Short Film Showcase: The Tell-Tale Heart (1953)

When I reviewed Perfect Blue recently, I bemoaned the lack of animated horror films. Well, here’s a great example of just how scary animation can be when it gets the chance. Let’s run down the list of why this is awesome…

1) The unusual animation by Paul Julian, Pat Matthews, et al. I love all these expressionist touches, fluid transitions, and jagged angles. The tight narrative doesn’t constrain their evocative imagery, which bounces from the gleaming eye to the moon to a broken vase. The story’s perspective is constantly shifting, so it’s never clear exactly how the narrator sees these events transpire; instead, we’re given a very loose, subjective series of emotional impressions. This excellently matches Poe’s simulation of a deranged, homicidal mind.

2) Well, it’s Poe! You can’t have Halloween without Poe. He’s the original American master of horror and the macabre. He was also a master of the short story, and “The Tell-Tale Heart” is one of his simplest and most streamlined: it tells very clearly and tersely about madness, obsession, murder, paranoia, and confession. In doing so, it makes effective use of a single, unremarkable room as a psychological torture chamber – and an imagined heartbeat as the instrument of torture.

3) James Mason’s voice. (For what it’s worth, this is also one of the great assets of world cinema.) Mason got plenty of chances to be pathetic and even occasionally paranoid (see Humbert, H.), but rarely was he so shrieking and hysterical in his film roles. And sadly, he only acted a couple times in straight horror (like Salem’s Lot [1979]), so this is a great chance to see hear Mason at his peak – just before making A Star Is Born and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea – as he anchors the animation with his faultless diction. I would gladly listen to him read from the phonebook; reading great Poe narration is significantly better.

[Housekeeping note: This could be the inaugural post in a potential series called “Short Film Showcase.” It may return in the near future. We’ll see.]

3 Comments

Filed under Cinema, Literature

3 responses to “Short Film Showcase: The Tell-Tale Heart (1953)

  1. Try HARPYRA and THE SANDMAN if you like scary short animations. Then of course there’s anime.

    • Thanks a lot for the suggestions! I’ve never heard of either of those, but I’ll be sure to check both of those out. (I assume you mean Harpya [1979]?) Thanks for reading & commenting.

  2. When I was younger I saw a play adaptation of the tell-tale heart. The old man character was a giant puppet maneuvered by people wearing black spandex. It was an experience.

    And I know it’s not horror and not all of them are animated, but the collected shorts of Jan Svankmajer (now on netflix instant!) were pretty damn freaky.

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