Edgar Allen Poe is to Halloween what Charles Dickens is to the Yuletide season, but most adaptations of the former’s tales pale in comparison to the terror evoked by any decent rendition of the latter’s “A Christmas Carol.” Perhaps Poe’s tone poses a problem; the edge-of-hysteria voice does not hold up well over the course of a feature-length film.
Disney animator Raul Garcia, like Roger Corman (who also has one line in the movie) in his “Tales of Terror” (1962), mitigates that problem by gathering several Poe stories into one anthology titled “Extraordinary Tales.” He lacks Corman’s mordant humor and his all-star cast of Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, and Basil Rathbone. The voices of the late Christopher Lee and Bela Lugosi reading from the text isn’t quite the same. But Garcia compensates with a different animation style for each of the five stories.
Lee reads from the Poe original in “The Fall of the House of Usher,” a consummate portrait of decadent romanticism in which the last survivor of the title family can’t shake off his obsession with his dead sister. Lee’s iconic voice gets little competition from the uninspired visuals, though the collapse of the title manse into a gaping abyss introduces a chilling motif.
More effective is the scratchy, archival recording of Lugosi reading “The Tell-Tale Heart,” complemented by a stark, chiaroscuro-style inspired by Argentine comic book artist Alberto Breccia. The climactic appearance of three identical bald police officers — dead-ringers for David Letterman’s bandleader Paul Shaffer — adds a Kafkaesque note.
Also drawing from the comic book tradition, “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar,” narrated by Julian Sands, does not do justice to the original in its portrayal of a dying man mesmerized into a state of suspended animation in a vain attempt to escape the inevitable. Nor does the rotoscoped “The Pit and the Pendulum,” mumbled in voiceover by Guillermo del Toro, though its nightmarish pit makes up for its perfunctory pendulum.
Best of all, “The Masque of the Red Death” relates its variation on existential dread almost wordlessly (Corman’s line being an exception). Opulently hued, visually gorgeous, it captures the desperate hedonism of the living and the void that awaits them.
★ ★ ½
Directed by Raul Garcia. Written by Garcia and Stéphan Roelants, based on stories by Edgar Allen Poe. Starring Guillermo del Toro, Julian Sands, Roger Corman, Christopher Lee, Bela Lugosi. At Boston Common.
73 minutes. Unrated (scenes of animated debauchery, hints of incest, obsession with death).
Peter Keough can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.