EXTRAORDINARY TALES (2015)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 13 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

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Directed by: Raul Garcia

Written by: Raul Garcia & Stephan Roelants

(based on short stories by Edgar Allan Poe)

Voices of: Roger Corman, Guillermo Del Toro, Cornelia Funke, Stephen Hughes, Christopher Lee, Bela Lugosi & Julian Sands

From live-action anthologies to feature-length thrillers, we’ve seen many interpretations of Edgar Allan Poe’s horror stories brought to the screen. However, I can’t recall many cartoon versions of his stories, let alone an anthology film containing various animated takes on his classic tales. EXTRAORDINARY TALES is an anthology that’s been in the works for a while now and collects five different short films that encapsulate some of Poe’s best known work. The animation styles range from segment to segment as do the quality of the interpretations themselves. As with all anthologies, I will analyze each story on its own merits before getting into the film as a whole…

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Tale #1: THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER: A man visits his old friend (Usher) and uncovers a dark secret lying beneath Usher’s crumbling estate. This first segment is the weakest of the bunch, but this story isn’t exactly one of Poe’s best tales either. Though it oozes with atmosphere, I’ve always found the story of USHER to be all style and no substance. The same can be said for this animated version of the tale, though it does have the late Christopher Lee providing voice work for it. The CG is not too impressive. This looks like a kid’s computer game by the way of Edgar Allan Poe. As childish as the animation may be and as dull as the source material may be, this segment is still watchable. Lee’s narration elevates it from being middle-of-the-road. C+

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Tale #2: THE TELL-TALE HEART: A paranoid man plots an act of murder…only to find out that covering up the evidence isn’t as easy as he expected. One of Poe’s best known stories (you were probably forced to read it in school) comes to life in a most unusual way. Using stark black-and-white computer animation, this segment comes off as the creepiest of the bunch. The narrator is most unusual, seeing that he’s been dead for decades. A recording of Bela Lugosi (Dracula himself) reading the story provides narration for this piece. The audio does have some hiccups seeing that it’s old, but this adds to the otherworldly vibe of this story. Though it’s very cool to watch while it lasts, I couldn’t help but feel that this segment was a tad too rushed by not fully taking advantage of some of the main character’s more insane delusions. B

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Tale #3: THE FACTS IN THE CASE OF M. VALDEMAR: A hypnotist attempts to conquer death by putting his terminally ill friend into a trance. However, this experiment has unexpectedly horrifying consequences. I really loved how this segment was animated. It has the appearance of a living comic book, complete with an opening title that served as a direct homage to the old E.C. horror comics. Julian Sands provides great narration/voice acting for this segment. It also gets surprisingly graphic during the final frames. The funny thing is that this is one of Poe’s lesser works (in my humble opinion) and it’s executed in a way that definitely makes the material into something memorable. A

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Tale #4: THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM: A prisoner, captured by the Spanish Inquisition, is subjected to various methods of torture (both real and imagined). Narrated by Guillermo Del Toro, this story is far bleaker than the other stories being told here. The computer animation essentially looks like one giant cut-scene from ASSASSIN’S CREED, but the attention to detail is admirable and a thick atmosphere breaks through every pixel on the screen. Though the rapid style slows down during the final minutes (when it arguably should have been at its peak), this is a very well-executed interpretation of Poe’s words. A-

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Tale #5: THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH: The best segment comes in this almost dialogue-free version of a Poe classic that lets the visuals speak for itself. A wealthy prince seals himself and his fellow aristocrats within the walls of a grand abbey, whilst a deadly plague wreaks havoc on the peasants stuck outside the walls. He intends to hold a long masquerade ball to wait out the death and suffering, but soon finds that karma has a way of catching up with cowardly nobles. This story has about three lines of dialogue that I can recall (voiced by Roger Corman!) and lets the tale play out in front of the viewers eyes. I loved this segment so much that I actually watched it twice and picked up on little details that I didn’t notice the first time around. Easily, the best short on display here! A+

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Linking these five tales is a sort of weak wraparound featuring Poe (in the form of a Raven) speaking with Death (in the form of various statues) in a cemetery. As a whole, this film is sort of a mixed bag with two weak moments (the wraparound and the first story) and the rest of the tales ranging from good to awesome. The different animation styles keep things interesting and the final segment is fantastic! If you’re a fan of Poe, then EXTRAORDINARY TALES is a great viewing experience! I hope that director Raul Garcia eventually constructs a sequel. After all, there are still many more Poe tales that can be told in this format…

Grade: B+

TALES OF TERROR (1962)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 29 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

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Directed by: Roger Corman

Written by: Richard Matheson

(based on short stories by Edgar Allan Poe)

Starring: Vincent Price, Maggie Pierce, Leona Gage, Peter Lorre, Joyce Jameson, Basil Rathbone & Debra Paget

During the 1960’s it seemed like Roger Corman was filming every Edgar Allan Poe story he could get his hands on. His unfaithful, but mostly entertaining, Poe adaptations usually benefitted from classy horror veteran Vincent Price playing the lead role. With 1962’s TALES OF TERROR, it seemed like Corman was worried that he wouldn’t get to make feature films of every Poe story, so he just threw three into one movie. This anthology runs at under 90 minutes (leaving slightly over 20 minutes for each tale), so Corman doesn’t exactly have a ton of room to work with here. As a result, TALES OF TERROR isn’t quite as fun as Corman’s other Poe movies or most Vincent Price films of the time. That being said, there are merits to be found in this mixed bag anthology. Let’s get into the TALES themselves…

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MORELLA: Lenora Locke has traveled a great distance to meet her estranged father. What she didn’t expect was for her dear old daddy (played by Vincent Price) to be a drunk living in a decaying mansion. Cobwebs litter the dining room and a perfectly preserved corpse dwells in a room upstairs. Lenora’s return seems to have awakened a curse, much to her father’s dismay. This is the first and easily the worst tale of the three presented here. It seems like the story doesn’t even know what it wants to be or why. That being said, I don’t think Poe’s original version of this story was all that great either. Moody sets and costumes aside, there’s nothing remarkable about this dull opening story. D+

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THE BLACK CAT: Combining two of Poe’s stories (THE BLACK CAT and THE CASK OF AMONTILLADO), this second segment is the best of the bunch. Peter Lorre plays a drunk who is wasting away his wife’s funds at the local bar. He’s an abusive and intolerable man who happens to run across a dignified wine-taster (played to comedic perfection by Vincent Price). The wine-taster soon falls for the drunk’s wife and things take a deadly turn. All the while, a black cat occasionally pops up…because that’s the title of this story after all. This segment has a dark sense of humor that’s brought to life by Lorre’s wildly over-the-top performance and Price having a blast as the goofy wine-taster. Watching these two play off each other is a joy to behold. A nightmare sequence is also memorable, if only for one cheesy over-the-top special effect. Despite having a dark (true to the source material) ending, this tale balances the horror and humor quite well. B+

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THE FACTS IN THE CASE OF M. VALDEMAR: The terminally ill M. Valdemar (Vincent Price) enlists the help of a hypnotist (Basil Rathbone) to ease his suffering. The hypnotism seems to be a smashing success, but Valdemar soon passes away with an unforeseen side effect of the hypnotist’s experiments. While Valdemar’s body lies dead, his soul becomes trapped between the world of the living and the afterlife. What results is a struggle between Valdemar’s wife and the evil hypnotist that leads up to a grisly (for the early 1960’s) conclusion. This story is by-the-numbers. Even if you haven’t read Poe’s original work, you can easily guess where this one’s heading. Though Price and Rathbone are fun to watch, I think this segment might have benefitted from a feature-length running time. This might have left room for a grander conflict as well as a bigger finale to cap it all off. In its current (short) state, it doesn’t leave too much of an impression. B-

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TALES OF TERROR isn’t exactly one of Corman’s best, nor is it a shining star in Vincent Price’s vast filmography. In spite of its faults, it still remains an entertaining anthology for fans of Poe and old-school horror films. MORELLA is easily the worst story of the three. M. VALDEMAR is a decent segment that’s fun while it lasts. THE BLACK CAT is the best of the bunch. TALES OF TERROR is worth recommending, if only to watch Vincent Price and Peter Lorre act opposite one another. Even if you’re not necessarily inclined to watch the whole anthology, I recommend checking out THE BLACK CAT on its own.

Grade: B-

THAT GUY DICK MILLER (2015)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 31 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

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Directed by: Elijah Drenner

Written by: Elijah Drenner

Starring: Dick Miller, Lainie Miller, Gilbert Adler, Steve Carver, Roger Corman, Joe Dante, Fred Dekker, Ernest R. Dickerson, Corey Feldman, Robert Forster, Zach Galligan, Leonard Maltin & William Sadler

If you watch a lot of movies, then you’ve likely noticed small recurring actors. You may drive yourself crazy trying to remember what you’ve seen them in before and ultimately realize that they’ve been side characters in a ton of movies. These performers are what some people refer as “That Guy” as in “Oh that guy. He’s in everything.” Some modern examples of “That Guy” include Brian Cox and Dylan Baker. However, there’s one “That Guy” who trumps them all. From the mid-1950’s to the present, Dick Miller has acquired nearly 200 credits to his name. Though he’s only received the leading role in two of his films, you’re more than likely to recognize Dick Miller from somewhere. He’s the neighbor in GREMLINS. He’s the psycho-killer in A BUCKET OF BLOOD. Now, he’s the subject of this remarkably entertaining and insightful documentary.

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THAT GUY DICK MILLER takes the viewer through Dick Miller’s career in the film industry. The documentary weaves together interviews with co-workers and friends as well as tons of clips from Miller’s bit parts in various films. We are also given details about his personal life that you would never have any clue about. For example, Dick wasn’t planning on becoming an actor and originally wanted to be a screenwriter. He has a full drawer of screenplays that were never made into movies and has officially written three films (two of which he seems to be embarrassed by).

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This documentary will definitely play big for genre buffs who are more than a little familiar with who Dick Miller is, but should also serve as a fascinating experience for newbies who had no idea about this actor’s many roles. Through one-on-one interviews, you get the sense that Miller always injects a little of himself into each performance (as small as that performance might be). He’s such a unique individual that you can’t help but love the man. That spirit and sense of enjoyment is omnipresent through this entire documentary. Miller discussing the many problems that occur on various sets is especially entertaining. One piece about how money was tight during spots of his career (even though he had filmed five movies in one year) and him constantly waiting by the phone for his livelihood is a bit of brutal honesty that you don’t hear a lot of in Hollywood. I felt like giving the man a round of applause, because he very much seems like a dedicated individual.

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Besides examining Dick Miller’s career, the movie simultaneously sheds light on how very different the filmmaking scene was during the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. Miller thrived in the world of exploitation cinema and B-movies. They were his bread and butter. Though he’s also appeared in THE TERMINATOR and was sadly cut out of PULP FICTION, Miller serves as a bit of a genre icon for many. I would love to see a documentary examining the rise of exploitation movies and B-flicks in the Hollywood scene as well (though I’m sure a handful have already been made) from director Elijah Drenner because he clearly has a solid grasp on what he’s doing and how to present this information. If there is one complaint to be had from me, it comes in a 5-minute segment focusing on Miller’s friendship with Joe Dante that seems to lean a tad too much on Dante’s filmography as opposed to Miller’s role in it. At any rate, it’s a minor gripe and is still interesting nonetheless.

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Overall, THAT GUY DICK MILLER is a fascinating, oddly heartwarming documentary that highlights a significant piece of genre filmmaking history. That piece being the recurring character actor with nearly 200 credits to his name. Much like BEST WORST MOVIE and SPINE TINGLER!, THAT GUY DICK MILLER should serve as a hugely enjoyable time for genre buffs and equally fascinating for people who don’t necessarily know a lot about exploitation cinema. This comes highly recommended!

Grade: A

A BUCKET OF BLOOD (1959)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 6 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

33. Bucket Of Blood

Directed by: Roger Corman

Written by: Charles B. Griffith

Starring: Dick Miller, Barboura Morris, Antony Carbone, Julian Burton

Both a fun horror movie and a scathing black comedy about the beatnik lifestyle, A BUCKET OF BLOOD is a fun movie with an interesting back story. A studio hired Roger Corman to direct a horror film, but they gave him very little wiggle room. He received a budget of 50 thousand (not a lot in the filmmaking world, at all), a schedule of five days to shoot it, and left over sets from another movie that had wrapped up production. Corman accepted the challenge and Dick Miller (the lead actor) has remained frustrated over the budget constraints to this day. However, even though the film is clearly low-budget, it’s also a minor B-movie classic of the 1950’s.

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Walter works in a café as a busboy. The place is populated by hipsters, beatniks, poets, supposed artists, and a couple of perverts. Nobody is nice to him, except for a fellow co-worker. After a particularly rough night at the club, Walter returns to his rinky dink apartment to discover that his cat has somehow gotten behind the wall. Doing what he believes is the smartest option, Walter sticks a knife in the wall to cut the cat out and winds up killing the poor animal. Walter covers the cat in clay and presents it as a piece of art to the scathing hipsters, who immediately praise him as a genius. Through a serious misunderstanding, Walter winds up accidentally killing a man and creating another “sculpture,” which is hailed as a masterpiece by the beatniks. Infatuated with his new-found friends and fame, Walter aims to create more sculptures and his boss suspects that there is something sinister about Walter’s art.

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The plot is kind of like HOUSE OF WAX with the tone of LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS. It’s a movie that wears its meager little budget on its sleeve. The production values don’t distract from the ghoulish fun to be had here though. This is a Corman film through and through. Dick Miller does a great job as the socially awkward Walter, who is simultaneously sympathetic and creepy. The plot logically progresses exactly the way you’d think it would, leading up to an ending that’s fitting for this kind of story. It’s not the most original or clever screenplay, but it is enjoyable while it lasts.

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There are still some real laughs that hold up to this day, including the ridiculous poems read by a hipster over the opening credits (about how art is a starving hobo). The jokes poking fun at just how impressionable and pompous these art connoisseurs are, makes for some funny moments. I especially loved the increasingly horrified reactions from Walter’s boss every time he is shown an even more grisly sculpture. One scene involving Walter showing him a bust, right after he’s hearing about a murdered man whose head wasn’t found, is especially hilarious in a sick way.

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A BUCKET OF BLOOD never really gives you that much violence or gore, despite its misleading title. Instead, the movie is a horror-comedy that still impressively holds up to this day. If there’s anything negative to say about, it’s that the story feels a tad rushed here and there, which is most likely due to the production woes. It’s low-budget and cheap, but definitely entertaining and fun too. Just Google search it and you’ll find the film free to watch, legally. The movie is public domain and runs at just over an hour, so you really have no excuse for not checking this one out! It’s worth your time.

Grade: B

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