October 7th, 1849. That date holds some measure of significance for those of us who enjoy poetry, classic literature, and the dark & spooky aspects of life. That was the date that prolific poet, writer, and macabre figure Edgar Allan Poe was laid to rest in Baltimore, MD.
“But Doug,” I can hear you saying, “What does Edgar Allan Poe have to do with pop culture & geekery? Well, I’m SO glad you asked!
Poe’s legacy spans vastly different types of media. Everywhere from professional wrestling to the NFL, and references to his works have even appeared in such places as a series of Batman comic books. His most well-known impact on pop culture has been in TV & film. Currently, the pan has “writing” credits on 251 productions (according to IMDb.com), many of which starred the iconic Vincent Price. How’s that for having died nearly 50 years prior to the invention of the motion picture?
It’s plain to see why Poe has been such a wellspring of inspiration to so many filmmakers. His most widely-known works are filled with dark, & terrifying images that seem to jump straight out of a fever dream and off the screen at the viewer. Poe was also probably the main person to bring the “twist ending” into the mainstream, and he did it decades before Alfred Hitchcock, and over 100 years prior to M. Night Shyamalan. However, one of the best reasons that so many filmmakers have pulled from Poe’s works, is that his stories are all in the public domain. This means that any filmmaker can adapt them without having to pay anyone royalties. Do a search on YouTube for Edgar Allan Poe, and you’ll see what I mean. There are a TON of amateur short films adapted from Poe’s stories.
All of this being said, audiences & filmmakers alike have found that the very best adaptations of Poe’s work have been the ones that allow Poe’s true voice to take control, without any kind of meddlesome filler. In 1953, an animated short version of “The Tell-Tale Heart” was so creepy and unnerving that it was actually given an “X” rating by the British Board of Film Censors – the first time that ever happened for a cartoon. Along those lines, one of the best Poe adaptations of all time actually came from the first ever ‘Treehouse of Horror’ on The Simpsons. The show offered up a very accurate take on Poe’s renowned short story, “The Raven”. The show masterfully pulls of a faithful adaptation with the titular bird being played by Bart, Homer as the narrator, and spooky voice-over work by James Earl Jones.
However, possibly the most surprising (and possibly the best) adaptation of a Poe story of all time, was actually in a video game. That’s right, a video game. The out-of-print 1995 point & click game called The Dark Eye, which allowed players to experience stories including “Berenice”, “The Tell-Tale Heart,” and through the eyes of both victim and murderer, was animated with creepy, marionette-like puppets and narrated by author William S. Burroughs. The game used interactivity to do what even the best of Poe’s film and TV adaptations couldn’t: it offered players a brand-new perspective on the 150-year-old macabre tales, while managing to maintain entirely faithful recreations of them. Sufficed to say, that only 5 minutes into the game, weird stuff starts to happen.
While we can no longer get our hands on copies of The Dark Eye, I’d like to put the challenge out there to game developers: Look to more classic literature to make your games. You may be surprised at the inspiration you could receive.
If you, dear readers, would like more Edgar Allan Poe in your life, be sure to stay tuned as we will be bringing you an interview with writer/actor/director Mark Redfield, star of The Death of Poe, and the PoeForeverMore audio play!