“The Oblong Box” (1969)
Gordon Hessler’s “The Oblong Box” is a tepid and dishonest attempt at a continuation of American International’s ongoing Edgar Allan Poe inspired series of films which began with Roger Corman’s 1959 “House of Usher”, though the film’s interpolated voodoo elements have nothing to do with the author’s story (frankly, nor do any of the film’s story elements), where even the most cursory examination of the production discloses the mere use of the 1844 short story’s title as an excuse to lay claim to an associative thread. The marketing department’s claim of the film representing a Poe tale of “the living dead” is a complete fabrication, though certain to be sending impressionable novice Poe enthusiasts back to the original story which is bound to not only confound expectations but unjustly disappoint the reader searching for a material remotely similar to the supposed film representation, quite clouding the achievements of one of Poe’s lesser known but more accessible tales of the macabre. This last description may also incorrectly categorize the story as having characteristic elements of grotesquerie- the central mystery as to the purpose and contents of the “oblong box” may yield such suspicions, though the denouement reveals such presumptions to be in error, as the story’s true core is more in concert with the author’s tragic lamentations of the obsessively felt loss of an all-consuming love equally expressed in the poems The City in the Sea, Annabel Lee and The Raven rather than a story commensurate with the lurid aspects of Grand Guignol. One can only imagine the apoplectic reaction at the exploitation minded AIP to a suggestion they produce a an unmotivated series of Poe movie purely- even with the retention of its central mystery intact -lodged in the realm of romantic longueur! Also, given the propensity for increased- and often unmotivated- save for gratuitous effect -graphic violence and nudity in the series, especially in vehicles which have equally feeble association with Poe’s work, despite the possessive marketing claims (“The Conqueror Worm”, “Cry of the Banshee”). it became a certainty that whatever form the project was to take, the inclusion of such gratuity would be part of the unfaithful filmization. These exploitative elements are particularly glaring in “The Oblong Box” as they tend to arise involving peripheral characters who bear little to no importance to the film. Indeed, the newly minted narrative credited to Lawrence Huntington and Christopher Wicking is little more than a derivative excuse for a series of unmotivated murders, all depicted without any sense of mystery and not a whit of suspense. Seldom have so many suffered for so little effect.
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