Director – Raul Garcia
Cast – Christopher Lee, Bella Lugosi, Guillermo del Toro, Julian Sands, Roger Corman, Stephen Hughes, Cornelia Funke
Release Year – 2015
Reviewed by John of the Dead
I gave this flick a watch for three reasons. One, it is an anthology film, and I love anthologies. Two, it is an animated telling of Edgar Allen Poe stories. Lastly, I gave this a watch because its narrators/actors include horror genre legends Christopher Lee, Bella Lugosi, Guillermo del Toro, and Roger Corman. From longtime animator Raul Garcia, Extraordinary Tales is unique for the reasons mentioned above. If they interest you, this effort should be worth the brisk 72 minutes of your time.
The first story adapted is The Fall of the House of Usher, which is narrated by Christopher Lee. Next up is The Tell-Tale Heart, narrated by Bella Lugosi. Next is The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar, narrated by Julian Sands. After that we have The Pit and the Pendulum, expertly narrated by Guillermo del Toro. The last entry is The Masque of the Red Death, which only has one line, uttered by Roger Corman. There is an included wraparound involving a raven speaking to a statue in a graveyard.
At first glance this effort feels like a children’s film. The opening sequences give off that vibe, but soon enough you’ll see that despite its animated appeal I don’t see this as the film that gets your young kids into the works of Poe. That is due to the dialogue not being so easy to understand (for kids). I must say though that this effort is quite tame. If you compare it to other films adapted from Poe’s works it will be tame by comparison. It would have been cool to see an animated effort on the level of the 1964 Roger Corman film The Masque of the Red Death (which starred Vincent Price), but that is not the case here.
My favorite segments to this film are The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar, The Masque of the Red Death, and The Pit and the Pendulum. The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar had my favorite use of horror and it was also my favorite story. It involves a mesmerist (portrayed by Julian Sands) who essentially hypnotizes an old friend who is on the brink of his death. This action leaves the man in suspended animation, and it ends with gory results. There are no other efforts in the film with horror like this one. The Masque of the Red Death is one of my favorite Poe stories and in this telling it is the simplest of the five. There is only one line in the film, but no other words are necessary. Garcia does a fantastic job telling the story thanks to engaging visuals and expert execution once the Red Death arrives. The Pit and the Pendulum is one of the longer stories here and that may lead it to drag for some. It did not for me and hearing Guillermo del Toro eloquently narrate this Spanish-themed tale was a treat I could not pass up.
It seems blasphemous that my least favorite entries are the once voiced by horror’s most classic icons, but that is the case with Christopher Lee’s The Fall of the House of Usher and Bella Lugosi’s The Tell-Tale Heart. House of Usher dragged a little for me and did not tell the full tale from Poe’s work. It is quite tame in comparison. While the story did not do it for me I enjoyed Christopher Lee’s voice acting and the Tim Burton-esque animation. The Tall-Tale Heart is actually one of my favorite Poe stories, but this one did not do it for me because of the animation. It is the only effort in black and white, which I do not have a problem with, but the very high-contrast look made it the least visually engaging for me. It is also the only effort where I felt it should have been longer. All of the necessary bases are touched, but the dreadful drum of the beating heart did not deliver the tension it should due to the shorter runtime. Of all the stories in this effort, the one I disliked the most is the wraparound. I found it to be unengaging. I did not care for the drawing in those scenes and the dialogue, which clever at times, ultimately did not suck me in the way it should have.
Garcia employs a different artistic approach to each segment. No two will look the same, and while I did not enjoy the look of all the entries I will say that I enjoyed this diverse approach. The actors provide good voice performances and the horror is good when there is horror to be shown. You won’t see too much as far as blood goes, but the M. Valdemar and Red Death stories provide some effective kills.
Overall, Extraordinary Tales is a cool flick thanks to its animation and the actors involved. This is one of those efforts I would recommend on the basis of its unique attributes over how good the actual film is. If you dig animated horror, the actors, or Edgar Allen Poe, this will probably be worth your time.