STREAMING REVIEW: ‘Extraordinary Tales’ A Fun And Lukewarm Tribute To Poe

The pool of animated films for adults has steadily been increasing with “Persepolis,” “Beowulf” and the latest “Anomalisa.” Tack on “Extraordinary Tales,” an anthology of five works by Edgar Allen Poe that’s been reimagined by Raul Garcia, whose credits include “The Lion King,” “Tarzan” and “Hercules.”

In “Extraordinary Tales,” a crow named Poe, swoops into a cemetery, where a pleasant, female voice talks to him.

“Always obsessed with the dead, a great subject for your writings,” the elusive voice says.

“What am I doing? I recite poetry to a statue. I must be drunk,” says Poe.

Poe the crow has a date with death in "Extraordinary Tales.
Poe the crow has a date with death in “Extraordinary Tales.

It’s kind of a weak start, but the setup is a solid throwback to the great horror anthologies of the ’80s and ’90s: “Tales from the Dark Side” and “Tales from the Crypt.” In all, there’s a dialogue between characters and their banter transitions into the next piece. Much love for the nostalgia, even if it kind of fails. Like its memorable predecessors, “Extraordinary Tales” is broken up into segments of Poe’s written works.

Each piece has a different narrator ranging from Sir Christopher Plummer to Julian Sands and Guillermo del Toro.

Bela Lugosi, the star of 1931’s “Dracula” narrates the striking segment “The Tell-Tale Heart.” Yes, it’s one of this viewer’s favorites by Poe, but it’s also the most sleek and the most well-done of the five.Untitled-1

The stark black and white animation, the use of negative and white space to tell the story, all with an old recording of Lugosi as the backdrop — it’s superb.

In one scene, detectives question the main character, almost like a Quentin Tarantino film, director Garcia cuts back and forth between protagonist and antagonists, who look exactly alike.

So many modern action sequences and allusions here in “The Matrix,” “Sin City” and more, it’s a joy. And Lugosi is such a talented narrator.

“I shrieked. I admit the deed!” Lugosi wails, as the animated character drops to his knees. There’s such despair in Lugosi’s voice over the aged and crackling recording that it sounds like the narrator, on some far-off microphone somewhere, is doing the same.  

It’s so good.  

There’s an added edge in this segment’s end credits. Director Garcia gives shoutouts to Lugosi and cartoonist Alberto Breccia, whose illustrations were the inspiration for the gorgeous visuals. The fact that they’re both dead, paired with the eerie music and resounding last scene adds extra panache.

Other highlights: a Vincent Price-looking character in “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar”; Julian Sands’ voice in general (“Warlock,” anyone?); the varied animation of each piece; Guillermo del Toro’s attempt and charming wavering as a voice actor (he’s first a writer/director).

Vincent Price's likeness stars in segment "The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar" in "Extraordinary Tales." netflix.com
Vincent Price’s likeness stars in segment “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar” in “Extraordinary Tales.” netflix.com

One huge con in this film is it got a little boring. After the initial nostalgia — perhaps remembering your first run-in with Poe’s work, the amazement that classical literature could be twisted and macabre — “Extraordinary Tales” fizzles. It peaked with “The Tell-Tale Heart.”

That said, this rise and fall of momentum is also on par with horror anthologies of decades past. One thing is certain: the people behind the scenes put a ton of thought into this film. Their Poe adoration and nerdery oozes from each bit and notably in the words of Poe the crow.

“My work is eternal. I want my work to survive me,” Poe cries. And “Extraordinary Tales” is an unnecessary but mildly appreciated love letter to ensure that that happens.

Grade: C-

View the trailer.

 

Time: 1:12

Rating: TV-14 (brief animated nudity)

Available: Amazon Instant, Google Play, iTunes, Netflix Instant, VUDU