Synopsis: Five of Edgar Allan Poe s best-known stories are brought to vivid life in this heart-pounding animated anthology featuring Sir Christopher Lee, Bela Lugosi, Julian Sands, Roger Corman and Guillermo del Toro. Murderous madmen, sinister villains and cloaked ghouls stalk the darkened corridors of Poe s imagination, as his haunting tales are given a terrifying new twist by some of the most beloved figures in horror film history.
From the producer of Academy Award® nominees Ernest & Celestine and Song of the Sea.
Extraordinary Tales 6.75
eyelights: its source material. its guest narrators. its visual style. its atmospheric score.
eyesores: its weak CGI animation. its adaptations.
“You’ve been a corpse walking amongst the living for a long time, Edgar.”
‘Extraordinary Tales’ is a animated horror anthology based on Edgar Allan Poe’s oeuvre. Released in 2013, the Raul Garcia picture consists of adaptations of five of Poe’s most revered short stories, which are connected together by a wrap-around story written for the occasion. Though there are few dialogues, the picture features the voice acting talents of none other than Roger Corman, Guillermo del Toro, Christopher Lee, Bela Lugosi and Julian Sands.
Frankly, I hadn’t heard anything about this film until I started researching Edgar Allan Poe motion pictures for his birthday; I’d been wanting to denote it every year for the last five years, but kept forgetting until it was too late. This year, I planned ahead and went through my whole collection for Poe-related DVDs. And since it’s not always clear which ones pertain to him, I consulted many lists. ‘Extraordinary Tales’ popped up a few times.
It made me curious. So I got my hands on it.
My first impression wasn’t great: It begins with the wrap-around story, which finds a raven flying over and into a cemetery. There, it is addressed by one of the many statues and they begin a dialogue. It turns out that the raven is Poe in the afterlife, and the statue is Death herself. Together, they discuss the value of his work and his mortality; he would rather return to the living world because he feels that he has more stories to tell. But it’s not to be.
I love the concept and felt it was a mildly clever way to bookend the film, but it’s thin and it hardly connects the stories together. Further to that, the animation was really not very good, consisting of blocky, rudimentary CGI that made me think of old school 3D movies in that the depth of field was wonky; it looked more like a work in progress than a final product. So that wasn’t exactly a good way to get started. Sadly, this impression never left.
1. The Fall of the House of Usher: Narrated by Christopher Lee, this one tells of a man who’s called upon by an old friend to visit him in desperate times. When he arrives at the Usher mansion, which is worn and cracking apart, he finds a shadow of the man he once knew. Soon he discovers that Usher’s sister, with whom he is intrinsically bonded, is on the verge of death, despairing him. And, when she dies, there would be no saving him – or the house.
Though I don’t believe that I’ve ever read this one, it was familiar enough to me that its hurried adaptation bothered me: Madeline is seen walking around normally one moment, she’s dead in the next beat, and in the next her brother insists that she ‘s alive in her casket. What? The CGI characters were poorly-rendered and animated, though the sets looked nice and atmospheric (I did wonder about the huge gaping cracks everywhere, inside and out, though). 6.75
2. The Tell-Tale Heart: Narrated by Bela Lugosi (via an old recording), it tells of a caregiver who is growing more and more disturbed by the old man he’s charged with; as every day passes, he becomes more and more homicidal until the old man is done with. He decides to meticulously bury him under the floorboards, but then the police pop by, alerted by the neighbours. The man loses his cool while they’re searching the house, admitting to his crime.
This one could have been much better: for starters, we didn’t hear the so-called “tell-tale heart”; it should have been heard getting louder and louder, driving the man mad – the very twist of the original story. Alas. Secondly, it wasn’t particularly clear how the old man died. But it was terrific that they used a scratchy recording of Lugosi; it added a nice flavour to the proceedings. And the b&w animation was striking, being all white with inky shadows. 6.75
3. The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar: Narrated by Julian Sands, this one tells of a physician who convinces an older patient to subject himself to hypnotism in his final moment; the physician wants to explore its impact on the dead. When Mr. Valdemar is near death, they proceed and they discover that he’s managed to walk the line between life and death. But, when he and his assistants decide to wake Valdemar from hypnosis, the results are shocking.
The animation for this one was interesting because it emulated the look of ’50s comics, complete with simplistic colouring and comic book panels for the opening credits, giving it a distinct flavour. But the drama of the effects of the hypnotism were a bit lost, as the hypnotist and his medical assistants do tests on the old man; there isn’t any significant impact until they decide to wake him – and even that seem a bit forced. But it holds up anyway. 7.0
4. The Pit and the Pendulum: Narrated by Guillermo del Toro, this one tells of a man judged by the Spanish Inquisition, who is imprisoned, then poisoned – finally waking up strapped to a slab in a dungeon. Above him, is this immense pendulum with a large blade at its base, swinging back and forth. As it swings, it gradually drops closer and closer to him. But he finds escape by getting the rats to chew his bonds – just in time before the pendulum reached him.
This one wasn’t bad, in that the animation was better than the others (though still only of video game quality) and because it was more atmospheric, taking its time to make us feel the man’s isolation. It was also more dynamic than the others, using multiple panels at once to highlight aspects of the scenes. But his escape was far too abrupt and the finale simply didn’t make any sense in the way that it’s portrayed here. So that was a letdown. 7.25
5. The Masque of the Red Death: Bereft of narration, this is the most atmospheric of the lot. It finds a woman arriving at a large castle for a banquet and masked ball, a decadent party in which the dozens of revelers dance, eat, and also luxuriate in and around a pool. But then a guest arrives dressed in a red robe, looking morbid, which offends the Prince, who confronts this new arrival. It turns out to be Death, and all the party-goers succumb in its presence.
This was by far the prettiest of the shorts, with much of it looking like paintings. There were multiple techniques used here including 2D and 3D CGI and some traditional animation as well. I also really liked the look of the Red Death, which was simple but creepy. However, it wasn’t made clear what the Red Death was and why everyone was dying. So while the set-up was pretty good, the final punch didn’t have the power that it probably should have had. 7.25
Though the animation was a mixed bag and was subpar in comparison to most modern animated films, ‘Extraordinary Tales’ clearly had good intentions; it may only have been limited by a low budget. It certainly tried to create the right mood, going so far as proposing an all-strings score courtesy of Sergio de la Puente, setting the stage well. It’s too bad that it’s so hampered by the quality of its production. Perhaps traditional animation would have been best?
In any event, fans of Edgar Allan Poe should at least give it a chance. Extraordinary though it is not, it’s still filled with intriguing possibilities.
Date of viewing: December 30, 2016