Just in time for the spookies, Mike Flanagan’s The Fall of the House of Usher series has dropped on Netflix. As ever, he and his collaborators have proved once again they aren’t just highly cinema literate but also literature literate. The modern day mélange of Edgar Allan Poe stories, poems, and characters might be the best adaptations of any of them. But in case you want more Poe to pour over, we have some movies and TV episodes that you should watch after you finish The Fall of the House of Usher.
Because the series deftly weaves several Poe stories together, explaining what ones specifically could be spoilers to anyone who hasn’t watched. Ergo, we’re throwing a spoiler warning here and a message to go watch The Fall of the House of Usher first. It’s amazing, so you should anyway. I’m going to go in order of how the stories are adapted for the show.
House of Usher (1959)
The most obvious watch after Flanagan’s The Fall of the House of Usher is arguably the second best movie adaptation. Roger Corman made a masterful cycle of Poe adaptations starring Vincent Price between 1959 and 1964. Basically I could just recommend all of them, but I’ll expand it a bit. Still, Corman and Price’s very first Poe film is among their very best. Price plays the pallid yet immaculately coiffed Roderick Usher, whose family he believes doomed. The movie adds a romance between Roderick’s sister Madeline and the visitor/audience surrogate, but it’s otherwise a very lavish and macabre adaptation.
The Masque of the Red Death (1964)
Another of the Corman and Price Poes, this one is the most artful of the bunch. Price plays Prince Prospero, the despicable and cruel nobleman who houses an orgy of aristocrats at his castle while the peasant class die of a horrible disease outside. Not only has he horded his wealth and refuses to help his people, but he decides to throw a masquerade to celebrate their suffering. Prospero’s hedonism can’t last forever, especially when a mysterious skull-masked patron shows up. The movie also adapts another Poe short story, “Hop-Frog,” since the titular story is very short indeed.
Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932)
The story in question is much less a horror story than the name would suggest. It’s actually the first in what would become “Detective Fiction,” or a story in which a clever sleuth uses perception and deduction to solve a crime. Poe’s master detective is C. Auguste Dupin who’d go on to appear in another two stories. But what most people remember about this story, and indeed what all subsequent movie adaptations have focused on, is the ape murderer. In Robert Florey’s 1932 Universal Horror film, Bela Lugosi plays a sideshow mesmerist who injects ape blood into women he has abducted in order to make a mate for Erik, his talking chimp. It’s wild, y’all. And somehow Dupin solves it. It’s truly something.
Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (1972)
The story “The Black Cat” has had a million film adaptations, so I decided to choose a giallo because I gotta be me. This Italian film from the heyday of the cycle finds a rich but cruel writer who is obsessed with his dead mother and mistreats his wife spends his evenings partying and drinking with hippies he invites into his dilapidated villa. So a little bit different from the story. A black cat does appear and all the stuff from the Poe story happens as well, there’s just a lot more sex, murder, and double-crossing intrigue. Also that title is beyond reproach.
The Tell-Tale Heart (2008)
This one is in the running for Poe’s most famous story. For this one I’m recommending The Witch and The Lighthouse director Robert Eggers’ 2008 short film. It’s a very faithful and moody version of the story of a young servant driven mad by his decrepit old master’s bodily functions. After murdering the poor man, the servant buries him under the floor only for the beat of the man’s heartbeat to keep haunting him. What makes Eggers’ short so cool is that the old man is actually a full-size puppet for supreme decrepitude. It is the perfect movie to quickly watch after you’re all done with The Fall of the House of Usher.
Spirits of the Dead (1968)
This European anthology film features three different Poe adaptations from three different filmmakers. The first story, “Metzengerstein” from Poe’s story of the same name, is not important for our purposes. Director Roger Vadim cast his wife Jane Fonda as the female lead and her brother Peter Fonda as the male lead…yes, think the things you’re thinking. It’s not a great one. In the second story, Louis Malle deftly adapts “William Wilson,” about a cruel and depraved man who sees his own doppelganger throughout his life. This one was the basis for Tamerlane’s story in Usher.
And finally and most famously, Federico Fellini loosely adapts “Never Bet the Devil Your Head” into the haunting “Toby Dammit,” about a boozed up Shakespearean actor in Rome to make a Spaghetti Western only to have several run-ins with the devil, depicted as a little blonde girl with a white ball. This story isn’t in the show, but the name Toby Dammit sure is.
The Torture Chamber of Dr. Sadism (1967)
Another one with a great title! This surprisingly good and suitably atmospheric German horror film adapts Poe’s “The Pit and the Pendulum” and features the great Christopher Lee as the titular Dr. Sadism. That’s not actually the character’s name, it’s just for the title. A young heiress and her strapping, lantern-jawed lawyer make their way to “Castle Blood” in order for her to receive a handsome inheritance. Unfortunately, the castle was the property of Count Regula (Lee) who murdered 12 virgin maidens believing their blood would give him immortality. Also there’s a pit and a pendulum. It’s not a perfect adaptation, but it is really fun and hyper bloody for the time.
Tales to Keep You Awake – Episode 5 “El tonel” (1966)
Spanish television’s answer to The Twilight Zone was Tales to Keep You Awake, aka Historias para no dormir. Its maestro, Narciso Ibanez Serrador adapted several great authors like Ray Bradbury, Henry James, and of course Edgar Allan Poe. The first of these was “El tonel,” an adaptation of “The Cask of Amontillado.” Lowkey, Mike Flanagan’s show adapted this in the final episode. It features a man getting revenge on his wine-peddling rival buy bricking him up in a wall deep in a wine cellar, away from any help. Slowly dying in a dark pit is pretty bad if you think about it. I highly recommend this whole series, which you can now helpfully get on Blu-ray from Severin Films.
Beetlejuice – Season 4, Episode 13 “Poe Pourri” (1991)
This one is just for fun. An episode from the final season of the animated Beetlejuice series finds the author’s ghost wandering the Neitherworld irritating Beetlejuice with his laments for his lost Lenore. The episode gets increasingly trippy as a jazz-voiced raven walks around saying “Nevermore.” It also has a recurring gag where Poe says he’s Poe and people thinking he’s saying he’s poor and tossing him some money. It’s silly, but it was my first exposure to Edgar Allan Poe so it has a special place in my heart.