Extraordinary Tales

Posted by Joel Copling on October 29, 2015

The stories of Edgar Allan Poe were never truly about the formal elements of horror (the need to frighten the audience, for instance, using whatever popular methods of the time horror literature might have adopted to chill the bones with stories of monsters or myth. Rather, Poe's stories were often treatises on death itself, which is something that at least the most (and only) effective representation in "Extraordinary Tales," writer/director Raul Garcia's animated take on five of those stories, understands at its core. The other four stories are told with such a reliance on the literal examination of the text with no patience for what resides underneath that one would be hard-pressed to believe these came from a writer like Poe.

"The Fall of the House of Usher," narrated and its co-lead character voiced by the late, great Christopher Lee, is the least insulting of the film's four opportunities, gravely missed, to find a beating heart (That it doesn't manage this is, of course, an irony that breaks the fourth wall, but never mind) within Poe's story of a brother forced to bury a sister who simply suffers from a death-like trance (Lee is regal in his voice work, but the segment rushes through an ending that feels like an exaggeration on the material). "The Tell-Tale Heart," narrated by the late, also great Bela Lugosi by way of an old, scratchy recording, has an interesting visual scheme (shadow and light by way of contradictory black and white), but its telling of a tale of a man's murderous plot simplifies the story to the plot itself and not the psychological consequences upon the man.

Which brings us to the best segment, "The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar," a lesser-known Poe story narrated with equal parts mischief and detachment by Julian Sands; it tells of a hypnotist foolishly attempting to cheat death by way of a seductively animated, moving comic-book, and the story's unexpected final note of grotesque body horror is expertly built toward. And then the sensation of falling off a cliff occurs upon the fourth and fifth reproductions of Poe's tales: "The Pit and the Pendulum," narrated poorly by a mumbling Guillermo Del Toro, can't avoid the fact that it reduces the story to almost precisely nothing happening for 15 whole minutes, while "The Masque of the Red Death," while captured via moving-watercolor animation, fails to build any tension before simply ending.

The stories, with the exception of the third, are haphazardly assembled into an anthology that, at barely more than an hour (73 minutes, including time wasted to present each story with opening credits), doesn't capture the psychology of this man and the impact of his work. Instead, "Extraordinary Tales" has the feeling of bored obligation. The animation from segment to segment ranges from interesting to weirdly chintzy (CG-enhanced work, in particular, looks like it was made on a PC from 15 years ago). The framing device, too, is particularly weak, featuring a Poe (voiced by Stephen Hughes) in the form of a raven (I wonder why) discussing his obsession with and/or inspiration from death with Death itself (voiced by Cornelia Funke) in the form of a series of inanimate statues; the argument runs in circles whenever a story ends, and inevitably, the cut to credits happens after an obvious callback to another famous Poe story that sums up the film's distinct misunderstanding of its text.

Film Information

Stephen Hughes (Poe the Raven), Cornelia Funke (Death).

Featuring narration by Guillermo del Toro, Christopher Lee, Bela Lugosi, and Julian Sands.

Directed and written by Raul Garcia, based on stories by Edgar Allan Poe.

No MPAA rating.

73 minutes.

Released in select cities on October 23, 2015.