13 Good Edgar Allan Poe Movies

Tuesday, April 17, 2012 at 10:50 am

It’s only fitting that numerous Edgar Allan Poe movies exist, as the Boston-born writer (1809-1849) has had a major impact on the development of American literature. One of the first of his countrymen to experiment with the short story, Poe was also an accomplished poet, editor, and literary critic. While the latter two talents have been largely forgotten, his legacy lives on through grim works that frequently deal with aspects of death and the supernatural.

Ever since the early days of cinema, films about or featuring Edgar Allan Poe as a character have been produced for an eager public. Perhaps this is because Poe’s writings are easily accessible due to their universal themes, but it may also have to do with his distinctly dour appearance and seemingly all-black wardrobe. Film adaptations of his work hit a high point in the 1960s, when Roger Corman directed a series of movies either taken from or inspired by the author’s material. Even as I write this article, a feature film titled The Raven–with John Cusack starring as Poe–is set to hit multiplexes within a few weeks. Death, it seems, is never out of style.

Surprisingly, this guy wrote stories about misery and death.

11 Interesting Facts about Edgar Allan Poe

Before we get into the 13 good Edgar Allan Poe movies that made my list, I’d like to pause and share a few interesting facts about the man. As you might have guessed from the look on his face, Poe lived a life of discontent and suffering. In short, he was goth well over a century before it was cool.

The most melancholy bobblehead ever produced.

Additional Edgar Allan Poe Merchandise

This article is about movies that either feature Edgar Allan Poe as a character or adapt one of his poems or short stories. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg, folks. Poe’s enduring popularity stretches far beyond the reach of Hollywood, which is why I wanted to list a few other items that you should explore. All of these can be purchased from Amazon, and I’ve even included links to make your life as easy as possible.

13 Good Edgar Allan Poe Movies

Now that you’ve learned a bit about the author and been exposed to the wide variety of products based on his likeness or drawn from his works, let’s get down to the tell-tale heart of the matter. If you’re a true fan of the glum Bostonian–or want to be–these 13 feature films will put you in the right state of mind. So turn down the lights, get a few candles going, and prepare to witness some of the greatest tales of terror ever written.

The Raven (1915) – Henry B. Walthall starred as Edgar Allan Poe in this silent film, his second on-screen portrayal of the author (the first came in 1914’s The Avenging Conscience). Meant as a surreal biography, The Raven shows Poe drinking lots of wine, romancing his cousin, killing a man in a pistol duel, and buying an abused slave for the bargain price of $600 (as far as I can tell, the latter two events never happened in real life). We also watch as he’s inspired to write “The Raven,” although his muse of alcohol provides some tragic foreshadowing to his life being cut short at the age of 40. If you enjoy silent movies, be sure to give it a look.

Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932) – This Universal horror film originally ran 81 minutes in length, but it was cut down to 61 minutes to remove violent scenes considered too disturbing for the time. Bela Lugosi (as compensation for being replaced in Frankenstein) stars as Dr. Mirakle, a mad scientist who also runs a sideshow for some odd reason. His star attraction is a talking gorilla named Erik, and Mirakle intends to make him a proper mate by abducting virgins and injecting them with ape blood. Yes, that’s what I call sound scientific logic.

When Mirakle sets his sights on the lovely Camille (Sidney Fox), he winds up being opposed by her fiancee, medical student and amateur detective Pierre Dupin. In the original short story, the character was named C. Auguste Dupin, and he paved the way for future literary detectives such as Sherlock Holmes. In fact, “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” is considered the first fictional detective story ever written. The film version hasn’t aged especially well, but it’s still recommended for those with a passion for classic horror movies.

The Raven (1935) – This Lew Landers film has nothing to do with Poe’s poem, but it does star Bela Lugosi as retired surgeon Dr. Richard Vollin. Obsessed with the melancholy author, Vollin has built up a fine collection of torture devices featured in Poe’s work, and later in the film we get to see them employed with lethal results. Boris Karloff co-stars as a murderer looking to start a new life with a different face. He approaches the surgeon for help, but winds up disfigured and forced into participating in a sadistic plot to help Vollin gain revenge against an innocent family.

Considered too twisted by 1935 standards, The Raven failed to achieve success at the box office and helped contribute to the sudden downturn in horror releases. Still, it remains an entertaining example of Universal horror, with the delightful deathtraps bolstered by the presence of two genre icons.

The Loves of Edgar Allan Poe (1942) – A big screen biopic of Edgar Allan Poe, this time with future soap opera star Shepperd Strudwick in the title role. The film focuses on the many challenges faced by the author, including doomed romance, a volatile relationship with his foster father, and battles with editors over copyright laws. The 67-minute runtime means a lot of interesting details about Poe’s life are glossed over or outright omitted, but The Loves of Edgar Allan Poe remains required viewing for those with a serious interest in his life and art.

The Tell-Tale Heart (1953) – This 7-minute animated short is narrated by James Mason and tells the classic story of a killer who does in and old man and then becomes consumed with guilt. As his fear reaches a fever pitch, he begins to believe that he can hear his victim’s heart beating from beneath his floorboards. The surreal quality of the animation looks like an unholy melding of Picasso and M.C. Escher, which was good enough to earn it an Academy Award nomination. Mason’s droll British accent doesn’t hurt, either.

House of Usher (1960) – Considered one of the best Roger Corman movies ever made, House of Usher was the first of eight films inspired or adapted from Poe and released under the American International Pictures banner. The screenplay was written by Richard Matheson (“I Am Legend”), and it revolves around a young man (Mark Damon) arriving at the sinister Usher estate to collect his future bride (Myrna Fahey). Unfortunately, he also has to contend with her brother Roderick (Vincent Price), a fatalistic creep who wishes to spare the outside world the legacy of murder and madness carried within his bloodline.

Price is his usual dependable self, while the ramshackle Usher mansion threatens to upstage the entire cast. The fiery finale is a standout, one of the many reasons while this film remains a high point in Roger Corman’s lengthy career.

The Death of Poe (2006) – While it doesn’t boast the budget of some of the other entries on this list of good Edgar Allan Poe movies, Mark Redfield’s indie effort still manages to enthrall while taking a speculative and hallucinatory look at the last days of the author. From getting mugged by a former classmate to being forcibly made to vote multiple times in a city election, Poe (Mark Redfield) encounters nothing but violence and frustration as he seeks to launch his own magazine. There aren’t any real scares to be had, but those seeking a more in-depth look at the tragically short life of the author will enjoy the ride.

Vincent (1982) – Back when he was still working for Disney, Tim Burton got a chance to turn his poem about a seven-year-old boy who wants to be Vincent Price into an animated short. The result is classic Burton, with strong use of the color black, narration from the real Vincent Price (who gets to quote a few lines of Poe), and a style that looks as though it came straight from The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. While Vincent is available as a bonus feature on special DVD editions of The Nightmare before Christmas, you can also watch it for free courtesy of the good folks at YouTube.

The Masque of the Red Death (1964) – Not only is Prince Prospero (Vincent Price) a sadistic noble who constantly abuses his peasants, but he’s also a cinematic Satanist devoted to earning a distinguished place in Hell. Then a plague known as the Red Death rolls into the region, and Prospero and his corrupt nobles–along with several captives who serve as our protagonists–retire to his castle to ride out the disease.

Price delivers his usual (if somewhat hammy) genre performance, while Hazel Court causes male hearts to flutter as Prospero’s mistress obsessed with getting on Satan’s good side. The struggle between good and evil is largely played out in the interaction between Prospero and the virginal Francesca (Jane Asher), as she uses her faith to resist all temptations places in her path.

The climax of the film also shoehorns in another Poe short story, “Hop Frog,” but the real focus is on the debauched feast that takes place while the plague rages beyond the castle walls. Justice, however, arrives in the form of a figure clad all in red, someone you just know is going to crash the party and ruin everyone’s evening.

The Pit and the Pendulum (1961) – The second Edgar Allan Poe adaptation that Roger Corman did for American International Pictures, The Pit and the Pendulum only resembles the author’s short story during the final, nail-biting act featuring a gigantic blade swinging ever closer to hero Francis Barnard (John Kerr).

The film begins in 16th century Spain, with the aforementioned Francis arriving at the creepy castle of his brother-in-law, Nicholas Medina (Vincent Price). His sister (Barbara Steele) has died under mysterious circumstances, and Francis wants to find out what really happened. It doesn’t take long before all manner of strange events are occurring, including decaying corpses, apparitions, and Vincent Price tormented by the memory of his sadistic father (a member of the Spanish Inquisition).

Price, while over-the-top at times, provides the high notes of the film, especially when he comes to believe that he’s actually his deceased dad. Before you can say “Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition,” he’s tied up Francis, gagged him, and set the titular blade in motion.

Web of the Spider (1971) – If you’ve ever seen any of the early works of director Werner Herzog, then you know that his pal and frequent collaborator Klaus Kinski was more than a little nuts. Herzog may not be behind the camera this time around, but that doesn’t stop Kinski from chewing the scenery like a man possessed.

He plays Edgar Allan Poe as a hard-drinking man who’s convinced that ghosts are on the loose, and it’s up to intrepid journalist Alan Foster (Anthony Franciosa) to prove him wrong–and restore his senses–by spending a night in a supposedly haunted castle. As you might have guessed, Poe’s claims are on the money, and Foster must weather a succession of vengeful spirits.

There’s a twist at the end, plus foxy Michele Mercier gives a sensual performance as a spirit who falls in love with the protagonist. Directed by Antonio Margheriti, this atmospheric Italian horror classic is actually a remake of his 1964 film Castle of Blood.

The Raven (1963) – Even though the film starts off with a recital of “The Raven,” this Roger Corman production has little to do with Poe’s actual poem. It’s doesn’t matter, though, because there are more than enough reasons to recommend it. Chief among them are the presence of three iconic horror actors–Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, and Boris Karloff–each of whom plays a sorcerer. The Richard Matheson screenplay deftly mixes horror and comedy, while fans of Jack Nicholson will delight in seeing him pre-fame as Lorre’s son. It might seem a little hokey by today’s standards, but those looking for a family-friendly horror classic will still find plenty to like.

An Evening of Edgar Allan Poe (1972) – Vincent Price takes the stage and performs several of Poe’s works. It’s easy to see why the veteran actor was such a fan favorite, as he gives his all during “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Sphinx,” “The Cask of Amontillado,” and “The Pit and the Pendulum.” Features impressive set designs, new costume changes for each act, and every conceivable camera angle of Price’s haunting visage. A must-see for fans of gothic horror.

You may have trouble finding this one on DVD, so here’s a link to the entire 54-minute performance on YouTube. As an extra bonus, be sure to check out these interpretations of “The Raven” as read by Christopher Walken and James Earl Jones.

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That concludes our look at 13 good Edgar Allan Poe movies that have either been adapted from his works or feature the writer as a character. If you’ve never experienced his poems or short stories, I urge you to head to Amazon and rectify the situation immediately. Or, if you feel you should get everything for free, you’ll undoubtedly find most of his material via the search engine of your choice. But before you head off to get lost in chilling tales of premature burial and blackhearted murder, be sure to check out these other articles from Only Good Movies:

This entry was posted on Tuesday, April 17th, 2012 at 10:50 am and is filed under Good Movies, Thoughts on Film. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

One Response to “13 Good Edgar Allan Poe Movies”

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May 8, 2012

Tiberius Fade

Edgar Allen Poe was God with a mustache. Annabelle Lee is thought to be about Poe’s young wife. She died two years before Poe and it was his last poem. Even before Eliza Clemm Poe’s death, many of Poe’s poems (including The Raven) were about beautiful women who died young.

My favorite lines from Annebelle Lee:

“And neither the angels in heaven above,
Nor the demons down under the sea,
Can ever dissever my soul from the soul
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee.”

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