Saturday, October 15, 2011

Film Review: The Raven

"The Raven" *** (out of ****)

To some people "campy" is a dirty word when describing a movie. I believe when people think of a movie as being campy the films of Ed Wood or something similar comes to mind. They think of movies that are amateurish and unintentionally funny. But Roger Corman's "The Raven" (1963) while campy is a different example.

Every Halloween I review at least one movie directed by Roger Corman and every Halloween I complain that I only review his movies in October. Corman deserves more attention especially from moviebuffs. I don't think Corman is one of cinema's great filmmakers, in a class with Ingmar Bergman, Federico Fellini or Orson Welles, but I do admire his spirit and what he represents. That indie, non-Hollywood, non-conformist style.

Roger Corman, while often thought of as a "B" filmmaker, has directed a few worthwhile films. The movies which I enjoy watching the films and the ones which I review are his Edgar Allan Poe adaptations. These films I believe show Corman at his highest artistic merit. The films have his best production designs, his best plots and his best acting. In the past I have reviewed "The Pit & the Pendulum" (1961), "The Masque of the Red Death" (1964) and "The House of Usher" (1960). Now comes "The Raven".

"The Raven" is a bit different compared to the other Poe adaptations. "The Raven" is more of a campy comedy. Not a comedy in a laugh-out-loud kind of way (at least I never laughed-out-loud) but in an amusing, lighthearted sort of way. The reason I think the movie works, to the extent it does, is because it knows it is campy. The cast, consisting of all horror movie pros; Vincent Price (a Corman regular), Peter Lorre and Boris Karloff, give the audience a wink and a nod. They know what sort of movie this is and the best way to approach this material.

For an adaptation "The Raven" is pretty loose. Outside of naming the film the same as Poe's most famous story, having a raven in the movie and a female character named Lenore, very little is the same. This movie deals with magicians and magic and a power struggle between two of them. It is also a simple story of good vs evil.

Vincent Price stars as Dr. Erasmus Craven. A sometimes absent minded magician. His wife, Lenore (Hazel Court) has passed away two years ago. With her death his world has come to an end. Nevermore, to quote the raven, will he see or hear her voice.

One day a raven (voiced by Peter Lorre) flies into his window. It explains that he is really a man who has had a curse put on him by Dr. Scarabus (Boris Karloff). The raven requires Dr. Craven to make a potion which will convert the raven back to his human form, Dr. Bedlo.

Once Dr. Craven helps Dr. Bedlo, Bedlo explains that he has seen Lenore at Dr. Scarabus' castle. Bedlo suggest Craven follow him to Scarabus' castle, where Bedlo hopes to get revenge on Scarabus for turning him into a raven.

As you can tell little resembles the Poe story and there isn't much here that is scary. The film never goes for a creepy, mystic tone. The interplay between Price and Lorre is comical. They bicker like a married couple. Each throwing insults at the other. Lorre tries to get a lot of laughs presenting his character as a drunk.

For a Roger Corman film, the movie actually has a very talented cast. Price, Lorre and Karloff are experienced actors. You'll also see a young Jack Nicholson play Rexford Bedlo (Lorre's son). This might surprise some viewers who are use to seeing Nicholson act in higher caliber films. But Nicholson actually was given a big opportunity by Corman. He would act in other Corman films including "Little Shop of Horrors" (1960) and "The Terror" (1963). In Nicholson's performance you'll see him play the wannabe hero whom no one will listen to.

Will "The Raven" be a suitable film to watch on Halloween night? Probably not, depending on what you're looking for. If you are looking for a lot of scares, blood and guts, then no. If you are looking for a silly, playful story dealing with magic and Edgar Allan Poe, "The Raven" will work for you. The question is, how many people are looking for that?