Watch a Strange Animation of Edgar Allan Poe’s “Tell-Tale Heart,” Voted the 24th Best Cartoon of All Time (1953)

Ani­ma­tion stu­dio UPA—United Pro­duc­tions of America—is best known these days as the stu­dio that gave us Mr. Magoo and Ger­ald McBo­ing Boing (which inspired a cer­tain web­site). But the stu­dio, orig­i­nal­ly cre­at­ed by three for­mer Dis­ney employ­ees, want­ed to broad­en hori­zons back in the 1950s, and cre­at­ed this quite dis­turb­ing adap­ta­tion of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart,” nar­rat­ed by the ven­er­a­ble James Mason.

Due to its adult sub­ject mat­ter, it was the first ani­mat­ed film to receive an “X” rat­ing
(or “suit­able for those aged 16 and over”) in the UK. Though not intend­ed for chil­dren, many undoubt­ed­ly saw the film as kids and were pro­found­ly affect­ed by it. The film, designed by Paul Julian, bor­rows both from Dali-esque sur­re­al­ism and Ger­man expres­sion­ism.

And while it does fea­ture some tra­di­tion­al cell ani­ma­tion, there’s a mix of tech­niques that keep the film in the realm of the dream­like and avant-garde: sud­den zooms, shad­ows that fade in and out, flat­tened per­spec­tives, inven­tive use of chiaroscuro. In this film, one can see both the future careers of Roger Cor­man and Dario Argen­to, both grab­bing influ­ences left and right.

In fact, though design­er Paul Julian is best known for his back­ground work at Warn­er Bros. ani­ma­tion stu­dios (he also is known as the cre­ator of the Road Runner’s beep-beep sound), he wound up pro­vid­ing direc­tor Roger Cor­man with art­work for movies like Demen­tia 13 and The Ter­ror.

UPA con­tin­ued to pro­duce films with its mod­ern and flat space-age aes­thet­ic dur­ing the ‘50s, but it nev­er real­ly hit these adult heights again. The ‘60s how­ev­er, would pick up from where UPA left off.

Julian’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” was vot­ed the 24th great­est car­toon of all time, in a 1994 sur­vey of 1,000 ani­ma­tion pro­fes­sion­als. It was also nom­i­nat­ed for the Acad­e­my Award for Best Ani­mat­ed Short Film. We hope you enjoy this glimpse into dis­tur­bia. It will be added to our list of Free Ani­ma­tions, a sub­set of our col­lec­tion, 4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Clas­sics, Indies, Noir, West­erns, Doc­u­men­taries & More.

Note: An ear­li­er ver­sion of this post appeared on our site in 2017.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Christo­pher Lee Reads “The Tell-Tale Heart,” Edgar Allan Poe’s 1843 Clas­sic

Watch Vin­cent Price Turn Into Edgar Allan Poe & Read Four Clas­sic Poe Sto­ries (1970)

Famous Edgar Allan Poe Sto­ries Read by Iggy Pop, Jeff Buck­ley, Christo­pher Walken, Mar­i­anne Faith­ful & More

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the FunkZone Pod­cast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, read his oth­er arts writ­ing at and/or watch his films here.

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  • Required says:

    I knew it was this one. As a child, my teacher took a bunch of row­dy, ener­getic pre­teens and got them to sit and learn and inter­act dur­ing the whole class sim­ply by stat­ing that she knew we could. She showed us this film. This sto­ry. This author.

    She saw the cracks on the box­es around us and inspired us all to poke at them. To learn from them and final­ly, to break them.

    This film aston­ished us. The dark­ness, the lights, the smooth rough­ness if it. It per­forms its duty and it does it remark­ably well. I did­n’t know it was from such a long time before me. Yet I knew I would face it again and greet it when I read the head­line. It sim­ply had to be. For she would show us noth­ing less than the excep­tion­al, know­ing it was that what would hook most of us. The rest could be snatched in the details.

    There’s a chill in my chest- rem­nants of the first time we read this sto­ry, with our desks in a big cir­cle and a dis­em­bod­ied voice lead­ing us all through the dan­gers of our minds. But there is also a warmth inside me. A direct mem­o­ry of the laugh­ter shared in that class­room. And even aside from that, there is a new appre­ci­a­tion of all the work put into this film. Things I could not have noticed as a child dis­cov­ered thanks to the won­ders of chance. And I am glad for it.

    It would make my teacher hap­py to know this has been found again. A won­drous telling and show­ing of a won­drous­ly dread­ful sto­ry. It is most def­i­nite­ly deserv­ing of this award and recog­ni­tion.

    (I would lat­er come to find out my teacher taught us things and inspired us to grow not because she was told, not because it was the law, but because she knew we could.)

    Don’t mind me I’m prac­tic­ing my writ­ing. It’s true, though

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