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Bay of the Living Dead: Happy Birthday Edgar Allan Poe

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Welcome to Bay of the Living Deada twice a month column about the horror genre.

It was anything but a “midnight dreary” (a reference to Edgar Allan Poe’s classic poem The Raven) as around thirty Poe admirers gathered inside Castro Street’s Dog Eared Books last Thursday evening to celebrate the 208th birthday of Edgar Allan Poe, the master of the macabre who’s stories and poems continue to chill the imagination of readers and filmmakers.

Wine and snacks were served as a program of dramatic readings entertained attendees. A poster from the 1965 chiller The Tomb of Ligeia, a particularly memorable big screen Poe adaptation starring horror icon Vincent Price was prominently displayed at the front of the performance area.

The evening, dubbed Poe-Pourri, served as a fundraiser for the American Civil Liberties Union, which has promised to use the full arsenal of it’s legal team to protect women’s healthcare, LGBT equality and any other form of equality which might be threatened by the Donald Trump administration. Admission to Poe-Pourri was free, though store management passed around a hat asking for ACLU donations, A number of people dropped twenty dollar bills into the hat.

The evening was hosted by actor James Jeske, subbing for Tony Vaguely of the Sick and Twisted Players, who was ill and unable to attend.

James Jeske as Roland Dupres

James Jeske as Roland Dupres

“We will confront the horrors of our times with the horrors of the printed page,” Jeske said as the performances began. Jeske referenced some of the issues the community might face during the Trump presidency. “Horrors so horrible even the master of horror could not imagine them.”

Jeske then introduced Russell Blackwood, who was stylishly dressed in a retro suit and tie. Well known for the campy and macabre shows he produces for his theater troupe Thrillpeddlers, Blackwood offered a thunderously dramatic reading of Poe’s The Masque of the Red Death, a tale of madness set during a time when plague and pestilence terrorized medieval Italy.

Marilyn Fowler reads Poe's Annabel Lee

Marilyn Fowler reads Poe’s Annabel Lee

Next up was Marilyn Fowler of KPOO radio, who delighted the audience with her fashionable Edgar Allan Poe socks. Fowler performed a plaintive rendition of Annabel Lee, Poe’s haunting lamentation on death.

Connie Champagne delighted the audience as she read Poe’s epic poem The Bells, while Johnny Ray Huston posed one of Poe’s most surreal questions with his recitation of A Dream Within A Dream.

Connie Champagne reads Poe's The Bells

Connie Champagne reads Poe’s The Bells

Jeske then took to the podium and assumed the role of Roland Dupres, host of the fictional radio drama series Theater of the Macabre: The Home for Horror.”

The audience applauded as Jeske recreated the kinds of radio spook shows which enjoyed great popularity during the 1930s and 40s, such as Lights Out and Creeps By Night.          

After the readings there was a raffle drawing. Donated prizes included a double feature DVD of House of Usher (1960) and The Pit and the Pendulum (1961), two big screen Edgar Allan Poe adaptations with Vincent Price. Several T shirts featuring a macabre drawing of the titular raven from Poe’s famous poem were also taken home by a few lucky winners.

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Scary Blu Rays:

Sudden Fear (1952)

Sudden Fear

Joan Crawford, still considered one of Hollywood’s all-time greatest stars, scored her third Oscar nomination with this suspense chiller. Though more of a film noir than a horror movie, Sudden Fear is worth a mention in this column because it’s a genuinely scary thrill ride.

Crawford is wonderful as Myra Hudson, a wealthy middle aged playwright. She’s the toast of Broadway, but her life is lacking–has Myra ever been loved?

Sexy young actor Lester Blaine (Jack Palance) cons his way into Myra’s life and marries her. Soon after Myra overhears a terrifying conversation: Lester and his girl friend (film noir bad girl Gloria Grahame) are planning to kill Myra for her money. Without any proof, Myra must save herself.

The film was shot in a San Francisco that, amazingly, still exists today. Myra’s mansion stands on a still recognizable Scott Street in Pacific Heights, while a pre-wedding Lester and the GF both live up the block from Lombard’s legendary “crookedest street in the world”. The building where Grahame resides still stands on Hyde and hasn’t changed in the 65 years since the film was made.

The first half of the film plays out like a romantic drama, but once La Crawford stumbles upon the truth, things take a very dark and scary turn. Myra’s San Francisco becomes a foggy, shadowy netherworld where she must outwit her scheming husband or die. Scenes in which Myra and Lester keep up the pretense of being in love while each plots against the other are nerve racking–Palance was also Oscar nominated for his work in the film.

It all builds to a magnificent and terrifying climax in which Myra runs for her life through the city’s dark and shadowy streets–she’s running for her life.

Any film that’s as scary as Sudden Fear qualifies as a horror movie. The film remains one of Crawford’s best. It’s now out on Blu Ray in a beautifully restored print.

Lights Out (2016)

Lights Out

Produced by horror wunderkind James Wan (Saw, The Conjuring, Insidious), Lights Out, like much of Wan’s work, is an old fashioned chiller. Much of the film’s appeal comes from it’s dark atmosphere, the performances of the cast, and the film’s “spook show” effects.

Mario Bello is quite good as a mentally ill woman who may not be as crazy as she appears. Her house is haunted by a demonic, malevolent ghost–a long-dead friend from her childhood. The ghost cannot survive in light of any kind. Turn on the lights and you’re safe–relatively. But if the power goes out you better run for cover!

The ghost, most likely a CGI image, makes for a terrifying visage, and Bello’s gloomy house, which looks like it should be haunted, is the perfect setting for these proceedings.

Certainly not a classic by any stretch of the imagination, Lights Out is nevertheless a fun and scary way to wile away an evening. It’s now available on Blu Ray.

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Here at Bay of the Living Dead we’re big fans of Bobby Collins and his web series Dusty Old Movieswe urge you to Like the series’ Facebook page.

In his latest installment, Bobby looks back upon one of the cinema’s grandest, oldest horror shows, The Phantom of the Opera (1925), starring Lon Chaney, aka The Man of 1000 Faces. With his usual infectious enthusiasm and good humor, Bobby celebrates this classic and influential film.

You can watch the episode here.

You can also watch the original, complete Phantom of the Opera in a beautifully restored print currently available on Blu Ray courtesy of Kino Lorber, purveyors of classic film. Kino’s disc is now available on Amazon.

And finally, this column now has a Facebook fan page. Check it out!

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David-Elijah Nahmod

David-Elijah Nahmod

I, David-Elijah Nahmod am a Queer, American/Israeli dual national of Syrian descent who has lived in New York City and Tel Aviv.
Currently in San Francisco, my eclectic writing career includes LGBT publications (news and entertainment) and monster magazines. In 2012 I was voted Film Reviewer of the Year at the Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Film Awards.
Look for me in Bay Area Reporter, Hoodline.com, South Florida Gay News, Echo Magazine, Outfront, Scary Monsters Magazine, Videoscope, and, of course, Broke Ass Stuart, (I'm so broke it's SCARY!)
Now, let's watch a horror movie!