Category Archives: edgar allan poe

The Following: The Poet’s Fire

Most fiction (in any medium, be it books, television, or film) works on the premise of suspension of disbelief. The target, in this case, the viewer has to believe what they are seeing. It’s very important in science fiction and fantasy, because in stuff like Star Wars and Lord of the Rings, the boundaries of reality are being stretched. But in a way, it’s easier in those realms.

In something like “The Following,” which is essentially based in the ‘real’ world, albeit a larger than life version, it’s even more important. The viewer has to not just believe it can happen, but they have to believe it could really happen, if you get my understanding.

This episode, “The Poet’s Fire,” opens with a nutjob in an Edgar Allan Poe mask (after just two weeks, an already old and tired gimmick for this EAP fan) sets a man on fire on a crowded city street with witnesses with cellphones and security cameras overhead. Seriously, if such a thing happened in the ‘real’ world, the media would go batshit crazy. I know it, you know it, and quite honestly, showrunner Kevin Williamson should know it too. Here, no one but the Feds and the cops that seem to blink at all.

And that’s just the beginning. The rest of the episode is spent flashbacking and overexplaining motivations we have already guessed. And then there’s the obligatory serial killer follower of the week, whose plot twist I guessed from jump street. The blind followers are getting a bit too convenient as well. Perhaps it’s Williamson’s comment on reality television and sheeple. Or just lazy writing.

“The Following” has ceased to be clever, to be unique, and even – and I’m counting the cast members I like in this statement – be interesting.

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The Following: Chapter Two

Okay, the hype is over, for the moment at least, and now “The Following” has to sink or swim as a series as opposed to an event. I had expressed in my review of the pilot that I didn’t think it had the legs to be a series. I guess this is where we find out. It has the bad potential to become a freak of the week show like early “Smallville” or “X-Files,” and I hope that’s not where we’re headed.

In the pilot, or rather the setup, multi-flawed FBI agent Hardy (Kevin Bacon) is pulled out of retirement to deal with the escaped serial killer Carroll (James Purefoy) that he had put away. He’s recaptured, but it turns out he’s built a cult of serial killers through social media, and they’ll do whatever he wants. This cult has kidnapped Carroll’s son to lure Hardy into a game of cat and mouse with the baddies.

Again written by creator Kevin Williamson, the subtext is very literate, and I am enjoying the writing theme and the Poe obsession. But I’m a writer. I wonder if other folks are digging this particular vibe or not. It works this way – Carroll was a writer, his crimes made Hardy a writer, and now this whole crazy game is built on the idea of a new book – one written by the followers in which Hardy and Carroll are the protagonist and antagonist.

Bacon and Purefoy continue to dominate the small screen whenever they are on it. Waste of an amazing cast, as I said last time. I just wish that the two of them would give us something edgier than the Clarice/Hannibal and/or Batman/Joker dynamic. I want more Shawn Ashmore, Billy Brown, and especially Li Jun Li.

Much of the episode is taken up by the good guys playing catch up to Carroll’s cultish followers and their shenanigans. I smell the stink of “Alcatraz,” “Revolution,” and “Flash Forward” on this one, as if we’re being played with like a fish on a hook. All we want is the confrontation(s) between Bacon and Purefoy, and the boy found, but you know we’ll only get dribs and drabs, while each episode has its own little underling serial killer story. Just give us what we want.

I honestly don’t know if I’ll be around next time. I think I can see the future, and I’m not sure it has enough fuel to entice me further. We’ll see.

The Tell-Tale Heart 1941

This is a one-reeler from 1941, adapting the classic Edgar Allan Poe tale, and starring Joseph Shildkraut and Roman Bohnen. Both performers are staggeringly brilliant in their roles as the narrator and the old man, especially Bohnen who particularly frightening.

Whereas the original story is a monologue of madness, this Doane Hoag screenplay is a slightly updated full drama with dialogue. This is a sad state of affairs as we can sympathize with our murderer, and his motivations, at first, something I think Poe never had in mind. It kinda really made me wonder what was in Hoag’s head.

The use of the verb ‘quit’ in the dialogue is unintentionally hilarious in light if its use in Brokeback Mountain. It’s very difficult to stay with this short film once that exchange is had. That said, and ignored, this is a brilliant twenty-odd minutes of atmospheric intensity.

The work as full drama over monologue transforms it incredibly into almost a completely different piece. Still the use of sound and imagery are phenomenal. Cudos to director Jules Dassin, who would go on to make The Canterville Ghost, Topkapi and Never on Sunday. Worth seeing if you get a chance. TCM has been showing it in between some features this month for Halloween.

The Black Cat

The Black Cat ~ This 1934 film, ignoring the many others that use the same title (there have to be at least eight that I can think of, right off the top of my head), is the first onscreen meeting between Universal horror stars Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff, the first of eight Universal horrors to feature them both.

In a futuristic mansion built on the site of a World War I fortress, the two rivals engage in a battle of wits, chess (yes, chess), and torture, both physical and psychological. Caught in the middle are a newlywed couple, dropped into the conflict with circumstances almost hilariously similar to Brad and Janet’s in The Rocky Horror Picture Show. And much like that film, horror and hilarity ensues, but without the musical numbers. Apparently, Boris tortured Bela on this site during the war, and Bela is back for vengeance. The houseguests, among others, are pawns in this game of cat and mouse.

Boris Karloff’s Hjalmar Poelzig is a subtly sinister Satan-worshipping priest in the style of Aleister Crowley, but with the fashion sense of the wicked queen from Snow White and the Huntsman. It truly is a contest of ‘what will he wear next?’ in this flick. His height, and his physical presence, are much scarier than his calm demeanor, and the effect, for me at least, makes him seem even more frightening here than in his Frankenstein roles.

Bela Lugosi makes a worthy opponent for Karloff here as Dr. Vitus Werdegast. Bela, more so than any other role I’ve seen him in, puts in a fabulous performance. In fact, he steals the film. I have always thought him to be an over-actor, relying on his accent to excuse him from any real work, but here he is really quite good. I was impressed.

Also starring in this Universal horror is the house and stage set itself. Art deco was very popular in the 1930s and it was made into a starring character as the backdrop here. As the drama unwinds, even in the slow parts, one cannot help but marvel at the very expensive (for then) sets, a relic of a lost time in architecture.

The film itself is supposedly based on the Edgar Allan Poe story of the same name, or at least it is, according to the credits. Director Edgar G. Ulmer later admitted in an interview they used the title to get publicity for the movie. It should be mentioned this flick was quite violent for the time, went through several cuts, and was even banned in certain European countries. While the most successful Universal film of that year, this has become a mostly forgotten film, but definitely worth a watch for horror fans and film fans alike.