Saturday, November 26, 2022

The Raven: Poe’s Final Days

Unlike Universal's 1935 film and Roger Corman’s 1963 film, this Raven does not pretend to be an adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s work. It is not as much fun either, but how can you beat Lugosi, Karloff, Price, Lorre, Corman, or Hazel Court? You sure can’t do it with John Cusack. Still, if you crank down your expectations, the atmosphere is reasonably entertaining in John McTeigue’s The Raven, which airs on ThisTV.

These will be the last days of Poe’s life and true to form, they start with bar brawl. He hopes to marry his well-heeled secret lover, Emily Hamilton, but her father, Captain Charles isn’t having any of that. The serial killer terrorizing Baltimore will be a more serious obstacle when he kidnaps her.

As Baltimore Police Detective Fields sleuths out, each of his killings were inspired by Poe’s stories. In an early act of “toxic fandom,” the mystery man demands Poe write new stories inspired by his crime scenes, or else Hamilton dies.

The idea of Poe as a detective holds plenty of promise (it was gripping as heck in Marc Olden’s supernatural novel,
Poe Must Die). The problem is many of the killer’s Poe homages are awkwardly forced. In one case, Poe even says so himself. The locked-room crime scene makes sense as a “Rue Morgue” reference—so much so that Fields recognizes it as such—and the pendulum murder of Poe’s real-life nemesis Rufus Wilmot Griswold is possibly the film’s high point for Poe fans, but from there, screenwriters Hannah Shakespeare and Ben Livingston really start grasping at straws.

Weirdly, John Cusack turns out to be a decent fit for Poe, thanks to his whiny, snarky nebbishness. Viewing
The Raven in retrospect, we can also draw parallels between the disgraced and dissolute Poe and Cusack’s own career, which subsequently took a nose-dive into VOD purgatory. Regardless, Cusack plays up Poe’s jerkishness without alienating the audience.

Frankly, Luke Evans’ Fields is pretty smart and upright for a Nineteenth Century copper. Brendan Gleeson brings more to the film than it deserves as Cap. Charles and Alice Eve handles the physical demands of Emily Hamilton’s ordeal convincingly enough. Kevin McNally and Sam Hazeldine add some color as Poe’s editor and typesetter. However, the script just isn’t as smart as it thinks it is, while McTeigue basically follows the playbook of previous films, like
From Hell.

The Raven
flopped pretty hard, but it is more watchable than its reputation suggests. The period production trappings are suitably mysterious, but you can see the seams and strains in the story. Okay for free TV, The Raven airs Monday night (11/28) on ThisTV (and it streams on Hulu).