Halloween Horror: The Tell-Tale Heart

Image Credit: Goodreads

ENGL 251 “Introduction to Literature” students usually are not English majors; they have backgrounds in everything from architecture to physics, psychology to dietetics. Adaptation assignments, which create new art from course texts, allow students to hone reading skills via talents developed in other contexts.

Taylor’s project below supports her literary analysis of Poe’s beloved short story with special effects makeup and photography. The final product is sophisticated and spooky and perfect for the season. Happy Halloween!

Wendy Matlock, Associate Professor


I chose to illustrate “The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe using special effects makeup.

I have always been fascinated by horror and gore, and that is why I got into special effects makeup. Poe’s vivid imagery and the dark nature of the story itself allowed me to imagine the makeup in my head. I created these makeup looks, and my friend showed me how to use an editing software to add the white eye and change the saturation, contrast, and exposure of the original image.

To begin, my makeup looks are depicting a female adaptation of the original story since I was applying the liquid latex to myself rather than a male actor. The old man is depicted as an old woman with a white eye (Image 1, below).

Image 1 (Special Effects Makeup: Taylor Curtright; Photo: Zoe Abner)

“[T]he beating grew louder, louder! I thought the heart must burst. And now a new anxiety seized me—the sound would be heard by a neighbor! The old man’s hour had come! With a loud yell, I threw open the lantern and leaped into the room. He shrieked once—once only”: These few lines of the story inspired the whole makeup look in the first piece.

I made the heart pop out of the chest to illustrate how the narrator felt regarding the intensity of the heart beating in his head and how he thought that it might burst out of the old man’s chest.

My second artistic choice was the facial expression of the old man in the first image. I decided to give him a surprised expression since the narrator claims the old man startled and shrieked when he leaped into the room.

Image 2 (Special Effects Makeup: Taylor Curtright; Photo: Zoe Abner)

The second photo (Image 2, above) illustrates the old man right after being killed in his bedroom: “In an instant I dragged him to the floor, and pulled the heavy bed over him. […] The old man was dead. I removed the bed and examined the corpse. Yes, he was stone, stone dead. I placed my hand upon the heart and held it there many minutes.”

The most important factor of this image is that there is bruising on the nose and around the eyes to show suffocation, as well as blood coming out of the nose to illustrate possible breakage in that area from when the narrator “pulled the heavy bed over him.” When choosing the specific bruising pattern for this makeup, I did some research. The website Explore Forensics had an article regarding suffocation and smothering written by Jack Claridge. He states, “Throughout the investigation of a death by suffocation or smothering the pathologist will look for the tell tale signs: the bloodshot eyes, the high levels of carbon dioxide in the blood and will also look for bruising around the nose and mouth.”  I will mention that I was not able to portray the bloodshot eye in the makeup because I was not able to get red eyedrops in time. I also did not have the heart popping out of the chest in this image because the narrator finally found peace from the beating after then old man was dead.

Image 3 (Special Effects Makeup: Taylor Curtright; Photo: Zoe Abner)
Image 4 (Special Effects Makeup: Taylor Curtright; Photo: Zoe Abner)
Image 5 (Special Effects Makeup: Taylor Curtright; Photo: Zoe Abner)

This series of three images (Images 3, 4, and 5) portrays the narrator cutting up the old man before he puts him under the floorboards. The narrator states, “If still you think me mad, you will think so no longer when I describe the wise precautions I took for the concealment of the body. The night waned, and I worked hastily, but in silence. First of all I dismembered the corpse. I cut off the head and the arms and the legs.”

This series was my personal favorite makeup look to do. I love the gory aspect of it, and showing the dark nature of this part of the story. I decided to use multiple photos of this particular scene to show the progression of the narrator chopping up the body. I also decided to keep the heart bursting out of the chest in this scene to keep the overall theme of the narrator hearing the heart beating which lead to the old man’s sad fate.

Special thanks to Zoe Abner (BA ’21, Art/Graphic Design) for her photography.

Taylor Curtright (BS ’21, Psychological Sciences)

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