Vincent PRice's introduction to an Anthology of Poe.
Excerpt from 18 Best Stories by Edgar Allan Poe
Introduction by Vincent Price
The eerie, haunted, and wildly tormented world of Edgar Allan Poe has enchanted me ever since I can remember. In all my reading, I’ve never encountered any writer who was so brilliantly able to transform his inner visions or hallucinations into universally loved fiction and poetry. Poe’s achievements are particularly awesome when you consider what a miserable life he led, both personally and publicly. He was orphaned as a child, adopted by a remarkably cold and pretentious man who, as one reads the records, clearly hated him and abandoned him financially when he was in college. It is no wonder that he was profoundly neurotic and tried to get comfort, or release, in extensive gambling and drinking. How he managed to write at all is a mystery.
During his lifetime Poe was never acclaimed. It was through such French artists as Baudelaire, who translated his work, that his greatness was broadcast and finally reached the poor man’s own country. After his death, of course. My appreciation of him, or, one might say, my deeper understanding and empathy has been heightened enormously by the fact that I have played in several movies based on his marvelous work. I have become his characters, and depth and complexity of their minds seems almost endless. I can only hope that the reader will find in him the same joy different, to be sure, the same richness and reward that I have. He truly can become a part of one’s own imagination and inner life.
Making a movie from a Poe short story is not an easy job, for the stories themselves are long on thrills and short on plot. They often contain more elements of horror than one would need to make several pictures, so it comes down to a matter of selection and parceling out the different elements to different departments. The set designer, for instance, must handle the visual suggestion of loneliness, desolation, and the essential gloominess of the house or village. (These stories seldom take place in a housing settlement or tract house.) Then it is up to the “special effects” man to create the ever-present cobwebs, fog, dust, and dilapidation. A “green man” may be required to find trees that suggest bony figures and “standby” painter must see to it that everything from the wallpaper to the upholstery looks properly faded and forlorn.
The director must keep the pace slow and moody but build steadily to the eventual thrill peak, and then pay off the story with either a; happy ending or one that sends the audience away with the chilly feeling that there but for the grace of God go they.
The cameraman, of course, must catch all moods and see to it that the actors are not lost in the gloom (or else, keep them lost in it until a sudden revelation frightens the audience half to death). Blood and bruises and gleaming knives are his department because no matter how talented the makeup artist or the prop man, their effects are rendered useless by cameramen who don’t know their horrors.
Costumes must carry audience and actor back into those periods when such frightening things happened. They just don’ come off in slacks and sweaters. The actor’s problem is demanding, for he must be terribly serious in even the most ludicrous situations if he wants the audience to be taken in to the mood.
I try to analyze the elements of shock and horror in each story and try to make them a little larger than life. In fact, almost operatic. A man screaming is seldom subtle, a man or woman in terror is never completely contained. Terror shows, at least it must on the screen. In one picture alone the character I portrayed suffered from, or was assailed by, these terrors: claustrophobia, acrophobia, fear of the unknown, ghosts, rats, falling, Madness, and death. Yet I felt that something still more was needed, so we rigged up a spider-web, complete with spider, and I walked through a dark tunnel I ran full face into it. The reaction from the men working on the set was terrific – and I knew that we were right in adding that final touch of horror.
But enough of my experiences with the wonderful stories of Edgar Allan Poe. Read them for yourself I hope you get from them the same pleasurable excitement and spine tingling thrill that I always do. I think you will.