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Terror Through the Cinematic Ages

Edgar Allan Poe

and stories would have such long and varied lives in the world of cinema, a medium that had not even been invented by the year of his death (1849). A list of the writer’s literary work is as long as your arm and, depending on whom you ask, a favorite Poe story will have a greatly varied response. With masterpieces such as “The Raven”, “The Premature Burial”, “The Masque of the Red Death”, “Fall of the House of Usher”, “The Pit and the Pendulum”, and “The Cask of Amontillado” from which to choose, there is a lot of material to plum for those wanting to bring the macabre to the big screen. Poe’s tales have been adapted, readapted, re-imagined, and reinterpreted since film first made way through camera, and audiences never seem to tire of seeing these tales of terror in their various renditions. Before film was accompanied by sound, the


life of Poe and his work saw light on screen. Silent classics such as THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER (1928), THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM (1910), THE TELL TALE HEART (1928), THE BELLS (1912), THE GOLD BUG (1910), and THE MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE (1914) were all adapted by filmmakers, using the vivid imagery made famous in Poe’s work to scare and enlighten audiences. Charles Brabin’s THE RAVEN (1915) dedicates much screen time to retelling Poe’s complex and tragic life before quoting the famous poem. But when sound was added to the mix, Poe’s name became all the more popular, and soon adaptations of his work began appearing above marquees year after year. One of Poe’s first sound adaptations was 1932’s THE MURDERS

IN THE RUE MORGUE starring Bela Lugosi as Dr. Mirakle, a mad scientist who gives women ape blood in order to find a mate for his own ape Erik. Though macabre for its time, the film takes liberties with Poe’s original tale, which has been lauded as the first mystery by many literary historians. The story still stars Poe’s detective Pierre Dupin (played by Leon Ames) as lead investigator on the murder case, but the story itself is changed from a locked room mystery to a circus sideshow horror adventure. This wouldn’t be the last

time “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” was adapted. Roy Del Ruth directed PHANTOM OF THE


lthough Edgar Allan Poe saw enough fame during his life, the writer and poet had little understanding that his ideas, poetry,


RUE MORGUE in 1954, starring a young Karl Malden as the mad doctor and Steve Forrest as Dupin searching for the simian murderer. In 1971’s MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE, instead of an ape, the monster is an ax-wielding madman played by Herbert Lom (famous for his roles in PHANTOM OF THE OPERA and THE PINK PANTHER). Director Gordon Hessler (who also directed Poe’s THE OBLONG BOX, THE VOYAGES OF SINBAD, and CRY OF THE BANSHEE) took many liberties with the story, making it more of a PHANTOM OF THE OPERA tale than Poe’s original mystery. In 1986, a more faithful adaptation was made for television by director David Epstein starring George C. Scott, Rebecca De Mornay, and a young Val Kilmer. “The Black Cat” has also been one of Poe’s most adapted stories.

Like “The Raven” and other Poe classics, the story is about a crime and the guilt that accompanies it: a murder is committed and the murderer believes he has covered his tracks, but a black cat continues to remind him of his misdeeds. The story first was adapted as a talkie

in 1934, again starring Bela Lugosi, who this time teamed up with fellow horror legend Boris Karloff under the direction of Edgar G. Ulmer. The film has little to do with the classic story, but it is quite effective in its heavy doses of murder, psychology, and taboos such as necrophilia and Satanism. That same year,

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