her school.

There’s a lot more emphasis on this story on the girls’ magic. It’s both a strength and weakness of the film. It’s fun watching some witchy fun, and the women here seem to have much more agency than in the 1973 version. But the special effects in the 2000 movie have dated terribly. Considering The Craft was made nearly four years earlier, there’s not really an excuse. That is unless they spent literally all their budget getting Shannon Doherty.

The remake does switch things up enough that it doesn’t always feel like you’re watching the same movie twice. The second half certainly veers away from the original source material more than the first. Much of the climax is longer and more dragged out than the original – which has an ending like a punch to the gut. The ending was easily the most memorable part of the original.

Breaking one of my rules, I took the time to read an original review in Variety after watching the film. What was interesting to me, is that the writer argued that there wasn’t a need for groups like The Five anymore. Women are plenty powerful without having to make a deal with Satan.

Honestly, I’d have to disagree with that point a lot. We see women still getting attacked and murdered just walking home. I would do anything to have more power in life just to protect myself and other women. And what about our trans sisters? When their existence is challenged every day, can we really say women are fine enough in the workplace?

If The Five weren’t so hellbent on killing other people off, I’d say that every woman should consider making a pact with the Devil.

Wicked Wednesday: When Michael Calls (1972)

Cell phones are both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, we never have to answer a call from an unknown number. On the other, we’ve lost a whole subgenre of horror: the creepy caller.

Sorry, Wrong Number, Black Christmas, and When a Stranger Calls are all in the same pot of creepy-caller movies. And When Michael Calls is a wonderful example of the subgenre within the TV movie world. It’s a slasher mystery filled with a wonderful autumnal ambience.

One day, Helen and her daughter, Peggy, receive a surprise visit from Helen’s ex-husband, Doremus. The separated couple, unsurprisingly, has a very strained relationship. But poor Helen’s day only gets worse when she gets a strange phone call.

On the other end of the line in a person with a child-like voice. The caller claims to be Michael, Helen’s nephew who died in a blizzard years before. She knows it’s him as he calls her “Auntie My Helen”, which apparently only he called her.

Shaken by the call, Helen speaks to Michael’s older psychiatrist brother, Craig. They agree that while strange, there’s nothing they can do about it.

Then one night, Peggy answers the phone. She tells her mother that ‘Michael’ called Doc, a family friend, bad names and insinuated something bad would happen to the doctor. Helen tries frantically to contact Doc, but by the time she gets through on the phone lines, Doc is already dead.

Doremus, who might be a lawyer, is seemingly also a good investigator. After the police sweep the scene of the crime, Doremus discovers that someone has tampered with Doc’s things.

And thus begins a series of murders. All of them link to one person: Michael and Craig’s mother. Helen admits to Doremus that when the boys were younger, she had her sister committed. Her sister tried to hurt herself and the boys, so she had to be put away for everyone’s safety. Apparently, Michael had a problem with that and didn’t want to be raised by his aunt. He had run away during the blizzard, upset at ‘losing’ his mother.

So who is the real Michael? Or is it that after all these years, Michael could still be alive? Helen and those around her begin to question their reality as the situation around them becomes more deadly.

When Michael Calls is a prime example of excellent made-for-TV magic. The cast is fantastic, boasting the talents of Michael Douglas, Elizabeth Ashley and Ben Gazzara.

Maybe I’ve seen too many gialli, but I found the twist easy to guess. That being said, it was still enjoyable watching the reveal. It might be a bit hokey for some, but I love a bit of (spoiler) hypnotism. Whacky and unbelievable as all hell – and it’s perfect television.

It’s likely that I might forget this one, as many other TV movies are a bit flashier. When Michael Calls is very atmospheric and is wonderful at building the mystery. But it is subtle at times. Still, this is a wonderful place to start. If only to watch a young Michael Douglas look very attractive in some wonderous 70s glasses.

Wicked Wednesday: Death of a Cheerleader (1994)

I’ve been a bit overloaded with true crime stories as of late. My husband and I are watching The Act. I’ve just finished Sinisterhood’s three-part series on Ted Bundy. It was only incidental that I decided to choose Death of a Cheerleader for this week’s TV movie viewing.

TV movies are one of the original masters of true crime. The original award-winning limited television series, if you will. There’s a long history of overblown “warnings” given to viewers through this medium. There’s Menedez: A Killing in Beverley Hills (1994), I Know My First Name is Steven (1989) about a child abduction and even all the way back to 1975’s The Deadly Tower.

This was an era of true crime novels by names like Anne Rule, John Bloom and John E Douglas were being sold at supermarkets. True crime is certainly having a heyday, but it’s not a new trend.

Death of a Cheerleader is based on the murder of 15-year-old Kirsten Costas at the hands of her young, jealous classmate.

Kirsten in this fictionalised retelling is Stacy Lockwood (Tori Spelling). She’s popular and, as these things go, a bit awful. She runs with a pack of seemingly equally-as-awful-but-less-ambitious friends.

Looking up to them all is the talented writer Angie Delvecchio (Kellie Martin). Entering her sophomore year at school, she’s determined to achieve all her goals. She wants to be the editor of the school yearbook, become popular and make cheerleading. And while the yearbook seems within her reach, everyone around her seems to think the last two are a bit out of her reach.

But Angie is determined. She eventually becomes initiated into a group called the Larks, a sorority-like group that supposedly does community work. It seems to all beginning to happen for her. Then in one fell swoop, she learns she has missed out on making both yearbook and cheerleading.

The last thing she can achieve is popularity. When she’s invited to a party one day, she calls Stacy’s parents and claims that there’s a Lark party. She picks up Stacy on her own to drive her to the party. Stacy is initially bewildered but seems excited at the prospect of the party.

But Stacy’s enthusiasm dies out when she learns that neither of the girls was actually invited by the party’s host. Angie has a meltdown and begins professing her admiration for Stacy. It’s all a bit…intense. Stacy gets out of the car and goes to a house to get a ride home.

Not wanting to lose out on her last chance, Angie stalks Stacy. And in the heat of the moment, murders her friend with a kitchen knife that’s conveniently in the car.

The rest of the film examines Angie’s life after the murder. Life at the school without Stacy’s toxicity is an improvement for Angie. But the guilt still gnaws at her. When she eventually confesses to her mother in a letter, all of Angie’s laundry is aired to the community for them to judge.

Tori Spelling is, as always, wonderfully wicked in her role of the mean queen bee. Losing her halfway through the film certainly is a major factor in why everything begins to feel so….slow….

I loved watching the dramatic dynamics between the girls at the school. Unfortunately, it was less interesting watching Martin shuffle her way through her guilt for the last half of the movie (who is, by the way, also very good in this).

The movie seems to have an agenda here: Angie is the real victim. She’s the victim of a society that bullied her into blindly reaching for success. Stacy’s cruelty only fed into those emotions.

But all you have to do is google Kirsten Costas’ name to remind yourself that this very young woman was real. People are complex, and sometimes movies are very bad at showing us dimensions. Sometimes we have so much fun playing make-believe, that we don’t realise the damage we’re doing.

I think in today’s current TV world, this would make a good mini-series. There’s definitely a lot to analyse here. Though Lifetime skipped that idea when they remade Death of a Cheerleader in 2019. I’d love to learn more about Kirsten’s real life and that of the girl who took it.

Also, this movie has Valerie Harper as Angie’s mom! She’s criminally underutilized in this movie. Justice for Valerie!

Wicked Wednesday: Dark Mansions (1986)

It’s Made-For-TV March, everyone! Truly a month that I look forward to every year.

TV movies are brilliant for many reasons. But one reason in particular that I love these films is the dramatic flair. Soap-opera vibes, if you will. Thunder! Lightning! Unexplained powers! And is there anything soapier than Joan Fontaine as the matriarch of a wealthy family in a TV pilot described as “Dallas meets Dark Shadows”?

That question is rhetorical.

The Drake family are incredibly wealthy and own a successful shipyard (ship making?) business. As with any well-kept family, there are cracks in the facade. The brothers bicker. A couple of the cousins are in love. And one of them just happened to mysteriously fall to her death from a cliff…only for her look-a-like to appear months later.

Shellane Victor is the newest employee of the Drake family. She’s there to be Margaret Drake’s assistant and the family biographer. When she arrives at the house, the family all react to her strangely. Almost amazed at what they see.

But the attention is soon off her when the family patriarch, Margaret’s husband, dies while out on the boat with his sons in a storm. Though his niece Noelle had already seen this coming as she has the powers of premonition. (I think.)

Shellane slowly learns the secrets of the Drake family. Some are more confusing than others. One mystery grabs her attention the most. She learns about the death of Jason’s wife, Yvette, who died falling from a cliff. She’s first told it was a suicide. But maybe it wasn’t? She later hears that Yvette might have been pushed or maybe even slipped out of her husband’s own hands.

Stranger than all of that, Shellane discovers she shares a striking resemblance to the late Yvette.

There is plenty of other storylines going on here. Lots of people sleeping with other people. That cousin romance I mentioned. Drama about the father’s will. A little something for everyone.

Though unfortunately, this one is pretty light on the horror vibes (no vampires here), there is plenty of drama to go around. I particularly loved Lois Chiles as the dastardly, scheming wife of a Drake family son. She walked straight out of a scene in Rebecca and into the 80s. You could see how well this pilot was setting up for future misdeeds. It’s a shame we’ll never see them.

The setting for the story is wonderfully gothic: a pair of mansions. One by the seaside cliffs, sitting abandoned. The other an exact replica, almost a ghost of the other. Throw that in with a wicked family and you have TV movie magic.

I’m not really sure what the point of this story was beyond the mystery of Yvette’s death (which is secondary, really). The point of the pilot was clearly meant to tempt viewers to continue watching in the future, not resolve any storylines. Frankly, that doesn’t matter too much when you get to see scene after scene of drama and gorgeous mansions.

Wicked Wednesday: Women in horror, book edition

It’s the final Wednesday in February, making it the last week of Women in Horror Month. Now, typically I like to highlight women behind the camera. But this year I tried to read as many horror novels by women as possible. Granted that was the uninspiring number of “five” – but we take what we can get in these days of rona.

Each book was stunningly different from the next. Was every book a favourite? No. Though I do think each of these titles has the ability to be someone’s favourite – the writing (and translation in one case) is impeccable in every single one of these.

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Moreno-Garcia’s book has been much talked about over the last year. It’s been named as a finalist for the Gram Stoker Awards’ Superior Achievement in a Novel. It won best horror novel at the Goodreads book awards. There’s even a mini-series in the works. There’s a lot of hype behind this one. More than any other that I read this month.

In short, this gothic novel follows socialite Noemí Taboada as she goes to the creepy High Place, where her cousin is living. Something is causing her cousin to behave strangely, and it isn’t long until Noemí begins to see visions herself.

After finishing Mexican Gothic, I had to finally admit to myself that I’m just not a fan of the genre in novel form. I found it slow and didn’t like the ‘twist’. But this book accomplishes everything it sets out to do – it just wasn’t to my tastes.

Moreno-Garcia has great prose – she’s sure to be a hit with anyone who loved Rebecca but thought the plot needed the creep factor of Shirley Jackson injected in the veins.

Ghost Summer: Storieby Tananarive Due

I have been meaning to read Due’s work for a few years now. But the time was finally right when an audiobook of Ghost Summer was finally released in the UK.

This collection of short stories and novellas immediately sucked me in. There are monstrous women, zombies, ghosts and pandemics. Each story is brought to life with vivid characters that I’m still thinking about.

My favourites were in the first section, Gracetown, which consists of three stories (including the titular “Ghost Summer”). Hot days and creeping goings-on are my absolute favourites.

Due is already an icon in the genre, but I feel as though she is increasingly getting the credit she is due (sorry). If you haven’t had the pleasure yet, please pick up one of her stories. I’m desperate to get to the next.

Black Ambrosia by Elizabeth Engstrom

This is a vampire novel of a very different sort.

Angelina is a killer. But she isn’t like other vampires. Angelina kills out of love. She travels the country, weaving herself in and out of various communities, both respectable and not. That is until she begins to spiral further and further into her darkness.

I loved Engstrom’s When Darkness Loves Us and was curious to try more of her work. This novel had much of what I loved about the first collection I read: quiet, twisted women at the forefront. Angelina is an absolutely magnetic protagonist. Yes, she does some horrific deeds, but I really felt like I needed to know more about her.

It’s sad, completely grey and absolutely one of the best vampire novels I’ve read.

Monster She Wrote: The Women Who Pioneered Horror and Speculative Fiction by Lisa Kröger and Melanie R. Anderson

I had to squeeze at least one nonfiction in this month. I adore reading nonfiction, and I particularly love nonfiction about books.

Monster She Wrote takes readers back to the inception of the horror genre itself. Some may be surprised that it even predates Mary Shelley’s monster creation. And throughout history, women writers have been at the helm of making the genre vibrant and diverse.

The book goes through different eras section-by-section from the gothic novel all the way to the paperback boom of the 80s, followed by a look into the future. It’s an incredibly quick and easy read. Things did begin to fall apart a bit at the very end where the writing became rather list-like. But I learned about some incredible authors. Now just to getting around to reading their work…

Things We Lost in the Fire by Mariana Enríquez, translated by Megan McDowell

Things We Lost in the Fire was one of the first translated books I have read in a long while. Really good translations are an art, and I think McDowell did wonderful things with Enríquez’s work.

Enríquez is a novel and journalist from Argentina. And while I’ve never been to the country, Enríquez’s writing brings the communities to life. Each of her short stories is about the underbelly of Argentinian society: drug addicts, nasty men, poverty, devious girls, black magic, and children in vulnerable home situations. It’s all harrowing and made even more twisted with touches of magical realism and monsters.

The stories in this collection are often deeply unsettling. And I loved them.

Wicked Wednesday: Danger Word (2013)

Danger Word” is a short film based on horror authors Steven Barnes and Tananarive Due’s novel “Devil’s Wake”. A short story version appears in a collection of Due’s work Ghost Summer: Stories, but more on that next week.

I became a fan of Due’s when I first watched the Shudder documentary Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror. It took me forever to get around to reading one of her books, but I was absolutely chuffed when I learnt that she and her partner were involved with other screenwriting ventures.

The short, directed by Luchina Fisher, follows 13-year-old Kendra (Saoirse Scott) and her Grandpa Joe (Frankie Faison) as they traverse the rugged landscapes of a zombie apocalypse.

Grandpa Joe tries his best to toughen up the young Kendra, whose innocence was taken from her early due to things outside of their control. She had become particularly hardened after seeing the transformation of her mother into the undead.

After shooting practice, Grandpa Joe and Kendra go to see Mike and his sons, who they are hoping to trade with. But it doesn’t take long until both notice that something isn’t quite right. Unfortunately, they are both too late and Grandpa Joe is bit by Mike. He tells Kendra to go north to Albany where she can get help.

Kendra eventually has to kill her grandfather, but leave him with dignity – and leaving the viewer knowing that everything he taught her will not go to waste.

It’s pretty impressive that within 20 minutes, you can establish such a strong relationship between two characters. The ending had me in tears and desperate to know what happened next to young Kendra. It’s a harrowing story of a little girl forced to grow up much faster than she should have to. But that reflects the reality of many children, with or without the apocalypse.

Some of the editing here is a bit confusing. I had to rewatch a bit when I couldn’t understand why Kendra had returned to the farm to kill her grandpa. At first, I thought I had missed a scene, but I think it was the girl reassessing leaving her grandfather to become a zombie. It was subtle, almost a little too subtle.

This short is quite a bit older than the rest of the films I’ve watched this year for Women in Horror Month, and I think you can tell. The cinematography isn’t the greatest. But that being said, it still managed to tell a powerful story in the framework of a traditional zombie tale.

You can watch “Danger World” on the director’s YouTube page. It’s a beautiful and creepy story full of wonderful Black talent.

Wicked Wednesday: Women in Horror Month random short film selection

This week I was trying to pick out just one short film to watch for today. But the more researching I did, the more shorts I found that were calling out to me. All sorts of shorts by women from so many different points of view and backgrounds. It was impossible to pick just one. Having too much to watch is never really a terrible problem to have, is it?

So I had a mini-marathon of short horror films made by women. So pleased that I enjoyed these all quite a bit. Some explored poignant themes while others made me laugh. Truly, women have something to bring to the table. They can prove it in no time flat.

The Lonely Host” directed by Lisa J Dooley (2019)

This short has to be one of my favourites of the week. It plays on a fear many of us have: what’s really going on at this Airbnb?

For Silvia, there’s no good news where she ends up. At her Bnb, the host is super perky and friendly. And being friendly is weird, right? When Silvia returns from a date night with her girlfriend, she realises she’s being watched through cam footage. Can the girl get the hell out of Dodge before it’s too late?

I loved this for a few reasons. At first, the ending really made me stop and think about what had actually happened. Then I realised it was playing on my own expectations and prejudices. Thank you for serving me a wonderfully unsettling slice of atmosphere, Dooley.

Una Mierda De Slasher” directed by Miriam Ortega Domínguez (2013)

This Spanish-language short is basically what you get when you have the worst group of friends ever.

When a group of friends sit down to watch a slasher movie together, they quickly find themselves debating the merits of slashers. Before the movie credits even roll, they find themselves in a nightmare…or do they?

The humour in “Una Mierda De Slasher” is really playful. The tone shifts constantly, keeping the viewer on their toes. But one thing is for sure: I’m so glad I don’t have this lot in my life.

SHE” directed by Zena S. Dixon (2019)

I adore Zena’s work over on her YouTube channel, Real Queen of Horror. She’s personable and funny and makes some really great content. The amount of recommendations I’ve compiled from her lists is incredibly long.

This film puts the “short” in short film, clocking in than less than five minutes. But even this little taste gives you plenty of fun and twists. It’s ladies night for our antagonist and her friends. They’re all playing a little game together, and it’s a little bit twisted.

Knock Knock” directed by Kennikki Jones-Jones (2019)

“Knock Knock” is easily the most surreal and heartbreaking short on this list.

Sinia is a kind neighbour, always looking out for the four children who live next door to her. The children’s mother is abusive towards them, so Sinia is always watching out for them. She communicates with them using a series of knocks on the wall.

But one night, things appear to get out of hand in the children’s home. Sinia tries to help, but she soon finds herself explore her true reality and mind.

This film is rich with symbolism. Jones-Jones offers a story here that is a heartbreaking look at mental health, poverty and motherhood. It’s beautiful, haunting and tragic.

SLUT” by Chloe Okuno (2014)

Like all these shorts, “Slut” very much roots its horror in reality. Young Maddy lives with her grandmother, who is housebound ill. It’s a lonely life, but when she meets a young man at a roller rink, she feels seen. But when Maddy’s new acquaintance is ‘stolen’ away by the local hottie, she decides to do up her image.

Maddy finds empowerment in her new look. She begins to seek new experiences. But unbeknownst to her, Roller Rink Creep is keeping a closer eye on her than she knows.

It’s a terrifying situation, that doesn’t even feel that outlandish to most women. This is not a cautionary tale demonizing sexual exploration, but rather the dangers of toxic masculinity.

Wicked Wednesday: Satanic Panic (2019)

Would you look at that? It’s February. Again. I’m pretty sure it’s been a week since it was February last.

In the blink of an eye, we’ve reached Women in Horror Month. A time to celebrate creatives in horror industries.

I’ve been putting off watching Satanic Panic just for the sole purpose to watch it this February. And boy, that’s an awfully long time to build up anticipation.

This 2019 movie, directed by Chelsea Stardust, was co-written by one of my favourite authors – Grady Hendrix. There are all the hallmarks of a Hendrix story here: great female characters in charge, lots of gore, and a heck of a great villain.

Sam is a young woman starting her first day as a pizza delivery girl. And it’s a rough first day in the service industry. After being shortchanged all day, Sam volunteers to make a delivery to a wealthy side of town, hoping for a great tip.

After arriving at a mansion, Sam delivers her pizza. But instead of getting the great tip she hoped for, she gets nothing but an empty take of gas. Stranded, Sam decides to go into the mansion to get her rightfully-deserved tip. Though instead of getting that tip, she gets dragged into a Satanic ritual.

As a virgin, Sam is the ideal replacement for Judi, the daughter of coven leader Danica, who lost her virginity in hopes of saving her life. The two girls team up together, hoping to escape the Satanists. The results are both disgusting and hilarious.

Sam’s fight against the wealthy Satanists is very Eat the Rich, which is a trope I love. There are some solid moments of sisterhood in this between Sam and Judi. I wish it could have been explored and developed more, particularly in the last act. I mean, nothing brings friends together like escaping a demon-raising coven.

I loved that this film had women calling all the shots. It’s a refreshing power dynamic to watch. Sure they’re all trying to kill each other, but hey – better than a man doing it, right?

While I did enjoy Satanic Panic quite a bit, I don’t really think it does much to create a lasting impression. There are moments that will make you laugh and moments that will make you squeamish. But the ending doesn’t quite stick as much as I’m sure it hoped to. Though I’d recommend this for the enjoyment of watching Rebecca Romijn as queen Satanist alone.


Do remember that February is also Black History Month in the US (it’s in October here in the UK). So please practice intersectional feminism this month. Particularly uplift Black creators. I’ll be reading Tananarive Due’s short story collection, Ghost Summer as well as watching as many horror movies/short films as possible made by Black women. I have both Eve’s Bayou and Afterbirth on my list. Please send more suggestions!

I do agree with calls to move WiHM to another month of the year. This isn’t a new issue, but one that was obviously there since the initiative inception. Twelve years is a long time to be blind.

Wicked Wednesday: Tales of Terror (1962)

Hollywood is made up of great pairings. Fred and Ginger, Scorsese and DeNiro, Rebane and Wisconsin, and, of course, Corman and Poe.

I grew up with classic gothic films on television. And Corman’s Poe cycle movies were always on at some point. I love them. I love the drama, the gorgeous colours, and Vincent Price’s face around every corner. My husband bought me a collection of Corman and Price’s Poe movies for Christmas this year. So it’s been a blast revisiting them. But one I couldn’t recall as well as the rest was the anthology Tales of Terror. 

Four of Poe’s stories are adapted here into three short films. Poe’s work is prime for adapting into an anthology. He only wrote one full-length novel, and his short stories are much more beloved and well known.

Interestingly, two of the stories here (“The Black Cat” and “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar”) were both used in the Dario Argento/George Romero co-production Two Evil Eyes. While I adore all three directors, I think Corman was much more successful at his attempts.

The first of the shorts, “Morella”, follows a young woman as she returns to see her father for the first time in over two decades. Her ornery father (Price) is cold towards her, believing her to have ‘murdered’ her mother in childbirth. It isn’t until the daughter reveals that she is terminally ill that her father warms to her. But it’s too late for them both, as she dies to have her mother’s corpse (which is lying on its deathbed) revived.

Traditional, horrific family fun. A body (corpse) swap for the 1800s.

The second story combines two of Poe’s most well-loved, “The Black Cat” and “The Cask of Amontillado”. It’s easy to see why they’ve been combined here, both original stories end with people bricked up into walls. But screenwriter Richard Matheson and Corman add a humorous, almost farcical twist to the story.

Resident drunk Montresor Herringbone (Peter Lorre) and his wife Annabelle are in a loveless marriage. She tries to hide the money from him. He insists on spending it all when he can find it. But one night, after a wine-off with a famous wine-taster, Montresor has to be carried home. The wine-taster in question is Fortunato Luchresi (Price, again). Fortunato and Annabelle quickly fall in love.

But when their relationship is discovered, Montresor bricks them both up in his basement walls with Annabelle’s black cat. And like many of Poe’s stories, the insanity that comes with guilt only leads to dire consequences for our villain.

The last of the stories, “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar”, is easily the strongest. It’s a technicolour one-two punch.

M. Valdemar (Price, one more) is unwell, dying from a horrible disease. Hypnotist Mr Carmichael (Basil Rathbone) puts him under hypnosis. Even though Valdemar is somewhere between living and dying, Carmichael refuses to release him from hypnosis. This is, of course, to both torture Valdemar and steal his wife. Thankfully, seemingly even almost-death and hypnosis can’t stop a person from protecting the ones they love.

Tales of Terror isn’t Corman’s best work. But it is fun.

For me, the comedy didn’t work in the second segment. I know Corman enjoyed it, as he later used the same tone in The Raven (another adaption that doesn’t break into the favourites list). I do appreciate that it certainly prevents the movie from having a monotonous tone, but for the love of God – did the make-up artist really have to do that to the actors?

My favourite of Poe’s short stories is probably “The Cask of Amontillado”. I love its sinister, dark underground tones mixed with the jubilation of Carnival. And I have yet to find an adaption that is satisfying. While natural to mix it with “The Black Cat”, it’s still disappointing that it wasn’t given more use in the story.

As always, it’s worth watching these Poe Cycle films for the enjoyment of watching giant mansions in total desolation while Vincent Price crosses the screen in great costumes. If you’re a beginner, I wouldn’t start here (I would suggest House of Usher).

If you have any non-Corman adaptions of Poe that you love, please share! His grim tales are timeless and still are haunting to this day.