Friday, October 23, 2015

13 Films Of Halloween:

THE RAVEN (1963)

Starring: Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff, Jack Nicholson.
Written by: Richard Matheson
Directed by: Roger Corman
Produced by: Roger Corman and James H. Nicholson (American International Pictures)

A gallon of comedy mixed in with the horror... which doesn’t quite work.

One of the things that seems to have happened is AIP and Roger Corman discovered there were many other well known horror stars of long ago who were still alive and needed work. So the film in the series before this TALES OF TERROR (which we won’t be looking at in this 13 Days) added Peter Lorre (who had starred in the HITCHCOCK PRESENTS episode MAN FROM THE SOUTH as that fellow who would bet his sleek sportscar in the casino parking lot against Steve McQueen’s little finger) and Basil Rathbone to the cast. That film was a trilogy of Poe stories, with each of the stars playing the lead in one of them, where RAVEN has all of the stars in one story. This film adds FRANKENSTEIN’s Boris Karloff (who was having a career resurrection due to hosting duties on THRILLER) and subtracts Basil Rathbone, but don’t worry - he’ll be back in the next film so he got to keep his SAG medical and dental plan going.

Screenwriter Richard Matheson said that one of the problems with the Poe adaptations is that almost all of the stories dealt with someone being buried before their time, in a wall or a crypt... and it was getting repetitious. So, by adapting Poe’s most famous *poem* they could do just about anything... and Matheson thought with that cast they could try a comedy, just to keep from repeating the dark and spooky old castle stories. But the problem is that the comedy here seems forced - it’s all pratfalls and broad humor. Unlike Corman’s trailer editor at New World Pictures, the awesome Joe Dante, who could easily blend horror and comedy in a film like THE HOWLING and have it be both scary and funny; Corman seems to only focus on the comedy at the expense of the horror - so we get broad comedy but not much that works as horror. This film was a hit, so maybe the audience was ready to laugh at Poe instead of scream... but it doesn’t hold up as well as the earlier entries.

The film opens with Raven poem read by Price with shots of ocean and castle....

In his study, son of a sorcerer Dr. Craven (Vincent Price) “draws” a raven (animated) and then the window blast open and it vanishes. He goes into a room and dusts off Lenore’s coffin - her portrait over it... wham - someone behind him! His daughter Estelle (Olive Sturgess), who wonders why he is still mourning two years after her stepmother died. Craven says that she was his one true love...

Later, a tapping at the window of Craven’s study - a Raven. He lets it in... and the bird begins talking! It’s the smart ass voice of Dr. Bedlo (Peter Lorre) who says he’s under and enchantment and needs to be turned back into his human self because these feather itch! Craven and the Raven go downstairs to his sorcerer father’s dusty old laboratory which is over run with tarantulas (for some reason) and they mix up a concoction (after looking through jars of eyeballs and other icky stuff). The Raven drinks the potion and turns back into Dr. Bedlo... except his arms are still covered with feathers (which itch). Craven says he’ll mix up some more of the potion, but he’s out of one of the ingredients: dead man’s hair... though his father is in the crypt downstairs and he probably wouldn’t mind.

They go down to the crypt, and Dr. Bedlo explains how he was turned into a Raven by the evil Dr. Scarabus (Boris Karloff) - who was Craven’s father’s rival... and took over the Brotherhood of Sorcery. Bedlo was having dinner with Scarabus and they had a dispute... and they ended up doing a “high noon” with sorcery... which Bedlo obviously lost. When Craven opens the coffin and cuts a lock of his dead father’s hair, the corpse grabs him and whispers “Beware!” They get the heck out of there.

After Bedlo has drank more of the potion and shed his feathers, he says he’s going back to Scarabus’ castle to get revenge... would Craven like to come along? When Craven refuses to go, Bedlo says that he has seen Lenore with Scarabus - Craven’s dead wife is two timing him! From beyond the grave! How is that even possible? Craven opens Lenore’s coffin... she’s still there. But maybe Scarabus has her soul? Craven agrees to go with Bedlo to confront master sorcerer Scarabus.

As they are leaving, the door blasts open and Craven’s butler Grimes rushes in with an ax and attacks them - he is under Scarabus’ spell. When he goes after daughter Estelle, Craven uses some magic to knock him out. When he returns too consciousness, he has no memory of what happened. Estelle insists on coming with them, and when the open the door - wham - there’s someone standing on the other side! Dr. Bedlo’s son Rexford (Jack Nicholson) who has come to fetch Bedlo, mom’s wondering where he is. Rexford offers to drive the coach since Grimes is still a little weird. Estelle flirts with Rexford - this is the romantic couple.

On the way there - Rexford becomes under Scarabus’ spell and drives the coach at dangerous speeds on a cliffside road. The spell lifts as they get to Scarabus’ evil castle. All four enter the castle... a much cheaper matte painting than in the other films. That’s okay, because the castle interior set kicks ass... a center fireplace in the massive parlor. This may be the most lavish of all of the castle interior sets in any of the Poe movies. Once inside, the door slams behind them, trapping them in the castle.

Scarabus makes a grand entrance, introducing himself to all of them. A charmer.

When Craven accuses him of imprisoning his wife’s soul in the castle, Scarabus “summons the truth” with his servant’s bell, and his Maid (Connie Wallace) enters - she does look a little like Lenore, but obviously isn’t her. Scarabus invites them to stay for dinner...

At dinner Scarabus claims he was the best friend of Craven’s Father, and only turned Bedlo into a Raven after he challenged him to a duel. Bedlo wants revenge... and his equipment back. Bedlo claims he can easily best Scarabus when he is sober, but Bedlo is never sober. Scarabus magically produces Bedlo’s equipment case and hands it to him to shut him up... but Bedlo grabs his magic wand from the case and tries to cast a spell on Scarabus - but Scarabus makes the wand go limp. When Bedlo tries to use another crazy magic contraption to attack Scarabus, it backfires - exploding Bedlo into a puddle of red goop. Rexford removes his hat to mourn his father... Craven tastes the goop, “Raspberry jam.”

Though everyone wants to leave, a storm is raging outside and Scarabus offers to put them up for the night. Each retires to their room... They decide to leave Bedlo on the floor in a puddle.

Estelle wanders through the castle at night - returning to her room - once inside, a hand grabs her - Rexford. He fears that Scarabus *killed* his father - not the device backfiring. He saw Scarabus moving his fingers slightly just before his father exploded. He fears that was just the beginning... that Scarabus has some evil plan for the rest of them.. Rexford wants Estelle to warn her father, but she says Craven now trusts his late father’s rival. But the door will not open - they are trapped in the room together. Rexford climbs out the window onto a narrow ledge and makes his way around the castle’s walls to the next window... the ledge crumbles beneath his feet at one point and he almost falls to the sea far below.

Meanwhile, Craven hears a noise outside his door... nobody there. But in the window behind him - his dead wife Lenore! (Hazel Court) He rushes to the balcony - but she is gone. Just his imagination?

Scarabus hears a noise and looks up - Lenore enters his bedroom. A ghost? No - the actual Lenore who faked her own death to hook up with the wealthy and powerful Scarabus. That’s not her body in the crypt in Craven’s basement. Scarabus and Lenore are schemers...

Rexford climbs down a vine into a dark room... where he is attacked by someone in the dark! They struggle, until Rexford gets him onto the floor and drags him into the light... it’s Dr. Bedlo - alive and not raspberry jam! Bedlo used magic to fake his death and/or transformation into jam and has been hiding ever since. Bedlo goes to confront Scarabus (and Lenore) and Rexford rescues Estelle and then they go to save Craven... and escape the castle!

Before they can escape, Scarabus uses magic to seal the exit doors, tie up Bedlo, and turn Craven into a statue. They end up in a prison cell in Scarabus’ basement/torture chamber. Lenore visits - telling Craven that she dumped him for Scarabus.

Scarabus begins the night’s festivities - he turns Bedlo back into a raven and he flies away, puts Estelle in a stockade and says he will torture her unless Craven gives up his magic secrets. But Bedlo flies back, pecks through the ropes binding Rexford, so that Rexford can attack the Torture Assistant. Scarabus and Craven end up in kind of a sorcerers Mexican stand off... and Scarabus says the only way to settle this is a high noon style duel to the death!

The big duel to the death: The others watch from a balcony over the massive parlor as Scarabus and Craven practically touch fists in the center of the room before backing step-by-step to a pair of chairs facing each other on opposite sides of the room. They take their seats, and the battle begins! There’s even a Sergio Leone close up of their eyes staring each other down! Each makes things appear to destroy the other, from snakes to bats to cannons to making gargoyles come alive to levitation to throwing fireballs to anything else that can be done with props or cheap animation. Finally we get to the end of the bout when both sorcerers use their fingers to blast magic spells at each other (like laser beams)... and the power of Craven’s magic is stronger than Scaracus’... who collapses onto the floor. Craven has won!

And Lenore rushes into his arms - she has always loved him!

But Craven rejects her, and takes his family home with him as Scarabus’ castle begins burning to the ground and collapsing from the collateral damage hits during the magic duel. They run out of the castle - that terrible matte painting now made even more fake looking by the addition of flames - and ride the coach back home.

In the rubble of the castle, Scarabus and Lenore are alive... but trapped together. Maybe forever.

Back home, Craven gives his blessing to the Rexford/Estelle romance and then refuses to turn Bedlo back into human form. When Bedlo won’t shut up, he seals the Raven’s beak... quote the Raven nevermore.

Fade Out.

Tomorrow we'll look at a more successful comedy horror flick starring Vincent Price and Peter Lorre and Boris Karloff... with Basil Rathbone delivering one of my favorite lines of dialogue! A COMEDY OF TERRORS.


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