If you’re like me, Edgar Allan Poe is one of your favorite authors. His style of writing and description is so uniquely grotesque, that when filmmakers bring his stories to life, I’m sure they have a tough time getting it all exactly right.
That said, the producers of Extraordinary Tales, a movie playing at this year’s Milwaukee Film Festival, did a great job honoring Poe’s work.
I completely loved how the movie started out. There is a lone crow talking to a woman’s voice that seems to be coming from many statues in a cemetery. The movie then re-tells five Poe stories in five different styles, and after each one, the film returns to the crow talking with the woman, and whatever they discuss leads into the next story.
The first story is “The Fall of the House of Usher.” What I loved about this story was how the producers created it. The scenery is sort of like a Tim Burton movie. The faces are long and odd, the characters look like 3D pieces of paper, and the lighting is always darker than normal. I’m not going to give anything away, but the ending gave me goosebumps.
The next story-to-film is “The Tell-Tale Heart.” I was so excited to watch this come to life because it is my favorite story written by Poe. And let me tell you, I was not disappointed when I was finished with this part of the film. As soon as I saw the beginning credits I knew it would be great. This section is done in black-and-white, making the shadows even more menacing. It was actually creepy, too, so that’s a plus.
The third story is “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar.” I have never read this story in its entirety, but I sure did enjoy it on screen. The style of animation is like a comic book, which I loved. Also, you can see the intensity and passion the doctors have in their faces for the specified experiment. The ending, however, I did not expect. Let’s just say that someone deteriorates/ explodes in a few seconds… I’ll leave you to wonder about that.
Another one of my favorite stories Poe is “The Pit and the Pendulum,” which is the fourth short story in the film. And to make it even better, it was narrated by Guillermo del Toro (one of the best horror producers and directors in the business, if you ask me). This part of the movie actually made me think a little. I put myself in the prisoner’s shoes and tried to imagine how terrified I would be and what I would possibly think about if I was awaiting my death.
The last story is the most incredulous. I did not expect what I saw in “The Masque of the Red Death.” The animation is styled like how water paint pictures look. It begins with people dumping more than a few bodies into a huge hole…. yeah, all right. That’s normal. There is no dialogue with the exception of a single line, which I thought left a big impact for the meaning of the piece. As in “The Fall of the House of Usher,” the faces and fingers of the people are longer than what one would see in real life. There is what looks like hundreds of people at a masked ball dancing, kissing, eating, drinking, swimming—and a lot more kissing. Then someone comes along and takes care of them.
I’ll just say that the ending explains the beginning quite well.
Before the movie ends, the crow explains that it doesn’t want to die; it wants to be eternal. It is not what you think it means, however. Hint: the crow represents more than itself.
Extraordinary Tales plays Wednesday at 10 p.m. at the Times Cinema. Don’t miss out on this great adaptation of some of Poe’s finest work!
The Milwaukee Film Festival opened Sept. 24 and runs through Oct. 8. The full festival schedule is online, along with ticket information.
(Image courtesy of Milwaukee Film. Special thanks to Milwaukee Film for providing resources for this review.)
Movie Musings is a regular movie column written by Amber Olson, Current Staff.