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Extraordinary Tales
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by Jay Seaver

"A surprisingly strong collection of Edgar Allan Poe short films."
4 stars

Raul Garcia has been making the various pieces of "Extraordinary Tales" for a while; three of its five segments, all based upon Edgar Allan Poe stories, are listed on the IMDB as shorts released as far back as 2005, and likely in the works before that. That works to the film's advantage; attacking these five stories individually gives the production some surprising variety for a project where one director tackles the work of one author. It's got a distinctive voice used in many interesting ways.

Admittedly, it's a little wobbly early on, as the opening credits and framing material represent Poe as a raven (voice of Stephen Hughes) flying around a graveyard, speaking to statues and/or the embodiment of death. The style can best be described as "CGI approximating papercraft", which highlights something that does seem to unite every segments: Most do feel like a specific style or technique being recreated digitally, and the gap between what the animators can handle on a modest budget and what the presumed real thing looks like is noticeable. Also, this sort of segment is always tricky, trying to tell a story of their own while leading in and out of the short films, and Garcia's story about Poe is not as intriguing as the ones Poe wrote.

Things start off with "The Fall of the House of Usher", and while the "CGI approximating woodcarving" looks a bit rough at times, it lends itself to some nifty effects - the house of the title is riddled with gigantic cracks at the start, and aside from a great ghost and an interesting flattening effect as the segment goes on. Plus, the narration is by Christopher Lee, and basically perfect - aside from having the perfect voice for the material, he's one of the few who can drop into an alternate character without it sounding odd.

"The Tell-Tale Heart" is also excellently narrated by a horror legend, in this case Bela Lugosi, so this was an old recording even before this was originally released in 2005 (Lugosi died in 1956). It also borrows a specific art style, that of Alberto Breccia, and the sharp black-and-white style lends itself to Poe's story nicely, even at moments when Garcia injects something surprisingly modern into it. The character design is very nice as well, with the murderous narrator looking demonic and his perception of his victim similarly horrific.

The third of the existing shorts is "The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar", and this one is done up to look like a comic book, with narration by Julian Sands. That's a bit disconcerting, as the main character ("Dr. P") is clearly modeled on Vincent Price visually, and Sands isn't exaclly Price. It's still a nicely creepy take on the story, with genuine horror as things unfold.

Guillermo del Toro narrates the first of the two new segments, "The Pit and the Pendulum", which mostly goes for photorealism in its character animation, although a flashback shakes things up and the fortress in which the story takes place is impressively elaborate. Garcia works a lot of creepy imagery and genuine tension into this one - loving attention is paid to how the pendulum works - although many scenes are far too well-lit for what the narrator describes as total darkness.

Things get switched up for the finale, "The Masque of the Red Death", which eschews narration using Poe's actual words almost entirely for an almost entirely visual adaptation (the one spoken line, amusingly, comes from Roger Corman, who also made Poe adaptations a cottage industry). It's presented in a painterly style that recalls artwork from the period in question and also puts composer Sergio de la Puente (who worked on all segments aside from "The Tell-Tale Heart") through his paces. The complementary bacchanalia and sickness of the story comes across very well indeed, creating a nifty sensation of unease.

Remove the awkward bits gluing the segments together and "Extraordinary Tales" is a consistently strong collection - no one piece would likely be my favorite as part of a festival shorts program, but they are of high enough quality that it would be hard to label any one a weak link. Those looking for something spooky in the theater this Halloween could do much, much worse than checking this out, and animation enthusiasts should find it of interest as well.

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originally posted: 10/25/15 15:25:09
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  DVD: 02-Feb-2016


  DVD: 02-Feb-2016

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