Thursday, June 9, 2016

Extraordinary Tales (2013)

Anthology films are, by their very nature, something of a mixed bag. It's rare to find one that is totally consistent in terms of quality. A decent anthology will often have at least one lesser segment, or an anthology that is mainly poor may still have their moments. They also present quite the challenge for reviewers (is that the world's tiniest violin I hear?).

Extraordinary Tales is an animated horror anthology based on the works of Edgar Allan Poe. Written and directed by Raul Garcia, each segment is based upon one of Poe's best-known works. The wrap-around narrative features the soul of Poe (represented by a black bird, which IMDB calls a crow, but I'm pretty sure is more likely to be a raven) in conversation with death as he resists passing on to the next world.

What makes this film interesting is the decision to use a different animation style for each segment. Although all CGI they show some wildly differing styles, with varying levels of success. The wrap-around has a simple- and rather lovely-  visual quality that looks like it could have been crafted from paper. Elsewhere there is animation that looks like it could have been stop-motion, CG that looks hand-drawn and even art made to resemble a comic. The varied styles keeps things interesting, and leaves you wondering what will come next.



The first segment The Fall Of The House of Usher is probably the strongest, both in terms of animation and atmosphere. Visually it looks somewhere between a Tim Burton produced stop-motion film and The Book Of Life, and the design work here is stellar. It does a fantastic job of building up a creepy atmosphere of foreboding too- although the casting of the late, great Christopher Lee as the narrator definitely helps with that.

The second segment The Telltale Heart pairs an archive recording of original Dracula actor Bella Lugosi's narration with stark (mainly) monochromatic imagery. Although the chills are still there, visually this is a step down, making this entry less effective than the first.

The weakest segment however, comes next in the form of  The Julian Sands narrated The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar. The idea to try and recreate classic horror comic-book style art is a fantastic one, but alas the execution is somewhat lacking. The decision to try and create 3D models based on the 2D style is probably where this one came unstuck, as the low-budget can't help but shine through. It's a shame, as this could have worked really well in genuine 2D.

Things take a considerable turn for the better again with the next segment The Pit and The Pendulum. Featuring  photo-realistic visuals and narration from the legendary director Guillermo del Toro, it's arguably the film's second strongest tale.

The final story The Masque Of The Red Death  (featuring the voice of the cult film legend Roger Corman) takes a direction all of its own. It has a fascinating animation style that combines CGI with a hand-painted look, that is visually interesting even if it doesn't always quite work. The story itself- complete with masked balls, debauched princes and steamy hot-tubs- is pretty far removed from the rest of the film too.  Overall, it falls somewhere in the middle- not up with the best segments, but better than others.



Extraordinary Tales is much as anticipated then- rather mixed. However, even if in the lesser moments, there is much to admire. The animation can't compete with higher-end, mega-budget fare, but it makes up for it in ambition and inventive visuals.

The atmosphere is consistently creepy throughout, too. Animation rarely touches on horror- at least in the west- perhaps many assuming that animation simply can't be scary. Yet this film proves that animation can deliver atmospheric chills with the best of them, and create memorable imagery that you won't be able to get out of your head for some time. The Usher segment is particularly strong in these regards.

As you may well have noticed, the film boasts an impressive pedigree in its voice cast .  The presence of such talented horror icons (including the two best known screen Draculas)  only makes this all the more effective- and would help attract fans of the genre who might normally not watch animated films at all.

Ultimately then, Extraordinary Tales works more often than not. Although not every segment hits it out of the park, there's still plenty here to make it worth your time.  If you are a general animation fan looking for something a little different, then this fits the bill. If you are a big fan of horror, and/or the work of Poe however, then this is a must-see. 

EXTRAORDINARY TALES is available on Blu-Ray, Digital and DVD in the US via GKIDS and is Streaming on NETFLIX (US)



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