Horror gets tricky when it comes to trying to extend it into animation. There’s the ability to extend the imagination even further, but the remove from reality that even the best animation contains means that – at least for me – actual horror or fright is in short supply. That doesn’t mean the films can’t be impactful, even exquisite. Such is the case with Extraordinary Tales, an anthology of animated interpretations of classic Edgar Allen Poe stories, narrated by some pretty special folks.
THE QUICK SUMMARY: A raven visits a graveyard, mourning over the statues of various women. A disembodied voice enters into dialog, probing the bird’s sorrow and guilt and in the process uncovering various tales of mystery and imagination (see what I did there?), all of which point to a secret the bird will come to realize.
Embodying various styles from outright CG to classic comic book to more impressionistic styles, the stories work as a whole thanks to the work of Raúl García who not only directs the segments but adapted each of them in turn. He’s helped tremendously by the stellar score from Sergio de la Puente, who evokes a terrific sense of mood into each tale. A lot will be made of the narrators, but as I watched I kept coming away with how great the music worked in tandem with the images, so for those folks who are into scores, de la Puente is a name to check out.
Of the tales themselves each one gets to the (tell-tale) of the story, fashioned into dagger points by the narration. “The Fall of the House of Usher” kicks things off with Christopher Lee sounded phenomenal, his gravitas serving to not only weigh each of Poe’s lines with depth and dawning horror from the narrator, but also to convey the madness and weariness of Usher. The story is necessarily abbreviated, but it’s a strong entry to the film. Elsewhere Julian Sands narrates “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar” and with its EC style comic book look and Vincent Price stand-in for the main character it stands to be the most overtly horrific story in the anthology. I wish I could say Guillermo del Toro’s entry for “The Pit and the Pendulum” was anything other than solid, but his narration doesn’t bring a lot to an already well-known story, and the animation style left me a little cold. Far better was the gorgeous look of one of my favorite Poe stories, “The Masque of the Red Death” which boasts a great cameo in its narration with Roger Corman, a man who may know a thing or two about adapting Poe for the screen…
But the pièce de résistance has to go to “The Tell Tale Heart” with perhaps the biggest narration surprise: García used an old, scratchy recording of the Prince of Darkness himself, Bela Lugosi recounting the story set against a stark black and white homage to the artist Alberto Breccia. Lugosi gives a startling, terrifying performance, and paired against the animation is an unexpected late delight from the horror icon.
Don’t come to Extraordinary Tales looking to be frightened. Come looking for a bold voice adaptation of some great stories that will leave you touched with just the faintest of chills long into the night.