The Tell-Tale Heart – USA, 1953

The Tell-Tale Heart is a 1953 American animated horror short film produced by UPA, directed by Ted Parmelee, and narrated by James Mason (Salem’s LotFrankenstein: The True Story). The screenplay by Bill Scott and Fred Grable is based on the 1843 short story of the same title by Edgar Allan Poe.

Paul Julian served as both designer and colour artist for film, and Pat Matthews was the principal animator.

A murderer’s increasing sense of guilt leads him to believe he can hear his victim’s heart still beating beneath the floorboards where he buried him…

Reviews:

“Carefully paced, keeping that all important rhythm, the film presents little visual motifs and auditory hints at the heartbeat before it begins. With archetypal horror like this, there’s little need for sophisticated technique, and The Tell-Tale Heart makes excellent use of the basics. It’s a creepy little treat…” Jennie Kermode, Eye for Film 

“UPA developed a unique and striking visual style for the cartoons they made in the fifties. and this may well be their masterpiece. The excellent narration by James Mason uses an abbreviated version of the story that manages to capture its essence […] The non-realistic animation uses abstract imagery in a powerful way, and it also makes wonderful use of sound and music as well.” Dave Sindelar, Fantastic Movie Musings and Ramblings

“Chock full of surrealist imagery, the look of the movie feels like what would result when Salvador Dali had a nightmare. Undeniably painterly, but no less disturbing for it, the short still looks distinctive today. The unremittingly subjective camera angles place the audience directly in the mind of the killer, and the look of the short feels appropriately askew as a result, with angular character designs, and deep, inescapable shadows.” Jeremy Heilman, Movie Martyr

“One of the most discussed and imaginative cartoons of any era. It tells the famous Edgar Allan Poe story of the deranged boarder who had to kill his landlord, not for greed, but because he possessed an “evil eye.” The killer is never seen but his presence is felt by the use light-and-shadow to give the impression of impending disaster.” Total Short Films

Release:

Released in the USA on December 17, 1953 by Columbia Pictures.

The British Board of Film Censors made this the first cartoon to receive an adults-only ‘X’ certificate in the United Kingdom.

The short is included as a bonus feature on the first DVD release of Hellboy. It is also included, with commentary by Leonard Maltin and Jerry Beck, on disc 2 of The Jolly Frolics Collection.

An audio version was released on an album by Brunswick Records.

Trivia:

In May 1953, pre-production began on The Tell-Tale Heart, which originally was intended to be a 3-D film.

Image credits: Animation Treasures

Related:

More animated horror films

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