Yesterday was Halloween, and I hope everyone enjoyed it! Last evening, I ended up watching the film on Netflix, Extraordinary Tales, which is a series of short films based on some famous Edgar Allan Poe stories — because, you know, Halloween. Spookiness. Etc. (Thanks to my friend Katherine for introducing me to this film!)
In this, five stories are featured: “The Fall of the House of Usher”, “The Tell-Tale Heart”, “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar”, “The Pit and the Pendulum”, and “The Masque of the Red Death”. Each one is animated in a different style and features a different narrator. The music is awesome, just the right amount of ominous and frightening — perfectly matching the visuals and tone of the stories.
The idea to use different animation for each tale was a great one, and each short seems very faithful to the original Poe stories:
“Usher” has a marvelous style, with the scenes gradually becoming more like sketches as the house crumbles. Also, it’s narrated by the late, great Sir Christopher Lee, which makes it even more amazing. And it’s such a strange, haunting story full of horror and supernatural events. I think this is my favorite short in this collection.
“Tell-Tale” is so visually striking and unnerving using all light and shadows, black and white, except for a red splash of blood (though, admittedly, I think it would have been cool had they also given color to the man’s blue eye too). The animation is accompanied by a splendid old recording of Bela Lugosi reading it. And of course the story of obsession and madness, murder and guilt, makes this a classic.
“M. Valdemar” is not one of the Poe stories I’ve read, so watching this was especially fun. Its animation is like a moving comic book, which works because it complements the sci-fi elements of the story: a doctor experimenting with mesmerism decides to hypnotize a dying friend, who then dies but does not decay. It’s a sort of moral tale about the dangers of meddling with death. And the last scene is freaky and memorable and very well done.
“Pendulum” looks like one of those near-realistic video games, narrated by Guillermo del Toro. This one is also a Poe classic, a scary story that makes you wonder how much is real and how much the narrator is imagining. It toes the line between sanity and madness in a compelling way. And the detail in this animation is astounding.
“Masque” is another story I was unfamiliar with, but now I want to read it. Poe’s condemnation of indulging too much in physical pleasure and the attack of a terrifying ailment is creepy and intriguing. The design of the Red Death is amazing in this too — it reminds me of Munch’s The Scream. However, I wish the creators had committed to using no dialogue; mostly there are a few fragments of words and general background conversation, which would have been fine. But they also inserted a few clear lines, which just ended up being jarring and incongruous. Otherwise, though, this short is a a great example of showing a story through images.
There are small scenes between each short that endeavor to link them all together. However, the dialogue is kind of weak and not that interesting. I wish it weren’t that way, as it’s Poe (in raven form) speaking to Death (who communicates via a statue in Westminster Cemetery, where Poe is buried). And while the animation is cool — looking like something between moving origami and drawings — these are not necessary segments. This film would have worked better without them.
In the end, though, this film is excellent. A delightfully spooky, perfectly entertaining, visually fascinating collection of stories. The creators were faithful to and fond of the source material and Poe himself. Each narrator is awesome, each animation is unique and wonderful, and the stories are of course wonderfully haunting.
Overall score: 8/10
I’m planning on doing more of these reviews of literature-inspired films. However, while this is a straight up review, in the others I will compare the film version and the book version. Just to scientifically prove that the book is always better, you know.