Finally, the two greatest Draculas are
together in one film. It is a posthumous collaboration between Bela Lugosi and
Sir Christopher Lee, but that is all the more fitting. Many of the greatest
voices in horror cinema bring to life five classic Edgar Allan Poe stories in Raúl García’s Extraordinary Tales (trailer here), which opens this
Friday in New York.
Between 2004 and 2014, former Disney animator García unleashed his inner fanboy producing a series of Poe short films
that paid tribute to the dark bard of Baltimore, as well as other icons of
classic horror cinema and graphic art. They are now finally collected and
connected by a framing device naturally set in a gothic cemetery. Poe’s spirit
now resides in a raven, but an anthropomorphized Lady of Death tries to convince
the writer to accept his final resting, by using his own stories as grim object
The figures of García’s interstitials and the first tale, The Fall of the House of Usher, are a bit blocky, but the
backgrounds are wonderfully atmospheric. Usher
is also stratospherically elevated by the late, great Sir Christopher’s
drippingly macabre narration. He sounds as sonorously sinister as ever, which
make Usher a delight.
However, for classic monster fans, nothing can
top García’s The Tell Tale Heart,
which was Oscar short-listed as an animated short in 2005. Using a
non-professional proof-of-concept recording taped by Lugosi’s agent in the late
1940s when he was trying to package a Poe-themed stage show, García truly taps into the psychologically perverse essence of the
story. Rather than phoning it in, Lugosi fully draws out all the twisted drama.
With all its hisses and pops, it rather appropriately sounds like some sort of
ghostly spirit broadcast. Visually, García’s stark
black & white animation, conceived as an homage to Argentine comic artist
Alberto Breccia, is also absolutely arresting.
Julian Sands does not exactly have the same
stature, but the Warlock and Arachnophobia actor is certainly no
stranger to a horror movie set. His narration for The Fact in the Case of M. Valdemar is right on the money, yet he
is completely up-staged by García’s visuals. In this
case, he renders the story in a style that evokes the pulpy look of EC Comics.
It is definitely cool looking, but the master touch is the mesmerist narrator,
who bears a surely not coincidental resemblance to Vincent Price.
Frankly, Guillermo del Toro is not a natural
born voice-over artist, but the Mexican auteur sounds duly authentic narrating
arguably the most faithful English language adaptation of Spanish
Inquisition-set The Pit and the Pendulum to
date. In fact, the entire film remains remarkably true to Poe’s source
material. The expressionism of Pit also
makes it one of García’s most sophisticated looking and psychologically engaging tales.
Masque of Red Death, Extraordinary ends
on a mostly wordless high point. Roger Corman himself, the self-made mogul who
helmed all the great Poe adaptations starring Price, has only one line of
dialogue as Prince Prospero, but it is worth the wait. Instead of chatter, García builds tension and foreboding by showing the silent figure of
death glide through the Prince’s hedonistic bacchanal.
García has truly assembled a horror connoisseur’s
dream team by incorporating the work of Poe, Lugosi, Lee, Corman, del Toro, and
sort of Price and Breccia into one enormously satisfying film. Even though it
is distributed by GKIDS, Extraordinary
Tales might be too intense for youngsters, but kids old enough to stay up
for Corman classics on the weekends should enjoy its spookiness. García maintains an impressively eerie mood, but
older fans might just get caught up in nostalgia for our old midnight movie
idols. Either way, it is thoroughly entertaining film. Highly recommended for
horror and animation fans, Extraordinary
Tales opens this Friday (10/23) in New York, at the IFC Center.
Labels: Animated films, Anthology Films, Bela Lugosi, Edgar Allan Poe, GKIDS, Horror Movies, Roger Corman, Sir Christopher Lee