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DVD Review

DVD cover

The Raven (1935) (2003 reissue)


Starring: Boris Karloff, Béla Lugosi, Irene Ware, Lester Matthews and Inez Courtney
Distributor: Spirit Entertainment
RRP: £15.99
Certificate: 15
Release Date: 27 May 2013

Doctor Richard Vollin, an eminent ex-surgeon, now puts his time to research, and also avidly studies the works of Edgar Allan Poe, to the extent of using The Raven as his symbol of inspiration. When beautiful dancer, Jean Thatcher, suffers life-threatening injuries in a car accident, her father, Judge Thatcher, implores Vollin to save her. Reluctantly, he agrees; she is restored to health and dances again for Vollin as a thank you. Unfortunately, Vollin becomes infatuated with her and has to be warned off by the judge. Meanwhile, Edmond Bateman, an escaped killer, seeks out the surgeon to change his aspect so he is not recognised. Vollin accepts the job in exchange for Bateman helping him dispatch his enemies. As insurance Vollin disfigures Bateman, telling him he will correct the surgery when his revenge is complete. Then Vollin lures Judge Thatcher and others to his house and a showdown with his Poe-inspired torture devices...

I last reviewed this film on DVD in 2007, but it’s timely that on this occasion it should coincide with the receipt of a gorgeous hardback copy of The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe for my birthday. I already possessed a paperback version, and know many of the macabre stories well. However, it’s always enjoyable to revisit them every so often, as it is a classic film version of his work. Of course, in later years many of Poe’s stories underwent the movie treatment, such as The Masque of the Red Death, The Pit and the Pendulum, The Fall of the House of Usher, The Black Cat, and many others. But this was 1935, in the heyday of Universal Pictures, when the big names in the so-called Universal Horror arsenal were Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi.

The front of the DVD case states that this is based on the terrifying story by Edgar Allan Poe, but as anyone who knows anything about Poe will tell you, The Raven is a poem, not a story. The script here follows a definite parallel with Poe’s most famous poem. The lost love Lenore in the verse is Jean Thatcher in this film. Incorporated into this basic premise is an act of revenge for Vollin’s rejection, and so we have a number of wicked devices borrowed from other Poe tales – such as the lowering pendulum, the bedroom which lowers as a lift, the shrinking room, and others. All quite ingeniously injected into the plot.

The film has lost none of its power since I last watched it. It still rattles along at an impressive pace – surprising for such an old film – and the performances remain strong, particularly that of Bela Lugosi. A fine film. Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”


Ty Power

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