American International Pictures’ string of Poe adap­ta­tions always took lib­er­ties with their source mate­ri­al, often using the sto­ries as spring­boards for what­ev­er fan­ci­ful pop goth­ic thrills the film­mak­ers should come up with.  Gordon Hessler and Christopher Wicking were the last ones entrust­ed with wring­ing out the last few drops of MurITRM-posprof­it from this trend and Murders In The Rue Morgue, their final ven­ture into faux-Poe, is by far the loos­est — and per­haps the most dar­ing — of all A.I.P. Poe adap­ta­tions.

Murders In The Rue Morgue sim­ply uses the tit­u­lar Poe tale as set dress­ing: it is the sub­ject of a stage adap­ta­tion being put on by Cesar (Jason Robards),  a secre­tive actor and direc­tor who spe­cial­izes in the Grand Guignol.  Problems crop up when some­one starts mur­der­ing Cesar’s col­lab­o­ra­tors past and present, attract­ing the atten­tion of Inspector Vidocq (Adolfo Celi).  To make things worse, Cesar’s wife Madelaine (Christine Kaufmann) is bedev­iled by strange dreams that have to do with her mother’s mys­te­ri­ous death.  She also has a secret admir­er (Michael Dunn) with ques­tion­able inten­tions — and there is also the issue of Rene (Herbert Lom), a deceased for­mer col­league and rival of Cesar’s who might not be as dead as he seems.

MurITRM-01The result­ing film is still a bit con­tro­ver­sial in hor­ror film cir­cles.  A reel’s worth of footage was cut out by A.I.P. before its orig­i­nal release and not rein­stat­ed until its DVD release.  Some hail the uncut ver­sion as a neglect­ed clas­sic while oth­ers con­sid­er it to be more of some­thing that didn’t work the first time.  In Schlockmania’s esti­ma­tion, the truth falls halfway between the two points of view.

There’s a lot for fans of clas­sic hor­ror to like in Murders In The Rue Morgue: Wicking’s script shows an adven­tur­ous spir­it as it romps through goth­ic hor­ror con­ven­tions, Hessler directs the pro­ceed­ings in a lav­ish and kinet­ic man­ner and the night­mare sequences have a kind of Bava/Franco Eurocult sense of the sur­re­al. There’s also a ton of Eurocult reg­u­lars iMurITRM-02n the cast: top hon­ors go to Lom and Dunn, who are are a lot of fun to watch as fig­ures of ques­tion­able intent.

However, Murders In The Rue Morgue also feels like the hasti­ly con­struct­ed rough draft of a bet­ter film.  The sto­ry is often dis­joint­ed and shifts its focus mul­ti­ple times in a way that is like­ly to frus­trate the view­er.  The pac­ing is also off, par­tic­u­lar­ly in the film’s final third as it gets bogged down in one too many “dream vs. real­i­ty” moments. Finally,  Robards is sad­ly mis­cast and goes for an odd, low-key nat­u­ral­ism in a role that real­ly need­ed a European style of the­atri­cal­i­ty.

Thus, MurMurR-DunH-bluders In The Rue Morgue comes off as a well-inten­tioned mis­fire.  That said, there’s enough exper­i­men­tal fun dur­ing its run­ning time to make it worth­while for goth­ic hor­ror fans to notch up one view­ing.

Blu-Ray Notes: Scream Factory has reis­sued this title on blu-ray as part of a 2-for-1 disc with The Dunwich Horror.  The MGM-pre­sent­ed trans­fer looks pret­ty nice, with a rich­ness to the col­or and details that will please vin­tage hor­ror fans and a qual­i­ty loss­less pre­sen­ta­tion of the orig­i­nal mono mix.

The main extra for this title is a com­men­tary from his­to­ri­an Steve Haberman.  He places the film in the con­text of A.I.P.‘s Poe film cycle, point­ing out the sce­nes that the stu­dio re-edit­ed and offer­ing plen­ti­ful bio­graph­i­cal mate­ri­al on Hessler, Wicking and sev­er­al oth­er cast and crew mem­bers.  The one oth­er extra for this film is its the­atri­cal trail­er.