Monday, November 24, 2014

The Raven (1963)

Horror icon Boris Karloff has an interesting history with Edgar Allen Poe adaptations of famous poem The Raven. He was in the 1935 film adaptation (co-starring with horror legend Bela Lugosi), which had nothing in common with the story (but was related to Poe, so it wasn't an entirely unwarranted title), and he's in the 1963 version (co-starring with other fellow horror legend Vincent Price), which I'll be discussing tonight...

Dr. Erasmus Craven is a simple magician, powerful but content in staying at his secluded home, still despondent over the death of his wife Lenore two years prior. His grieving is soon interrupted by the arrival of a talking raven. He turns it back into its human form-Dr. Bedlo (Peter Lorre), a fellow magician who tells of how he drunkenly challenged cruel sorcerer Professor Scarabus to a duel and lost. He also tells of how he saw Lenore at Scarabus' castle, enthusing Craven to go to the villain's castle and free his lost love's spirit...

Roger Corman's The Raven is a comedy, which may throw some viewers off at first if they were expecting a straight horror film, especially after the solemn and serious opening. The humour in this film definitely works, with many funny, sometimes hilarious, situations and lines ("Magic by gesture of the hands is the most advanced sorcery!").

This story has nothing to do with Poe's poem of the same name, and is not even the same genre. While this is slightly problematic, it's easily overlooked given the film's general good quality, and a couple of positive points-The opening with Vincent Price reciting part of the poem (the man was born to recite Poe!), and the poem's backstory of Lenore lending a great portrait of grief for Price's character. Though of course, that latter point is scuppered by the revelation halfway through the film. Ultimately, The Raven acts as framing for the film, and whether or not it's a good decision to frame The Raven around a Gothic comedy-horror depends entirely on the viewer.

There are numerous great scenes in this movie. An especially great setpiece is the magical duel at the end. It's nearly ten minutes long, and has no dialogue, instead carried along by the actions and performances of Price and Karloff. The special effects are nifty too, even if one does get a little literally cartoony. The matte paintings present look nice, especially Scarabus' gloomy castle! As for the raven that appears here and there (mainly in the film's first act), it's cute and neatly well-trained!

Vincent Price plays against type here, as he's a meek and gentle protagonist, rather than a diabolical cackling villain. His character is very well-written too, making a definite character journey, starting out as one thing, and being another come the film's end.

Boris Karloff is highly amusing when he's pretending to be benevolent, and delightfully evil when his true intentions are out in the open! He manages to be both funny, and intimidating in whatever scenes demand which tone.

Peter Lorre is very amusing as the drunken and cowardly Dr. Bedlo. The rest of the acting is decent. Olive Sturgess and a young Jack Nicholson are both decent, while Hazel Court is pretty funny as Scarabus' evil partner.

The Raven has neat direction and fantastic pacing! The films is so enjoyable that it breezed right by without me realizing it had been 83 minutes! That's one of the best feelings you can get when watching a film, because it means you're really enjoying yourself!...Well, most of the time it does, anyway...

The Raven is a great film, that doesn't mock the classic horror genre with its humour, but rather meshes the two genres together perfectly, having a load of fun and utilizing two of the biggest figures in horror history fantastically!...

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