31 Days of Halloween 19 – Roger Corman exploits Edgar Allan Poe
The Raven (1963) could be the best of the eight Edgar Allan Poe movies Roger Corman made. This movie is the fifth one in Roger Corman’s Poe cycle and stars Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Jack Nicholson, scream queen Hazel Court, and Boris Karloff. Holy crap, is that a good cast list or what? Look at that list right there. It features some of the most well-known and well-regarded actors in all of film, much less horror movies. However, this movie isn’t about laying on the drama, it’s about comedy.
The movie begins with Vincent Price reciting the Raven by Poe. He then hits his head on his telescope. Hilarious. As almost as if this movie is making fun of itself, with the over-the-top characters and the sly dialogue. Things start really getting campy when Vincent Price begins talking to a crow and it starts talking back.
I could really do without the music in this movie. The score sounds like what you might expect on Laugh In or a 60s sketch comedy show. The score was written by Les Baxter, who also worked with Corman on The Pit and the Pendulum. It is dreadful, but at least it’s low-key and fits the movie, unlike some other scores I’ve heard.
This movie used to be out of print, but is now dirt cheap on Amazon. It can be had as part of a 3-movie collection of Vincent Price camp spectaculars. The collection includes The Raven, The Pit and the Pendulum (1961) and Tales of Terror (1962). Tales of Terror is also a comedy and has a lot in common with The Raven. Those three movies were written by Richard Matheson, who is well-known for his horror and sci-fi treatments.
Boris Karloff does a good job in this movie. I didn’t even know he could do comedy. Maybe he can’t and that’s what makes it funny. Either way, he’s pretty good in this movie. His entrance is the best part. He announces his approach in an overdramatic way and tells his visitors that there is nothing to be afraid of, then descends an overly long flight of stairs. The stairs go on and on while melodramatic music rises up in the background. Pretty funny. Vincent Price gives him the eye, wondering what’s going on with this guy.
Idiot Father: This is my fault. I know I am a disgrace.
Captain Wit: I had a somewhat stronger word in mind.
Jack Nicholson plays the perfect straight man. It’s almost as if he really hates this movie because he delivers each of his lines with this biting sense of wit. It’s great. Well, not for his career, but for me, it’s great. This kind of film was not unusual for Jack Nicholson at the time. He starred in other low-budget flicks, which gives you more respect for the man today, frankly. He was in some other crappy Corman movies until he finally hit it big in a good movie directed by Dennis Hopper called Easy Rider (1969).
Idiot Girl: What are you doing?
Captain Wit: This ledge leads to your father’s room.
Idiot Girl: But you might be killed!
Captain Wit: … I hope not.
The most laughable thing in this movie is either Jack Nicholson’s dialogue or the Vincent Price/Boris Karloff finger-wiggling duel to the death at the end. In heated competition, Karloff summons a cannon to fire at Vincent Price. That shows you how campy this movie is. They really embraced it.
All in all, some of this movie is almost too campy, even for me. It’s got enough wit and charm to be better than most of the low-budget Roger Corman movies I’ve seen though. Is it better than Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957)? You bet. Better than The Navy vs. The Night Monsters (1966)? Oh hell yes. Out of everyone in the cast, Jack Nicholson has the best dry wit and Boris Karloff surprises me by being able to pull off comedy, which is quite a feat, in my mind. Of course, this guy also starred in The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini (1966), so maybe he was trying to start a second career in comedy. Who knows. What I do know is that this movie is good for a few chuckles and a few smiles, which is good enough for me.
31 Days of Halloween Movie Marathon
1 – Frankenstein and the Monster from HELL (1974)
2 – Dracula has risen from the grave (1968)
3 – The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb (1964)
4 – Evil Dead II (1987)
5 – Dawn of the Dead (1978)
6 – Les Diaboliques (1955)
7 – The Howling (1981)
8 – Friday the 13th (1980)
9 – Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984)
10 – Hellraiser (1987)
11 – Let the Right One in (2008)
12 – Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1984)
13 – House of 1000 Corpses (2003)
14 – The Strangers (2008)
15 – The House of the Devil (2009)
16 – Psycho (1960)
17 – The Orphanage (2007)
18 – The Amityville Horror (1979)
19 – The Raven (1963)
20 – Blue Velvet (1986)
21 – Repulsion (1965)
22 – Dementia 13 (1963)
23 – The Vanishing (2008)
24 – Halloween (1978)
25 – Shaun of the Dead (2004)
26 – The Silence of the Lambs (1988)
27 – An American Werewolf in London (1981)
28 – Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)
29 – The Exorcist (1973)
30 – The Ring (2002)
31 – Night of the Living Dead (1968)