Director: Ernest Morris
Writers: Brian Clemens and Eldon Howard, based on the story by Edgar Allen Poe
From: Pure Terror
Edgar Marsh murders his friend Carl after seeing Carl being intimate with the woman Edgar loves. Now Marsh is haunted by the sound of Carl’s still-beating heart.
Ever want to know the “true” story behind Poe’s classic, “The Tell-Tale Heart”? No? Oh. Well. This is just awkward for all of us.
Much of this movie is very strange. It’s from 1960, but has a very 20’s/30’s aesthetic and ethic and that difference can be very jarring. For instance, there’s a scene where Edgar is sitting in his apartment looking at pornographic images. That’s fine for a movie from 1960 and is used as shorthand to communicate Edgar’s sexual frustration, but the movie is shot in black-and-white and feels very stagey, like it was made during the early period of cinema where they didn’t quite know what a movie should look like. In other words, this doesn't feel like a movie from 1960 so the dirty pictures feel very out of place.
On top of that, the movie tries to do a kind of blending of realities. We open with Poe waking up screaming. His friend Carl comes in and hands him some drugs. Poe stumbles over to a chair and starts examining some papers. Cut to the actor playing Poe going to a bar/brothel and getting scared away by a sex worker. This is Edgar Marsh who is not Poe, but I think he's called "Poe" several times despite that (?) The end of the movie makes it apparent that Poe is dreaming that he’s Marsh, but there’s no indication elsewhere in the movie. Marsh has a limp, we’re told, but it’s not visually clear at all and only mentioned, again, at the end when Poe wakes up.
As for the plot, Marsh lives alone in a big house. He sees Betty move in across the street and peeps in her window from his. He asks his friend Carl for advice about how to talk to girls and approaches Betty. She goes out with him, but he’s a bit of a damp squib and then tries to force himself on her at the end of the night. For some reason, she lets him take her out twice more, each time becoming increasingly uninterested.
Until he introduces her to Carl. She and Carl hit it off immediately and eventually make arrangements to meet at her apartment, a meeting Marsh watches from his room. The next day, he invites Carl over and murders him. From here, it’s the plot of “The Tell-Tale Heart.” Marsh is hallucinating the heartbeat while Betty is trying to get the police to investigate Carl’s disappearance. They say Carl's done this before and laugh at her for being a sucker. More than that, it feels like the cops are laughing at the idea of believing a woman. Finally she breaks into Marsh’s house, finds the murder weapon, and delivers it to the police. They eventually see the blood and hair on it and only then go to question Marsh. He reveals all, gets shot, and falls off a balcony and impales himself.
Then Poe wakes up screaming. Carl runs in to check that he’s okay. Poe says he’s had a strange dream, that Carl was in it, and then looks out the window to see Betty moving into the house across the way. THE END.
This has a 5.8 on IMDB and I’m not sure why. I found it incredibly plodding and dull. The movie drags its feet getting to the killing, spending that time seeing Marsh be a bad date and watching him constantly push Betty and Carl together. Time may be a factor in my reaction. I think the movie is trying to make you sympathetic to Marsh’s situation, to see him as a “Nice Guy” that’s just not catching on, but, post Red Pill and GamerGate, I don’t have any patience or sympathy for the “Nice Guy” trope. He’s a creep who won’t take “no” for an answer and murders his only friend out of jealousy. He’s not sympathetic.
The interesting character is Betty. She’s new in town, goes on one date with a guy, and now is trapped in this murder nightmare. Marsh even says to himself after the murder that she’ll come to him eventually because she has nowhere else to go. That’s your horror story. Add the cops not believing her and you’ve got a real source of tension.
This movie is in the public domain (boy does it feel like a while since I've said that) and I’ve added an MPEG2 copy to archive.org here, but I can’t really recommend it. The movie’s boring. So much so that I forgot the William Castle-esque opening title cards suggesting that those who are squeamish close their eyes whenever the sound of a heartbeat plays. I guess it was to make people close their eyes through the “tense” parts of the movie where nothing happens and there’s nothing to be afraid of. I’m sure you can make some jokes about the flick, but apart from that, it’s a dud. Skip it.