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The Best Edgar Allan Poe Adaptations

The master of the macabre and mystery, Edgar Allan Poe has written numerous hair-raising literary classics that have inspired a myriad of movies. The esteemed writer and poet was one of the country’s earliest practitioners of the short story, and is widely regarded as the founder of the detective fiction genre. Poe’s terrifying and spellbinding tales have captivated audiences for centuries, with his impressive selection of works influencing literature all across the world. His stories have had a significant impact on pop culture, appearing and being adapted into films, television, music and literature. With famed works like The Raven, The Pit and the Pendulumand The Fall of the House of Usher (which Mike Flanagan is bringing to Netflix), the writer remains a prominent and brilliant literary figure.

Poe’s chilling tales have found immense success in cinema, with many famous faces and talented directors tackling the tormented artist’s profound body of work. Filmmaker Roger Corman gained notoriety for his cycle of low-budget cult pictures based on Poe’s stories, collaborating with the wonderfully campy Vincent Price for the horror flicks. Hollywood legends Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff also appeared in a slew of creepy classics, starring alongside one another in the Poe-inspired 1934 horror movie The Black Cat. Bringing the writer’s riveting stories to life is no easy feat; these are the best Edgar Allan Poe adaptations.

8 The Pit and the Pendulum

American International Pictures

Director Roger Corman adapted a series of low-budget cult films based on the works of Edgar Allan Poe (who will be played by Harry Melling alongside Christian Bale in The Pale Blue Eye later this year), with 1961’s The Pit and the Pendulum being one of his most well-received and praised efforts. The horror flick stars the great and eccentric Vincent Price, telling the terrifying tale of a young Englishman in the sixteenth century who travels to a foreboding castle in Spain to investigate the eerie circumstances of his sister’s strange death. Price portrays the man’s deranged brother-in-law, who harbors a ghastly secret within the walls of his menacing castle.

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Though some critics considered the actor’s performance as over-the-top and hammy, they nonetheless were impressed by Corman’s vision and execution of the dark material; the director himself was surprised at the success of The Pit and the Pendulum, having said, “We anticipated that the movie would do well… but not half as well as it did.” The success of the thrilling picture led to Corman helming six other films based on Poe’s works, with Price appearing in five of them.

7 The Black Cat

Universal Pictures

Horror legends Boris Karloff and Bela Legosi collaborated for the 1934 pre-Code horror film The Black Cat, which centers on two American newlyweds honeymooning in Hungary who become trapped in the fortress-like home of a famous architect by a Satan-worshiping priest. In the spooky picture, Legosi stars as the tragic and mad doctor Vitus Verdegast, with Karloff portraying the mysterious, black-lipped designer whose home the travelers seek refuge in following a bus crash in a mountain storm. The Black Cat became Universal Pictures’ biggest box office hit of the year and was the first of eight films produced by the studio that paired the iconic actors together.

British critic Philip French raved about the frightening flick, writing, “The movie unfolds like a nightmare that involves necrophelia, ailurophobia, drugs, a deadly game of chess, torture, flaying, and a black mass with a human sacrifice. This bizarre, utterly irrational masterpiece, lasting little more than an hour, has images that bury themselves in the mind. ” The Black Cat helped to establish and popularize the psychological horror subgenre and its distinct and thrilling elements for future films.

6 The Bloodhound

The Bloodhound
Arrow Films

Inspired by Poe’s Gothic short story The Fall of the House of Usherthe 2020 mystery thriller The Bloodhound follows the peculiar events that plague a young man after he is invited to the home of his wealthy and reclusive childhood friend and his twin sister. Like its inspiration source, the grisly adaptation focuses on themes of madness, isolation, family and metaphysical identities, remaining true to the famed author’s vision and atmosphere while giving it a modern-day spin.

The Bloodhound wash listed by Paste magazine in 2021 as one of the “13 Best Edgar Allan Poe Adaptations” and garnered widespread acclaim from critics upon its release. Director Patrick Picard was praised for his debut feature, with Vague Visages proclaiming, “even when nothing particularly scary is happening, the sensation that it’s about to at any moment is suffocating. Overall, Picard’s film is unsettling, tense and incredibly strange. ”

5 Spirits of the Dead

Spirits of the Dead

The 1968 omnibus film Spirits of the Dead consists of three segments, all of which depict the first collection of Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories translated by French poet Charles Baudelaire, with the title of the picture coming from the 1827 poem by the revered writer. The anthology horror flick was directed by three European filmmakers and stars Hollywood greats like Brigitte Bardot, Jane Fonda, Peter Fonda, and Terence Stamp, telling three chilling stories: a hateful princess haunted by a ghostly horse, a vicious man haunted by his double and a former Shakespearean alcoholic actor plagued by the devil.

Federico Fellini directed the segment “Toby Dammit” starring Terence Stamp as a struggling addict, which has widely been regarded as the best of the trilogy. The New York Times described the installation as “marvelous: a short movie but a major one.”

4 The Masque of the Red Death

The Masque of the Red Death
American International Pictures

Roger Corman once again enlisted the help of the zany Vincent Price for his 1964 horror picture The Masque of the Red Death, the director’s seventh adaptation of Poe’s works based on the short story of the same name. The distinguished actor portrays a tyrannical European prince terrorizing a plague-ridden peasantry while using his lonely castle as a refuge against the daunting “Red Death” that cripples the land. A young and beautiful woman captures the evil prince’s eye, and he sweeps her away to his fortress in hopes of wooing and corrupting her.

Corman believed that The Masque of the Red Death and The Fall of the House of Usher were the two best Poe tales, revealing to Den of Geek what fueled The Masque‘s main antagonist: “The real key to Prospero’s character is that he believes God is dead. And everything stems from that belief. That with the absence of God, he was free to do anything he wanted. ” In 2019, the picture was selected for preservation by the Academy Film Archive.

Extraordinary Tales

Raul Garcia directed the 2013 animated anthology film Extraordinary Tales, which brings five of Edgar Allan Poe’s terrifying stories to life with the help of Christopher Lee, the late Bela Lugosi, Guillermo del Toro, and Julian Sands serving as narrators for each of the segments. The gorgeously grisly animation and foreboding atmosphere for each installation puts audiences on edge, with the famed and gifted artist Garcia adopting different styles of animation for each treacherous tale.

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The short movie brilliantly captures the ever-present feeling of dread and despair found in Poe’s macabre works, while masterfully alternating between gruesome graphic styles that are full of thrills and chills for horror lovers. Many critics appreciated Garcia’s homage to the author and his tantalizing works, with the Los Angeles Times stating that Extraordinary Tales “Reminds viewers that animation can enable an artist to realize an individual vision, even on a limited budget.”

2 House of Usher

House of Usher
American International Pictures

The first of director Roger Corman’s eight Poe-inspired feature films, 1960’s horror classic House of Usher centers on Roderick Usher, a man who believes his family is cursed by an incurable madness that ensures their impending doom, and sets out on a mission to prevent the marriage of his sister to a determined young man. Roderick tells his sister’s suitor Philip Winthrop that the Ushers are plagued by lunacy that has long since tainted their bloodline, and declares that he will stop at nothing to prevent their impending nuptials.

Vincent Price once again serves up a dazzling performance as the manic Roderick, serving as a career milestone for both the engrossing actor and Corman, who took a hefty gamble by choosing to instead helm a larger budgeted film in color as opposed to two low budget black and white flicks. House of Usher is regarded as an outstanding adaptation of Poe’s famous storyestablishing Corman as a trailblazer for independent films.

1 Murders in the Rue Morgue

Murders in the Rue Morgue
Universal Pictures

Robert Florey’s 1932 horror picture Murders in the Rue Morgue stars the great Bela Lugosi as Doctor Mirakle, a carnival sideshow entertainer and mad scientist who seeks to mingle human blood with an ape, kidnapping Parisian prostitutes in order to execute his disturbing experiments. When aspiring medical student Pierre Dupin and his girlfriend cross paths with the sinister scientist, the young man begins to suspect Miracle is harboring a ghastly secret. In order to accommodate the role for Lugosi and the feature film, Florey changed much of Poe’s talesaying he “had to strengthen and lengthen the Poe short story” and that he “added numerous characters.”

Universal Pictures sought to complete the picture quickly, as both Dracula and Frankenstein were garnering widespread success and interest in the horror genre. Lugosi went on to star in several more adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe’s works, once again playing mad scientists in both The Black Cat and The Raven. The authors of the book Universal Horrors, an overview of the iconic chiller released by Universal Studios during the peak of Hollywood horror, called the 1932 picture “Very likely the most underrated of Universal Horrors.”

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