31 Days of Horror – October 20th – “The Raven”

Well, had to get a little creative again with my boys in for the weekend. On Friday and Saturday nights the boys like to stay up and we have this affectionate term for crashing in the living room as “camping out”. Basically my youngest is going to probably fall asleep by 10:30 if we are watching a movie and he just lays down on the couch and falls asleep. He doesn’t want to sleep by himself on the couch but he also doesn’t like to be woken up to go upstairs. Nor will he just go upstairs and go to bed when he’s tired. Now he will stay up much later if he’s watching youtube on his own. But he still regulates himself pretty well and will cash in when he’s tired. Rarely do I really have to tell him it’s time to go to bed. Now my oldest will stay up. He probably wouldn’t go to bed until he physically ran out of actual, usable energy. He would fight sleep tooth and nail until his body just gave out and he had nothing left to battle the inevitable. So I once again had to find a film that would be appropriate for him to watch with me that flew under some sort of banner of “horror” for this endeavor. Sherlock was my last entry as I visited the well of classic cinema. This time I figured I would try my hand with an old Vincent Price film. I’ve personally ventured through a few of his catalog so I wanted to make sure I picked out one that fit my unwatched criteria. So we settled on “The Raven”.

The Raven IMDb

I will say up front that this was a fun movie. It’s based on the poem of the same name by Edgar Allen Poe, which is a classic in it’s own right. I know once upon a time I had a particularly enjoyable recording of the full poem as read by Christopher Walken. Complete with thunder and lightning added in the background to add some spooky undertones and just enough atmosphere to bring the reading to life, it’s easily one of my favorite works of poetry, especially fit for this time of year. A part of me had an idea that I might dig into the literary work a bit to see how much of the expanded story may still tie back to the original work but realistically this is more about my experience just enjoying the film on its own. And as an experience, both my son and I really liked this film.

The film opens with Price reciting Poe’s work in that particularly macabre way he has about him. He gets to the point where he is interrupted by an actual raven rapping at his window looking for attention. In that delightful way Price has about himself, he opens the window and invites the bird in, to which the raven obliges and hops inside. Only this raven is voiced by the great Peter Lorre. He’s been turned into the raven by the evil Dr. Scarabus played by the immortal Boris Karloff. The three of these legends of cinema make the movie already enticing enough but sprinkled on top is a very young Jack Nicholson as well. It took me a moment to realize it was him and even then I had to double check and find out for sure. The further I got into the film, the more the movie made itself enjoyable. Now I won’t necessarily say it was particularly scary and the film did bill itself as both horror and comedy. But it had that golden age of horror where it’s mostly “scary” in moments that build some measure of tension. There weren’t many of these. They were peppered in more among moments of levity or storytelling that was actually fairly fun given the source material they were building off of originally. It took the poem and crafted a whole world around it that was actually rather interesting.

Again, I should admit that there may have been more of a connection to the story as it unfolded but I’m pretty sure the poem exists in a vacuum outside the story of this film. This story focuses on these three “Doctors” who happen to all be wizards or sorcerers of some sort. Price helps Lorre transform back from a raven into his human form and eventually the two set off for Karloff to confront him. Nicholson plays the son Lorre who shows up midway through the film and ends up driving the coach out to Karloff’s castle, as one does. One of my favorite parts of the film is the way they execute “magic”. Some of it is very practical in effect. some of it is clever editing. Some if it is a wonderfully novice attempt at movie magic. There are a couple magical duels of sort that resemble the precursor to a Star Wars battle with force lightning ala Darth Sidious just with much less pizzazz. Now this movie is from 1963 so I have no cause to hold it against them. In fact the inverse is more true than anything. I find their efforts to be quite laudable. I’m not sure what level of technology was afforded to them at that point in time but I have no doubt that they were using it to the fullest of it’s ability. That being said, it was a fun watch because it was still as cheesy as it was. If I had to pick a favorite part it would presumably be the final “battle” betwixt Price and Karloff where the filming would have been relegated to primarily the two of them sitting all dolled up in their fancy costumes on ornate thrones simply waving their hands around. This is well before the technological advances in motion capture and tennis balls on sticks like they use today. But I’d have to imagine some of the silliness would have been appreciated in the moment as these two titans of the big screen were in these ridiculous costumes just flailing their fingers about. The motions were to correspond to actions that the viewer would see in succession, but understanding the power of editing means in the moment there would have been nothing but two old men oddly waving at each other. Personally I don’t know that I could have kept myself from laughing. Put together with the practical effects, they were still quite humorous in execution. There was one magical machination by Karloff that sent Price’s character plummeting and the crudeness of the dummy used to mimic the fall was hardly what you could call a goof. It wasn’t on screen long but it was clearly not Price. It was clearly not a person at all. But this back and forth went on a bit longer than I think it should have before the finale concluded and Price reigned sorcerer supreme in this bout.

The film concluded and as the credits rolled, my son and I both appreciated that the film was clearly dated, a little silly at times, and overall not terribly scary. But that wasn’t really the intent. The fantastic nature of the film combined with enough instances of low level fright or danger compelled the overall story enough to be of merit. I appreciated the G rating that made it kid friendly. It was also fun to introduce my son to the legendary Vincent Price in a more complete manner. In the future I’ll delve into some of his more mainstream venues such as House on Haunted Hill and House of Wax. Those have a bit more true “scare” to them than this film. But I’m ok with that. It fit the bill and it did the trick. We were considerably entertained and here I sit recapping the experience as fodder for you to enjoy. I suppose if I had to give this one a score I’d be a bit generous in doing so but I’d give it a 5.75/10. It’s not quite a 6 but it’s over that 5.5 hump if you ask me. And I should qualify that it’s scored that with a lot of the “faults” in mind and compensated somewhat deliberately with more nostalgia and fun than it may deserve. But as something that connects kids with the olden days of cinema, I’m happy this one was around for us to trod our way through Friday evening with a horror comedy classic from a bygone era. If any of these qualifications fit your particular bill for a fun night of fright and fancy, I’d gladly recommend you challenge the modern age of CGI with some good, old fashioned, Vincent Price-ian entertainment of 1963. With that I’ll bid you good day and until we meet again, I’ll catch you on the flip side.

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