Sometimes a film has an impressive array of talent behind it and the result is a classic like Jaws or Raiders of the Lost Ark. Other times the result is merely entertaining.
The Raven, which is part of a cycle of movies that low budget film legend Roger Corman based on the stories of Edgar Allen Poe, falls into the latter category. The film features horror film legends Vincent Price (who appeared in almost all of Corman’s Poe flicks), Boris Karloff and Peter Lorre as well as a young,
struggling Jack Nicholson. The film is based off of the famous poem and wisely opens with Price reading the poem while the appropriate atmosphere builds on the screen. It’s quaintly satisfying and sums up the movie in many ways. From there the film develops it’s in story, which mixes comedy and horror. The results are fun but seldom outright funny and never really scary.
Price plays a sorcerer named Craven, whose late father was the grandmaster of a magician’s cabal. Craven, who refuses to follow in his father’s footsteps, is mourning the loss of his wife Lenore (Hazel Court). A talking Raven (Lorre) visits Craven, which yield’s the film’s few outright funny scenes. The Raven turns out to be Dr. Bedlo, a sorcerer placed under a enchantment after losing a magical duel with Dr. Scarabus
(Karloff) while drunk. After a few misadventures and plot twists,
Price and Karloff confront each other in a duel in a scene that, while entertaining, features special effects that will seem dated to modern viewers.
Horror/science fiction great Richard Matheson, who is perhaps best known for the book I Am Legend and his scripts for The Twilight Zone, scripts the film as a humorous fantasy. This marks a departure from the other Poe films Corman made during that period and fans of the series may think the filmmakers are out of their element.
The sets, effects and credit visuals contribute to the sense of fun. Viewers realize up front they are not supposed to take he proceedings too seriously. The film’s biggest draw are it’s performances and they succeed to varying degrees.
Karloff comes off best here thanks to his dry on-screen humor, tempered sense of menace and inherent likeability. Lorre does well as the incompetent Bedlo, although his funny lush routine seems badly dated. Court, who Corman probably used more for her looks than acting ability, still makes a competent femme fatale. Nicholson, as Bedlo’s son, is perhaps the weak link here; even in a scene where he is placed under an evil spell, he just doesn’t cut loose like one would expect.
Price, who often did more serious horror roles, is entertaining and it’s fun to see him lighten up. But the light comedy in the film compels him to sometimes engage in the kind of hammy antics that occasionally marred his work.
The score by lounge music specialist Les Baxter fit’s the general mood of the film. Like he movie it’s quaint but not classic.