The Raven

The Raven


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Edgar Allen Poe's poem The Raven is one of the most impressive pieces of rhythmic verse in the English language, and justifiably famous. It's the story of a bereaved man whose study is invaded by an infernal bird which can say only the word 'nevermore', like the memories that haunt him and threaten to drive him to madness. The story of its creation is also an interesting one, taking the poet's craft to extremes. What, Poe wondered, is the worst thing that could befall a man? Why, the death of a loved one, of course. Who would a man love the most? Surely a beautiful woman. And so he arrived at the character of Lenore, also the subject of a poem of her own, a eulogised beauty whose only flaw was her mortality.

Roger Corman's film turns all of this on its head. Here the visiting raven is not a metaphor for madness, but an amateur magician (Peter Lorre) who has been transformed by a rival and comes to our hero Dr Craven (Vincent Price) seeking help. What's more, he reveals the news that the man who cursed him, Dr Scarabus (Boris Karloff) is in fact living with the lost Lenore (Hazel Court), who never died at all but ran away because she was sick of her boring husband. Cue a spectacular magical duel as Craven confronts Scarabus and demands justice.

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This is not a subtle film on any level, and it never manages to carry the poem's weight, but fans of classic horror will thrill to see these two great masters, Price and Karloff, go up against each other. As each magician uses ever more flashy tricks, each actor gleefully hams up his performance, taking Poe's melodramatic intentions much further than the poet could have countenanced, and producing a camp classic. Meanwhile, on the sidelines, the shrewish Lenore proves a strong character in her own right, though as the battle goes on she begins to wonder if her husband might not be so boring after all.

By far the silliest of Corman's Poe adaptations, The Raven is also the weakest, but it's still a lot of fun. The director's lush colour work is very much in evidence and the effects stand up well for their age. This will probably appeal more to fans than casual viewers.

Reviewed on: 15 Jun 2009
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The Raven packshot
Two aging wizards feud over a woman.
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Director: Roger Corman

Writer: Richard Matheson, based on the poem by Edgar Allen Poe.

Starring: Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff, Hazel Court, Olive Sturgess, Jack Nicholson

Year: 1963

Runtime: 86 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: US


EIFF 2009

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