The Raven (1963)

Vincent Price and Boris Karloff go head-to-head in Roger Corman 's splendid film from the Edgar Allan Poe classic. MGM USA R1 DVD.

The Film

"Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December,
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow;- vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow- sorrow for the lost Lenore-
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore-
Nameless here for evermore. "

Edgar Allan Poe - The Raven

Dr. Erasmus Craven (Vincent Price) is relaxing in his castle when a raven enters the room and starts talking to him, it soon emerges that the raven is none other than the magician Dr. Adolphus Bedlo (Peter Lorre) and after instructing Craven on how to release him from his raven image, tells him that none other than the notorious Dr. Scarabus (Boris Karloff) was responsible - Craven has no interest in joining with Bedlo in his plan for revenge, until the doctor reveals that he had seen Craven's long dead wife Lenore (Hazel Court), alive and well at Scarabus' castle. Scared that the evil sorcerer might have trapped the spirit of his dead beloved, Craven heads for the castle, along with Bedlo and his son Rexford (Jack Nicholson), but when they arrive, they discover that things are not quite as they seem....

For the fifth of his AIP gothic horrors, director and producer Roger Corman returns from the anthology storytelling of Tales of Terror (1962) to make a feature length film using the ever popular combination of Poe, Price and a screenplay from Richard Matheson. However, compared to the relatively straight-forward horror of the earlier feature films in the series, the story here is presented with a comic twist - Corman being worried that another straight forward horror would become overly repetitive.

While The Raven is probably the best known of Poe's works, it does not easily lend itself to filmic adaptations, so Matheson has taken the opening of the poem and created a completely new story - Universal did the same nearly three decades earlier with their 1935 film of the same name - however, while the Universal picture felt like an unrelated film with some Poe references shoehorned in for marketability, Matheson's script for the AIP picture boasts a much better Poe-style atmosphere. The storyline itself is very well written, with a lot of surprising twists and turns that are quite unpredictable, a good mix of characters (most notably the obnoxious Dr. Bedlo) and an effective build-up to the climax. Unfortunately, the comedy is rather less certain of itself, and although providing a few good laughs, the film does seem torn between some clever parody sequences (best used in the scenes inside Craven's lab) and some more slapstick style comedy, often leaving the humour feeling somewhat forced.

Corman's direction is as strong as ever, working again with camera-man Floyd Crosby who had provided the strong photography on all of Corman's previous gothic horrors. He doesn't get such a chance to show off here, unlike the dream-filled Pit and the Pendulum (1961), but still works very well. AIP's resident musician Les Baxter provides the score - generally typical of the AIP gothics, he adds a few cheeky touches to the comic scenes that work well, although rather dampen a few climactic moments.

For horror fans, The Raven boasts an all star cast. Top billed is AIP's own Vincent Price, who was rapidly becoming an American horror icon, having starred in four of Corman's five gothic works to date and a variety of sci-fi horrors in the late 1950s. As Dr. Craven, Price certainly seems to be enjoying himself, but keeps a straight face throughout, helping to keep the film away from becoming a pure parody production - his scenes with the raven at the film's opening are worth the admission price alone. Joining him is the original horror icon Boris Karloff and although looking quite aged, similarly seems to be enjoying the film and gives a strong and perfectly suitable performance. Peter Lorre, never quite a horror icon, but a very well known actor, gives a good show as Dr. Bedlo - managing to make him obnoxious, but never hateable and with some very effective comedy timing. As the infamous Lenore, Hazel Court (best known as the female lead in Hammer's Curse of Frankenstein (1957)) gives a good show and as Bedlo's son Rexford, a very young Jack Nicholson looks strong, with his trademark smile visible in a few shots.

Simply put, The Raven works. A clever twist on Poe's work, with a nicely written script, it benefits from strong direction and a splendid quintet of lead actors, although the comedy does seem a little uncertain at times. It is certainly superior to Universal's 1935 film and ranks well alongside the best of the AIP gothic horrors - recommended to fans of the series, it would make a good starting place for newcomers as well.

In Brief
Anyone famous in it? Vincent Price - an American horror icon who kicked off the series in House of Usher (1960)
Boris Karloff - the iconic Universal Frankenstein who quickly became a popular horror star.
Peter Lorre - best known for the lead role in Fritz Lang's M (1931), and star of many Hollywood films.
Jack Nicholson - soon to become one of Hollywood's big names and star of The Shining (1980)
Hazel Court - the British actress who also appeared in Corman's Masque of the Red Death (1964)
Directed by anyone interesting? Roger Corman - one of the great American cult film directors, responsible for a range of films from horror comedy The Little Shop of Horrors (1960) to crime drama Bloody Mama (1970)
Is it scary? A very strong atmosphere that should prove scary if watched properly.
Any gore or violence ? A little blood.
Any sex or nudity? None.
Who is it for? Recommended to Price and AIP Horror fans.

Visuals Original Aspect Ratio - 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. Colour.
The print quality is generally decent, with strong colours and good detail. However, some shots are notably blurrier and grainier as though from a different print - often special effects scenes, but some dialogue scenes as well. Not too distracting.
Annoyingly, on the very left side of the print, in several scenes are some tracking lines - these will not be visible on any standard TV due to the over-scan, but can be distracting to those who can see them and could easily have been removed.
Audio English language original mono sound. Sounds fine.
Subtitles English, French and Spanish.
Extras The disc includes:
  • Interviews with writer Richard Matheson and director Roger Corman, nicely edited with shots from the film, they contain some good information, although a commentary may have been preferable.
  • Promotional Record - released when the film original came to cinemas, this audio record contained adverts for the film, as well as readings from the poem by Lorre and Karloff. Presented as a video file, with promotional photographs from the film in the background. An interesting addition, and very good quality sound.
  • Original Theatrical trailer - includes some specially shot scenes.
Availability Previously available as a single disc release, now only available in a double-bill pack with the Comedy of Terrors DVD on a dual-sided disc. Part of the MGM Midnight Movies series.
Region Region 1 (USA, North America) - NTSC
Other regions? A British R2 release and some European releases, lacks the extra features.
Cuts? None known. The print is English language.



All text in this review written by Timothy Young - 7th November 2006.
Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

Please contact: