Anthology flicks are usually a hit-or-miss affair: one or two great stories surrounded by mediocre stories made only because someone gave the director a camera. Anthology flicks based on the works of Edgar Allan Poe are no exception. However, in the case of Extraordinary Tales it is both hit-and-miss all at once.
Extraordinary Tales is composed of five Poe adaptations and a wrap-around story involving Poe as a raven talking with statues in a graveyard. The five adaptations are:
The Fall of the House of Usher: Narrated by Christopher Lee. Roderick Usher’s sister, Madeline, is sick. After passing, Usher and his friend bury her in a tomb. But is she really dead?
The Tell-Tale Heart: Narrated by Bela Lugosi via an old recording of Lugosi reading the tale. A man decides to rid himself of an old man, whose vulture eye bothers him. But after burying him beneath the floorboards, the old man’s heart continues to beat. Or does it?
The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar: Narrated by Julian Sands. Upon his deathbed, M. Valdemar volunteers to be mesmerized During the process, Valdemar dies. But is he really dead?
The Pit and the Pendulum: Narrated by Guillermo del Toro. A man is condemned to prison by the Spanish Inquisition. Will he be able to escape from the dreaded pit and the pendulum? Or is the only thing he needs to escape is the breakdown of his mind?
The Masque of the Red Death: No narration; featuring the voice work of Roger Corman as Prince Prospero. While the red death ravages the country, Prospero and his friends wine and dine within the safety of his castle walls. But is it really all that safe?
The animation style differs for each segment and it is truly the high point of each segment as it gives each one a life of its own. I especially loved the cut-out style they used for “The Fall of the House of Usher,” as well as the pulp comic style in “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar,” which also features a main character whom resembles Vincent Price. In terms of animation style, the weakest link is “The Pit and the Pendulum,” which is merely computer animated. It’s high-quality animation, but seems to have been utilized only because the filmmakers couldn’t think of another way to present the tale.
As far as the actual tales go they’re pretty standard adaptations. If you’ve read the stories, then you know what to expect. However, unlike the original stories, these adaptations don’t have enough time to breathe and let a sense of dread and mystery build up. It’s basically “Here’s the beginning, here’s the middle, here’s the end, moving on.” Had the allotted time for each tale been expanded, a web of dread and mystery could have been woven around the viewer and we’d be left with an excellent anthology flick.
While Extraordinary Tales doesn’t do much with the stories or successfully build up a sense of dread and mystery, the animation definitely makes this flick worth a watch. Now, when are we gonna get an animated anthology of Lovecraft tales?
Extraordinary Tales is available on Netflix.