Nevermore or More than Ever: From Edgar Poe to MonsterVerse

Photo: From Edgar Poe to MonsterVerse, Source: Collage The Gaze
Photo: From Edgar Poe to MonsterVerse, Source: Collage The Gaze

In October, Netflix released the series “The Fall of the House of Usher”, which is a mix of the best stories by the master of psychological prose, Mr. Edgar Allan Poe. The project was directed by Mike Flanagan, an outstanding master of the horror genre, whose work is recognized and highly appreciated by Stephen King and Quentin Tarantino. On November 17, Apple TV+ released a series in the kaiju genre (meaning "monster" or "strange beast") – “Monarch: Legacy of Monsters”, based on a series of films about Godzilla, King Kong and other fantastic giants from the MonsterVerse cinematic universe. How these worlds - of the gothic detective and fantasy disaster films - are connected, and what Edgar Poe has to do with it, is the subject of our story today. 

Make yourself comfortable because an amazing story about the IDEA that emerged 182 years ago and forever changed the world literature, as well as cinema and video games, both of which did not exist at that time, and turned the stroke of a goose feather in the past into billions of dollars in the present is waiting for you.

The Founder of the Genre

Photo: "Murders in the Rue Morgue", Source: Wiki

On April 20, 1841, the Philadelphia-based Graham's Magazine (a 19th-century American periodical) published the story "The Murders in the Rue Morgue", which is considered the first detective story in the history of literature (Sherlock Holmes would appear only in 1887, Hercule Poirot only in 1920). Together with the stories "The Mystery of Marie Rogêt" (1842) and "The Purloined Letter" (1844), the short story forms a trilogy dedicated to the French aristocrat C. Auguste Dupin. Along with other stories in the cycle, "The Murders in Rue Morgue" is included in the group of "logical tales" or "tales of inference" (the so-called "rationalizations") by Edgar Allan Poe, a novelist, romantic, and poet. 

The plot of the story is quite simple: in 18... in Paris, the narrator meets Monsieur С. Auguste Dupin. He is a young man with remarkable analytical skills. At this time, the newspapers begin to write about the double murder of Madame L'Espanaye and her daughter in a house on Rue Morgue. Soon, the police arrest Adolphe Le Bon, who had been dealing with the victims. Extremely dissatisfied with this decision, Auguste Dupin visits the crime scene and, relying on his analytical skills, comes to the conclusion that the killer is not a human but an orangutan. Then he easily finds the owner of the killer animal, an ordinary sailor who tells him about his tame orangutan, which copied human actions and one day broke its cage and tried to shave. When the sailor tried to take the razor away from the orangutan, it ran away. The sailor chased the animal and witnessed a murder. Dupin and the narrator tell this story to the prefect, and he releases the innocent Adolphe Le Bon.

This story once and for all establishes a number of certain tropes in the detective genre, including: an eccentric but brilliant detective, a clumsy policeman, the protagonist's friend, aka the narrator. In addition, the plot of the work is the first example of a typical "murder in a closed room". It is interesting that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle never admitted that he was inspired by Poe's works when creating Sherlock Holmes. But being a gentleman, in his first story about the detective from Baker Street, "A Study in Scarlet," he has a dialogue between Holmes and Watson in which they mention the figure of Auguste Dupin, a kind of homage to the founding father of the genre.

Creators of illusions 

On December 28, 1895, in Paris, on Boulevard des Capucines, in one of the halls of the Grand Café, the first film screening takes place and the era of cinema begins.

Photo: Grand Café on Boulevard des Capucines, Source: Wiki

The first film adaptation of “Murders in the Rue Morgue” (under this title) is a short, silent film from 1914. But we are interested in the next, not silent, but full-length film adaptation of 1932. In this adaptation, the plot changes almost radically: there are no sailors or orangutans. Instead, there is Mirakle, a crazy Darwinist doctor, and his intelligent and talking gorilla named Eric. The doctor's goal is to crossbreed humans with gorillas, for which he experiments on women and disposes of their corpses into the Seine. To draw attention to the gorilla, the mad doctor demonstrates it at a fair. Among the spectators are a young girl, Camille L'Espanaye, and her fiancé, Pierre Dupin, a medical student who suspects Mirakle of the murders. Camille becomes the object of Eric's desire. Mirakle decides to take advantage of this and orders the gorilla to kidnap the girl. At night, the ape sneaks into Camille's bedroom and steals her. Dupin, realizing that Camille has been kidnapped by Mirakle, goes to the police. In the doctor's laboratory, Eric, seeing that Camille is in danger from his master, breaks free and kills Mirakle. Then, grabbing Camille, he flees with her through the rooftops of Paris. The beast and its prey are pursued by a chase led by the gendarmes and Dupin. The student follows Eric to the roof and shoots the monkey.

Photo: "Murders in the Rue Morgue" first movie poster, Source: Wiki

As you can see, almost nothing remains of the classic story of 1841. However, we will make a short pause here and return to this adaptation a little later.

The Time of the Giants 

Photo: "The Lost World" movie poster, Source: Wiki

On June 22, 1925, “The Lost World”, based on the novel of the same name by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, was released in theaters. This film becomes one of the first in  science fiction genre and a pioneer in the field of special effects. While working on the film, the film's VFX specialist Willis H. O'Brien combined animated figures and live-action actors in one shot, but he did so by splitting the screen. Over time, the experience gained on this project allowed O'Brien to perfect his technique and effectively combine a human and a puppet in one shot.  Although O'Brien's special effects do not seem all that convincing to today's sophisticated viewers, they were unprecedented in the mid-1920s.

Photo: "Ingagi" movie poster, Source: Wiki

In the early 1930s, several attempts were made to replicate the success of the silent film “The Lost World” and combine humans and prehistoric monsters in one film. The most significant of these attempts was the nature documentary “Ingagi” (1930), about the adventures of an expedition searching for a tribe of Africans who worship gorillas and sacrifice women to them. It should be noted that the "monkey theme" was generally exploited quite actively in American cinema at the turn of the 1920s and 1930s as part of adventure stories about little-known tropical regions of Africa that were popular at the time. It was the success of "Ingagi" that prompted the management of RKO Radio Pictures to invest in a project directed by Merian C. Cooper and written by Edgar Wallace about a trip to a distant island inhabited by dinosaurs, from which a giant prehistoric ape is brought to New York (the film adaptation of “The Lost World” had a similar scene - Professor Challenger brought a live brontosaurus to London).

Photo: "King Kong" movie poster, Source: Wiki

And in 1933, the world saw the film “King Kong”, which is a directorial and scripted mix of “The Lost World” (1925), “Ingagi” (1930), and “Murders in the Rue Morgue” (1932), because the scene where a large ape runs away from his pursuers on the roofs with a beautiful woman on his shoulders, and then climbs to the tallest building in the city (the Empire State Building) where it dies, releasing the main character before dying, is a one-to-one repetition of a similar scene from the 1932 film adaptation of Edgar Poe's story.

Photo: Frame from the first "King Kong" movie, Source: Wiki

The film makes a lot of noise and begins to successfully collect box office worldwide. Given its commercial success, a sequel, “Son of Kong” (1933), is immediately made, and although the film is commercially successful, it does not receive much audience love. An interesting situation develops in Japan, where, on the wave of excitement, they decide to make their own version of “King Kong”, but completely ignore copyright. This is how “The King Kong That Appeared in Edo” (1938), which is now lost (similar to 90% of Japanese films before 1945), was born. It is not known where this story would have gone further, but the Second World War happened and for a while, films about big monsters lost their relevance.

The Monsters are Back

Photo: Frame from the "Godzilla", Source: Wiki

However, in 1952, “King Kong” was re-released in Japan and again became a great success, and in 1953, this success was repeated by the film “The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms”, about a giant dinosaur that wakes up in the Arctic ice due to nuclear weapons testing and goes to destroy New York City. The Japanese producers realized that the public was very interested in giant monsters and decided to make something of their own. In the process of discussing the appearance of the future monster, the choice initially lay between a gorilla ( "gorira" in Japanese ) and a whale ( "kujira" in Japanese), but later the decision was made in favor of a giant dinosaur, leaving it with a name that is a combination of the words of the two previous options - "Gojira".

Released in 1954, “Godzilla” was a phenomenal success not only because of its technical and dramatic components, but also because Godzilla's attacks and "atomic breath" reflect the horrors that the Japanese experienced after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Since its release, Godzilla has been identified in the cultural space as a metaphor for nuclear disaster.

Photo: Nuclear explosion in Hiroshima, Source: Wiki

"Godzilla” has become the longest running franchise in the world after “King Kong”, with 36 films, and together with King Kong, they are the most resonant monster characters in popular culture,  interest in them persisting to this day.

So, back to the big gorilla. 

The era of video games 

Photo: Donkey Kong, Source: Nintendo

In 1981, Nintendo, a company specializing in the creation of video games and gaming systems, released a video game for arcade machines – “Donkey Kong”. In this game, the player controls a character named "Jumpman" whose task is to rescue his girlfriend (Pauline), kidnapped by a huge monkey, Donkey Kong. The monkey is on top of a building with several floors connected by ladders. The player's task is to lead the Jumpman to the top of the building and approach Pauline. Dunkin' Kong prevents him from doing so in every possible way, dropping barrels that roll down the floors, beams that fall straight down, or other objects. 

Photo: Super Mario, Source: Nintendo

This game became the world's first "platformer" , turned Nintendo into the absolute market leader and ensured dominance in this market from 1981 to 1990. The success was so great that Universal City Studios sued Nintendo for using the King Kong trademark but lost the case. And it was this game where humanity first met "Mario" - the same "Jumpman" - who later became the mascot of Nintendo and appeared in more than 200 video games since his first appearance and was ranked first among the 50 best computer characters by the Guinness Book of World Records (2011).

What about the present day, you may ask?

Photo: "Fall of the House of Usher", Source: Netflix

In 2022, the documentary “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed” by American filmmaker Laura Poitras will be released, and it will win the Golden Lion at the 79th Venice Film Festival. This film is about Nan Goldin, a photographer and activist who is trying to hold Purdue Pharma accountable for the production of the addictive painkiller oxycodone, which is called “ligodon” in the series “Fall of the House of Usher”. 

In 2014, along with King Kong (“Godzilla” (2014), “Kong: Skull Island” (2017), and “Godzilla vs. Kong” (2021)) and other giant monsters, Godzilla formed the MonsterVerse media franchise and cinematic universe, which has now evolved into the “Monarch: Legacy of Monsters” series. This franchise is worth almost $2 billion in revenue from movies alone (not including other products).

Photo: "Monarch: Legacy of Monsters", Source: Apple TV+

If we look back at the retrospective of what we've seen - from “Murders in the Rue Morgue” to the TV series “The Fall of the House of Usher” and “Monarch: Legacy of Monsters", if we take into account all these sprouts of the basic idea that in the process of development and evolution have become independent worlds, like “King Kong” or “Godzilla” or “Mario”, and which continue their journey side by side with humanity, giving it a lot of vivid emotions and earning billions and billions of dollars, then one cannot help but ask: what about Edgar Allan Poe?

The master of unhappy endings 

Photo: "The Raven", the famous poem by Edgar Poe, Source: Fan art

Edgar Allan Poe received $56 for his story "Murders in the Rue Morgue" in 1841. That's right. He spent his entire life in hardship and poverty, with a serious with alcohol addiction problem. Edgar Poe wrote more than 110 different works, including novels, poems, and essays, but during his lifetime he was known more as a literary critic than as a writer, and his popularity in his homeland, America, was much lower than in Europe.

On October 3, 1849, Edgar Poe was found in a delirious state lying on a street bench in Baltimore, Maryland. He was taken to the Church Home and Hospital, where he died at 5 a.m. on Sunday, October 7. Edgar Poe never regained any kind of lucid consciousness to explain the reasons for his serious condition. The funeral service was very simple, only a few people attended, and the priest decided to do without a sermon. The whole ceremony lasted about three minutes because of the cold weather. Edgar Poe was buried in a cheap coffin, without a name plate or a pillow under his head.

Let’s be clear, it's hard to call this a happy ending. But delving deeper into the work of Edgar Allan Poe, it is difficult to call him a master of happy endings. However, when you choose Poe as an author you want to read, you are not following a ray of sunshine, but that feeling when being alone in a dark room becomes a kind of a challenge. With Edgar Poe, you learn not to be afraid of the dark, but to be able to face your fear, to be brave, no matter how paradoxical it may sound. Why?

Because the darkest night is just before dawn.



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