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EXTRAORDINARY TALES (2015) review

October 23, 2015

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written by: Raul Garcia, Stéphan Roelants (adapted from the works of Edgar Allen Poe)
produced by: Stéphan Roelants
directed by: Raul Garcia
rating: unrated
runtime: 73 min.
U.S. release date: October 23, 2015 (limited)

 

Just in time for seasonal Halloween viewing comes an animated anthology of five stories from Edgar Allen Poe. They are abbreviated versions, samplers if you will, of the author and poet’s more popular tales. Although these shorts involve the same producer, writer and director, Stéphan Roelants and Raul Garcia, respectively – they each take on a different visual style and voice talent with at least a couple recognizable voices returning from the grave. How appropriate. Even more appropriate is the common theme of death that’s weaved throughout each tales. It’s Poe, after all.  

The first short, “The Fall of the House of Usher”, is narrated by Christopher Lee and how great it is to hear his rich voice again.  The dark yet colorful animation here consists of gnarled and exaggerated figures who inhabit the decaying titular castle. It’s a fine way to kick off the anthology, but it is a bit of a slog. “The Tell-Tale Heart” is the second entry, which goes black-and-white as we hear the sounds of Bela Lugosi (Garcia mixes in the actor’s radio broadcast from back in 1947) and the what seems like the crackle and pop of an old record player. Dedicated to the sequential artwork of Latin American artist Alberto Breccia, the animation here actually feels like a comic come to life.

Speaking of comics coming to life, the third short, “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar” is probably my favorite just because it resembles those tattered Eerie Comics I’d flip through as a kid. Julian Sands narrates this tale that focuses on a mesmerist obsessed with determining the moment of M. Valdemar’s death. It’s probably the one short that will remind viewers that this anthology is only suitable for a certain age and even then a familiarity with the macabre is recommended.  

 

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The fourth short, “The Pit and the Pendulum” is the most disappointing primarily because Guillermo el Toro narrates it. del Toro is a great producer/writer/director but his marbled voice acting skills need some work. It’s a reminder that not just anyone can narrate. The other disappointing elements are the story’s animation – which feels like something from EA Games during their first couple years (in fact, The Walking Dead video games are superior to this and they’re not even that great) – and the fact that this is probably the least interesting of Poe’s stories, in my opinion. So, swing and a miss. I had to.

The fifth and last short here is “The Masque of the Red Death” which is basically a silent film void of any narration (although Roger Corman has utters a few sounds, which is indeed a nod to his directing of 1964’s “The Masque of the Red Death” which starred Vincent Price), relying on colorful painterly visuals (primarily scarlet, go figure) to close the anthology. However, it’s quite vague on story details and anyone unfamiliar with Poe’s story will likely be scratching their head afterward.

“Extraordinary Tales” is bookended by its own animated tale that weaves within each short that finds Poe in the form of a raven (Stephen Hughes) having conversations with Death (Cornelia Funke) amid a group of statues in a graveyard. It’s a nice touch and apart from some pontificating about death (obviously) and Poe verbalizing his desire that his works – his words – remain long after his death (which is odd, because obviously they have) , this animation feels like it’s catered to viewers ignorant to Poe’s work – which is fine.  I guess that’s what this anthology is – just fine.

The Spanish-born Garcia had made both “The Fall of the House of Usher” and “The Tell-Tale Heart” prior to the other three shorts, adding those in to compile this anthology. He’s worked in animation in some form for years. He worked as an animator on various projects, such as “The Smurfs” back in the 80s, “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” and various Disney full-length features from 1992 thru 1999. He has the experience and the talent, but “Extraordinary Tales” doesn’t really offer much except atmosphere and variety. Nothing extraordinary here.

 

RATING: **

 

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