Animation and Anthologies go hand and hand like pencil and paper. Most of us grew up watching cartoons this way from the random one-shots thanks to Oh Yeah! Cartoons or retrospectives shown in creator-focused series’ like The Bob Clampett Show or The Wacky World of Tex Avery. Many of the earliest Disney features from Fantasia to Melody Time were done in this matter, but it isn’t a common practice today. These days, you’ll be lucky to catch an hours worth of Tom and Jerry at 2 p.m. in the afternoon.
While the broadcasting technique of showing several shorts has dwindled, we’re greeted today with a fascinating collection of horror stories in the form of this collection of Extraordinary Tales. Take it away, Maciek…
“Extraordinary Tales” (Histoires Extraordinaires, Directed by Raul Garcia, Spain/Luxemborg)
– I’m going start by saying that this is one of Christopher Lee’s last movies! Though he only narrates one of the segments, he does an amazing job! It almost made me teary eyed watching this one week after his unfortunate passing, and boy, what better movie for him to finish his career on than an Edgar Allan Poe adaptation.
In fact, the film is adaptation of five of Poe’s short stories. Including “Fall of the House of Usher” (with narration and voices by Lee), “The Tell-Tale Heart” (which uses an archival recording narration by Bela Lugosi), “The Facts in the Case of Mr. Valdemar,“ “The Pit and the Pendulum” (narrated by Guillermo Del Toro), and “The Masque of the Red Death”. Each story is done in a different animation style, and each do a fantastic job of recapturing the spirit of Poe’s stories.
It’s very heavy on atmosphere… in fact my friend had to leave in the middle as it was getting to intense for her. Honestly, I don’t blame her. It’s just one depressing tale after another. The third short, “The Facts in the Case…,” is the strongest in my opinion. Not only is it the best off all the stories, but it has a mesmerizing art style reminiscent of early American comics. One of the characters in the short also oddly looks like Vincent Price – nice touch!
The only thing that doesn’t quite work about the shorts is the way in which the filmmakers try to connect them. These transitions are done at a graveyard where the iconic voice of Death converses with Poe’s spirit, represented by (what else?) but a raven. I have no clue how much of the raven’s dialogue (if any) is taken from Poe’s work, but these moments feel a bit lazy. The raven just goes, “You know? This reminds me of a story I once wrote,” and we cut a way to the next short. The animation in these scenes is nothing special, ESPECIALLY when compared to the rest of the film!
The design of the characters on the gravestones looks a bit cartoonish, if not like something out of Burton’s “Corpse Bride.” It doesn’t exactly fit the heavy tone of how artistic and morbid the rest of the movie is, and you don’t have to be an Edgar Allan Poe aficionado to guess what the final line will be. Perhaps they wanted to give the viewer moment of relief from all the darkness? When it comes right down to it though, I’m not sure what the intention was. The raven sequences are just a small, odd bonus to the main attraction.
If you’re a peculiar person who feasts on darkness, gloom and macabre images that haunt your soul, then this movie is definitely for you! It’s a truly delightful celebration of what Poe did best. It’s a wonderfully creative anthology and a fantastic love letter to one of greatest literally minds of all time (or the guy responsible for those darn Goths smoking cigarettes behind the coffee shop…take your pick!)
I’m not familiar with Poe’s work outside of his most famous pieces, but Extraordinary Tales has me intrigued to what wonders will be uncovered when I get to watch it. The various art styles really give the film that hook you want in an anthology film, detailing that each experience was individually crafted for the most amount of enjoyment. You can really see that effort put forth in the poster, which gives you a beautiful look into each story.
Each vignette really reaches out amongst different genres of art. I particularly love the watercolors and paper-cut images used prominently in two of the shows. The CGI feels really archaic, as it reminds me of a lot of early, cinematic games such as Heart of Darkness or Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee. I’m not sure if that was done intentionally to capture the slow, unnerving essence of many of the shorts, but I’ll have to see how the movie flows as a whole to judge it.
The production behind the film is rather unique as well. What was not mentioned in Maciek’s notes is that there are two additional celebrity voices in the film: Julian Sands and Roger Corman. The director, Raul Garcia, is fairly unknown outside of Spain, but he has had experience adapting works of Poe’s before. His only other movie is from 2008 named The Missing Lynx; a film that has better reviews online than expected but looks like straight-to-Redbox fodder.
At a brief 70-minute running time, this would be an easy film to slip on at night and watch in the comfort of my own home. But I’m with Maciek, this would be a great film to recommend to any fans of the macabre or Poe’s work as a whole. It already captures the spirit of the chilling, thought-provoking horror the man was known for.