The fact that an author who died 166 years ago continues to be a draw for moviemakers says something about Edgar Allan Poe’s imagination. And here’s a feverish new animated Poe feature — released just in time for Halloween.
“Extraordinary Tales” runs only 70 minutes and isn’t perfect. But Poe’s florid language and imagery allows for some intoxicating stuff along the way.
Director Raul Garcia frames his five stories with a graveyard conversation between a raven representing Edgar Allan Poe’s soul and a statue representing Death. This dialogue about mortality mostly serves to pad out the running time and set up the individual tales.
The first one is the best: “The Fall of the House of Usher,” rendered in spectacular greens and purples with a style that resembles a Gothic woodcut. Best of all, the story is narrated by Christopher Lee, the stentorian actor who died earlier this year.
Lee is best known now for his ominous roles in the “Lord of the Rings” and “Star Wars” universes, but he was also a star with the Hammer Films series of horror classics. Hearing his glorious voice describe the brooding mansion of the doomed Usher family is like getting a full bag of Halloween candy.
The second segment is also terrific. Garcia had previously made a short film from “The Tell Tale Heart,” and that short is incorporated here. The stark black-and-white animation is fascinating — described onscreen as a tribute to the style of comic book artist Alberto Breccia.
The narrator is none other than Bela Lugosi, heard from beyond the grave courtesy a 1947 radio adaptation of “The Tell Tale Heart.” Great fun, and Lugosi really gets into the final stages of the paranoid story — as expected.
“The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar” features a character drawn to resemble Vincent Price. So at this point you know the film is meant for devoted fans of horror. Narrated by Julian Sands, this one has a few genuinely freaky moments. But how could they have left out the very last line of the story — a hard-to-beat moment of terror?
Next up is the only real dud: “The Pit and the Pendulum,” narrated by director Guillermo del Toro. Garcia hasn’t cracked the core of the tale, and the animation seems cruder than the other episodes.
The finale, “The Masque of the Red Death,” takes a different approach: No narration here, just a series of gauzy, beautifully-drawn images of aristocrats dancing happily while the plague stalks the land.
Anyone who remembers Roger Corman’s 1964 version of the story knows that it lends itself to visual extravagance, and Garcia is up to the task. The dreamy mood is enhanced by having only one spoken sentence — read by Roger Corman himself!
Mention must be made of the giant-scaled musical score by Sergio de la Puente. Somebody needs to hire this guy for a Hollywood thriller, pronto.
“Extraordinary Tales” (2 1/2 stars)
Five animated adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe stories, featuring some splendidly spooky storytelling and the voices of Christopher Lee and (in archival form) Bela Lugosi. Not perfect, but a treat for horror fans.
Rating: Not rated; probably PG for subject matter
Showing: Grand Illusion theater