Monday, May 21, 2012


The Raven, far from being an adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe's immortal poem (nor a remake of the 1963 Roger Corman movie), is one of those movies of a particular genre of which I am quite fond. That is, a movie about a famous author being dragged into an adventure that is just like those that he or she writes about.

Not a biography at all, these films are adventures in their own rights but usually contain many literary allusions. Wim Wenders' 1983 film Hammet, starring Frederick Forrest as author Dashiel Hammet who gets involved in a Hammet-like hardboiled mystery, is one of the best examples. Another is Steven Soderbergh's 1991 Kafka in which Jeremy Irons plays the author Franz Kafka as he gets involved in a mystery that is... well... kafka-esque.

In The Raven, Edgar Allan Poe, played with a manic intensity by John Cusak, is drawn into a mystery that has overtones of Poe's own writing. Someone is literally recreating murder scenes from Poe's stories.

The film opens with a recreation of the murder scene from Murders in the Rue Morgue. Anyone who is vaguely familiar with the story can see it right away. Unfortunately the police in Baltimore are clueless except for Detective Fields (played by Luke Evans) who has read a book or two. He calls Poe in, at first as a suspect, then later to consult on the case.

What is the case? In a nutshell a deranged serial killer is racking up a body count all the while orchestrating the murders to resemble Poe's stories and poems. As a turn-of-the-century serial killer movie The Raven hits all the familiar notes: taunting messages to the police from the killer, a living hostage (in this case Emily, Poe's fiancee) whose life hangs in the balance, cryptic clues placed on the victim's bodies which tip the erstwhile investigators to the location of the next murder (where they arrive just slightly too late, of course). Time is running out for poor Emily and the detectives become more desperate as the movie progresses.

As a serial killer movie there is little here that is new, other than the inclusion of Edgar Allan Poe. Cusack plays Poe with a manic intensity and anger that seems more like a 19th century Harlan Ellison rather than the sedate and gloomy author that most would have expected to see. I'm not sure if I buy Poe as action hero, but then again, this is Hollywood.

Luke Evans is rather stiff as Detective Fields and Alice Eve plays Poe's love interest with a predictably modern sensibility, only falling into 19th century stereotypical behaviour when the plot calls for it.

The movie is kind of fun if one doesn't take it too seriously. The allusions to Poe's work are interesting, if  not overly clever. Nor is it entirely historically accurate. One of the victims, Griswald, was a real-life critic and rival who actually survived Poe and wrote some nasty stuff about him after his death. The film takes its revenge on Griswald in a particularly nauseating scene where the critic is very messily eviscerated by a giant pendulum (I saw that one coming) lovingly rendered using make-up and CGI. Not for the squeamish. I was only thankful that the film was NOT in 3D.

The film is visually arresting, particularly the opening a closing sequences which take historical fact and stitch it together with the movie's plot to try to explain the mysterious circumstances surrounding the final days of Poe's life. The cinematography is well done and the whole atmosphere of 19th century Baltimore is rendered well.

I do not know if the film is still in theaters, so even were I to recommend it (which I do, just) you could try to hunt it out, or wait until its arrival on DVD. It would certainly be worth the rental.

Or you could just go read some Poe. Hunt up a copy of Tales of Mystery and Imagination from the library or bookstore or and read for a change and stop being illiterate cretins!

Kidding... just kidding. Love you all, you know that.

I've been here and there. I've drawn a lot of pictures. I've written a bit, too. I'm not good at this self-promotion thing. Look, you want to know about me? just visit these websites. Okay?

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