“Every picture should have a purpose, preferably a high one. Any concentration upon Murder as Murder can only kill the films themselves. But it is difficult to speculate as to what intention, other than the stimulation of a low morbid interest, can be behind such a production as The Raven’… Here is a film of “horror” for “horror’s” sake”
The above is a quote from The London Times who in 1935 issued a report on horror films and The Raven in particular. The shock and outrage this movie caused led the British Board of Film Censors to ban all American horror films for two years.
Brought to Blu-ray by the ingenious Eureka Entertainment this ultra dark slice of sadism staring Dracula’s Bela Lugosi and Frankenstein’s Boris Karloff makes up one part of a trio of films in their Edgar Allan Poe Adaptations boxset alongside Murders in the Rue Morgue and The Black Cat.
All from Universal during the 30’s they each riff off Poe’s poignant and petrifying work in a myriad of ways. They are all also interesting as examples of Pre-Code studio horror’s unbridled by the strict rules imposed on films in Hollywood once the rigid guidelines for moral content was brought in in the form of the Motion Picture Production Code.
Nowhere is this lack of censorship more evident than in The Raven and it is easy to see why the British became so rattled. Directed by prolific B-movie director Lew Landers it sees Lugosi star as Dr. Richard Vollin a surgeon with a God complex asked to save a Judges beautiful daughter who is caught in a car accident.
Becoming obsessed with the woman he operated on he is angered beyond belief when her father says he can have nothing more to do with her. Plotting his revenge in the most cruel and unusual way a fortuitous tool falls into his lap in the form of Edmond Bateman, played by Karloff.
A criminal on the run Bateman seeks the Dr’s help in getting him a new face however the insane medical man has other ideas transforming the crook into a hideous beast instead. Blackmailing Bateman to do his evil bidding or he will never fix his face, the Dr sets about targeting those that slighted him, employing his man made monster and mansion filled with torture devices and enjoying every malicious minute.
Directly quoting Poe’s most famous poem several times The Raven has an innovative twist on honouring the master horror authors works by having Lugosi’s surgeon be obsessed with his stories. Having constructed several of the most devious devices from Poe’s stories himself he owns not only a room that crushes its inhabitants but the most legendary of all Poe’s murder machines, the pit and the pendulum.
Although the acting may seem a little exaggerated, the script a little silly and the effects a little basic The Raven still manages to shock a modern audience with the sheer brutality and sadistic glee embodied in Lugosi’s lead character. A forefather to Patrick Bateman and Hannibal Lector he truly believes his superior intellect allows him to torture and kill anyone under him for his own amusement and the film revels in showing us this.
A masterpiece of the macabre The Raven feels like a blend of old school Hollywood and a modern day portraits of a psychopath and in fact could be ripe for a remake given the right creative team. For all its faults and short running time its a gruesome and great film staring two monster movie legends and considering it comes with two other classics and a multitude of extras its a great package.
Perfect for fans of Poe and Universal horrors alike, this is a box set that every horror fan needs to own.
THREE EDGAR ALLAN POE ADAPTATIONS STARRING BELA LUGOSI (Masters of Cinema) Clips Trailer: