Friday, November 08, 2013

The Horror Of...The Raven (1963)

Halloween has passed now. The ghost have fled away with the receding night, the vampires have climbed into their leaf piles, and the werewolves are sleeping it off. All the fun is gone.

However, there are plenty of horror movies to talk about. And there's no reason to not keep the spirit of the season alive. And what else am I going to do? Get into the Thanksgiving Spirit...? I already eat too much and live in enmity with my extended family.

So, get yourselves back into that spirit. But not too much, alright? We'll start off easy. Something light. Something with a touch of Edgar Allan Poe to it. Something directed by Roger Corman.

The Raven.

...That's kind of a dull opening. Let's go with the titles from the very end of the movie.


The Raven is a 1963 production of American International Pictures (AIP), well known for putting out a number of interesting movies back in the day. Among their movies are The Beast with a Million Eyes, It Conquered the Earth, The She Creature, The Undead, Invasion of the Saucer Men, Blood of Dracula, House of Usher, Burn Witch Burn, Black Sabbath, Blacula, and The Abominable Dr. Phibes. (How many of those do you recall from watching Mystery Science Theater 3000?) So, yeah. They made interesting movies.

It was produced and directed by Roger Corman. He is a creator who has garnered many fans for his variety of interesting movies, and the number of them that ended up appearing on Mystery Science Theater 3000. Among his many efforts was what is called, the Corman-Poe Cycle. It's a series of movies he made that played off the works of Edgar Allan Poe. There were 8 movies in total made and stuck in the cycle. And throughout all of them, he worked with Vincent Price. This movie is the 5th in the series. And by this point in the run, Corman had decided that the movies needed some more humor added to them. And of them, this is definitely a silly movie.

The film is written by Richard Matheson. Yes, that Richard Matheson. As in the novelist, and writer of science fiction (Like I Am Legend, Duel, Bid Time Return, and Hell House.). He also wrote "The Enemy Within" episode of the original Star Trek, and turned many of his books into screenplays that became movies. He also worked to adapt a number of Poe's stories into movies for Roger Corman. Sadly he died earlier this year, but he's left quite a legacy.

As I noted with Corman, movies they were putting together were getting sillier. This may have been partly due to fatigue, moving from Poe-based Horror Movie to Poe-based Horror Movie. In fact, the next movie in the run is one that is based off of an H.P. Lovecraft story, but later AIP had the name of a Poe poem ("The Haunted Palace") slapped on it, to fit in with the other movies. Fatigue may have been setting in. But with The Raven, they chose to stave it off just a little longer with some farce.

And the reality of how silly this movie can get, is all the curiouser when you look at the cast assembled.

Vincent Price, as Dr. Erasmus Craven

Peter Lorre, as Dr. Adolphus Bedlo

Boris Karloff, as Dr. Scarabus.

and, some newbie named Jack Nicholson. He plays Rexford Bedlo.

The movie also has Hazel Court. She appeared in a number of the Poe moves.She also made appearance in some Hammer Horror films, among other works. In this movie she is playing Lenore, as in the Lenore from the poem, "The Raven".

Also Aaron Saxon appears. Some of you may remember him from his appearance in the movie The Undead. He played Gobbo the Jailer. He's hard to forget, particularly if you know the movie from Mystery Science Theater 3000. He plays Gort here.

The other major player in the movie is Oliver Sturgess. She is playing Estelle Craven.

On the whole this is a pleasant tale. It takes us into the world of wizards, where duplicity, greed, and arrogance seem all too common. It is not one of the more gruesome or dark tales done by Karloff, or Price, or Lorre...or even Nicholson, I suppose. But if you are interested in seeing three greats having goofy fun, and seeing Nicholson out of his depths, it can make a diverting afternoon. Just remember, it is farce. It is trying to be overly silly. The characters are supposed to go to some extremes. If you can handle that, you may survive The Raven.

So, let's look at this tale of woe.

Hmm. What is that background reminding me of...Oh, right!
Elvira's Haunted Hills.

It opens with Price reciting the first few stanzas of "The Raven". It sets a somber mood.
"Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary, Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore. While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping, as of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door. 'Tis some visitor,' I muttered, 'tapping at my chamber door - Only this, and nothing more.'" 
Erasmus? How did you graduate from Hogwarts with
this quality of Patronus work?
 Then, as he continues, we come in from crashing waves, to an old manor at night. And inside we find Dr. Erasmus Craven. He's quietly sitting in his study, and drawing the image of a raven in the air in front of him. This begins the shift in tone.

You think this is weird? Wait until he visits the wing of
the house where he keeps dead pets.
It amuses him some. But soon he is again thinking of his dead wife, lost years before. And the fact he HAS HER BODY DOWN THE HALL doesn't help.

Okay. Sure, have a tomb under your castle. Have a cemetery in the backyard. But don't keep bodies in the house. I am pretty sure Martha Stewart has come down against this.

He finds no solace in his thoughts, but is startled when his daughter, Estelle, appears with a goblet of warm milk for her father.

She doesn't understand why he is still so forlorn. But he chides youth, and reminds her that it will be different when she's older. (Also we learn that Lenore was Estelle's stepmother.) She leaves her father to muse some more.

"Oh sure, you want me to squawk, 'Nevermore.' But does
anyone ask if I have anything else to say? No."
Then he is caught off guard by some rapping that seems to be from the chamber door. But it isn't. It's at the window. And outside the window? A raven.

Going over to the window, Erasmus tries to engage the raven in a conversation And, seeing as he is a magician, we will assume that Erasmus isn't crazy, and talking animals isn't unknown.

Like I said in Once Upon a Midnight Scary, isn't this
what we think Price does every night?
He lets the raven into his room. And tries to get it to explain what it wants, and if it carries word of if his wife will return to him.

The raven finally responds, and tells him off. Then it demands some wine. Once it has gotten that, it demands that it be returned to it's true form, that of a man.

The trouble is, Erasmus has no idea how to do this spell. Luckily the raven knows a potion. So Erasmus takes him down to his father's old lab, where some of the needed ingredients may be found.

Erasmus comes off as a little feckless, which may be unfair. He is a softhearted fellow. And he's not a master of some areas of magic. His magic seems more casual and intuitive.

"Great. Why is it that when you want to peruse some
forgotten lore, it's all Bill O'Reilly?"
They then peruses the shelves and find bat's blood, dead man's hair, and tongue of a vulture. They dig through eyes, and other oddities that were the staple of old time magical brews. There are just not enough tales with newts, toads, and vultures used to make spells...though, I suppose in this day and age, a vegan variation wouldn't hurt.

Oh my god! I think I just figured out where nuggets
come from!
Getting the cauldron bubbling, Erasmus makes up the concoction. And upon feeding it to the raven, Peter Lorre appears. Well, he mostly appears. He's still partly a raven. Looks like Erasmus partly screwed up the potion.

The raven now introduces himself as being Dr. Bedlo. The two had once met at a conference years before. But, with wings for arms, he is freaked out.

Erasmus goes to make more potion. But he finds that he is out of dead man's hair. So he is pressured to go to his father's crypt...which, I guess, isn't near his bedroom. How weird.

As they go into the crypt, Bedlo explains what happen to him. He got in a fight with Dr. Scarabus, who heads the Brotherhood of Magicians. Erasmus knows Scarabus well. When Erasmus's father ran the Brother, Scarabus was his bitter rival. Do to that struggle his father went through, Erasmus has shunned the Brotherhood and the general company of his fellow magicians.

"Son? Why don't you ever visit? Why do you always sit
around the house with that dead wife of yours?"
In the crypt he opens his father's sarcophagus and snips some hairs. And then his father's corpse grabs him and pulls him close. He warbles, "Beware!" And then releases Erasmus.

Shaken, Erasmus still manages to makes the potion for Bedlo. And, finally, Bedlo is whole again. They share a drink, and Bedlo says he's heading back to Scarabus's home. Scarabus took his magical equipment, and he wants a rematch.

Then he notices one of the pictures of Erasmus's deceased wife, Lenore. He asks why Erasmus has the picture. This leads Bedlo to tell Erasmus that he's seen her, at Scarabus's home, that very night.

Erasmus finds this ludicrous. And he takes Bedlo over to her coffin, which is in the house (I keep feeling the need to remind myself of that.). And inside desiccated of a women lies.

Bedlo swears he is not lying. Erasmsus suddenly gets a dark thought. Scarabus may have stolen away Lenore's spirit, to keep prisoner.

This motivates Erasmus to action. He decides to join Bedlo in going to Scarabus. They have a short picking out coats and hat scene, then Erasmus's daughter appears, asking what her father is up to. He tries to hide what he's learned from her, or where he is heading.

Then, a deranged ax man slams into the front door  Ah, Jack Nicholson must be ready to appear in the movie. ...Wait. That's a different movie, isn't it? No, it's Grimes, Erasmus's servant. He has become deranged, and tries to kill everyone.

Vincent Shot First
Erasmus is knocked silly, and Grimes chases Bedlo around. Then Erasmus awakens and pulls out some of his magic, hitting Grimes with some film scratches to the head. A few of these drop Grimes to the ground.

Nicholson plays his critical role in the movie,
holding Peter Lorre's coat.
They decide that this was likely an act by Scarabus. So, they realize it may be best to take Estelle with them,so she isn't left alone. When they are ready to leave the house, they find a new person at the door. It's Rexford Bedlo, Dr. Bedlo's son. He was sent by his mom to find his father and bring him home.

Nicholson is playing a bit of a milksop, he's generally getting drug around and getting yelled at. I hear that the movie's raven also liked to crap on him. So he must have loved this movie.

They decide to get going, and they have Rexford take the reigns of the carriage. Also, Estelle falls instantly in love with Rexford. (Why? Eh. I don't understand why people are enamored with Nicholson in real life either.) So she rides with Rexford up top.

"No! It's not true! I'll never do an Adam Sandler movie!"
As they head along the way to Rexford is hit in the same way Grimes was earlier. He becomes deranged...a real Jack Nicholson, and starts wildly driving the horses on. It scares Estelle, and concerns Bedlo and Erasmus. But it does get them to Scarabus quicker. And soon they are before the large domicile. (And Rexford gets better. We were all worried about that, right?)

"Are we sure the princess isn't in another castle?"
And, with apprehension, they close on the castle. The door opens as they approach, but no one is around. They move through a long hall, and it's full of high flames and gargoyles. Finely they find themselves before Scarabus.

"Vincent Price? I loved you in The Bat."
And Scarabus greets them as only Boris Karloff can. He's friendly, but spooky. He also is sure to act oblivious to any of their concerns about what he is up to. He acts like the kindly old lord, happy to have company.

After all the introductions, Erasmus explains why they are there. He tells of his concerns for his wife's spirit. Scarabus acts hurt at the idea he'd attempt to capture a spirit.

He summons a servant to show he is innocent. When a young woman appears, for a moment Erasmus thinks he sees his wife, before seeing it isn't her. It's just a servant that has a passing resemblance.

Erasmus apologizes, and accepts an offer of food and drink. But as they eat, Bedlo mostly drinks. He finds himself quickly getting drunk again. And, again, he picks a fight with Scarabus.

So Bedlo starts up a new fight. He comes at Scarabus with some wand work, but is casually rebuffed. After a few failed efforts, he goes to his big guns. But as he does this, Scarabus messes with him and...

...and, yeah, Bedlo goes splat.

The Cravens and Bedlo's son race over to see what has happen. Erasmus tests the puddle of Bedlo left. It's raspberry jam.

I guess he was transmuted to jam. (Insert a Spaceballs jamming joke as you like,)

Scarabus now suggests that they all must stay the night. The shock of the death is too much, and the storm outside is only growing. So, Erasmus agrees.

Live coverage of Nicholson's attempt to escape filming.
After Erasmus leaves his daughter, Rexford finds her. He thinks Scarabus murdered his father. He wants her to help him convince Erasmus of this fact. But they find they've been locked in. So, Rexford decides to climb along the walls, to try and reach Erasmus.

Nicholson is rather monotone in these scenes. And he blinks a lot. It may be that he is trying to signal the audience that he's being held against his will.

"What? I'm a wicked
In Scarabus's private rooms, he is relaxing when a hidden door opens. Through it comes Lenore, alive and well.

Scarabus isn't pleased with Lenore. It seems it was she that attempted to kill Erasmus. (She said she was afraid he'd come and discover her.) Scarabus wanted to draw Erasmus to the castle.

We also learn that she choose Scarabus over her family because he had great wealth and power, which she coveted. And in return, she gave him her company. But if he gets boring, she'll leave him to.

It is interesting to consider here, she's the stepmother. A wicked stepmother. Usually a wicked stepmother is killing the father and trying to take out her stepchild. (Granted she did go after Erasmus that night.) But here, she mostly just ran off to shack up with another guy she was interested in. ...Sure she faked her death, broke Erasmus's heart, etc. But she is a wicked stepmother. Just she's not as murdery as some we know.

"Okay. I'm officially confused. Which one of us is
actually dead?"
Meanwhile, Rexford has somehow made it to the ground, without breaking his neck. He slips back into the castle and is surprised to find his father. Bedlo faked his own death, knowing what Scarabus had in mind. While he deals with Scarabus, he send his son to get Estelle out of the castle.

And Bedlo goes quickly to Scarabus and Lenore, revealing himself, and his ploy. He explains to Lenore that he had plotted with Scarabus. He would bring Erasmus to the castle, and Scarabus would help him fake his death (to escape his wife), and give him more magical knowledge. But that doesn't stop him from complaining about all the flaws in Scarabus's plan.

It's not really clear on who's side Bedlo is on. To quote many other movies and stories, let's just assume he's on his own side. But he does seem uncomfortable with using Erasmus's daughter at a minimum.

Meanwhile Rexford has gotten Estelle. But she won't leave without her father. So, they go get him. But he won't leave without finding Bedlo. So, Rexford is stuck. Finally though, they decide to exit the castle. But they find the door out missing. And then Erasmus is turned to stone.

Now things move into Scarabus's endgame. He places Erasmus, Estelle, Bedlo, and Rexford in his dungeon, tied to pillars. And, is no one surprised to see Bedlo tied up. Honestly, I would have expected them to betray him anyways when everything was done.

While Scarabus prepares torture implements, Bedlo and Erasmus face their faults that led them to this moment. Bedlo has been weak, foolish, and greedy. Erasmus has been timid and secreted away, when he should have taken up his father's fight to keep Scarabus from amassing power.

"Okay. Are we agreed? When we make Comedy of Terrors, Boris gets tied up instead of us."

Still, Erasmus is pleased to see Lenore is alive. Then he's sad to realize what her being alive means. She taunts him some, before Scarabus returns.

With Scarbarus's returns, Bedlo begins begging to be let go. He'll do anything. And, he doesn't care what happens to everyone else. He'll even go back to being a raven.

The cowardice and treachery charms Scarabus. So he turns Bedlo back into a raven. And, he flies off.

Scarabus then takes Estelle away, to be tortured.

Jack Nicholson talking to a raven. Enjoy.
While he threatens Erasmus with the torture of his daughter, Bedlo sneaks back. (And feel free to recall that Nicholson loathed this bird, and the way it defecated everywhere. And, imagine the alternate takes and shots of this scene.) He sits on his sons shoulder and snips at his ropes.

Rexford, when free, jumps the guard holding Erasmus.

Erasmus, free now to, goes after Scarabus. And now, the final magic battle of the movie.

First they throw some magic lightening at each other. But they are evenly matched.

Sometimes flashing your high beams at someone with theirs on doesn't work.

So they decide to duel. The duek consists primarily of tricks, illusions, and transmutation of items from deadly to innocuous and back again.

 There is a certain balance between the two, but Erasmus proves to be more than capable of blocking every one of Scarabus's tricks, and even return them. Still, he holds back, not wanting to kill.

 But Scarabus has no compunctions about killing.

 But as he repeatedly tries to strike a killing blow to Erasmus, Erasmus is one step ahead, giving him decoys.

 Finally, Scarabus just starts throwing pure magic at Erasmus. But Erasmus just tosses it aside. And they are back to the magic lightening.

But, finally, Scarabus has met his match, and Erasmus defeats him. With the castle collapsing around them, a result of the fight, Erasmus gets his daughter, Rexford, and Bedlo out. Lenore is left to her fate beside Scarabus.

In the ruins of the castle, Scarabus finds that he's lost his magical abilities. I sense Lenore will be moving out.

Back at Erasmus's home. He settles in to finally get some sleep. But Bedlo is eager to get him to finally take over leadership of the the Brotherhood of Magicians. Erasmus isn't in the mood to talk about that, and is still miffed at Bedlo's betrayal.

So, he makes Bedlo go and sit over the chamber door, and be quiet. And Erasmus quotes Poe to end the movie.
"Quoth the raven, 'Nevermore.'"

While a very silly movie, it does encapsulate much of what was done in the Corman Poe cycle. They took a name, a few quotes and images, and then crafted a completely new story. And they usually proved to be enjoyable tales.

The art, effects, and make up also help quite a bit. They create the creepy world the movies reside in. This is further enhanced by the way Price, Lorre, Karloff, and Court take on there roles and appreciate the farcical aspects of them.

It makes for an experience every fan of classic horror should enjoy at some point.

Next time perhaps we should look at a film that deals with families, or the effects of war on a veteran...

The Deerhunter?

...No. Weird that got brought up. Of course not.

But you will see what I mean. Next week.

1 comment:

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