I really like anthology films – particularly when it comes to horror. Anthology films let you take a brief period of time to tell an exciting, concise story that can scare you, excite you, or creep you out. Perhaps this is due to many great horror stories being short stories. One of the masters of the horror story was Edgar Allen Poe. This brings me to Extraordinary Tales, an animated anthology film adaptation 5 of Poe’s short stories.
The film covers 5 stories, four of which are narrated, the first with no narration and some dialog. The stories are book-ended by a sequence with the ghost of Poe, in the form of a raven (of course), talking to Death about his obsession with and fear of Death, and his desire for his work to be remembered after his life. The stories are:
First is “The Fall of the House of Usher” – narrated by Christopher Lee. This is a really strong way to start the story. Lee has a strong voice and he really gets into reading each of the book’s characters – and he has one of the voices that probably best fits with Poe, aside from Vincent Price himself.
Next is “The Tell-Tale Heart”, one of Poe’s most iconic stories, and one which has already won awards for an animated adaptation released by UPA in 1953. This version truncates the story, makes up for this truncation by having the story be narrated through an archival recording by Bela Lugosi, who is next on the list of horror’s iconic voices.
This is followed up by “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar”, one of Poe’s more obscure stories, read by Julian Sands (Warlock). The story is weird, and has a creepy conclusion, but is not exactly a standout piece in the story – something made even more of an issue by the fact that while the other stories have very distinctive art styles, this one seems almost generic in its presentation.
The series returns to Poe’s more iconic fare with “The Pit and the Pendulum”, read by director Guillermo Del Toro. Del Toro has featured the darker points of Spanish history in his own films in the past (with both Pan’s Labyrinth and The Devil’s Backbone), so including Poe’s tale of nail-biting suspense set in the Spanish Inquisition makes perfect sense. Again, as with the other stories, this is somewhat truncated, which is a shame, as I would have liked to have heard Del Toro read the whole story, and I wish there was an audio book compilation with complete readings of each story by the featured narrators.
The final story has no narration at all, which is a shame because it is a Poe story that is best known for its strong narrative and descriptive storytelling – “The Masque of the Red Death”. This portion simply moves through the rooms of the manor, with some visual storytelling of the state of the world beyond, with the only major voice being Roger Corman as the voice of Prince Prospero at the story’s conclusion. Corman’s inclusion makes sense – his finest work was his adaptations of Poe’s work – but limiting his contribution to just this is almost disappointing. I almost wonder if they did a full reading of the story with Corman, but found it wanting, so they saved his reading of Prospero’s dialog and stuck with that.
Extraordinary Tales is available from Amazon.com