A co-production between Mastropiece Productions and Southpaw Pictures
Directed by Bart Mastronardi & Alan Rowe Kelly
Starring Debbie Rochon, Amy Steel, Bette Cassatt, Adrienne King, Caroline Williams, Randy Jones, Alan Rowe Kelly, Brewster McCall, Lesleh Donaldson, Desiree Gould, Cartier Williams, Joe Quick, Michael Varrati, Andrew Glaszek, David Marancik, Susan Adriensen.
I was fortunate to attend the Tales of Poe Hollywood world premiere on August 20th. Anyone who is familiar with me knows that I am a fan of Alan Rowe Kelly and Bart Mastronardi. I have appeared in two of Alan’s films and Bart worked on those films as well. And while there is a fair number of work in my past that I would like to deny, I wear my Alan Rowe Kelly day player T-shirt with pride. Having appeared in The Blood Shed and Gallery of Fear, I am very familiar with how both directors operate.
So when I heard they were going to collaborate on an anthology of Edgar Allan Poe tales, I knew immediately that something special was going to come from it. And I was 100% correct. Tales of Poe stands as the highest achievement for both Kelly and Mastronardi. The anthology film boasts quite a few familiar names to horror fans. Debbie Rochon, Caroline Williams, Amy Steel, Adrienne King and the Village People’s Randy Jones headline the film.
Alan Rowe Kelly also appears as two different characters. I was very pleasantly surprised to see three of Alan’s regular players: Zoe Daelman Chlanda, Susanna Adriansen and Jerry Murdock. I was a little disappointed that they had relatively minor roles (except for Zoe; she has a pretty meaty presence in The Cask).
So I’m going to start where the anthology starts: with Mastronardi’s The Tell Tale Heart. Now when I first heard this was going to be one of the stories adapted, I was hesitant. Adapting the Tell Tale Heart is akin to making another wheel, in my opinion. But Bart turns it on its ear fairly quickly with the story of a night nurse (Debbie Rochon) who cares for an ailing silent screen legend, Miss Lamarr (Alan Rowe Kelly in a perfectly cast performance). The night nurse is driven to madness and murder by the fading starlet’s sickly gaze. I love the interplay between Rochon and Lesleh Donaldson’s character of Evelyn Dyck in the sanatorium in the prologue of this tale. It is a cat and cat game between two psychopaths and you can feel the waves of malevolence coming off of it.
One thing that I will declare right now: Debbie Rochon does the best job I have ever seen her do in the role of the night nurse. I have worked with Debbie, and she is a very dedicated actress. She has a strong self- awareness of what works for her. She is a student of the game. An observation I have made about Debbie in the past, and this is by no means a slight: I never saw her entirely as the characters that she played. I always saw Debbie as Debbie. I have the same sort of perception with actors like Jack Nicholson and Robert DeNiro. She has a very strong presence that is difficult to subdue.
But I am happy to report that Debbie totally disappeared into this role. She proved to me unequivocally that she is the brightest and most talented actress in the indie horror film field.
Mastronardi’s take on The Tell Tale Heart goes exactly where Poe fans know it will go. But it is stylish as hell and the acting is top notch across the board. The tale has never felt fresher.
The next segment in the movie is Alan Rowe Kelly’s adaptation of The Cask. In this tale, Alan plays Gogo Montresor, the conniving and murderous wife of a well to do vintner, Fortunato Montresor (Randy Jones). This segment also featured cameos by Amy Lynn Best and Mike Watt and it was good to see some old friends in there. And the always reliable Susan Adriensen brought her quirky weirdness to housekeeper, Morella. When Marco Lechresi (Brewster McCall) shows up at the wedding party, you realize the short honeymoon is over for Fortunato and Gogo. This segment was absolutely breathtaking in its design, and composition of the shots. The spooky nighttime interiors put me in the mind of a dreamy Euro-horror film from the 70’s. And the effects were fan-effin-tastic. The reanimated corpse make-up was very retro and it was the same type of presentation and look that you would see in really well done horror films of the early 70’s. You know, the ones that actually scared the crap out of you. Watching this segment definitely made me feel like a kid. I enjoyed the hell out of the acting in this one (especially Randy Jones. He was great!).
My only complaints are two tiny ones, and they both concern the opening of the tale. I felt The Cask could have been trimmed down just a hair (it felt a little top heavy), and it had a little too much scenery chewing between the characters during the wedding celebration. Trust me, though: these are minor criticisms. The Cask is a thoroughly enjoyable and memorable adaptation delivered as only Alan Rowe Kelly could deliver.
The last segment of Tales of Poe is Mastronardi’s very artistically composed Dreams. Bette Cassatt (who you can’t take your eyes off of) stars as a young woman who seems to be languishing between life and death in a hospital bed. Her mother, played by Friday the 13th Part 2 star Amy Steel, lingers near as her daughter wanders the dream land found between life and death.
There are two other really huge horror actresses in this segment that a lot of fans of 80’s horror will recognize. There is Caroline Williams of Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 fame. Caroline plays the Angel of Dreams. This character seems to be a benevolent, silent guide. Caroline does so much with just a look. She is stunning to behold here. And Adrienne King (the star of the original Friday the 13th) appears as the Queen of Dreams; a dark personification of death. Both actresses perform and express extremely well in this mostly dialog-free piece. There is a very cool Tarantino vibe here, especially if you were raised on 80’s horror. The actors in this piece feel painted into the scenery. Their commitment to the director’s vision here is highly evident.
There is a very cool feast scene that comes off as a combination of David Lynch and Stanley Kubrick and it is beautiful. Mastronardi went for an abstract piece of art here, and he succeeded. The last segment of this anthology is probably the best put-together piece. Ending the film with a strikingly diverse piece like Dreams was a good decision, because at that point the viewer will have come so far down the rabbit hole that they will be committed to finishing the maze. In case you think there was any negativity in my last statement, allow me to clarify: I am not putting down the average horror fan and I am not trying to diminish the raw horror or beauty of Dreams (there is gore and the piece is deeply disturbing). I am simply saying that Dreams veers down a conceptual path that the more by the number horror fan might not want to follow.
But screw those guys. Bart Mastronardi knocked me for an unexpected loop with this one.
And so my final verdict? Tales of Poe is one of the best indie horror anthology films that I have ever seen. It is breathtaking in its beauty. It’s technically sound; there wasn’t one technical blemish on it that I noticed. It is the best work (so far) of two of the hardest working and talented mofos in independent horror cinema. Tales of Poe takes the work of a master and puts it into the hands of two of the finest modern craftsmen in the field. You must see this film when it comes out.
Check out the trailer: