When a serial killer strikes Baltimore, it is up to the inventor of the detective novel, Edgar Allen Poe, to stop him.
You have to love a movie that starts with the main character collapsed on a park bench and about to die. Mr. Poe gazes up into the sky and spots the titular bird in time to spark a flashback that shows how he got to be in such a predicament.
We first meet the author as he is hitting the rounds of his local bars. Unfortunately, he is out of money and dignity, but he is not above exploiting his own name to get drinks.
Meanwhile, a detective, named Fields, is called to the scene of a murder. He finds a mother and daughter slaughtered. He also discovers that there is no way the killer could have escaped — until he discovers that the murderer used a trick form Poe’s story “Murders in the Rue Morgue,” arguably the first detective story.
Fields seeks out Poe and explains to him that a killer is using his stories as inspiration for a wave of murders. Poe is a little skeptical until the next killing seals the deal. This time, a critic of Poe’s is the victim and he is treated to the torture/murder motif of Poe’s “The Pit and the Pendulum.” It makes for a gory set piece that goes a lot further than the Vincent Price version that haunted 1960s drive-ins.
Poe joins the investigation just as the killer ratchets up the tension by kidnapping Poe’s fiancé, Emily, at a masquerade ball. Now the clock is ticking as Poe and Fields must follow a trail of obscure clues to prevent Emily from any one of a dozen horrible deaths that Poe conceived to sell his stories. There are tons of obstacles here, since the story takes place way before cell phones, GPS and texting.
The death toll mounts as the duo get closer to the killer, but time is of the essence, as Emily is in the hands of a madman who loves Poe’s talent but appears to hate him for having it in the first place. The finale is a corker that doesn’t give you the traditional hero besting the bad guy scene. Instead, you see a tortured man make the ultimate sacrifice. It should come as no surprise, however, that the man capable of writing “Annabel Lee” would do anything for love.
This works thanks to a mostly faithful look at the esteemed author. Poe was one of those guys who was so fiercely talented that nobody was ready for him and his gifts weren’t appreciated until after his demise. John Cusack does a wonderful job of bringing the man to life and imbuing him with pride, passion and, in the end, great humility.
The other reason to check this out are the attacks that are inspired by the late author’s grisly stories. People get entombed , diced, strangled and tortured, with special effects that make up for every drop of blood not spilled in Roger Corman’s Poe flicks of the 1960s.
By the time this ends you’ll realize Poe crated something besides detective stories. He was the original godfather of gore, too.
2012, rated R.
• “Why are you doing this? I am only a critic.”
• “God gave him a spark of genius and quenched it with misery.”
• “Is imagination now a felony?”