The Raven

Year 1963

Vincent Price  as  Dr. Erasmus Craven  
Peter Lorre as Dr. Adolphus Bedlo
Boris Karloff as Dr. Scarabus
Hazel Court as Lenore Craven
Olive Sturgess as Estelle Craven
Jack Nicholson as Rexford Bedlo
Director - Roger Corman
Screenwriter - Richard Matheson

The Raven is an At Least Once candidate IF you are a fan of the 60s horror genre. In this genre, the time is usually night, there are castles and crypts, dialog is sparse but to the point, and the colors of the film look, well, wrong - especially the reds.

The Raven overflows with B-movie talent. But don't forget that in times and movies past, the talent had been elevated to A-List status. Oh sure, the big names of Karloff and Lorre were past their prime, but Vincent Price was just hitting his stride. And Richard Matheson? The man's résumé for this type of material was beyond compare.

So what did all of this talent produce? An entertaining, witty parody of American International and Hammer Films horror movies. Like every worthwhile send-up, it stands by itself but is more entertaining when the viewer realizes it's all tongue in cheek.

The plot? A sorcerer named Scarabus (Boris Karloff) is reputed to have in residence the believed to be deceased wife of a sorcerer named Craven (Vincent Price). Craven decides to investigate the story presented to him by the herald Bedlo (Peter Lorre). A duel between the sorcerers is inevitable.

For those actors whose reputations had been established, everyone seemed to be having a good time. Lorre is a bigger ham than Price and old Vincent is worth two hogs any day. Karloff, although subdued in manner, has the best delivery of the three. He's genuinely creepy.

As for the others, they're just swept along for the thrill ride. Everyone, that is, except Nicholson. He, unfortunately, looks like a rookie actor trying to do everything right so that he can break into show business. He's so innocuous that you'll think it's a shade of the real Jack. Oh, well, everyone has to start somewhere.

The scenes are all well constructed and there are moments of philosophical introspection as befits a Richard Matheson script. It would have been great except for one thing. This movie suffers from really pedestrian directing.

Oh, Roger Corman gained fame and fortune for his directorial style which was to film each scene for a movie in a manner that the scene's bookends determined the context. That way, he could move events around without disturbing the flow of the movie. The effect of doing this is that the flow, while evenly maintained, is forced. If say, Howard Hawks, who sometimes had lines of dialog between characters overlap, had been the director, this would have been a tighter, more focused movie.

With Roger Corman, you keep urging the characters to hurry it up. Some scenes go on far too long and subtlety is sacrificed. For example, when five minutes are spent deciding which clothes somebody should wear on a windy night, you know that there will be a later scene where the clothes eventually selected will play a big part.

Did I mention that this is nearly a comedy? More groans than laughs are generated and if you had heard a drum roll/cymbal crash at a punchline, it would have been appropriate.

Here are a few gems...

Bedlo: Do you have any hair from a dead man?
Craven: No. We're vegetarians.

Bedlo commenting on every crypt in every horror movie: Must be hard to keep clean.

Craven: A fine boy you have there. Does he favor his mother?
Bedlo, obviously hen pecked: She favors him.

There's a scene where Bedlo becomes a toreador to fend off an attacker, complete with bull fight music. Remember the clothing? Bedlo chose a cape.

Then there's the social message from the writer regarding how people who do nothing to halt evil allow it to flourish through apathy. Nice sentiment, but quite sophomoric. Who is evil? Or rather, who thinks of themselves as evil? One man's evil is another man's virtue.

But the best part of the movie is the final duel. It's quite creative. The sorcerers begin by Scarabus throwing conjured animals at Craven. Craven delightedly, and delightfully, neutralizes each attack. Things escalate and of course there's the inevitable destruction of a castle.

I wrote, "a castle" and not "the castle" because Roger Corman likes to forget continuity in favor of showing something, anything that comes close to what he was thinking. With the castle, there's the far painting, uh, view of a square building without moat or windows. Then there's the closer view of a building with windows and rounded turrets, but still no moat. Then there's the actual walking to the front doors of said castle that is once more without windows but does now have a bridge and a moat.

It's a B-movie after all. But the caliber of the stars allows even the weakest attempts at humor to be forgiven. And thanks to the stars, even though this diamond in the rough has an abundance of bad jokes that could have sidetracked the entire movie down a hole, there are some effective scenes where the mood turns sinister.

There's no blasphemy, one or two attempts at mild profanity, and no nudity. There is charm and charisma from everyone involved.

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