Cast & Crew
Dr. Erasmus Craven, a 15th-century English magician, goes into retirement following the apparent death of his wife, Lenore. He is startled one night by the appearance of a talking raven, who turns out to be Dr. Adolphus Bedlo, a former magician turned into a bird for daring to challenge the power of the master sorcerer, Dr. Scarabus. After Craven returns him to human form, Bedlo divulges that a woman resembling Lenore is living at the Scarabus castle. Accompanied by Craven's daughter, Estelle, and Bedlo's son, Rexford, the two magicians visit the castle and learn that Lenore feigned death to become Scarabus' mistress. The master sorcerer imprisons his guests and threatens to torture Estelle unless Craven reveals the secrets of his magical powers. Bedlo, who is actually a party to a plot with Scarabus to get Craven to divulge his magic secrets, tries to back out of the agreement, and Scarabus changes him into a raven once more. The bird, however, cuts Craven's bonds, enabling him to challenge Scarabus to a duel of magic, which results in the death of Scarabus and Lenore in a castle fire. Later, Craven takes the raven home with him, but he is in no hurry to change Bedlo back into a man.
Samuel Z. Arkoff
Bartlett A. Carré
Moe Di Sesso
James H. Nicholson
The Raven (1963)
Vincent Price is Dr. Erasmus Craven, a 15th century magician in retirement following the death of his wife, Lenore. He is startled one night by the appearance of a talking raven, who is actually another former magician, Dr. Adolphus Bedlo (Peter Lorre), turned into a bird for daring to challenge master sorcerer Dr. Scarabus (Boris Karloff). Craven returns Bedlo to human form, and the grateful man tells him he has seen a woman resembling Lenore living in Scarabus's castle. Traveling to the castle with Craven's daughter and Bedlo's son, the group soon learns that Lenore and Scarabus are partners in treachery. In the end, Bedlo is once again a raven, and that's all we're going to give away, other than to note that the whole affair is a fun romp with its tongue firmly in cheek.
Upon the picture's release, Variety called it "a corn-pop of considerable comedic dimensions" and deemed the screenplay "a skillful, imaginative narrative." Nearly 40 years later, David Pirie of Time Out Film Guide said The Raven is "one of the few fantasy comedies that hangs together as happily as a fairytale, and it climaxes with a suitably splendid duel of marvels between Karloff and Price." Much of the credit can be given to screenwriter Richard Matheson, who gave the world such movie gems as The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957), one of the very best sci-fi pictures; Spielberg's debut Duel (1971); and the novels that were adapted with varying degrees of success (by himself and others) for the films What Dreams May Come (1998), Somewhere in Time (1980), The Last Man on Earth (1964), The Omega Man (1971), and I Am Legend (2007), the title of his 1954 novel from which these latter three were taken. He also wrote many episodes of the TV anthology series The Twilight Zone, Night Gallery, and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.
In 1960, when producer-director Roger Corman launched his highly successful series of films loosely based on the works of Edgar Allan Poe, he turned to Matheson for the first screenplay, House of Usher (1960). Matheson went on to pen Pit and the Pendulum (1961), Tales of Terror (1962), and The Raven. Appropriately, Matheson later won an Edgar Allan Poe Award for his writing on The Night Stalker (1972).
Among the humorous touches Matheson worked into the screenplay were the Latin incantations used to cast spells, which any student of the language would recognize as the adages: "I came, I saw, I conquered"; "Beware of the dog"; "If you want peace, prepare for war"; etc.
Jack Nicholson has a role as Lorre's son, Rexford. In later years, Nicholson had high praise for everyone he worked with on the film except for the Raven himself, who had a nasty habit of relieving himself all over the set, particularly on Nicholson. "I would look down when the Raven flew off my shoulder, and it would be covered in poop," he said. "I hated that bird."
Karloff had appeared in another film with the same title in 1935, co-starring Bela Lugosi. Other than the name, however, the two pictures have nothing to do with each other.
Nearly a year after this film's release, American International, the studio that produced The Raven, would try to recapture the magic of the three stars teaming for a horror parody, The Comedy of Terrors (1963), once again scripted by Matheson and directed this time by Hollywood veteran Jacques Tourneur, a key talent from Val Lewton's legendary horror unit of the 1940s. Although it had Price, Karloff, and Lorre (now known as the Triumvirate of Terror) and both the comic talent of Joe E. Brown and the eerie presence of Basil Rathbone, the film didn't quite live up to its predecessor's appeal.
Corman wasn't only banking on his stars to give The Raven its high place in the Poe series. He also brought back the technical talents of many of the crew members from the earlier pictures, including composer Les Baxter, editor (and former child actor) Ronald Sinclair, and the two men most responsible for the distinctive look of the Poe series, art director Daniel Haller and cinematographer Floyd Crosby, father of rock legend David Crosby and the man behind the camera on many other American International movies of the period. Notably, Crosby made an auspicious debut many years before on F.W. Murnau's Tabu: A Story of the South Seas (1931), winning an Academy Award for his cinematography.
Director: Roger Corman
Producers: Samuel Z. Arkoff, James H. Nicholson, Roger Corman
Screenplay: Richard Matheson, based on the poem by Edgar Allan Poe
Cinematography: Floyd Crosby
Editing: Ronald Sinclair
Art Direction: Daniel Haller
Original Music: Les Baxter
Cast: Vincent Price (Craven), Peter Lorre (Bedlo), Boris Karloff (Scarabus), Hazel Court (Lenore), Olive Sturgess (Estelle Craven), Jack Nicholson (Rexford Bedlo).
by Rob Nixon
The Raven (1963)
Vincent Price on DVD
Most definitely watchable and probably the pick of the Vincent Price releases is The Haunted Palace/Tower of London, both directed by Roger Corman. 1963's The Haunted Palace is loosely based on stories by H.P. Lovecraft, at the time known primarily to horror fans but today considered something of a minor American master. Corman says in an interview on the disc that they wanted to move away a bit from the popular Poe films though they kept a title from Poe just so they weren't too far away. The Haunted Palace has a somewhat familiar story about a man who inherits a castle and after moving there with his wife discovers that the inhabitants of the local town aren't too thrilled about this and neither, more unfortunately, are the long-dead former inhabitants of the castle. But the story isn't entirely the point. With an energetic and sometimes subtle performance by Price and the genuinely spooky atmosphere created by Corman, the film remains memorable.
1962's Tower of London is a somewhat threadbare account of Richard III's machinations but its sprightly pace and historical feel keep it continually interesting. Despite claims on the box and in an interview on the disc with producer Gene Corman (Roger's brother), there's nothing of Shakespeare's play here: none of the dialogue, none of the plot (excepting a small bit in the final scene) and even few of the characters. The film is more a remake of the 1938 film of the same title which also had one of Price's very first film appearances and from which this later film lifts some battle footage in a no-budget touch worthy of Orson Welles or Ed Wood. Tower of London is also not close to the actual facts of Richard III's life (but then neither exactly was Shakespeare) with several years of events compressed into a few days and important events missing altogether. But really that doesn't much matter and isn't far removed from what actor/writer Colley Cibber did in a version published in 1700 where he compressed Shakespeare's play and drastically increased the violence. Corman and his screenwriters similarly approach Richard as the center of more or less a horror story throwing in more ghosts, curses, witches and torture than many of what are actually marketed as horror films. Such elements along with the political intrigue and convincing portrayal of Richard's disintegrating mental state keep Tower of London fresher than it has any right to be.
The second Price disc has The Tomb of Ligeia (1965) and An Evening with Edgar Allan Poe (1970). Again, Corman directed the Poe film The Tomb of Ligeia from a script by future Oscar-winner Robert Towne (Chinatown), adding "Tomb of" to Poe's title "Ligeia" so that nobody would think this some artsy European import. For most of the film it's a fairly sedate psychological thriller about a man obssessed with his dead wife and a younger woman who falls in love with him. Corman brings an attention to detail among some quite impressive sets, at least until the final half hour which kicks into Gothic overdrive full of lightning, fire, a damsel in a nightgown, dark corridors and a chain-reaction of surprises. The disc includes two commentaries, one by Corman and one by star Elizabeth Shepherd. An Evening of Edgar Allan Poe is something of an oddity. Running barely 53 minutes, it was originally made for TV broadcast and is little more than Vincent Price performing four Poe short stories as monologues. The box claims Price thought this his best Poe work and it's easy to see why, not necessarily because it is his best but because it allowed Price a range of acting. Each segment is performed on an appropriate set and the stories have been trimmed and slightly rewritten so they will work better in this context. Price is lively and convincing even for something like "The Tell-Tale Heart" which could very easily have fallen flat. He's perfectly at ease with Poe's style, keeping the dialogue from sounding artificial. Unfortunately, the production lets Price down at times. The graininess of the video image isn't too big a distraction but the haphazard framing is. Even worse is intrusive music however sparse it might be and somebody's bright idea to make the words more literal with tricks like turning the screen blue when Price says "blue" or rhythmic zooms in time to a supposedly beating heart. Still, Poe and Price overcome such obstacles, leaving An Evening of Edgar Allan Poe a fascinating effort.
Another mixed bag is a disc with The Comedy of Terrors and The Raven, both written by Richard Matheson. The Comedy of Terrors, one of director Jacques Tourneur's final films, came out in 1964 and like other films of that year such as Advance to the Rear, Kiss Me Stupid and Dr. Strangelove aims at a kind of aggressive, freewheeling satire. Alas, like all but one of those films (you can guess the exception) The Comedy of Terrors simply comes out overwrought and frequently tedious. Price plays the scheming, misanthropic owner of a failing funeral home with Peter Lorre as his not-too-bright assistant, Boris Karloff a senile father-in-law and Joyce Jameson his shrill wife. Despite a promising opening, there's almost nothing else worth seeing except maybe Price delivering convoluted dialogue that would have defeated lesser mortals ("emissions of a laryngitic crow"?). The film wastes Karloff who almost literally sleeps through most of it and proves that whatever Lorre's talents, physical comedy was not one of them. Far better is 1963's The Raven, a Corman project that Matheson "adapted" from Poe's poem. In other words, Price reads about half the poem at the opening and the rest has nothing to do with Poe. Instead, The Raven is a light and mild-mannered comedy about three wizards fighting and scheming among themselves. Lorre in particular is a delight with his muttered asides and swings from a Keaton-ish poker face to Daffy Duck-style annoyance. Price's overly-civilized warlock and Karloff's hospitable "villain" work well together. The Raven also has one of Jack Nicholson's earliest screen appearances as Lorre's son of all things though you'd never suspect the career ahead of him from this performance. The disc has two relatively inconsequential interviews with Matheson (a much better novelist than screenwriter) and a more revealing one with Corman for The Raven.
The final Price disc only has one of his films (Cry of the Banshee) though the other is a Poe adapation (Murders in the Rue Morgue), both directed by the undistinguished Gordon Hessler. Unlike the other Price films, 1970's Cry of the Banshee is rated R and has enough explicit violence and nudity to keep it away from the kiddies. Unfortunately, the rest of us won't care much either. Price plays a mean-spirited local judge obsessed with wiping out witches, more or less repeating his role from the far superior The Conqueror Worm (1968). But amongst the witch hunting there's fighting among Price's children, townsfolk attacked by a wild dog (or is it?), a sky-clad occult ritual and a now-grown foundling who can more or less talk to the animals. All of which makes the film sound more interesting than it is though there is a Terry Gilliam credits sequence made around the time of Monty Python's first season. Oh, and the film inexplicably doesn't have a banshee, not even a Scooby-Doo fake one. Murders in the Rue Morgue (1971) is a bit more successful, running Jason Robards and Herbert Lom through one of the first detective stories though with horror elements liberally added. It's routine and obvious though the DVD has the original version of the film, restoring around eleven minutes.
by Lang Thompson
Vincent Price on DVD
You'll need something to protect you from the cold.- Dr. Craven
No, I meant clothes!- Dr. Craven
Oh.- Dr. Bedloe
I am Dr. Bedlo's son!- Rexford Bedlo
I am sorry...- Dr. Bedlo
Afraid my dear? There's nothing to be afraid of.- Dr. Scarabus
'Peter Lorre' and Jack Nicholson were fond of ad-libbing their lines, much to the annoyance of Boris Karloff, who was working from the script.
Released in United States 1963
Released in United States 1963