The Tell-Tale Heart – A Classic Animated Tale Of Teror

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The extraordinary and creepy 1953 cartoon version of the Poe classic.

In 1953, mainstream American animation was of a decidedly comedic nature – often surreal, brilliant and outrageous, but definitely aimed at entertaining the kids rather than scaring the living daylights out of them. But this UPA production stretched the artform, showing just what was possible with animation – not just juvenile fun, but very adult horror.

Directed by Ted Parmelee, the film is a concise version of Poe’s story, with an expressionist slant that makes the whole thing feel all the more unsettling, as James mason – an inspired choice – narrates the first-person story. The result is a nightmarish trip into the mind of a madman, unlike anything seen before or since. It might well be the best direct Poe adaptation ever filmed, and certainly up there with The Dark Eye in terms of creating an atmosphere of unese and dread.

Originally planned to be released in 3D – which, in 1953, was the gimmick du jour – the film was finally shown ‘flat’. In Britain, it received an X certificate, the first cartoon to do so (although previous animated films had been either refused certificates entirely or rated ‘H’ for Horrific). It received an Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Film, but disgracefully lost out to a Disney production. I suspect that today, The Tell-Tale Heart is better appreciated than Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom, though.

In 1959, Mason narrated another version of the same story, which was released on seven-inch vinyl. It’s not quite as impressive a performance, and Buddy Cole’s music is less sympathetic than Boris Kremenliev’s was in the film, but it’s worth a listen.

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