Celebrate Edgar Allan Poe’s Birthday With Three Animations of “The Tell-Tale Heart”

Today is Edgar Allan Poe’s birth­day, or would be had he lived to be 207 years old. I can’t imag­ine he would have rel­ished the prospect. When Poe did meet his end, it was under mys­te­ri­ous and rather awful cir­cum­stances, fit­ting­ly (in a grim­ly iron­ic sort of way) for the man often cred­it­ed with the inven­tion of detec­tive fic­tion and the per­fect­ing of the goth­ic hor­ror sto­ry.

“True!” begins his most famous sto­ry, “The Tell-Tale Heart”—“ner­vous, very, very dread­ful­ly ner­vous I had been and am,” and we sure­ly believe it. But when he fin­ish­es his inti­mate intro­duc­tion to us, we are much less inclined to trust his word:

But why will you say that I am mad? The dis­ease had sharp­ened my senses—not destroyed—not dulled them. Above all was the sense of hear­ing acute. I heard all things in the heav­en and in the earth. I heard many things in hell. How, then, am I mad? Hear­ken! and observe how healthily—how calm­ly I can tell you the whole sto­ry.

Have we ever been con­front­ed with a more unnerv­ing and unre­li­able nar­ra­tor? Poe’s genius was to draw us into the con­fi­dence of this ter­ri­fy­ing char­ac­ter and keep us there, rapt in sus­pense, even though we can­not be sure of any­thing he says, or whether the entire sto­ry is noth­ing more than a para­noid night­mare. And it is that, indeed.

In the ani­ma­tion above by Annette Jung—adapted from Poe’s chill­ing tale—the mad­man Ed resolves to take the life of an old man with a creepy, star­ing eye. In this ver­sion, how­ev­er, a cen­tral ambi­gu­i­ty in Poe’s sto­ry is made clear. We’re nev­er entire­ly sure in the orig­i­nal what the rela­tion­ship is between Poe’s nar­ra­tor and the doomed old man. In Jung’s ver­sion, they are father and son, and the old man is ren­dered even more grotesque, Ed’s psy­cho­log­i­cal tor­ments even more… shall we say, ani­mat­ed, with clear­ly com­ic intent. Jung pub­lish­es a web com­ic called Apple­head, and on her short film’s web­site (in Ger­man), she refers to her “Tell-Tale Heart” as “an ani­mat­ed satire.”

Poe’s tal­ent for sus­tain­ing con­trolled hyper­bole and for cre­at­ing unfor­get­table images like the old man’s evil eye and loud­ly beat­ing heart make his work espe­cial­ly invit­ing to ani­ma­tors, and we’ve fea­tured many ani­ma­tions of that work in the past. Just above, see the orig­i­nal ani­mat­ed “Tell-Tale Heart” from 1954. Nar­rat­ed by the ide­al­ly creepy-voiced James Mason, the film received an “X” rat­ing in the UK upon its release, then went on to an Acad­e­my Award nom­i­na­tion for Best Ani­mat­ed Short (though it did not win). Just below, Aaron Quinn—who has also ani­mat­ed Poe’s “The Raven” and oth­er 19th cen­tu­ry clas­sics by Oscar Wilde, Lewis Car­roll and others—updates Mason’s nar­ra­tion with his own fright­en­ing­ly stark, ani­mat­ed take on the sto­ry. Poe, had he lived to see the age of ani­ma­tion, may not have been pleased to see his sto­ry adapt­ed in such graph­ic styles, but we, as his devot­ed read­ers over 150 years lat­er, can be grate­ful that he left us such won­der­ful­ly weird source mate­r­i­al for ani­mat­ed films.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Down­load The Com­plete Works of Edgar Allan Poe: Macabre Sto­ries as Free eBooks & Audio Books

Edgar Allan Poe & The Ani­mat­ed Tell-Tale Heart

New Film Extra­or­di­nary Tales Ani­mates Edgar Poe Sto­ries, with Nar­ra­tions by Guiller­mo Del Toro, Christo­pher Lee & More

Edgar Allan Poe Ani­mat­ed: Watch Four Ani­ma­tions of Clas­sic Poe Sto­ries

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

by | Permalink | Comments (1) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.