Edgar Allan Poe may have enjoyed some amount of popularity during his lifetime, but he certainly could not have predicted just how influential his writing would become in the ensuing years. Even over two centuries later, we’re still seeing reverential homages to his work in modern media, and that’s not even including the immeasurable impact the author had on the horror genre as a whole.
And with Mike Flanagan’s The Fall of the House of Usher reinventing the author’s stories for the streaming generation, we’ve decided to come up with a list celebrating six of the best Poe adaptations to watch after binging Netflix’s horrific treat. After all, there’s something for everyone when it comes to reinventions of Edgar’s tales of mystery and imagination.
And with hundreds of adaptations to choose from, we won’t be limiting ourselves to either film or television when it comes to selecting entries for the list. That being said, we’ll only be including media that directly adapts one or more of Poe’s stories, which excludes 2022’s The Pale Blue Eye as it’s an original tale that only happens to feature the troubled author as a character.
With that out of the way, don’t forget to comment below with your own favorite Poe adaptations if you think we missed a particularly good one.
Now, onto the list…
6. The Raven (2012)
James McTeigue’s The Raven wasn’t exactly a hit when it first came out, only barely making its budget back at the box office and being lambasted by critics for its messy story and over-the-top performances, but I’d argue that the years have been kind to this stylish little whodunnit. Not only does it serve as a bloody love letter to Poe’s bibliography, but it also features one of the best fictionalized takes on the master of horror himself.
Starring John Cusack as Edgar Allan Poe when he becomes involved in a murder investigation where it appears that the killer is adapting several of the author’s stories, there’s a lot to like about this eerie period piece even if the final reveal isn’t all that satisfying. Of course, the real treat here is getting to see so many classic tales interwoven into a single mystery.
5. Edgar Tales (2013)
Produced by City of God’s Fernando Meirelles, Edgar Tales may be a little hard to track down overseas, but I’d argue that this Brazilian limited series is a serious treat for hardcore Poe fans. Re-imagining the author as a lowly exterminator, each of the show’s five episodes sees Edgar (Marcos de Andrade) dealing with a bug infestation at the site of terrible tragedies – with each chapter adapting one of his classic stories.
Featuring half-hour-long episodes and an unexpectedly chilling atmosphere courtesy of the gritty city of São Paulo, this is a perfect binge-watch for discerning horror fans if you can find it. In fact, my only real gripe with the series is the fact that there aren’t any more episodes!
4. The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror – The Raven (1990)
The first official Treehouse of Horror special also happens to be one of the most memorable, ending on a lovingly crafted adaptation that really outshines the rest of this short but sweet anthology. A nearly word-for-word retelling of Poe’s seminal poem The Raven, the only thing keeping this segment from being legitimately terrifying is the fact that the titular bird is “played” by Bart Simpson while Homer takes on the role of our haunted narrator.
Not only that, but this animated riff on Night Gallery also benefits from the sultry sounds of James Earl Jones as Homer’s inner monologue, resulting in one of the best Poe adaptations of all time; even if much of the poem’s narrative has been condensed to fit the limited runtime.
3. The Pit & the Pendulum (1991)
What do you get when you cross Stuart Gordon with Lance Henriksen and Edgar Allan Poe? Why you get one of the late director’s most underrated films – a neo-exploitation period piece about a maniacal grand inquisitor (Henriksen) of the Spanish Inquisition. It may not be for everyone, but this is the most shocking film on this list – and possibly the most atmospheric.
Sure, the flick plays fast and loose with its source material, often diving more into a near-fantastical retelling of the inquisition than the gothic imagery of Poe’s tale, but there’s no denying the grindhouse-esque thrills of this darkly comedic yarn about religious madness during the dark ages.
2. Masters of Horror: The Black Cat (2007)
Another Stuart Gordon venture, this entry is actually a part of Showtime’s Masters of Horror anthology – more specifically, the 11th episode of the show’s second season. In this memorable story, the always-charming Jeffrey Combs steps into the shoes of Edgar Allan Poe himself as a certain black cat torments the author during a bout of writer’s block.
Not only is this one of the show’s best episodes, showcasing the strengths of the anthology format (as well as Gordon’s impeccable direction), but it’s also one of the Poe adaptations that I revisit the most, with the tale serving as a passionate love-letter to a troubled artist while also giving us one hell of a fun adaptation.
1. House of Usher (1960)
Roger Corman and Edgar Allan Poe really were a match made in horror heaven (or would that be hell?). Now popularly known as Corman‘s Poe cycle, this series of adaptations is responsible for popularizing Vincent Price as a genre legend, as well as re-introducing Poe to a new generation. Of course, none of that would have been possible without the first entry in the cycle, 1960’s House of Usher.
It may not be quite as entertaining as Corman’s darkly comedic The Raven – and it certainly takes more than a few liberties with its source material – but there’s no denying that this adaptation still remains a gothic masterpiece. Price’s performance alone is already worth the cost of admission, though the script by Richard Matheson (I Am Legend) also elevates what could have been just another spooky mansion flick into a genuine horror classic.