Painted Monsters: “The Murders on Morgue Street”

For the month of October, as part of the Countdown to Halloween, I’ll be revisiting each of the thirteen stories in Painted Monsters & Other Strange Beasts and suggesting movies that pair well with them, for your viewing pleasure!

Of all of these movie pairings, this one is, without a doubt, the easiest. You see, “The Murders on Morgue Street,” which is one of the three stories in Painted Monsters that’s entirely original to the collection, is essentially just an adaptation of the movie that I imagined when I read the Crestwood House book of  the 1932 Bela Lugosi version of Murders in the Rue Morgue. So it’s really the only movie that I can imagine pairing with this story.

Those Crestwood House books were my first introduction to most of the classic monster movies of the 30s, 40s, and 50s, long before I ever actually saw any of them, and poring over those black-and-white stills, imagining the movies that they went with, had a huge formative impact on my imagination. There’s a paragraph in Joe Lansdale’s intro to Baltimore: The Curse Bells that seems appropriate here: “Reading it also brought to mind the Universal horror films of old, with their wonderfully gothic sets and shifty-eyed peasants and shambling monsters and fluttering bats. This film on paper, this comic, goes where your mind went when you saw those films as a kid, goes where the film didn’t, but you think it did, because at that age your mind is fresh and open and full of light and shadow, all of it moving about in savage flickers, having not yet settled and found its civilized position. For everything you see with your eyes at that age, your mind’s eye sees a hundred times more. Our personalities and imaginations are forming then; there are open doors through which light and shadow come.”

Unlike Lansdale, I didn’t get to see any of these movies as a kid, but the Crestwood House books served the same function. I paged through them–and later through other books like them–saw the stills that they contained, like snapshots of stranger worlds, and my mind built stories from them, imagined the universe to which they must belong. Don’t worry too much about repetition, though. “The Murders on Morgue Street” bears about as much actual resemblance to Murders in the Rue Morgue as that movie does to the Poe story that is its namesake. Which is to say, not much. Those Crestwood House books may have shaped my imagination, but apparently not always too accurately.

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