Movie Critique – The Raven

Stars: 5 / 5

Recommendation: A platform for three horror movie geniuses brought together to play part in a spoof of one of the greatest horror thriller writer's work of art, is a film that can only be delightful to watch.

The Raven is a 1963 American comedy horror film based on references to Edgar Allan Poe's 1845 poem of the same name. The film stars Vincent Price, Peter Lorre and Boris Karloff as the three rival sorcerers. This is the fifth film directed by Roger Corman featuring adaptations from Poe's stories. The film is set in early 1500s.

Dr. Erasmus Craven (portrayed by Vincent Price), a sorcerer, is visited by a raven one night, who is another wizard, Dr. Adolphus Bedlo (portrayed by Peter Lorre), seeking help to be changed back. After getting back to his own self, Bedlo and Craven set about to face the evil magician Dr. Scarabus (portrayed by Boris Karloff).

TCM presented this movie a couple days ago in a "bird movie" theme. Having never seen it, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. It is filmed in Panavision in Pathe Color, an early stencil-based film tinting technique. 

Produced by Corman himself, the screenplay was written by Richard Matheson, who gave Lorre an opportunity to ad-lib some famous dialogues to his character, Dr. Adolphus Bedlo

"How the hell should I know?", after Vincent Price asks "shall I ever see the rare and radiant Lenore again?"
"Where else?" after Vincent Price says "I keep her here." (referring to the body of his lost love Lenore, kept in a coffin in the hall)
"Hard place to keep clean."

The film opens with Price reciting the first three stanzas of the original poem by Poe that the film is based on. The commonality between the poem and the film ends with the talking Raven visiting a lonely man. Rest of the film is a tale that Matheson and Corman spun from there. Incidentally Price also closes the film with one line from the poem "Quoth the raven – nevermore."

Fumbling and bumbling at every turn, Dr. Craven and Dr. Bedlo somehow manage to traverse through the various scenes, at times almost at the cost of their own lives. One sorcerer a scaredy cat and avoids confrontation; one wizard who is a drunk with a sharp tongue; and one magician as evil as can he be - three rival sorcerers pitted against each other, but each makes more mistakes than one can imagine making a comedy rather than a battle of wits.  

Three popular Hollywood horror film stars are brought together in this film which was completed in 15 days where the star cast had a lot of fun doing their roles, despite a few animosities and scenes that they didn’t like doing. Lot of character improv was done by them going off script. 

Jack Nicholson as Rexford Bedlo, Hazel Court as Lenore Craven and Olive Strugess as Estelle Craven suited their roles aptly. However Olive really didn’t have a powerful role other than look scary, scream and do foolish things. Peter Lorre in the costume of a bird is hilarious while the final battle between Price and Karloff is as goofy and funny as it can come. The Raven, BTW, was trained by Moe Disesso, who has a prominent role for almost the first 30 minutes of the film. 

The end credits also were differently done. A slide about the film being presented by executive producers James H. Nicholson and Samuel Z. Arkoff is seen. Of course there is no relation between James Nicholson and Jack Nicholson.

The title also reappears but with a intro as "Edgar Allan Poe's" followed by detailed credits of all the cast and crew which were clearly not shown in the opening credits. Also while the opening credit showed the title of the film in a sinister fashion, the closing credits gave it a more cheerful appearance, thus concluding that it indeed is a horror-comedy rather than a horror-thriller.

A platform for three horror movie geniuses brought together to play part in a spoof of one of the greatest horror thriller writer's work of art, is a film that can only be delightful to watch. If you haven't seen it yet, I would say it's worth the watch.

Spoiler Alerts:

1) Movie Trivia:

a. Roger Colman directed totally eight films that were adapted from Edgar Allan Poe's stories. Seven of them he collaborated with Vincent Price. 

b. A 1935 horror film of the same name was made by Lew Landers which had Boris Karloff along-side Bela Lugosi. Though inspired by the same poem by Poe, this film has a different take. 

c. Note a very young Jack Nicholson as Rexford Bedlo son of Peter Lorre's character Dr. Adolphus Bedlo in the film.

d. A novelization of the film by Eunice Sudak was published in 2012.

e. When Dr. Craven, his daughter Estelle, Dr. Bedlo and his son Rexford reach Scarabus' castle, from the long shot view it is clear that it is a painting backdrop and not an actual castle. A close-up view of the castle from bottom up is shown in the next scene, which looks like a scaled model blown up many times. 

f. The scene of the burning interior of the castle was reused from Corman's 1960 film House of Usher.

2) Grammatical / Historical / Location / Character Errors:

a. The Raven when first introduced doesn’t utter a word. However after coming into Dr. Craven's room, and a few comments later he starts talking. Why didn’t the Raven talk from the beginning?

b. When the Raven first flies into Dr. Craven's room, a thin string is seen attached to it's leg while it is flying in the room and perching on a chair.

c. There is a color photograph in a picture frame of Lenore on Dr. Craven's table. The film is set in 1506 and photography was not invented for at least 300+ years later. So how come a photograph is in the film? Or is it a small painting in a picture frame?

d. Note the metal red pipe behind the Estelle Craven (portrayed by Olive Sturgess). Again metal pipes weren't invented until 1800s and the film was set in 1506. 

e. After Grimes is shot with green laser beams from Dr. Craven's fingers, he falls down clutching his head and his outer coat is in disarray. The next longer shot shows his arms by his side and his outer coat all set right. 

f. Soon after he crosses this corner of the ledge in the below picture, Rexford steps on a stone that crumbles down and he hangs on the ledge. However that side of the wall couldn’t have been seen by Estelle from the window in the picture below. So how come she screams when Rexford slips? How could she have seen that?

g. In the end battle scene between the two magicians, notice the head of a crew member behind the tall gargoyle on the right of the screen.


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