Director/Screenplay/Producer – Mohy Quandour, Story – Denton Foxx & Kenneth Hartford, Photography – Robert Birchall, Music – Allen D. Allen, Special Effects/Makeup – Byrd Holland, Art Direction – Michael Milgrom. Production Company – Cinetel Productions/First Leisure.
Robert Walker, Jr. (Edgar Allan Poe), Cesar Romero (Dr Richard Grimaldi), Tom Drake (Dr Adam Forrest), Carol Ohmart (Lisa), Mary Grover (Lenore), Mario Milano (Joseph), Karen Hartford (The Night Nurse), Marsha Mae Jones (Sarah), Frank Packard (Jonah), Paul Bryan (Thomas White)
The 1830s. Edgar Allan Poe’s love Lenore abruptly dies. A funeral is held but as the coffin is lowered into the ground, it is discovered that she is still alive. Poe’s friend Adam Forrest suggests that she be placed in the asylum of his friend Dr Richard Grimaldi to recover. As Grimaldi gives them a tour, Adam believes he sees Grimaldi’s brother among the patients locked in cells in the basement. They spend the night and Poe sets out to investigate. However, he is chloroformed and comes around to find himself tied up on a slab in the middle of a room that is being flooded with water that is filled with snakes. He escapes but Grimaldi tells Adam that what happened was all due to Poe’s grief-stricken imagination. Disbelieving this, the two return and determine to get to the bottom of the horrors in Grimaldi’s asylum.
The Spectre of Edgar Allan Poe was the directorial debut of Jordanian-born Mohydeen Izzat ‘Mohy’ Quandour. Prior to this, Quandour claims to have been a producer on the tv series’ Bonanza (1959-73) and Mannix (1967-75), although is not credited as having worked on either show by the usually reasonably accurate IMDB. He claims to have directed several other films that either do not have entries or are listed as being by other directors and it is not until the 2010s he actually has any other directorial credits with the films Clerkness (2010), The Prisoner (2012) and A Facebook Romance (2012) – although these have hardly been seen by anybody. Quandour’s Wikipedia page also states that he has written a number of non-fiction books about the Middle East.
There was a huge vogue for Edgar Allan Poe in the 1960s beginning with Roger Corman’s The House of Usher (1960). Corman went on to make six-and-a-half other Poe films and dozens of imitators jumped on the bandwagon with other Poe adaptations or spuriously Poe-connected works. The Spectre of Edgar Allan Poe was probably the last of these. It is not adapted from Poe, although some vaguely Poe-esque themes run through it – there is a character Lenore who receives a premature burial; Poe is tied up on a slab in a room that is being flooded with snake-filled water, which somewhat resembles The Pit and the Pendulum (1850); the setting is an asylum featuring a mad psychiatrist conducting experiments, which has very vague similarity to the Poe story The System of Dr Tarr and Professor Fether (1845).
The one novelty this film has that the other Poe films did not is that it features Poe as the central character and is claimed to be an episode from his life. In the epilogue, the narrator claims that the events we saw are what inspired Poe to become a horror writer – although in actuality Poe had been writing for over a decade before the point the film says he started writing horror, which it has coincident with his marriage to Virginia Clemm in 1836. To its credit, Robert Walker, Jr. looks far more like Poe than some of the other actors cast in the role, most notedly John Cusack in The Raven (2012).
Poe has unjustly been painted as an alcoholic and a drug addict. This film buys into the idea of Poe the degenerate to an even greater extreme as witness the eye-opening opening narration from Tom Drake who plays Poe’s best friend: “To some people, Edgar Allan Poe was a man of letters; to others, he was the incarnation of evil itself.” The film deigns to inform us who the ‘others’ who regarded Poe this way might be. However, after such a hyperbolic build-up, the film disappointingly fails to follow through on any of this and depicts Poe as no more than a regular film hero struggling to find out the truth about the asylum.
The Spectre of Edgar Allan Poe is dull filmmaking. The film barely received any attention or release when it was made and its excavation a few decades later fails to find anything of interest in it. Certainly in comparison to the lush colour of the Roger Corman Poe films, this looks cheap and threadbare in terms of its period setting and utterly without any of the brooding mood that Corman (and Vincent Price) gave their films. The one imaginative sequence that Quandour conceives is the one where Poe is tied up on a wooden slab in a basement and water floods in from a pipe, carrying with it snakes that cover his body. It is a sequence that you could easily imagine Poe himself having conceived.
Among the cast, Robert Walker, Jr., a bit player who mostly subsisted in supporting parts and tv roles without anything standout to his name, makes for an undistinguished Poe. As the mad psychiatrist is Cesar Romero, an actor who gained a certain fame in the 1960s for his role as The Joker in tv’s Batman (1966-8) and the villain in Disney’s Dexter Reilly comedies beginning with The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes (1969). Carol Ohmart was a minor starlet during the 1950s when the vogue was for Marilyn Monroe wannabes and appeared in a couple of other genre entries with the original House on Haunted Hill (1959) and the cult film Spider Baby or, The Maddest Story Ever Told (1968).