In the history of the horror genre, there has been no shortage of movies adapted from the great Edgar Allan Poe. From the classic 1935 Universal adaptation of “The Raven," to the brilliant gothic Roger Corman/Vincent Price collaborations of the 1960s, and even through Stuart Gordon’s 1991 filming of “The Pit and the Pendulum” for Full Moon Features, there’s not a corner of horror that hasn’t been touched by the works of Poe. This makes any new adaptation of the author’s work challenging, though, because so many horror fans may carry a “been there, seen that” mentality towards the umpteenth retelling of “The Tell-Tale Heart.” It is to the credit of directors Bart Mastronardi and Alan Rowe Kelly that their new anthology, aptly titled Tales of Poe, offers a new spin on an author whose work has been brought to the screen for nearly 100 years.

Adapting three of Poe’s stories into three vignettes, “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Cask of Amontillado,” and “Dreams,” Tales of Poe is an artful and affectionate—if at times uneven and overly ambitious—ode to the history of horror. Not only does the movie pay tribute to the writing of Poe (who, along with Lovecraft, can be considered one of the godfathers of horror), but it also casts a number of stars from classic ’80s horror films in various roles. As a horror fan, it’s hard not to fall in love with an anthology in which Caroline Williams (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2), Adrienne King (Friday the 13th), and Amy Steel (Friday the 13th Part 2) all appear in the same segment—and that’s after seeing the great Debbie Rochon and Desiree Gould show up in the first segment. When a film casts the actress who played Aunt Martha in Sleepaway Camp, you know you’re among fellow horror lovers.

The first segment, adapted from “The Tell-Tale Heart,” casts Debbie Rochon as a patient in an asylum who reflects back on her time with an aging movie star (co-director Alan Rowe Kelly) that eventually led to murder and madness. As someone who has been a fan of Rochon since first seeing her in Tromeo & Juliet back in the ’90s, “The Tell-Tale Heart” presents what has to be one of her very best performances—she is scary and sad and, when called for, impossibly sexy. Mastronardi, who wrote and directed the segment, gender swaps the characters from Poe’s story to turn the tale into something not just about revenge and guilt, but also about the toll that the movie business can take on women as they age. If pressed, I would probably call this first segment my favorite in Tales of Poe; at the same time, I recognize that each piece is so different from the other that comparing them is like comparing bloody apples to bloody oranges. Mmmmm… bloody apples.

Next is “The Cask,” an adaptation of “The Cask of Amontillado” by writer/director and co-star Alan Rowe Kelly, in which he plays Gogo Montresor, the new bride to wealthy winemaker Fortunato Montresor (Randy Jones, better known as the cowboy from The Village People) in a love triangle of betrayal, murder, and even a visit from the undead. From the giallo-style lighting to oversized acting to, yes, the casting of a former Village Person, it’s clear that “The Cask” has no reservations about crossing over into full camp. Like “The Black Cat,” the middle chapter from Roger Corman’s 1962 Poe anthology Tales of Terror (which also borrows liberally from “The Cask of Amontillado”), “The Cask” is the closest that Tales of Poe comes to comedic, not because it’s outright funny, but because Kelly pitches the whole piece in a big and flashy manner. It’s the most uneven of the anthology, too, with a number of performances that don’t mesh. At the same time, it wears its Italian influences proudly (including a direct visual quote of The Beyond) and eventually cuts loose with the horror in a way that the other segments don’t, so there are rewards in store for those willing to wait for them.

The anthology closes with “Dreams,” based on Poe’s poem of the same name and co-written by Michael Varrati and director Bart Mastronardi. Told with little to no onscreen dialogue, the segment plays out mostly as a visual poem with the occasional voiceover from Amy Steel, playing the mother of a young woman (Bette Cassatt) who is fighting for her life in a hospital bed, trapped between her physical body and the surreal dream world of the afterlife. At roughly 45 minutes, this is the longest segment in the film and, as such, wears out its welcome after some time, but the approach taken to the material is beautiful and hallucinatory—dreamlike in a way that even movies attempting to replicate a dream state often fall short of achieving. Though mostly wordless, Amy Steel’s performance is heartbreaking and offers the most powerful emotional moments of the entire anthology. Plus, Caroline Williams shows up as some sort of dream angel, which is 100% accurate. Every self-respecting horror fan has, at one point or another, dreamed of Caroline Williams.

Yes, Tales of Poe is a mixed bag, as nearly all anthologies are. While some of its budgetary limitations are evident, the movie compensates with a unique vision and a palpable love both for the work of Edgar Allan Poe and for the horror genre. Fans of Poe, of anthologies, or of our beloved ’80s scream queens may be rewarded with an ambitious and often quite good anthology that carries on the spirit of independent horror.

Movie Score: 3/5

  • Patrick Bromley
    About the Author - Patrick Bromley

    Patrick lives in Chicago, where he has been writing about film since 2004. A member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Online Film Critics Society, Patrick's writing also appears on, and, the site he runs and hosts a weekly podcast.

    He has been an obsessive fan of horror and genre films his entire life, watching, re-watching and studying everything from the Universal Monsters of the '30s and '40s to the modern explosion of indie horror. Some of his favorites include Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (1931), Dawn of the Dead (1978), John Carpenter's The Thing and The Funhouse. He is a lover of Tobe Hooper and his favorite Halloween film is part 4. He knows how you feel about that. He has a great wife and two cool kids, who he hopes to raise as horror nerds.