It begins with the American International logo, production and direction credits for Roger Corman, and finally the title all in red against a black background. While we watch, we hear what sounds like something tapping, rapping at our cinematic door. Cut to black and Vincent Price’s voice begins to read from Poe’s verse as ominous and menacing images fill the screen. Upon finishing the third verse “and nothing more”, we see Dr. Craven (Vincent Price) sitting at one end of the screen as he draws a raven upon the air at the other. A window blows open and the drawing is spirited away by the wind leaving only a banging against the frame. Craven gets up to close the window and as he walks towards it, he must see that telescope protruding into his path, when…bonk!
Closing the window, a sad look comes over his face and he enters the family crypt to visit the grave of the lost Lenore. A hand reaches out to his shoulder as he stands in front of her image crying out for her return, but only his daughter with warm milk and nothing more. Upon returning to read from some tomb of forgotten lore, a tapping as if someone knocking at his chamber door. “Come in!”, but no response. “Enter!”, but no reply. He opens the door to find only an empty foyer and nothing more. He returns to the room and a rapping, but this time the source is clearly the window behind the evil telescope. Craven finds a raven at his window and delighted with the creature, lets it inside. The raven flies immediately to the bust above the chamber door. Craven cries out for it’s identity and purpose above his chamber door. He demands to know what prophecies it could hold for the lost Lenore. Quoth the raven, “How the hell should I know? What am I, a fortune teller!”
With that simple sequence, what appeared to be a dark and suspenseful film is revealed to be a comedy. Appearances can be deceiving in The Raven including the title character who turns out to be a punished Dr. Bedlo (Peter Lorre). He is under an enchantment put upon him by Dr. Scarabus (Boris Karloff) and needs wine-not vomitable milk as first offered-and Craven to help restore him to his true form.
I have attached the sequence below, if it is still available at the time you are reading this:
We launch into a simple plot involving Dr. Scarabus who is a bad magician, Dr. Bedlo who is a weak and insolent magician, and the possibility that Lenore (Hazel Court) may still be alive, creating the need for the three wizards to meet at Scarabus’ castle. Along for the ride are Bedlo’s son Rexford (Jack Nicholson) and Estelle Craven (Olive Sturgess).
Price is delightful as Dr. Craven and is a man of a thousand facial expressions.
|The Many Faces Of Dr. Craven|
He makes the line “Clearly he was the victim of some…diabolic mind control” one for the ages and humorously puts the dramatics on for lines like “Are you some dark winged messenger from beyond?” and “Unless Dr. Scarabus has gained control her spirit!“
|“Clearly he was the victim of some…diabolic mind control!”|
The other performances are excellent as well, but it’s worth singling out Nicholson’s performance as Rexford who is a bit of a momma’s boy only because his father doesn’t want anything to do with him. That is unless there is danger, in which case it’s, “Rexford, you go ahead!” We get a taste of classic Nicholson when he acts as the coachman taking Craven, Bedlo, and Estelle to the castle. Estelle describes how the last coachman tried to attack them in the previous scene. She details how “his face was hideous”…”his eyes were glittering like those of a maniac”…”lips drawn back” while the camera focuses on Nicholson’s face transforming to fit her report. He steals the scene, setting the template for the many crazy Jack performances that would follow later in his career.
|Another Victim Of Diabolic Mind Control|
The Raven has fun with the trappings of magic, starting with the preparation of the potion that will restore Dr. Bedlo, aka cooking with Craven and the Raven. What makes it so funny is how the scene is done as if they were just whipping up some delicious recipe that happens to contain dried bat’s blood. They even mention that dehydrated or evaporated bat’s blood will work equally well, but don’t forget the dead man’s hair! When they run short of that key ingredient, it’s just a little trip to the family crypt to take a few snips from Dr. Craven’s dead father.
|Now Add The Tongue Of A Vulture|
While Dr. Scarabus and Dr. Craven are masters of magic by gesture, the arrogant and often drunk Dr. Bedlo uses magical equipment. They use this as a way to poke fun at elaborate spell casting. Despite having been punished so easily by Scarabus the last time he faced him, Bedlo is convinced that he can defeat him if only could setup his equipment. After Scarabus turns Bedlo’s wand limp, Bedlo proceeds to setup this absurd globe on a stick that spins while sparks fly from the center. While Bedlo looks on with great concentration, Scarabus toys with him, makes a few gestures, and ends it all with a lightning bolt aimed at Bedlo. As Dr. Craven points out, all that is left is raspberry jam.
|That Looks Impressive|
Just like a good western, everything must come down to a duel. Since this is a film of sorcerers, it’s a duel of magic! This is one of the funniest sequences as a snake conjured up around the neck of Craven becomes a scarf to be hurled back as bat at Scarabus. A cannonball launched by Scarabus is stopped in midair by Craven and placed above Scarabus to pop and release confetti. When dangerous beasts are called up, Dr. Craven must flap his arms to rise into the air and turn them to puppies, but while landing he goes through the floor opened up by Scarabus. A little change of direction, a few more flaps of his hands, and he is safely back on the floor instead of under it. The whole battle is played for laughs, but just like the rest of the film, it never goes so far that we are laughing at the genre. Instead, we are having fun with it.
|Is That A Snake Around My Neck?|
|Flying With Craven|
I grew up watching this film. Whenever my Mom would go out for the night, me and my Dad would pop the tape in the VCR and we were set. It has always been one of his favorites so it’s appropriate that I post it Father’s Day weekend. Maybe it’s sentiment or I too am the victim of some diabolic mind control, but I highly recommend it.
Quoth the blogger, nevermore.