The Top Ten Creepiest Edgar Allan Poe Stories
Edited By: Grave Reviews Staff
Who doesn’t love a good creepy tale? For lovers of horror and oddities, Edgar Allan Poe has been a favorite in the United States and Europe for well over a century. Part of his popularity can be attributed to his influence on many different types of literary genres and authors that followed, good translations of his work, and the fact that many of his stories and poetry are still taught at both the high school and college levels. No one can resist a good creepy yarn, and we have picked out ten for you to enjoy whenever you need a good chill.
10. The Premature Burial
Originally Published: 1844, The Philadelphia Dollar Newspaper
Our unnamed narrator in The Premature Burial suffers from deep fainting spells that resemble death. He has a fear of being buried alive and obsesses over such cases. It is not too much of a surprise when our narrator eventually does wake up in a completely pitch-black environment.
A common fear in the nineteenth century was that of being buried alive. Medical science was not as advanced as it is today, and people were buried alive from time to time. In this story, Poe describes several incidents of people being mistakenly pronounced dead, and although they aren’t all true, they are not that far from the truth, either. And complicated precautions were available for those willing to plan and pay for them. Although Poe gives readers an interesting yarn with “The Premature Burial,” the real history behind it is almost more interesting.
9. William Wilson
Originally Published: 1839, Burton’s Gentlemen’s Magazine
William Wilson attempts to unravel the mystery of the doppelganger, a dark twin of a person often considered a portent of doom. The titular main character is haunted by a man he thinks is his doppelganger from boyhood through college. Eventually, Wilson is able to confront his doubled self in a deadly duel.The shock at the end may seem clichéd now, but at the time it was a great shock and if you can go into it without preconceived notions, it’s thoroughly enjoyable. Interestingly, Poe gave the main character—and his doppelganger—his own birthday. The story also has a high degree of realism, as Poe used his experiences from his time in England to help color Wilson’s world.
8. The Murders in the Rue Morgue
Originally Published: 1841, Graham’s Magazine
Although Poe is remembered for being a horror writer first and foremost, he wrote many detective stories and was very influential on that genre as well. The Murders in the Rue Morgue is remembered as a horror story for the murders and gruesome criminal but is actually considered the first modern detective story. C. Auguste Dupin, Poe’s detective, finds the rather unconventional criminal and enacts justice as well as he can. Dupin would go on to appear in Poe’s The Mystery of Marie Roget and The Purloined Letter.
Although this story itself is probably no longer one of Poe’s best-known works, it did spawn a whole genre, which is no mean feat. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, described The Murders in the Rue Morgue, and Poe’s detective stories as a whole, as a root from which a whole literature has developed. Where was the detective story until Poe breathed the breath of life into it? This story was also a favorite of Ray Bradbury’s, who references it in The Martian Chronicles with a science-fiction twist on the mystery.
7. The Raven
Originally Published: 1845, New York Evening Mirror
Although a piece of narrative poetry rather than a prose story, The Raven still tells a definable story. An unnamed narrator bemoans the death of his love, Lenore, when he is visited by a raven that can speak one word and one word only: “Nevermore.”
Like many other poems and stories by Poe, this focuses on loss and devotion beyond loss. There is much debate over the symbolism of the raven in modern days, though Poe himself described the bird as symbolizing mournful and never-ending remembrance. Ravens have also long been associated with the powers of darkness, evil, and death. Ravens can also be taught to speak. Originally, Poe planned on using a parrot for its powers of speech, but eventually decided a parrot might not work with the tone he intended.
The Raven is another Poe story that has lived in American pop culture since day one. One the most well-known adaptations of the poem come in the very first Tree house of Horror Simpsons episode. James Earl Jones intones the poem as Homer struggles with Bart in the form of a raven. This narrative poem is one of Poe’s most theatrical pieces in general, and it tends to take to the stage or screen very well.
6. The Tell-Tale Heart
Originally Published: 1843, The Pioneer
A nervous narrator has something big on his mind: proving his sanity and justifying a murder he has committed. The narrator lives with an old man, whose vulture-eye seems to have transfixed the narrator. Eventually, the narrator can’t take it anymore, and takes matters into his own hands.
This could very well be Edgar Allan Poe’s best-known story, though we’ll resist spoiling the end just in case your memory is foggy. It’s been adapted for film and theatre since the late twenties, even inspiring a mobile game. Its place in popular culture has been assured thanks to both the strength of this story and its various adaptations: perhaps the most famous comes from The Simpsons, when Lisa sabotages a classmate’s project and has a similar breakdown.
5. The Fall of the House of Usher
Originally Published: 1839, Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine
The house of Usher is both an actual house and a family in this short story. A man is summoned to his distant friend’s home. Right away, it is clear that things are a little off: Roderick Usher is ill, he insists his ancestral home lives, and his twin sister who lives with him suffers from periods of unconsciousness much as the narrator in The Premature Burial does. Things only get worse when Roderick’s sister dies—or does she?
Although this story works as a creepy tale, the popular story has been amassing some rather interesting analyses since its publication. The house and the doomed twins are interesting enough on their own; we also see Poe return to themes like premature burials and mysterious diseases. Because Poe knew several Ushers in his early life, analysts also have a time trying to figure out if the name was just a coincidence or not.
One of the best adaptations of this story was released in the package film Extraordinary Tales (2015). Christopher Lee narrated a very stylized-looking version of the story and brings it to life. Unfortunately, at the time of this writing, the film is no longer available on Netflix.
4. The Black Cat
Originally Published: 1843, The Saturday Evening Post
Like the narrator in The Tell-Tale Heart, our narrator in The Black Cat is a guilty man determined to prove his sanity to the readers and justify his actions. The narrator proclaims that he loves animals and has many pets, the standout of them all being a beautiful black cat named Pluto. As he develops a drinking problem, he becomes violent towards the cat—and the cat that follows Pluto, and others. The reveal at the end of the story is one of Poe’s most shocking.
The strength of this story may lie in how personal it would have been to Poe: he himself was an alcoholic and suffered terribly for it. Eventually, it would be one of the biggest factors contributing to his death. Poe would have been familiar with the ups and downs that come with extreme consumption, though he was rarely reported to have been violent during episodes.
When horror movies became cash cows for Universal in the early thirties, a movie called The Black Cat starring horror legends Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff, said to be inspired by the Poe story, was made. It bears no resemblance to the Poe story, but it isn’t a bad movie by any means.
3. The Masque of the Red Death
Originally Published: 1842, Graham’s Magazine
During a plague known as the red death, a prince walls himself and many other nobles in an abbey to party as it burns through the rest of the population. Their plan seems to work out for a time, until a figure in a skull mask and funeral shroud shows up.
Though all of Poe’s stories have been analyzed to death at this point—no pun intended—The Masque of the Red Death may be the most studied. There is the study of the story itself, of course, but there has also been a lot of speculation as to the nature of the red death, as in the actual plague of the story, as well.
Although the most famous adaptation of this tale is probably the 1964 film starring Vincent Price, the most striking allusion to the tale probably comes in The Phantom of the Opera (1925). The phantom appears at a masquerade ball in costume as the Red Death. The scene is also in color, providing a striking contrast to the rest of the film.
Originally Published: 1849, The Flag of Our Union
This story takes place centuries before Poe’s time. It tells of crippled dwarf who is called Hop-Frog because of the difficulty he has walking. Although the king he serves is cruel, Hop-Frog has a friend in Trippetta, another victim of the king’s behavior. When the king behaves violently towards her, the two hatch a plan to end everyone’s jests once and for all.
This tale is hard to forget about, especially since it is one of the few where a murderer is not caught or punished. Even more than that, Hop-Frog actually is a sympathetic main character, despite the brutal way he enacts his revenge and ends the cruel treatment.
It is thought that this story also held a more personal status to Poe. A popular interpretation of Hop-Frog compares him to Poe, and the cruel king to Poe’s wealthy foster father, John Allan. Poe was also highly susceptible to the effects of alcohol, a problem Hop-Frog also has in the story. The story might have also had a historical precedent in Charles VI’s court, though you should wait to check that out if you haven’t read the story yet. It will spoil the end!
1. The Cask of Amontillado
Originally Published: 1846, Godey’s Lady’s Book
If nothing else, this story teaches us to be careful of how we behave around others. After an unspecified insult from a friend, the narrator obsesses about how best to take revenge on him. Knowing he is a lover of wine, the narrator tells his former friend that he has obtained some rare Amontillado. The former friend, delighted to try it, follows the narrator deep into the catacombs to try it out.
This story packs a punch no matter how many times it is read, which for many happens in grade school to introduce unreliable narrators and unexpected endings. Ray Bradbury was also a fan of the story, and many may have unknowingly encountered it in The Martian Chronicles. One story in Bradbury’s collection ends in the same way, though the victim is a man who enforces policies that reject flights of fancy or imagination of any kind.
If those ten stories don’t have you up all night, then you’re made of sterner stuff than us. Of course, everyone has different tastes and different fears, and these may not touch upon yours. Do you have any other Poe stories that make your hair stand on end and your blood run cold? Let us know in the comments below—we don’t get much sleep at Grave Reviews anyways!
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