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What’s that tapping, tapping at your chamber door? It’s The Raven

Any good horror aficionado should already be familiar with the works of Edgar Allan Poe who, here played by John Cusack, is the lead character in The Ravendirected by James McTeigue. However in general terms a lot of film goers will believe themselves to be unfamiliar with the poet and his macabre tales, a number of people I know have admitted as much to me. They may not realise it but they are wrong. All though they may not be familiar with the man himself, the many short stories, and poems of Edgar Allan Poe have had a long lasting, far reaching, pervasive effect on not just horror literature, and horror films but also on what we consider to be modern popular culture. For example if I were to ask those same people if they had ever seen the Simpsons Tree House of Horrors episode of The Raven as read by James Earl Jones they would most likely all admit to having seen it. The aforementioned segment can be viewed via this link: http://videosift.com/video/The-Simpsons-The-Raven There have also been many film adaptations of Poe’s work, mostly staring horror legend Vincent Price, including The Pit and the Pendulum (1961), The Fall of the House of Usher (1960), and The Mark of the Red Death (1964 all directed by Rodger Corman) to name but a few. It is therefore almost prescient that The Raven opens with Poe returning to native Baltimore to find that the men at the local pub have no knowledge of him or his poems.

The plot of The Raven, is a simple one, Poe’s earlier literary works have been a wild success, yet tragedy struck with his wife suffering a slow painful death from typhus causing Poe to turn to alcohol We are introduced to Poe on his return to Baltimore, he is an unpredictable alcoholic and his career is on the wane. However he still manages to charm and proposes to the beautiful Emily played by Alice Eve, a woman who might yet turn his life around with her pure love until a madman starts killing various victims in intricately set up scenarios lifted straight from the pages of Poe’s stories. The killer kidnaps Emily, buries her alive in a wood coffin and leaves clues in his murders Poe must decipher to track her down.

 I will admit that when I first saw the trailer for The Raven I thought what is this madness? John Cusack as Edgar Allan Poe, come off it. The trailer sets the film up to be some sort of dated, naff, action style, Jack the Ripper rip off (if you’ll pardon the expression) in the vein of Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes films. Luckily for me this was not the case, there was very little over the top action and in the most part the film was a tight, nicely atmospheric, taught thriller. Despite some distracting picture quality and framing issues affecting the specific performance of the film I watched, I could see that The Raven has some nice cinematography. The acting is generally good including from Cusack who can occasionally be irritatingly samey, but here does well in the role of the anti-hero.  I found the idea of Poe having to decipher clues from murders based on his own stories to be a very interesting one, having read most of the stories referenced in the film, however I can also see how this might be a lot less interesting, and perhaps even seem a little random for those who have not done so. Many critics have panned the overall concept of taking a real historical figure and weaving a fictional patchwork of story around real facts, but I felt that this was rather fitting. There is a scene where Poe comes face to face with the killer and must bargain with him for information about Emily’s location. The killer pours out two drinks and they sit across a table from each other, the killer describes himself as an artist like Poe and as both men take a sip in unison we see the killer and Edgar Allan Poe as if they are mirrored in each other, as if the killer is a personification of Poe’s imagination. From that point until the end of the film there is a subtly seed of doubt placed into our minds as to whether any of this has really happened or whether fiction has consumed him resulting in the final outcome of the film. (which I will leave you in suspense about) This film is highly unlikely to get into anyone’s top ten, but it is an interesting film, and when I think about whether Edgar Allan Poe would have preferred a straight biography or a fictionalised account of his life filled with gruesome murders I think he would be rather happy with the Raven, rather than be thought of nevermore…

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