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Oscar Horrors: "The Tell Tale Heart"

BOO! In this 17 episode miniseries, suggested by Robert Gannon, Team Film Experience will be exploring Oscar nominated or Oscar winning contributions from or related to the Horror Film genre. Happy Halloween Season! 

HERE LIES... The Tell Tale Heart. Its insistent beating was drowned to death by the cacophony of musical noise coming from the instruments of Walt Disney's Toot Whistle Plunk and Bloom which won the Best Animated Short Film Oscar for 1953.

What is more horrifying than a madman who thinks himself sane, like the narrator of Edgar Allan Poe's legendary horror story The Tell Tale Heart? I can actually name four.

1. That an Oscar nomination by no means makes your film easy to find for future generations. This is especially true of any nominations outside of Picture, and Acting. Have you ever tried to find all the nominated short films to watch from any given calender year? SHUDDER. (YouTube has reanimated some of their corpses but otherwise, they're tough to dig up!)

2. That animation is still synonomous with children's entertainment despite all the disparate moods the medium is capable of. This short proves that animation is just as suitable for the macabre as it is the goofy slapstick. Note how the animator's makes creepy visual associations between a harmless old man's blind eye and mundane objects... and that director Ted Parmalee and his animators know as much about shadows as good noir filmmakers.

3. That the great James Mason never won an Oscar. CHILLING!, right? Not even for The Verdict or A Star is Born! He can do more with a few line readings than some actors can do in whole films. 

See how calmy and precisely I can tell this story to you? Listen.

The eye was always closed. For seven days I waited -- You think me mad? What madman could wait so patiently, so long -- in the old house, with the Old Man, and the eye that... 


4. That this short was rated X (X!) by the British censors in 1953... ...and now you can see things 100,000 times as grotesque and violent every night on television without parental guidance and with 100,000 times less humanizing guilt. 

Had you ever seen this short before?
What do you make of the new fictional Edgar Allen Poe themed thriller "The Raven" starring John Cusack?

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Reader Comments (12)

Love this new series idea!

October 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTerence

Love this series idea. I also wish that the Academy (and in particular, the vast amount of millionaires and billionaires that make up its membership) would devote a little more time to film preservation and ensuring that not only are all of the films that have ever been nominated for an Oscar preserved (and in some case, found-come on, you know there are reels of some of those lost films in a storage unit on the Paramount lot), but are available for the mass public. Any film ever nominated for an Oscar should never be out of at least one of the current day's formats (either Blu-Ray or DVD)-that would truly be a prize worth the nomination.

October 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJohn T

I think I saw this in a high school English class many years ago. We're talking the early 70s, and old-fashioned film. Did the movie end up as an educational resource for hard-working English and Literature teachers desperate to keep their students entertained?

October 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterErin

John T -- at least that "reward" would justify the money studios spend campaigning :) plus it would benefit the entire world. Movies that are considered "best" should not be going out circulation.especially not when they come from such a profitable industry.

Erin -- it wouldn't surprise me but it's extra funny considering that British X

October 18, 2011 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Nat I do not recall having ever seen this before. (or did I, like Erin, see it in school in the '70's and forget about it? It's possible.) After this, I couldn't get 30 seconds into the Disney winner without being bored to tears. (A reminder that Oscars are not about objective quality, but popularity and marketing. As if we didn't know. Speaking of which....

"That the great James Mason never won an Oscar. CHILLING!, right?"

God yes. Who needs zombies, ghosties or bumps in the night?

The style on display in this short is very much that of the "cheaper" animation techniques employed at the time, although I don't recall ever seeing it used so atmospherically and to such great effect. It calls to mind some of the more contemporary animated shorts I have seen, which also tend towards darkness and irony oftentimes. (Animated shorts, like short stories, often seem to allow their creators a freedom that longer formats don't, freed from the constraints of having to make money at the box office.)

October 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJanice

Oh, and shouldn't part of the mission of AMPAS to be to archive and preserve the film it's own body has nominated? I'd like to see some of the zillions of bucks wasted on the awards show every year spent on that. That would be an appropriate cultural gift.

October 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJanice

I haven't seen this short but I certainly will now! I do enjoy my Poe :) As for The Raven, I saw The Tell Tale Trailer som days ago and I am wary. The hotness of John Cusack in that garb and that beard is the only yes for me, otherwise it seems to go for bang out horror rather than the eerie creepiness that Poe does so well. And what is with the extremely gruff line-reading, especially by Luke Evans? It made the dialogue sound ridiculous, but then, that might have something to do with the script as well...

October 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMysjkin

What a great little short! And what a great idea for a series!

And James Mason...*sigh*... What a beautiful, beautiful man! And such a great voice too. All the Old Hollywood actors had such great, distinctive voices. That doesn't seem to be the case now, does it? I wonder why...

October 18, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterdenny

"All the Old Hollywood actors had such great, distinctive voices. That doesn't seem to be the case now, does it? I wonder why..."

Denny are you asking that seriously or ironically (as in, you already know the answer)? If the former, I'm certain it must have something to do with stars under the studio system being given diction classes (remember Jean Hagen's character in Singing in the Rain?), as poor voices ended the careers of several actors when the transition was made from silent film to sound. Of course, you also have "method" actors, aka the mumbly school of Brando and Dean, (DeNiro, Hoffman) etc - suddenly everybody wanted to be Brando or Dean. What they didn't realize was that mumbling was not sufficient. We also value "casualness" and "naturalism" in filmmaking as in real life nowadays; anyone who exhibits culture, class or education is dismissed (in the US, anyway) as an "elitist", "gay"...or "French".

October 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJanice

denny - i imagine Janice partially has it but it's also just lack of training. Notice that even the best american actors are usually not as gifted vocally, in terms of nuance of speaking range and how much gravitas they can imbue their characters with vocally and all of that as the British actors who are, very generally speaking, much more trained as actors since they tend to come up through theater.

i remember first realizing this when Leonardo Winona and Keanu were all popular and reading reviews that talked about their sometimes flat vocal work and them not being able to suggest as much depth with their voices as they could with their faces and such. i thought it was interesting and then i couldn't stop noticing it in young actors especially. except british ones ;)

October 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNathaniel R

Thanks, everyone. We have some strange nominees that are going to be featured in this series. I'm working on finding just the right image to represent what I think is the most baffling Oscar nomination for a horror film in the history of the Academy. I even fact checked it through a bunch of different sources to make sure the listing wasn't a joke.

October 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRobert G

The interesting thing about the nominees for Best Animated Short Films is that it is one of the more accessible categories out there. Since most of the nominees are the old studio films that people grew up on, one can go out and do a YouTube search and watch like half of the nominees. Of course, there are a few that are virtually impossible to find, and one that is presumed lost. I've been searching for five years and there are still 11 nominees I haven't seen, including two locked up in the Disney vaults, and you know it will be almost impossible to see them.

Anyways, The Tell Tale Heart was one of the first of the nominated films I saw five years ago, and I was instantly engrossed by its use of animation, cuts, music, and James Mason's narration to create an eerie atmosphere. It is still one of my favorite nominees even today.

Some other great nominated shorts that might fit in the Horror genre include Hunger (1974), The Frog the Dog and the Devil (1986), The Sandman (1992), and The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello (2005). A few comic horror shorts include The Chicken from Outer Space (1995), Runaway Brain (1995), This Way Up (2008), Granny O'Grimm's Sleeping Beauty (2009). Most of those are readily available on YouTube or itunes.

October 18, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterajnrules
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