Saturday, May 19, 2012

Obras maestras del terror (1960)

... aka: Edgar Allan Poe's The Master of Horror
... aka: Master of Horror
... aka: Masterworks of Terror
... aka: Short Stories of Terror

Directed by:
Enrique Carreras

A trio of Poe tales were filmed in Argentina two years before Roger Corman's anthology hit TALES OF TERROR. For the original American release in 1964, distributor Jack H. Harris commissioned a new soundtrack and had the film dubbed. Surprisingly, the English voice actors on the dub are pretty good though there's somewhat clumsy use of narration at the very beginning. For some reason, Harris also had the third tale ("The Tell-Tale Heart") completely removed from the film to shorten the run-time down to just 60 minutes. Unfortunately, the copy I had to view was this reduced version. Even more unfortunately, the removed tale is supposedly the best of the three! Even though I missed out on that, I did enjoy the other two segments (and I plan on viewing "The Tell-Tale Heart" and adding it to this review eventually and will adjust the rating accordingly if need be). Thing begin with a slight framing device involving a maid (Mercedes Carreras), who's left alone in a big old house on a dark and stormy night while her employers are away. She decides to cozy up on the sofa with a book containing Poe's short stories and we're off.

First up is "The Case of Mr. Valdemar." Aboard a carriage, Dr. Eckstrom (Narciso Ibáñez Menta) informs his traveling companions, Dr. Chambers and McCaffrey, that he's come up with a new way to heal the mentally ill: by using hypnosis. His first client will be Lucia (Lilian Valmar), who was traumatized years earlier when she was out talking a walk, got chased by a would-be rapist and accidentally dropped her newborn baby brother on some rocks, killing him. After showing up at the asylum where a catatonic Lucia is being housed, Eckstrom administers his treatment and thinks Lucia will be cured upon awaking. Instead, she dies of shock after snapping out of it and realizing she's in a madhouse. Eckstrom puts his ideas on the back burner until a friend - young Henry Valdemar (Osvaldo Pacheco) - comes to seek his aid. Terminally ill, Henry asks Eckstrom to use hypnotism to separate his soul from his body in hopes he'll be able to live forever. As Henry is dying, Eckstrom tries again and doesn't quite get the desired results when he discovers Henry's spirit is trapped inside a immobile but well-preserved body. Everything ends with a time lapse decompisition. This is the first film I've seen with Menta, who was known as "the Spanish Lon Chaney" to those in his homeland. Looking forward to seeing more of this work after this. The man has a great look and presence for this genre.

Next up is "The Cask of Amontillado." Hard-working farmer Jean lives in a small village of Avalon, which is well-known for its wine. His bored, entitled younger wife Teresa is unsatisfied being a farmer's wife and wants to see the world. The two attend Festival of the Grape Harvest, where dashing, charismatic stranger Maurice (Carlos Estrada) shows to charm the women with his magic tricks and good looks. Jean allows Maurice to stay in their home while he's in town but it doesn't even take a week before Maurice and Teresa become lovers. Jean discovers what's been going on behind his back and lures Maurice down into his labyrinth-like cellar for a wine tasting tour. With each swig of win, an increasingly more inebriated Maurice eventually ends up at the end of the cellar, where Jean's prized cask of 18th Century amontillado rests. He passes out and awakens to find himself in a rather grim situation.

Both of these tales are solid and have good actors, but the film is in desperate need of remastering (though I have my doubts that will ever happen). They're also both fairly faithful to the Poe stories with slight alterations on each. Now I'll be on the hunt for "The Tell-Tale Heart." It originally played on a double bill with MASTER OF TERROR, which is better known now as THE 4-D MAN (1959).


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