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.

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!

Comments (1)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • 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

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.