“Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door-
Only this and nothing more.” -Edgar Allan Poe
Deep in the throes of my 8th grade fascination with Edgar Allan Poe, I had a teacher who fed my free spirit with encouragement to keep reading the troubled author’s work out of the sheer enjoyment of it all. I was not fascinated with him in a sick, unhealthy way, I really enjoyed the language, situation, and circumstance of his written word. Being a lover of film, while schooling myself in all that was horror in any medium, Poe and I were destined to cross paths eventually, as he would consume my free time as I devoured his literature at my leisure.
I remember the day my teacher described a movie to me that was based off of Poe’s most famous poem. She laughed, saying that when she was child, this film scared her silly. As she aged, the film that once left her terrified, now made her shake her head at the silliness of it all. I didn’t care, I needed to see this film, and it starred Vincent Price and Boris Karloff to boot! Later that evening, I rushed to our local video store, and successfully tracked it down in our impressive horror VHS section. The cover artwork excited me! I could barely contain myself after reading the logline, and what the film promised to have in store for me. Video trash to some, a video treasure to me indeed. Today’s feature is none other than the memorable horror comedy, The Raven (1963), not to be confused with The Raven (1935), starring Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff or The Raven (2012), with John Cusack.
The distraught, heartbroken sorcerer, Dr. Craven, Vincent Price of The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971), sits in his study longing for his dead wife Lenore, Hazel Court of The Masque of Red Death (1964). Dutiful daughter Estelle, Olive Sturgess of Requiem for a Gunfighter (1965), brings Craven his night cap of warm milk, concerned over her father’s despair shows towards his lost love, the stepmother she did not care for. Before Craven retires for the evening, a mysterious raven taps outside his chamber window, not door.
The raven surprises Craven, as the bird can speak and enjoys vino. In fact, the bird is quite the lush. Through a bit of chit chat, the raven reveals that he is a sorcerer, Dr. Bedlo, Peter Lorre of Casablanca (1942), of a magic fraternity which Craven once belonged to. Bedlo reveals that he fell victim to spell during a magic duel to Dr. Scarabus, Boris Karloff, best known for Frankenstein (1931), who turned him into a bird. Craven and Bedlo venture to the family crypt to gather ingredients for a special potion (to include hair from Craven’s dead pappy-great makeup), to transform our feathered friend back into the sauced, outspoken man he truly is. All goes well, until Bedlo reveals to Craven that he has seen the dead Lenore at Scarabus’s castle, and she was very much alive. Craven confused at the revelation, believes Scarabus must have used the dark arts to imprison Lenore’s soul. Craven, wants to see his supposed dead wife with own eyes, and drunk Bedlo, wants revenge on Scarabus. The two decide they must travel to confront the dark sorcerer on these dire matters.
Craven and Bedlo prepare for their journey when Craven’s coachmen falls under a spell by Scarabus, tries to kill the duo. Craven uses his magic and subdues the mutinous monster of a henchmen and set out for Scarabus. Craven and Bedlo are now accompanied on the trip by Estelle and Bedlo’s son Rexford, a young Jack Nicholson of The Shining (1980), who loved to improvise with Lorre, a practice frowned upon by the traditionally trained Karloff while on set. Once again, Scarabus puts a spell on the four while in transit to his residence, as Rexford falls victim to a trance and drives the carriage with reckless abandon until the spell of rage passes.
At the castle, the sinister Scarabus greets his guests, provides a feast, and portrays himself as a consummate gentleman. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Craven and company fall into a web of deception that imprisons them within the castle’s wall, all are now prey for Scarabus. Much hijinks, comedy, horror, and a grand contest of magical wits are on the card for the evening. Who will be crowned the top sorcerer? Will Craven find closure on his pain over Lenore? All will be revealed…when you watch The Raven.
The Raven was produced/directed by B-movie mogul, Roger Corman of The Little Shop of Horrors (1960), with a screenplay by legendary author/screenwriter, Richard Matheson of The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957). By 1963, Corman was well on his way of owning the Poe adaptation subgenre, and Price as his go to guy. Out of eight Poe flicks, Price starred in five. Corman found great success with adaptations for the House of Usher (1960), The Pit and the Pendulum (1961), The Premature Burial (1962), Tales of Terror (1962), The Haunted Palace (1963)-which is actually a Poe title, but based on H.P. Lovecraft’s The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, The Masque of Red Death (1964), and The Tomb of Ligeia (1964). Pretty busy at cashing in on Poe during that stretch of four years would be an understatement. Especially since Poe’s works are public domain, Corman and American International Pictures couldn’t lose on the investment.
The Raven was filmed in roughly two weeks, produced for a budget in $200, 000, – $350,000 range, and was a huge box office success. Hollywood take notes. Corman worked fast, cheap, and reused sets from his other Poe films. This is why Corman has directed over 50 films, produced over 400, and has never lost money. He is the titular technician of thrift. If Corman was a car, he would stop on a dime…and pick it up.
Poe purists will have their feather ruffled and complain that the story has nothing to do with the poem at all. This is more of a homage than a straight up cinematic adaptation. And they would be right. Besides the title, scenes showing a talking raven, and a quote at the conclusion from the poem, The Raven has nothing to do with the original source material. Honestly, it doesn’t matter. The Raven stands alone as unique film that showcases a lot of talent, great sets, animated effects, and shares a lot of innocent, campy fun with the viewer. Besides, an 86 minute movie on a true adaptation of the actual poem, would be nothing more than a longwinded, heart wrenching task to endure. It would be served much better as a short film.
The Raven is a rare treat, in that you get to see Price and Karloff, two true Titans of Terror, share some memorable screen time together. If The Raven does get your fancy, be sure to check out a Comedy of Terrors (1963), another film showcasing the talents of Price, Lorre, and Karloff working well together with a screenplay by Matheson or Tales of Terror (1962), minus Karloff. The Raven is also G rated, so you can share it with your kiddies or overly conservative pets. The Raven is a must see for Vincent Price fans, Corman connoisseurs, and lovers of anything horror—C’mon people, it’s almost Halloween!
“Quoth Rick’s Rhetoric – nevermore”.
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- Rick Baldwin is a writer, filmmaker, film/music historian, and can be found on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/rick.baldwin.568
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