The Raven (1963 USA)

raven02An absurd adventure – styled comedy. The plot is thinner than a supermodel’s waistline and even at 85 minutes it outstays its welcome. But I will be kind. Edgar Allen Poe may have turned in his grave, but the rest of us get to have fun as we see horror gods Vincent Price, Boris Karloff and Peter Lorre, not to mention Jack Nicholson ham it up in style as the weird and wonderful cast of this very silly story of wizards and hocus pocus.

Vincent Price is Dr. Erasmus Craven, and the film starts out with a reading of the famous Poe poem by the one and only Mr Price, and we’re in familiar Corman-Poe territory. However, things take a turn in a totally different direction when, nearly napping, suddenly there comes a tapping, as someone gently rapping, rapping at Craven’s chamber door. ‘Tis a raven…or rather, Dr Bedlo (Peter Lorre), a fellow magician that has been turned into a raven by the rather nasty Dr Scarabus (Boris Karloff).

After turning Bedlo back into a man, Craven is convinced by Bedlo, after hearing Scarabus has his beloved Lenore, to accompany him to his castle. And that is where the fun starts. Peter Lorre and Vincent Price make a delicious comedy pairing: their two unique personalities blend together brilliantly and it’s great to see these two legends on screen together although Lorre can be a miserable pain to endure.

These two are joined by fellow legend Boris Karloff. Karloff was a vastly underrated actor that had played lots of important characters and turned his hand to many different aspects of horror, comedy being one that he does as well. Like the rest of the cast, he delivers his one-liners with the utmost skill and has many fine comedy moments. Not all of the jokes in the film work, but some parts of the film are laugh-out loud funny. In a gentle way.

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Seeing Jack Nicholson in a film like this is rather bizarre when you consider what he has become, but his presence serves in giving it even more cult appeal. He can hardly be proud of his feeble role though. He delivers his lines like a total amateur. Hazel Court gives a memorable performance, nearly falling out of her dress at times, as ‘Lenore’ – Dr Craven’s feckless wife who is now living with Dr Scarabus. Addressing his daughter, Dr Craven says about Lenore; “to you she was only a step- mother, to me she was my life ” then sips a drink guiltily. This suggests their relationship was very kinky. I also like the transformation from bird into man when Lorre introduces himself with: “Dr Craven…Dr Raven…I mean Dr Bedlo.”

The visuals in the film are nice with that musky old haunted castle type atmosphere, plenty of old leather bound armchairs and dusty bookcases. Price fits the scene like a glove of course, Karloff seems a bit out of place being slightly too serious but he looks good, while Lorre’s character is a real misery and quite unlikable, but its all about his voice I suppose. Some nice matte painting work on the outside castle shots, totally fake looking of course but I love that type of stuff. Nice cheesy storm too. Overall its rather lame really, yes I know its a cult classic with an ultra classic legendary cast, but the film is pretty dull and uneventful.

The highlight is easily the sorcery battle between Price and Karloff in the finale. A great fun and quite long continuous sequence with some nice ideas and nice effects too. The ending is very soft but what do you expect? This is soft core 1960’s horror here. Whether or not director Roger Corman should have turned ‘The Raven’ into a comedy is debatable. On one hand, I am very fond of this film, but I’m not sure if a serious version would have been better. Still, the debate is irrelevant because he did and this is the result. The film is loyal to the poem in some ways (including the lovely wrap up), but basically this is completely different. But pay the similarities and differences no mind, as ‘enjoy!’ is my advice.

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