Poe Week: The Raven Film (1963)

This movie surprised me by being a pure comedy. Cheesy, everyone obviously having a great time, the flick was graced with a superb cast - Peter Lorre, Vincent Prince, Boris Karloff, a very young Jack Nicholson, and directed by Roger Corman. With that sort of mix, it's hard to fail.

The movie opens with some trippy imagery and Price quoting the infamous poem, and then drawing a raven with his hands. Really, it looks like some sort of neon thing going on. It's shown he's still grieving fiercely for his late wife, Lenore, and is consoled briefly at times by his beautiful daughter.

Disturbed by none other than a knocking - a raven enters. Not just any raven though, a TALKING, joking, and quite impatient one. Apparently a fellow magician has been turned into the bird by a powerful sorceress, and Price is inclined to help cure the raven by mixing a bizarre potion after the raven tells him the ingredients.

 
Urged on by talk and trickery, the two go with the daughter and son to the castle of their nemesis, to be greeting with first friendliness, then  ultimate betrayal, and finally a cheesy battle scene.

Overall this movie aimed to be for fun and giggles and achieves this. Price is his usual serious and dramatic self and obviously all fit their roles ideally. This is the second time for Karloff to be playing in a "The Raven" adaptation; he is also with Bela Lugosi in the 1935 version. He's SUPERB here with his costume, magician abilities, humorous expressions, serious villainy. Nicholson is not as talented then as he is now - he obviously kept growing as an actor, but his talent is still to be seen and felt during the scenes.

Corman did a good job directing this one, it's hard to see any lines or hidden stuff with the special effects. Pacing isn't monstrously swift, yet it's not really meant to be. The music makes it clear it's a comedy, and it's detailed in how it changes its rhythm and formula to avoid being too generic. When they first walk in the castle, I wondered if the basis for that had perhaps later inspired John Williams with his infamous Jaws score later on.

This is VERY loosely based on the Raven. And I mean loosely. Still, they wrap up the opening credits with the awesome finishing line of the poem to where it actually makes sense: And quote the raven nevermore.

One must wonder, though:

  • How many bodies does Dr. Craven really need to keep in his house? I counted two.
  • We never find out who was trying to stop them from reaching the castle. It's clearly not Dr. Scarabus as he wants them there, so this was a loose end not tied together.

It's not for Poe die-hards but may as well give it a try. The cast is always worth watching, and this tongue-in-cheek film is recommended for most, especially if you're a big Universal Monster fan like myself.

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