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Something I have noticed from certain movies of 2016 is that they had plots that either weren’t substantial enough for a single movie, like Batman: The Killing Joke, too much is crammed into one movie, or it should have been a miniseries. That last example was very apparent with films like Free State of Jones and Warcraft. To me, if a story isn’t substantial enough for a feature-length film, then maybe don’t stretch it to feature length with something that could make or break the story. If a story has too much to follow and too much information in it, then maybe make it a four-to-six episode miniseries. Or, if you want to tackle multiple short stories or poems, but don’t want to make a single one of them feature-length to keep the writing at its best, then maybe make an anthology film. This is where Extraordinary Tales comes in. This spooky anthology film is set around five stories/poems by the famous author, Edgar Allen Poe. It originates from the director Raul Garcia, who’s work experience includes being in the animation department of multiple Disney films from the 90s, and the director of the film, The Missing Lynx. It also boasts big names of horror talent, including Bela Lugosi (archive recording), Roger Corman, Guillermo Del Toro, and the late great Christopher Lee. So, how does this film do in paying tribute to one of history’s most gothic and death-obsessed writers? Well, let’s find out shall we?
The film’s set-up takes place in a graveyard where Poe, voiced by Stephen Hugues, has taken the form of a crow to look around at the location where he was buried. He encounters Death, voiced by Cornelia Funke, who he has been obsessed with, but also fears. Poe talks to Death about how he doesn’t want him or his work to be forgotten, and how he fears about the affliction of dying. It’s pretty much a set-up for the short films, which are all uniquely animated versions of 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.
So, what’s good about the anthology film? Well, the animation is striking and unique. It’s all CGI animation from overseas, which is usually a call for concern, but each of the stories has a different art style. It makes them stand out, and match the creepy atmosphere of each set-up. You have The Fall of the House of Usher with its pencil-shaded polygonal look, The Tell-Tale Heart’s striking black and white aesthetic, the colorful underground comic style for The Facts in the Case of Mr. Valdemar, and the painted look of The Masque of the Red Death to name a few. I don’t know how many viewers would find these stories “scary” due to like comedy, horror and what is scary is subjective if ever rarely agreed upon, but a lot of these shorts are unsettling and eerie. Like, you can feel the dread of death looming over you as you watch these shorts. It also tackles them pretty differently from the paranoia of death, the many ways one could die, trying to escape it, or trying to hide away from it. It’s a neat idea.
The actors they hired to narrate the stories/voice characters in the stories are great choices. Of course, my favorite one is the late Christopher Lee narrating and voicing the characters in The Fall of the House of Usher. Guillermo Del Toro also does a great job, and it is rather interesting to hear him narrate a story. I also find it fascinating that they got an archive recording of famed horror icon Bela Lugosi reading The Tell-Tale Heart. It’s pretty cool to hear him read the story. I think the one short that stands out the most is the last one, The Masque of the Red Death. It has no narration and is all visual storytelling. Heck, Roger Corman, the king of schlock himself, only gets one line in this story. To me, for being not much of a Poe connoisseur, I feel like the short films got the vibe and the tones down to a T. However, that is just me, because there are always going to be those people who prefer the written version over the film version.
As usual, I do have some complaints. As it is for most anthology films, some of the shorts are stronger than others. While I think they each stand out in their own unique way, I think The Tell-Tale Heart is my least favorite due to a technical issue I have with the archive recording. It’s cool that they obtained the recording of Bela Lugosi reading this story, but it’s very hard at times to hear him. The English DVD that I bought doesn’t come with English subtitles. It’s hard to hear some of the narrators in some of the stories, like The Pit and the Pendulum. It’s great that Netflix has this film (as of October 17th, 2016), and you can watch it with subtitles. It feels like the sound mixer needed another look-through before saying the job is done. Who knows, maybe that is the best they could do with the archived recording, but watching this on a high volume or with headphones or closed captions would be best. I also think the set-up for the short films could have been stronger. All Poe does is talk about being forgotten, when he won’t be. I mean, I get that feeling of a proud legacy being left behind the passage of time, but they could have just showed the shorts and be fine, or find a better way to combine the setting and shorts.
In the end though, GKids brought over another great movie with striking visual styles, and a more mature tone. If I had to pick where I would put it terms of the library of GKids films, I would probably put it in the upper middle area. It’s a great movie, but some technical issues and the divisive nature of adaptations will probably result in your experience being different than mine. Even then, I would highly recommend checking this movie out if you want some creepy animation. Well, next week, let’s go back to the goofy side of horror with a DC animated film that I actually liked?! That’s scary. Next time, we look at Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders. Beware the dark, and beware the goofy 60s Batman!
Rating: Go see it!