Midnight Movies: The Raven (1963)

” ‘Are you some dark, winged messenger from beyond? Answer me, monster. Tell me truly! Shall I ever hold again that radiant maiden whom the angels call Lenore?’

‘How the hell should I know? What am I, a fortune teller?’ ” – Vincent Price & Peter Lorre, The Raven (1963)

My favorite way to unwind after a work week is always a movie night. I tidy up my space, set up my couch with my favorite pillows and blankets, compile my favorite sparkling water and candy, turn off the lights, turn on my salt lamp, and choose a movie to immerse myself in for the night. If I do not already have a specific movie in mind, I look through my collection of “midnight movies.” Traditionally, midnight movies are low-budget genre films (usually horror or science fiction) that also have some of the characteristics and influence of cult films. The term originates from the practice television stations in the 1950s began by broadcasting such films at midnight. One of my favorite midnight movies, which also happens to be one of my favorite Vincent Price movies, is The Raven.

The film begins with raconteur Vincent Price reciting the title poem by Edgar Allan Poe against a sequence of swirling paint, waves crashing on rocks, and shots of a spooky castle. Price plays Dr. Erasmus Craven, the protagonist, who is an accomplished sorcerer. We meet him as he practices his magic one cold night, distracted by his grief at the loss of his wife, Lenore. When encountering his daughter, Estelle (Olive Sturgess), we learn that Lenore died a couple years previously.

Following the famous lines of the poem, Craven hears something tapping at his door, then a window in his study. A raven sits on the other side of the glass, and Craven decides to let it inside. He speaks to the bird as the narrator of the poem does, leading to the hilarious and game-changing exchange shared at the beginning of this post. The raven turns out to be a fellow sorcerer by the name of Dr. Adolphus Bedlo (Peter Lorre). He has been transformed into a raven by the infamous Dr. Scarabus (Boris Karloff), and he needs Dr. Craven’s help to transform back into a human.

Craven and Bedlo eventually succeed in returning the latter to his proper form by way of the forgotten potion ingredients in Craven’s father’s laboratory and a trip to the family tomb. Craven questions Bedlo as to how he ended up in such a state. Bedlo shares that he had lost a battle of magical skill to Dr. Scarabus, a powerful sorcerer whose advanced skills intimidate all others, including Craven.

Another revelation is made as the pair continue their interaction: Bedlo sees a portrait of Lenore, and he claims to have seen her that very night at Dr. Scarabus’s castle. Craven is disbelieving at first, but Bedlo convinces him that she was absolutely who he saw. Craven decides to confront Scarabus and rescue Lenore if she truly is there. Accompanied by Bedlo and Estelle, he orders a carriage to Scarabus’s castle. He soon discovers, however, that the story is not what it seems, and Lenore is not the woman he remembers.

When I want a cozy movie to watch, The Raven is one of the first I choose. With its Poe inspiration, saturated art direction, campy moments, and general candlelit-night-in-a-castle vibe, it checks a lot of my boxes. What I thought was going to be a moody ’60s horror film turned out to be a fun but atmospheric horror comedy. This happens to be a combination of many of my favorite things. Like many of my favorite horror films and horror comedies, I am so glad I randomly came across this movie when looking for something new to watch one night.

It has come to my attention on social media that not very many people have even heard of this gem of a movie, so I highly recommend seeking it out! Bonus: You get to see a very young Jack Nicholson as the well-dressed Rexford Bedlo. The Raven is a film that you will love more and more with each viewing; I know I do.

Until next time,

Jordan

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