I’m not going to sit here and pretend like I know how the Poe classic The Raven actually goes. It’s one of those situations where I’m not terribly proud to admit that most of my knowledge of the subject material comes from a Simpsons parody. So while I can’t say exactly why this Vincent Price adaptation doesn’t use too much from the original work, I’m making an educated guess that the original story didn’t have a talking raven and two dueling magicians shooting laser beams at each and then occasionally making a bat or snake appear out of thin air. If I’m wrong about that, then I really should have read the Raven a long time ago.
I don’t have much to say about this one. This version of The Raven is a very silly affair. Vincent Price is Dr. Eramus Crane (I have to admit that is a pretty dope name), a man who spends his days alone in his huge house (something Price characters seem to do a whole lot of actually), mourning the loss of his wife Lenore. Anyway a raven shows up but the raven can totally talk and wants Crane’s help turning him back into a human since Crane is a former sorceror and all. It was this dude Scarabus (Boris Karloff) who turned him into a raven and now he also tells Crane that he saw Lenore kicking around Scarabus’ castle. Crane has to know what’s up so he turns this guy (Bedlo is his actual name) back into human Peter Lorre and the two of them, along with Crane’s daughter and Bedlo’s son (played by an insanely young and unfairly handsome Jack Nicholson), venture to Scarabus’ home to see what the deal is.
The Raven is far, FAR, more of a comedy than I would have expected. There is hardly any horror or suspense to be found here at all. The comedy is very broad and the movie makes its goofy intentions very clear, very early once the talking raven shows up. Things only get sillier from there as you watch Peter Lorre with fake raven wings on his arms, flap them around whenever he has to walk. It’s always fun to watch Vincent Price be a complete goof, but I wasn’t that into this early stuff. Maybe it was because I had to adjust my expectations so quickly, maybe it was because it is simply not all that funny, but I just sat puzzled at a lot of these early sequences, even if the fun the actors are clearly having can be a little contagious.
Things pick up significantly once they reach Karloff’s character. All of the actors work great together and again, seem to having a great time. Nicholson starts to get a lot more to do (it’s not hard to see why the dude went on to become the superstar that he did) which is good because even in later years I feel we rarely got to see a lot of silly Jack, except for Anger Management which I haven’t thought about in 12 years and now wish that streak had continued.
The final stretch of the movie is definitely the highlight as everything eventually morphs into being a complete cartoon. Crane and Scarabus have a sorcerer duel, which really means they each sit in a chair, facing each other and doing a bunch of crazy magic shit. They make puppies appear, shoot fake knives at each other, float around and make eggs fall on each other, and so much more. It goes on for quite some time and makes for a fun time as the movie throws out any attempt to be taken seriously. Sure the special effects are quite primitive, but it adds to the charm.
The whole movie is largely carried on the strength of its performers. Price, Lorre and Karloff play well off each other, and I always find Price to be a highly engaging presences. Nicholson is also very enjoyable, even if I did wish he had more to do. The actors help elevate material that I never truly felt rose above “well, this is fine I suppose.”
Outside of Lenore and the famous nevermore quote, this really seems to have very little to do with the Poe classic. Perhaps it’s my fault that I wasn’t prepared for the kind of movie I got, but I never fully adjusted to the comedy instead of the suspenseful film I was expecting. It’s not a boring movie, but it’s not amongst the top Price films that I have watched to date.