Friday, 5 February 2016

There's something about Edgar ...

I thought I might never get to see the animated version of 'The Fall of the House of Usher' by Edgar Allan Poe narrated by Christopher Lee and directed by Raul Garcia. I was revisiting the very tempting trailer on YouTube (see above) when, after reading a few of the comments, I noticed that it has actually been released. It was released in October 2015 and is one of the animated films featured in an animated Poe movie anthology called 'Extraordinary Tales'. After hunting around a bit I found an online version and have now seen the entire film.

Extraordinary Tales by Raul Garcia : a film review

Edgar Allan Poe has long been one of my favourite authors, if not my absolute favourite, and this animated film, written and directed by Raul Garcia, I feel is a wonderful homage to him and his stories. The beginning and connecting sequences of the portmanteau film feature Poe in the form of a raven who visits a graveyard full of feminine statues and speaks to death in the form of a woman. The first conversation between them leads neatly into the first of Poe's tales.

The Fall of the House of Usher

Christopher Lee's narration is mesmerising in this and perfectly complements the stylishly drawn characters. Roderick and Madeline are as they should be; angular, striking and really creepy. The narrator, Roderick's boyhood friend, is rotund and spooked out by what has become of his childhood companion and the house he remembers as being magical. In Poe's tale it is not only Madeline who is ill, Roderick and the house are also falling apart at the seams and I think this is portrayed very well.

A conversation about redemption and justice leads to the second of Poe's tales.

The Tell Tale Heart

This story is told in striking black and white pictures, with a touch of red here and there. I have heard this story told many times. My English teacher read it out in an O'level lesson and managed to scare the life out of a bunch of rowdy teenagers. Here it is told by Bela Lugosi, who does a good job on it. The stark pictures are good company for the chilling story of a man who only kills because he doesn't like the look of the old man with the 'vulture eye'. I love that Bela Lugosi  made it into the film, he was born in the same century as Edgar Allan Poe, so it feels like an extra connection there.

After a talk about cheating death we come to the film's centrepiece.

The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar

I find this is a really creepy story even by Poe's standards. It is about a man hypnotised into an uncertain state, before dying, and hovering on the brink, suspended between life and death. It is another starkly illustrated and animated piece, but this time there is colour and a satisfying comic book or graphic novel feel about the short film. The doctor looks suspiciously like Vincent Price and it is narrated by Julian Sands, which ticks another couple of vintage horror boxes quite nicely.

The next story, we are told, is about a man's contemplation of unknown torments.

The Pit and the Pendulum

It took me a while to get into and appreciate this story and this animation also took me a little more time to get to grips with. The animation is modern and realistic, smooth and appealing. It is voiced by the director Guilermo del Toro, the story is about the Spanish Inquisition, so I think this was a very thoughtful choice. Good narration, I feel, is so vital in this, we see that horrible things might happen, but what is going on in the mind of the prisoner is where the true horror lies. I think I need to read this story again to get all I can out of it.

Having really enjoyed the first four stories, I was sure the fifth one would be just as satisfying.

The Masque of the Red Death

There is very little speaking in this piece, so the amazing music, which has been running throughout the film, really comes to the fore. The paintings in this story are a kind of oily water colour, the characters look similar to the illustrations drawn by Harry Clarke, a 20th century illustrator famous for illustrating Poe. This is another touch that I feel makes this film such a treat, especially for big Poe fans like myself. I have read this story several times, and was eager to see how the animation would take on the many coloured rooms of Prince Prospero's palace. They were done exquisitely, each with their own decadent character. I wouldn't say any of these short films were too scary, but I did find this film a little scarier than the others.

At the end of the film we are left to ponder the legacy of Edgar Allan Poe, which I think is pretty great. Gorgeous animation, five Poe stories, a little of Poe's poetry, the portmanteau horror film format; exquisite music, illustration and narration; this film combines so many of my favourite things, I can't help but love it.

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