****1/2 (out of 5)
October 23, 2015
Christopher Lee as NARRATOR
Bela Lugosi as NARRATOR
Julian Sands as NARRATOR
Guillermo del Toro as NARRATOR
Cornelia Funke as DEATH
Stephen Hughes as CROW / POE
Directed by: Raul Garcia
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
I’ve been a fan of horror stories for as along as I can remember. My first introduction to Edgar Allan Poe, the grandfather of modern horror, was hearing my uncle paraphrasing his story “The Tell-Tale Heart” to me one Halloween. While not exactly a showman, and often more of a comedian, my uncle’s delivery could not dampen the eerie splendor of Poe’s work.
Later in life, I read my fair share of Poe’s stories, and that doesn’t just include “Hop Frog,” which is one of his shorter pieces that seems to get put in anthologies more than it really should. His pieces may often cover common themes (including grief over the loss of a loved one, the fear of being buried alive, and revenge of someone which results in hiding the body behind a wall or under a floor), but their power is undeniable.
As a movie fan, I’ve always lamented the fact that Poe’s work has never been given the best treatment. Oddly enough, it was low-budget schlock filmmaker Roger Corman who seemed to treat Poe the best on the big screen, often with a little help from Vincent Price. However, even then, these stories were often exaggerated and augmented for every reason from padding out the running time to then-modern standards and practices of what you can and cannot show in a film.
It took more than a hundred years of filmmaking for someone to deliver what I consider to be the definitive works of Edgar Allan Poe on the big screen. “Extraordinary Tales” is a truly unique experience, utilizing a slate of directors with wildly different animation styles to bring to life his most famous tales.
Adding to the fun for horror fans like myself are the narrator choices, bringing in some of the biggest hitters to tell the tales. The late Christopher Lee narrated “The Fall of the House of Usher.” A vintage recording of Bela Lugosi narrates “The Tell-Tale Heart.” Genre fan director Guillermo del Toro narrates “The Pit and the Pendulum.” And the Warlock himself Julian Sands narrates “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar.”
To break things up a bit, the final tale is “The Masque of the Red Death” is given a more subdued treatment without narration and only a few lines of dialogue (featuring an appropriate voice cameo by Roger Corman).
These presentation elements are the real charm in “Extraordinary Tales.” It reminds me of a time in college when I stumbled across a recorded book featuring Christopher Lee reading “The Raven.” Because Poe was so poetic in his writing, it increases the stories values to be heard rather than just to be read inside your own mind. This creates a unique and rich experience to enjoy Poe’s works.
The narration is bolstered by diverse and impressive animation, featuring a mix of abstract art and computer augmentation. Some of the stories – like “The Pit and the Pendulum” – feature photorealistic computer generated imagery while others – “The Tell-Tale Heart” – feature stylized imagery inspired by Argentine graphic novelist Alberto Breccia.
Even for those uninitiated to Poe’s writing, “Extraordinary Tales” is a true extraordinary experience, and just in time to enjoy before Halloween.