In the early 1960's director Roger Corman adapted seven Edgar Allan Poe stories into classic horror movies. One of the best is THE RAVEN, a very funny horror satire and parody inspired by Poe's magnificent poem. The movie has very little in common with the source. Also, it is sometimes confused with THE RAVEN (1935), which also stars Boris Karloff.
Dr. Erasmus Craven (Vincent Price), a 15th century magician, has cancelled his membership with the Brotherhood of Sorcerers. He is visited by a raven, who is actually Dr. Adolphus Bedloe (Peter Lorre), turned into a bird by Dr. Scarabus (Boris Karloff).
Dr. Craven recites the first lines of Poe's poem:
"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 some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
'Tis some visitor, I muttered, tapping at my chamber door.
Only this and nothing more."
Dr. Craven restores Dr. Bedloe to human form because Bedloe claims that Craven's wife Lenore (Hazel Court) is not dead, but living with Dr. Scarabus. Dr. Bedloe is alcoholic and there are some jokes about this:
Dr. Craven: "You'll need something to protect you from the cold."
(Dr. Bedloe reaches for a glass of wine)
Dr. Craven: "No. I meant clothes!"
Dr. Bedloe: "Oh."
Dr. Craven: "Here's some nice hot milk."
Dr. Bedloe: "Milk! How vomitable."
Craven, his daughter Estelle (Olive Sturgess), Bedloe, and his son Rexford Bedloe (Jack Nicholson) pay a visit to the nearby Dr. Scarabus. The group spend a wild and unpleasant night at Dr. Scarabus' castle. He offers his guests false friendship and says to Estelle, "Afraid my dear? There's nothing to be afraid of." Lenore is alive and well and Dr. Scarabus tells her, "I'm always fascinated by your utter lack of scruples." Eventually the three magicians compete. The alcoholic and incompetent Dr. Bedloe is defeated and turned back into a raven.
There is a terrific climactic sorcerer's duel between Dr. Craven and Dr. Scarabus. It is a highly entertaining fantasy with amazing special effects, definitely the best part of the movie. The showdown between the two magicians results in the destruction of Dr. Scrarabus' castle. In the end Bedloe tries to convince Dr. Craven to restore him to human form, but Craven recites the last lines of Poe's poem: "Quoth the raven - nevermore."
THE RAVEN is not at all scary. Instead there is tongue-in-cheek humour, great chemistry with an unbeatable cast, and an eerie cob-web atmosphere. Peter Lorre and Jack Nicholson ad-libbed many of their lines, which annoyed Boris Karloff who kept to the script. This lighthearted, irreverent, campy farce has clever dialogue and is one of the best horror spoofs ever made.
Also in the cast are: Connie Wallace (maid), William Baskin (Grimes), John Dierkes (Roderick Craven), and Aaron Saxon (Gort). Richard Matheson wrote the script. Music is by Les Baxter. Roger Corman co-produced and directed.
As the sets for THE RAVEN were being torn down, Roger Corman took 3 days to film THE TERROR (1963) with Karloff and Nicholson. Karloff is the mysterious occupant of a spooky castle on the Baltic coast in the 1800's. It's an incoherent bad movie with two great stars.