Wednesday, October 16, 2013

THE RAVEN (1963)

Roger Corman, 1963
Starring: Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff, Hazel Court, Jack Nicholson

One evening a raven pays a visit to sorcerer Erasmus Craven, but it turns out to be another wizard, Bedlo, who has been transformed by their common enemy, Dr. Scarabus. Craven helps Bedlo resume human form. He has been mourning his wife Lenore, but Bedlo reveals that he saw her at Scarabus’s castle. They decide to set out for the castle to put Scarabus in his place, but Craven’s servant is temporarily possessed and tries to attack them. Bedlo’s son Rexford arrives on the scene and agrees to serve as their coach driver. Craven’s daughter Estelle also accompanies them. During the trip, Rexford is also possessed, presumably by Scarabus, making their drive quite dangerous.

When they finally reach the castle, he gives them a false promise of friendship, but seemingly kills Bedlo when they duel. Meanwhile, Lenore is at the castle and torments Craven. She did not die two years ago, but merely left him for Scarabus. Bedlo is revealed to be alive and the four of them are tied up by Scarabus. Bedlo manages to escape in bird form and helps to save the day, setting the stage for a final battle between Craven and Scarabus. 

Horror legends Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, and Boris Karloff are all great fun as the three warring sorcerers. Price and Lorre have particularly good comic chemistry together and appeared in two other loosely Poe-themed films, anthology film Tales of Terror and horror comedy The Comedy of Terrors along with Boris Karloff. Hazel Court (The Curse of Frankenstein) puts in a good performance as Lenore, Price’s unfaithful and treacherous wife. She would return to work on more Corman-Price-Poe films, such as The Masque of the Red Death. Olive Sturgess (Requiem for a Gunfighter) is likable as Price’s daughter and a very young Jack Nicholson puts in a surprise appearance as Lorre’s son. He also previously worked with director Roger Corman on another early, low budget horror film, Little Shop of Horrors (1960). 

The script from sci-fi and horror legend Richard Matheson based on Poe’s poem “The Raven” is quite funny and includes a lot of silly Poe references. Matheson worked on a number of Corman’s Poe-themed films, but I think his finest horror comedy with Corman was the hilarious The Comedy of Terrors, which he wrote not long after The Raven. Many of Roger Corman’s regular collaborators worked on this Poe film, the fifth in a series of eight, such as composer Lex Baxter, who wrote the score, and accomplished cinematographer Floyd Crosby. 

This really is a ridiculous story and you should only seek out The Raven if you’re a horror-comedy devotee. The “magic” effects are completely absurd and feel incredibly dated, but only add to the comic appeal, if unintentionally. There are a lot of fake lasers, finger wiggling, and camera tricks, though Karloff, Price, and Lorre take things as seriously as they are able. The film’s strongest point is undoubtedly the charisma of its three lead actors and their obvious delight about working together. 

The Raven is available on a split DVD from MGM’s Midnite Movies alongside the similar, but superior The Comedy of Terrors. They make an excellent double bill if you’re in the mood for a night of ‘60s horror comedy and all Vincent Price fans will probably want to pick up this DVD before it goes out of print forever (like much of the Midnite Movies series). Also keep in mind that this has nothing to do with the previous version of The Raven (1935) costarring Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, though the earlier version is also loosely inspired by the Poe poem.

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