Edgar Allan Poe - on the Screen
One of the immortals of literature, Edgar Allan Poe was born in 1809 in Boston, Massachusetts. He was one of the most widely read authors of the 19th century. Poe was famous for his tales of mystery, macabre stories, crime fiction, and many poems.
The poem The Raven was so popular it instantly made Poe a household name across America, he was paid just $9 for it's publication in 1845. His popularity spread to Europe, he was celebrated in France and England.
He wrote detective fiction which would be a great influence on future authors like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle the creator of Sherlock Holmes. He was also famous as a literary critic.
His death in 1849 could have come straight out of one of his mystery stories, he was found shaking, delirious and in great distress on the streets of Baltimore, the clothes he wore were not his own, taken to hospital he died a few days later, his last words were "Oh Lord help my poor soul". A newspaper report noted he died of "cerebral inflammation". His death certificate has since been lost.
His stories have been the subject of over 200 movies since the silent movie era, here are a few of the most noteworthy films.
A French silent released in 1928, The Fall of the House of Usher was directed by Jean Epstein and starred Jean Debucourt as Sir Roderick Usher.
"I barely stirred during the film's 66-minute running time. A tone, an atmosphere, was created that actually worked. As with "Nosferatu," the film seemed less a fiction than the realization of some phantasmagoric alternative reality. " (Roger Ebert)
IMDB rating 7.3
Bela Lugosi as Dr. Mirakle in Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932) directed by Robert Florey and also starring Sidney Fox and Leon Ames as Dupin..61mins.
Poe's Murders in the Rue Morgue (1841) is credited as the first ever detective story and his fictional detecive Auguste Dupin (Pierre Dupin in the movie) would reappear in other Poe mystery stories.
IMDB rating 6.3
Boris Karloff vs Bela Lugosi! Who will win? The Black Cat (1934) directed by Edgar G. Ulmer and also starring David Manners and Julie Bishop. 65mins.
Despite Poe's name on the credits it had nothing to do with his short story though a black cat does appear in one scene only to be killed by Lugosi who has a morbid fear of cats.
One of the best horror films of the 30's the film concerns Lugosi as Dr. Vitus Werdergast planning revenge on evil satanist Hjalmar Poelzig (Karloff) who has kidnapped his wife.
David Manners: "Sounds like a lot of supernatural baloney to me."
Bela Lugosi: "Supernatural, perhaps; baloney, perhaps not."
IMDB rating 7.2
Boris and Bela at each others throats again! The Raven (1935) directed by Lew Landers and also starring Lester Matthews and Irene Ware. 61mins.
Based very loosely on Poe's poem, well they share the same title. Lugosi plays a mad doctor obsessed with Poe and collects torture devices depicted in Poe's stories. Karloff plays an escaped criminal who begs Lugosi for a new face, Lugosi agrees but only after Karloff helps him on some mad revenge scheme, Karloff is than rewarded with a hideously deformed 'new' face.
Lugosi: Poe, you are avenged!
IMDB rating 7.0
The Black Cat (1941) directed by Albert S. Rogell and starring Basil Rathbone, Broderick Crawford, Gale Sondergaard, Bela Lugosi, Hugh Herbert, Gladys Cooper and Alan Ladd. 70mins.
'Inspired' by Poe's short story, the murder mystery is closer in tone to The Cat and the Canary. Worth watching for the all star cast.
At one point Broderick Crawford's character says (regarding Rathbone) "He thinks he's Sherlock Holmes!"
IMDB rating 6.2.
The Mystery of Marie Roget (1942) directed by Phil Rosen and starring Patric Knowles, Maria Montez and Maria Ouspenskaya. 61mins.
Based on Poe's sequel to Murders in the Rue Morgue, first published in 1842 and featuring his detective Dupin (Knowles) investigating the mysterious death of a young actress. The story was the first ever murder mystery based on a real crime.
IMDB rating 5.9
The Tell-Tale Heart (1953) directed by Ted Parmelee. An animated short based on Poe's short story and narrated by James Mason. 8mins.
The first cartoon to be given an X rating by the British censor.
Oscar nominated for Best Short Subject, Animated
IMDB rating 7.7.
Phantom of the Rue Morgue (1954) directed by Roy Del Ruth and starring Karl Malden, Claude Dauphin, Patricia Medina and Steve Forrest as Dupin.83mins.
Another version of Poe's Murders in the Rue Morgue, this time in colour and 3D.
The guy playing Sultan the gorilla, Charles Gemora, played Erik the gorilla in the 1932 version. Gemora has played gorilla's in more than 20 movies, he played a Martian in War of the Worlds (1953).
IMDB rating 5.6
Vincent Price as Roderick Usher in House of Usher (1960) directed by Roger Corman and also starring Mark Damon, Myrna Fahey and Harry Ellerbe. 79mins.
Retitled The Fall of the House of Usher in the UK, perhaps the most famous of all Poe movie adaptations, it's success kickstarted a whole series of Poe inspired films by Roger Corman in the 60's.
Shot in just 15 days, Corman gave the film a stylish and classy look and the use of widescreen made it look more impressive. Vincent Price was excellent as mad Roderick Usher.
Roderick Usher: Did you know that I could hear the scratching of her fingernails on the casket lid?
Chosen for preservation by the National Film Registry in 2005.
IMDB rating 7.0
"You are about to enter Hell, Bartolome - Hell!...The nether world, the infernal region, the abode of the damned...The place of torment. Pandemonium, Abbadon, Tophet, Gehenna, Narraka...the Pit ...and the Pendulum."
Pit and the Pendulum (1961) directed by Roger Corman and starring Vincent Price, John Kerr, Luana Anders and Barbara Steele. 80mins.
Only the memorable finale had any resemblance to Poe's story. it was a wooden pendulum and the blade was made of rubber, actor John Kerr was still nervous being strapped under it.
IMDB rating 7.0.
The Premature Burial (1962) directed by Roger Corman and starring Ray Milland, Hazel Court, Richard Ney, Heather Angel and Alan Napier. 81mins.
The only connection with Poe's short story is Ray Milland's obsessive phobia about being buried alive.
The theme of being buried or walled-up alive runs through many of Poe's stories
Tagline - Within the Coffin I lie... ALIVE!
IMDB rating 6.5
Tales of Terror (1962) starring Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Basil Rathbone. Maggie Pierce, Joyce Jameson and Debra Paget. 89mins.
A trio of stories based on Poe's "Morella", "The Black Cat" and "The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar"
Les Baxter's music and Floyd Crosby's cinematography were an important part of the success of Roger Corman's Poe series.
The film took longer than usual for Corman to shoot, 21 days.
IMDB rating 6.7
Vincent Price as Erasmus Craven, Peter Lorre as Adolphus Bedlo and Boris Karloff as Scarabus in The Raven (1963) directed by Roger Corman. also starring Hazel Court, Olive Sturgess and Jack Nicholson. 86mins.
The most popular of Roger Corman's series of Poe films with the three horror legends clearly enjoying playing rival sorcerers, and young Jack Nicholson plays Peter Lorre's son.
Vincent Price recites Poe's classic poem ending the film with the words "Quoth the raven, "Nevermore!"
IMDB rating 6.7
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
"'Tis some visitor," I muttered, "tapping at my chamber door
Only this, and nothing more."
(The first stanza from Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven".)
The Haunted Palace (1963) directed by Roger Corman and starring Vincent Price, Debra Paget, Lon Chaney Jr and Elisha Cook Jr. 87mins.
Despite Poe's name above the title The Haunted Palace was in fact based on H.P. Lovecraft's novel The Case of Charles Dexter Ward (1927).
IMDB rating 6.6
The Masque of the Red Death (1964) directed by Roger Corman and starring Vincent Price, Hazel Court, Jane Asher, David Weston, Nigel Green and Patrick Magee. 89mins.
Generally regarded as the best of the Roger Corman Poe films
Corman filmed Masque in England on sets left over from the film Becket. The Red Death is fictional and was invented by Poe for his story. The Black Death wiped out most of Europe in the 14th century, 100 million people died of the plague.
IMDB rating 7.0
The Tomb of Ligeia (1964) directed by Roger Corman and starring Vincent Price, Elizabeth Shepherd, John Westbrook and Derek Francis. 81mins.
Based on the short story "Ligeia" first published in 1838 and the last of the Roger Corman Poe series. Filmed at Shepperton studios, England.
IMDB rating 6.6
War-Gods of the Deep (1965) directed by Jacques Tourneur and starring Vincent Price, David Tomlinson, Tab Hunter and Susan Hart. 84mins.
A fantasy adventure based very loosely on Poe's poem "The City in the Sea" (1845). A lost city is discovered beneath the sea off the coast of Cornwall.
UK title The City Under the Sea.
IMDB rating 5.2
The Torture Chamber of Dr. Sadism (1967) directed by Harald Reinl and starring Lex Barker, Karin Dor and Christopher Lee. 85mins.
A German film based loosely on Poe's The Pit and the Pendulum, well it does have a pit and pendulum at the climax. The film has a creepy atmosphere in the style of Mario Bava, a memorable sequence features a ride through a haunted forest at night with corpses hanging off the trees.
Christopher Lee plays the evil Count Regula there is no Dr. Sadism despite the title. Also known as The Blood Demon.
IMDB rating 6.0
Torture Garden (1967) directed by Freddie Francis and starring Jack Palance, Burgess Meredith, Peter Cushing, Beverly Adams and Maurice Denham. 93mins.
A horror omnibus featuring four stories by 'Psycho' author Robert Bloch. The last story "The Man Who Collected Poe" features Jack Palance as the worlds greatest collector of Poe memorabilia who discovers to his astonishment that Peter Cushing has the ultimate Poe collectible, locked up in his cellar and still writing stories!
IMDB rating 6.1
The Oblong Box (1969) directed by Gordon Hessler and starring Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, Rupert Davies and Sally Geeson. 91mins.
Apart from the title it shares little in common with Poe's short story of 1844.
Filming started with director Michael Reeves at the helm, he had directed Witchfinder General starring Vincent Price, a year before. But he died of an accidental barbiturate overdose, aged just 25 and the film was completed by Hessler.
IMDB rating 5.9
Murders in the Rue Morgue (1971) directed by Gordon Hessler and starring Jason Robards, Herbert Lom, Christine Kaufmann and Adolfo Celi. 87mins (98mins)
Another adaptation of the Poe story, this one has some new twists and turns with the plot resembling The Phantom of the Opera, a role Herbert Lom has already played in a Hammer horror movie.
Poe's detective 'Auguste Dupin' is missing from this version.
IMDB rating 5.2.
The Murders in the Rue Morgue (1986) directed by Jeannot Szwarc and starring George C. Scott, Rebecca De Mornay, Ian McShane, Neil Dickson and Val Kilmer. 100mins.
And yet another version of Poe's golden oldie, this version made for TV and boasting the great George C. Scott as Auguste Dupin.
IMDB rating 5.7
Two Evil Eyes (1990) directed by Dario Argento and George Romero and starring Harvey Keitel, Adrienne Barbeau, E.G. Marshall and Martin Balsam. 120mins.
A double bill of gory horror from two masters of the genre, based on the Poe stories "The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar" and "The Black Cat".
At 9 million dollars it was the most expensive Poe film to date. It's total gross in the U.S. was $350,000.
IMDB rating 5.9
The Pit and the Pendulum (1991) directed by Stuart Gordon and starring Lance Henriksen as the Grand Inquisitor Torquemada, also starring Stephen Lee, Jeffrey Combs and Oliver Reed. 97mins.
A cult gory horror with plenty of nudity and an array of torture devices including, you guessed it, a pendulum and a pit.
Director Gordon wanted Peter O'Toole to play Torquemada but things didn't work out.
IMDB rating 6.1
The Raven (2012) directed by James McTeigue and starring John Cusack, Luke Evans, Alice Eve and Brendan Gleeson. 111mins.
John Cusack plays Edgar Allan Poe, he teams up with a young Baltimore detective (Luke Evans) to catch a serial killer responsible for a series of gruesome murders.
Ewan McGregor and Jeremy Renner were originally meant to star but they both dropped out.
James McTeigue has also directed V for Vendetta (2005).
Highest Rated Edgar Allan Poe Films
More by this Author
Superman - The Man of Steel in the movies and on TV with facts, quotes, ratings and photos.
A visual tour of the Empire State Building as seen in the movies.
A Chronology of War Movie Posters 1930-1949.