Murders in the Rue Morgue (1971)

Gordon Hessler’s MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE is not, as the title would suggest, really an adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s short story. In fact, it has next to nothing to do with Poe’s tale, basically using it as little more than a starting off point. This is odd, as MURDERS is one of Poe’s few stories that actually lends itself to being expanded into a feature film. It’s a Sherlock Holmes-esque mystery, the bulk of which is about the method of solving the murders as opposed to the murders themselves.

Hessler’s MURDERS plays much more like a remake of PHANTOM OF THE OPERA than anything Poe ever wrote. And, although many of Poe’s themes are present (e.g. murder, paranoia, vengeance), the movie lacks the sense of irony and macabre which drove Roger Corman’s Poe adaptations, or even Hessler’s own CRY OF THE BANSHEE.

Jason Robards is oddly cast as the director and lead actor of a theatre troupe whose specialty is a production of Poe’s story. His actors and people with whom he has relationships are being murdered by a mysterious masked man (Herbert Lom). The police are at a loss, and Robards does what he can to help them out…or so it would seem. Somehow mixed in with this is a vindictive dwarf (the wonderful Michael Dunn), who seems to have his own beef with Robards.

As with Hessler’s other movies, it’s somewhat convoluted and hard to follow, but it does come to an interesting conclusion. His writers (on previous Poe films as well) seem to be attempting to emulate Richard Matheson’s technique of taking Poe’s work and expanding it, rearranging it, or even changing it, but keeping it’s flavor rich and alive throughout. They don’t quite manage that here, but the movie still works on it’s own terms.

MURDERS is a decent thriller, with good performances, moody photography and a lush music score. It has the same grindhouse quality as Hessler’s previous Poe “adaptations”, but the director boasts a much more noticeable sense of style this time around. While it’s never as creepy as CRY OF THE BANSHEE or bizarre as SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN, it manages a fair degree of suspense and intensity, and is at the very least fun and fast paced.