Movies & TV / Columns

A Bloody Good Time 04.26.12: A Brief History Of Edgar Allan Poe In Film

April 26, 2012 | Posted by Joseph Lee

Opening Logo courtesy of Benjamin J. Colón (Soul Exodus)

Welcome to A Bloody Good Time.

Last week I ranked my top ten favorite Godzilla monsters, that weren’t Godzilla. Let’s see what you had to say.

DisgruntledTNAFan said: Okay I don’t know much about the Godzilla franchise,but I have a feeling you are going to get some heat for not including Gamera who I believe was in a Godzilla movie,and had his own franchise,which obviously didn’t exclude King Kong…..

As everyone else pointed out, Gamera had absolutely nothing to do with the Godzilla franchise. He wasn’t even Toho. But I think if Toho ever got the rights and made Godzilla vs Gamera, they’d make a ton of money.

Truff added: Cool picks. Course u had to put JJ at the bottom just to ward off the nerds when any true fan KNOWS the reason he was only in one film is that he is unstoppable! JJ # 1 All others are #2 or lower.

If Jet Jaguar was in more than one film Godzilla would have retired early.

Guest#3455 replied: Love this article, great job. Another list of worst monsters should follow, because frankly, I haven’t seen enough of Hedorah the Smog Monster recently.

I might do that in the future. There have been just as many crappy monsters as good ones. I’m also considering writing one big love letter to the 90s Godzilla cartoon, the only good thing to come from the American remake.

Saeda asked: Holy hell, this is the geekiest column I have ever seen. What the heck is going on?

Thanks for the compliment!

APrince66 said: Awesome freaking list. i totally had a flashback geek out time. Big props for Jet Jaguar. I loved me some Ultraman as a kid, so I naturally connected with Jet Jaguar.
It always irked me as a kid Kong was able to defeat Godzilla as a kid, but whatever. I’m cool with it now lol I couldn’t imagine anything but Mechagodzilla and/or King Ghidorah as 1&2, so outstanding work.

I didn’t watch Ultraman, but I did grow up with Power Rangers, so that naturally helped me get into Godzilla when we got cable and he was on TNT on a regular basis.

Michael in Austin said: I’m a little older than your preferred demographic, so this column brought back memories, especially when you mention DESTROY ALL MONSTERS. I actually saw that in a theatre and it was supercool seeing all my favorite monsters fight King Ghidorah. With today’s CGI, that is a remake I would kill to see…..

Call me old-fashioned, but I want men in suits and I always will. They could make CG look good, but I’d rather they didn’t go there.

This week…well this week I’m going into Edgar Allan Poe. I must confess that I thought this would be a little easier when I announced it, but that was before I discovered a much larger list of films loosely based on his work. I’m not going to get into every single appearance he has ever had, because that would take far more time than I have to give. I’m going to talk a bit about his life, his writing and then some of the more important films based on his work, or influenced by it. Basically all the major adaptations, some of the minor ones if they were good or significant, and a few oddities that should be seen.

It’s funny to me that Edgar Allan Poe is getting a movie in 2012, because I’m willing to bet that outside of required English class reading, most people do not read him by choice. I’m not saying that as a knock on anyone, but we do live in a world where Twilight is a best-seller and Stephenie Meyer couldn’t write a story one millionth as good as Poe’s worst. Like H.P. Lovecraft (who I’ll cover eventually), Poe is the horror author that all others should aspire to be. I love Stephen King, but I think even he would admit he’s not as good as Poe was. He’d probably be the first to admit it.

But unlike Lovecraft, I find Poe’s works to be a little more accessible. Lovecraft built his own world based on mythological fears and otherworldly monsters. Poe’s stories were scarier because they could happen. Someone could lose their mind with guilt. Someone COULD be buried alive (in fact, they have been). The scariest stories are the ones that can actually happen. Poe did write some more complicated works (like The Murders in the Rue Morgue, because seriously…an orangutang?), but most of them were grounded in basic truths.

Poe was born in 1809 and died at the age of 40 in 1849. He wasn’t even alive for him, and yet his work lives on all the way to 2012 (and someone thought it’d be a good idea for John Cusack to play him). I’ve already explained why I think that is, so let’s just get into his life. I apologize if its brief, but this is really more about his writing and the films based on it.

Edgar Poe was an American writer, as was born in Boston, Massachusetts. His father left the family and his mother died not long after so he was taken in by the Allans (they never actually adopted him). He eventually went to the University of Virginia before acquiring debt and dropping out after one year, so he went onto the military. It was there he wrote his first book, a book of poetry called Tamerlane and Other Poems. He wanted to be discharged before his five year tour was up, and, but could only do so if he reconciled with his foster father. That only happened when his foster mother died in 1829. He was discharged two months later.

He began writing in earnest after the death of his brother in 1831. Instead of going back to poetry, he began writing stories. It was also in this time that he married his cousin Virginia, who was thirteen. Poe was 26, so she listed her age as 21 on the wedding certificate. Poe began writing more and more, but he wasn’t able to make very much money off of it. In 1842, his wife Virginia began to suffer from tuberculosis, and Poe began drinking as a result of it. She died seven years later. Poe wrote The Raven two years popular, and it was arguably his most popular work while he was alive.

Poe himself died in 1849, not as rich as being a writer today would get you (in fact he didn’t earn very much money at all) and likely an alcohol. He drank heavily after Virginia’s death and exhibited erratic behavior. His work at the time seem to reflect his grief as some of it involved the death of a beautiful woman. It’s unknown how Poe died, but theories range from heart disease to rabies.

Poe’s wrote some of the most famous works that you’ve probably at least heard of, even if you haven’t read them. You should read them, but that’s not the point. He wrote the poem The Raven and the short stories The Black Cat, The Cask of Amontillado, The Fall of the House of Usher, The Masque of the Red Death, The Murders in the Rue Morgue, The Pit and the Pendulum, The Premature Burial, and The Tell-Tale Heart, among others. He didn’t just write horror, he attempted sci-fi and comedy as well. But he’s well known for being a master of horror fiction.

There were adaptations and films made around Poe’s work in the early days of film, mainly silent or short films. The first major studio attempts to adapt his work came from Universal, who made films of Murders in the Rue Morgue, The Black Cat and The Raven, all of which featured Bela Lugosi. Two of the films featured Boris Karloff co-starring. The three films were only loose adaptations of Poe’s work because in some cases his work was too short to fully flesh out. The Raven is a poem, after all.

Murders in the Rue Morgue had Lugosi as a mad scientist who abducted women and injected them with ape blood, trying to create a mate for his talking ape Erik. A far cry away from Poe’s original story, but it does contain a great crazy performance from Lugosi. The last two films is where it really started to get interesting, but more for the performances than Poe’s work being adapted. Watching Karloff and Lugosi work off each other is a joy to watch, as they’re both professionals and great actors.

The Black Cat features the two in a game of one-upsmanship. Karloff’s character wants to sacrifice a woman to the devil and Lugosi wants to get revenge on him for causing the deaths of thousands of Hungarians. It really has nothing to do with it’s title story, but it did give us this brilliant scene.

The Raven would follow and while it really has nothing to do with the story, it does have Poe-themed traps and reverses the roles of The Black Cat. In this one, Karloff is the good guy (more or less) and Lugosi is the villain.

The next major attempt to adapt Poe came from Roger Corman, of all people, in the 1960s. Like the Universal films, his movies were only loose adaptations, but they did have a little bit more in common with the stories than the Lugosi/Karloff adaptations. Vincent Price starred in six of them: House of Usher (1960), The Pit and the Pendulum (1961), Tales of Terror (1962), The Raven (1963), The Masque of the Red Death (1964), and The Tomb of Ligeia (1965).

I actually have a soft spot for Corman’s The Raven, even if he didn’t have much to do with the poem. There’s a Raven, there’s a Lenore, but then it turns into a battle between wizards/warlocks/magicians, Vincent Price vs Boris Karloff, with Jack Nicholson and Peter Lorre caught in the middle. It can be very funny if you let it, because of the fact all these great talents are working together. Lorre in particular steals the show.

But outside of The Raven, which has an excuse, the other films at least attempted to be more straight-forward adaptations of Poe’s work. The problem with any adaptation is that most of Poe’s stories are short, leaving a lot of room for interpretation. Movies have to flesh out characters, explain motivations and things like that. Short stories are there to “get in and get out” for lack of a better choice of words. Both are great sources of entertainment, but it does make it harder for an adaptation.

Tales of Terror is probably the best of them in this regard because it’s an anthology film, which makes it perfect. Although the film does combine “The Black Cat” and “The Cask of Amontillado” into one story. Likewise, The Masque of the Red Death contains elements of Poe’s story Hop-Frog.

One of my favorite adaptations comes from Full Moon Pictures of all people. I can’t comment on exactly how close it is to the original story, but 1991’s The Pit and the Pendulum is one of my favorites of Full Moon’s catalog. The film was directed by Stuart Gordon (Re-Animator and has both Lance Henriksen and Jeffrey Combs. Like other adaptations, it takes liberties with the material but Henriksen is great.

There have been other works to feature Poe’s work of Poe himself in television. Television is another place where you would think the stories would be better suited. Some shows stick with references like Futurama or the more recent show Warehouse 13. Others make their own adaptations. The Simpsons, for example, gave their own take on The Raven in the first ever Treehouse of Horror. Bart is the raven, annoying Homer.

A Masters of Horror episode called The Black Cat had Jeffrey Combs as Poe, who is almost broke and suffering from writer’s block. He gets tormented by the cat that inspires him to write the story. I actually like this one, it’s one of the best episodes of that series and Combs is always great.

In the future, you can look forward to a Sylvester Stallone directed film about Poe’s life, simply called Poe. He also wrote the screenplay. Don’t worry, Stallone isn’t crazy enough to think he could portray the writer. Robert Downey Jr has been rumored for the titular role.

While I still think this Friday’s The Raven could be good, I do think it has the miscasting of John Cusack working against it. He just doesn’t look right in the role to me. Another thing going against the film is the early negative reviews. I don’t mean just negative, either, I mean scathing. Out of 29 reviews on Rotten tomatoes, only six are positive, giving it a 23%. It could get better, but at this point you’re still looking at a Rotten score. I’m not saying it’s the kiss of death or anything, because there are plenty of horror films that get negative ratings that I still enjoy. But I’m not optimistic about this one.

That’s it for me. What’s your favorite Poe story? Leave some comments here on or my Twitter. Next week we get into something that I was thinking about after the release of Cabin in the Woods: bad movie fans. You know, those people who do one thing or another in regards to a movie that really bother you.

Closing Logo courtesy of Kyle Morton (get your own custom artwork and commissions at his Etsy account)

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Joseph Lee

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