If you’re a fan of the macabre, you’re in for a real treat…and some trick.
With the intention of following the rules of Nuwan’s October Birthdays blogathon, I unknowingly chose to focus on Edgar Allan Poe – The notoriously grim poet that died on October 7th, 1894. So, this isn’t about a birthday but rather about death. Happy Halloween and happy birthday to Nuwan’s sister who’s celebrating her birthday this month and to whom this terrorific blogathon is dedicated to.
Without further ado…
Extraordinary Tales (2013) is an exquisite anthology directed by Raul Garcia that offers a freshly animated outlook on five of Edgar Allan Poe’s stories – The Fall of the House of Usher, The Tell-Tale Heart, The Facts in the Case of Mr. Valdemar, The Pit and the Pendulum, and The Masque of the Red Death – in that order. Each tale is differentiated by animation style and narrated by a key figures in the Horror/Mystery Hollywood enterprise including Christopher Lee, Bela Lugosi, Guillermo Del Toro, Stephen Hughes, Roger Corman and Julian Sands.
While the results are uneven and some bettering others, all five short segments trigger an unsettling feeling of… well, doom.
The film begins with an eery back and forth between a Poe the Raven (voiced by Stephen Hugues) and Death (voiced by Cornelia Funke) which is formed as a female graveyard statue. Death demarcates Poe’s obsession with death and his fading legacy as a writer, while the raven contradicts it and claims they are merely stories.
The Fall of the House of Usher
Narrator: Christopher Lee
A beloved Horror veteran that tales of brother Roderick Usher who is deeply grieving of his sister Madeline’s fatal condition and calls upon an old friend to help him cope. When Madeline takes her final breath, Roderick turns to insanity, imagining strange noises and voices suggesting he buried his sister alive. Meanwhile, the old castle is decaying, depicting a sense of doom. Lee’s narration sets a perfect tone to the grimly paled sharp 3D animation and characters. I could hear him narrate forever, which probably won’t happen as this was one of his closing performances. He will be missed.
The Tell-Tale Heart
Narrator: Bela Lugosi
I’m not familiar with this Poe story, however, the combination of Sin City like neo-noir illustration and Bela Lugosi’s voice forms a tale uneasy to digest. The narrator is an insane individual the describes his audience a murder he had committed. His victim’s beating heart is what finally gave him in. Lugosi’s voice delivers a good chill, although with a lesser quality of sound than its former being it a 1940s radio recording of the story. Yet Lugosi’s voice is a nice touch to the black and white palette of the animation.
The Facts in the Case of Mr. Valdemar
Narrator: Julian Sands
Illustrated as classic comic-book style, the story tales of a mesmerist who lures his dying friend into a grossly abnormal hypnotic state moments before his death. The animation here completely reinforces the story and portrays its gore and abnormality up to the point of discomfort. Not by accident does the mesmerist resemble Horror icon and legend Vincent Price whose varied film career included six of Poe’s movie adaptations along with Roger Corman.
The Pit and the Pendulum
Narrator: Guillermo Del Toro
The story takes place during the Spanish Inquisition and tales of torments and anguish of an imprisoned man condemned to death by a swinging blade. Unlike its formers, this segment adopts a more realistic computer-animated version of Poe’s sinister classic tale. Del Toro’s voice is perfect is really thickens the animated materials, but that’s highly expected from this Horror maestro.
The Masque of the Red Death
This segment does not include narrating, only the voicing of Roger Corman as Prince Prospero – an arrogant Prince whose attempts to avoid an emerging plague fail utterly. Disguised as a mysterious figure, the plague enters the castle at the hype of Prospero’s ball to inflict its gruesome symptoms on all the party’s attendants with all of them dying within minutes. The Masque of the Red Death is one of the best Vincent Price films I’ve seen and his Prince Prospero is one of the hardest roles to transcend. Only an animated Prospero equally matches Price’s notorious character and beautifully so. This is probably my favorite animation of them all.
Although not fully adapting Poe’s tales as they’re written and disregarding some details, Extraordinary Tales was a delight to watch, but more segments, please! I was left wanting more just because this kind of animated Poe adaptation is hard to come by. I wonder why Garcia chose to incorporate this animation with that story, but they work immaculately as a whole as well as apart, as each builds on its predecessor’s sense of dread and misfortune. The wonderful soundtrack was composed by Sergio De La Puente and it’s a must to listen to. The passages at the graveyard with Poe’s sour dance with Death make wonderfull paddings to each wicked tale, especially the final scene with the raven turning into a stone figure on the dead poet’s grave which signifies Poe’s fading memory.