For a guy 200 years dead, Edgar Allen Poe’s got plenty of juice right now, thanks the Succession-tinged terror of Netflix’s latest Mike Flanagan-helmed soapy horror series, The Fall of the House of Usher. Flanagan, known for Stephen King adaptations like Gerald’s Game and Doctor Sleep and the slow-burn scares of The Haunting of Hill House, The Haunting of Bly Manor and Midnight Mass, unleashed House of Usher on Oct. 12, based on the classic Poe short story and jammed-packed with plenty of other references to the master of the macabre. (Here are handy guides from Nerdist and Entertainment Weekly on all the allusions you might have missed.)
Naturally the shout-outs include Poe’s best-known poem, “The Raven,” the sing-songy ode to madness and loss and supernaturally talkative birds.
Like Roderick Usher in the series and no doubt many of you, I recited the hell out of “The Raven” in middle-school English (and subsequently tortured classmates by incessantly squawking “nevermore” during field trips to the Poe house in Philly — a must-see if you’re ever visiting the City of Brotherly Love, by the way). Alas, in retrospect my reading didn’t hold a flickering candle to the ones unearthed below. See, Usher sent me down a quaint and curious YouTube rabbit (raven?) hole to find the best takes on the lost Lenore and company. There was Christopher Walken (exactly what you’d expect) and The Muppet Babies (where Gonza goes on his Poe-inspired vision quest at the 9:30 mark of an episode titled “Quoth the Weirdo”). An interpretation by Lou Reed (who gets points for adding atmospheric music but is dinged for thinking it's good idea to rewrite Poe’s stanzas) and the Grateful Dead’s appropriately spaced-out “The Raven Space” jam. There was no surcease of streaming; my playlist swelled and head spun: American Gods and Sandman author Neil Gaiman; Sean Astin and his father, John “Gomez Addams” Astin; Basil “Sherlock Holmes” Rathbone; John “Q from Star Trek” De Lancie; Bugs Bunny; Stan Lee; some dude’s impression of Morgan Freeman that too many people think is real… even viral “Chocolate Rain” crooner Tay Zonday.
In the end, however, four “Ravens” really took flight and deserved a special spot on my proverbial bust of Pallas.
From the starship captain who gave us trippy takes of “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” and “Rocketman” that absolutely no one asked for comes this delightfully on-brand over-emotive rendition — complete with a prop book, presumably a volume of forgotten lore. I’d happily beam this in for an evermore Halloween chuckle.
Lee checks all the boxes for quintessential Poe interpreter. Aside from his glorious pipes, the man has got seriously scary credentials: Before latter-day roles as Count Dooku in Star Wars and Saruman in The Lord of the Rings, Lee was in the vanguard of British horror, playing Frankenstein’s monster, Dracula and the mummy for Hammer Studios and starring in the cult classic Wicker Man. His “Raven” is a stone-cold chiller.
This list wouldn’t be complete without Price, who earned his horror bona fides hamming it up in a string of Roger Corman’s low-budget Poe adaptations, including The Pit and the Pendulum, which is briefly glimpsed in Usher. Like Shatner’s, this is part reading, part acting and all in good campy fun.
James Earl Jones
But nothing compares to the iconic bass of Jones, who infuses his unadorned blood-curdling rendition with increasing dread.
That alone would qualify for my top slot, but then Jones intoned “The Raven” for The Simpsons’s immortal first installment of “Treehouse of Horror” in 1990, providing the narration for a Homer fever dream liberally peppered with the characters’ own vocal contributions, including quothing the Bart-devilbird's immortal catchphrase: “Eat my shorts.”
This story was originally published Oct. 16, 2023 and has been updated.