Director: James McTeigue
Writers: Ben Livingston and Hannah Shakespeare (screenplay)
Principal cast: John Cusack, Luke Evans, Alice Eve, Brendan Gleeson and Sam Hazeldine
Release date: 9th March 2012.
Amidst the darkly shadowed and cobbled streets of 19th century Baltimore, a serial killer is grotesquely at work, committing murders seemingly inspired by the literary work of the city's renowned author and poet Edgar Allan Poe (Cusack).
As terror gradually spreads throughout the local populace, the writer is approached by policeman Detective Emmett Fields (Evans) to assist in the capture of a madman holding an obsessive fascination with both the dormant scribe and his works.
And the raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted – nevermore!
Edgar Allan Poe.
Edgar Allan Poe may not have realised that his dark meditation first published in 1845 would continue to linger in the mind of the public almost three centuries later.
In cinematic terms the stories of Poe were perfectly captured on screen during the Sixties when director Roger Corman perfectly cast horror master Vincent Price in several stylishly envisioned adaptations based on the writer’s most famous yarns.
Poe's famous poem also served as the inspiration for a horror spoof that would witness the director and actor teamed with Boris Karloff and newcomer Jack Nicholson for The Raven (1963).
Several decades later director James McTeigue and actor John Cusack have also taken direct inspiration from the infamous poem and the other works of Poe to bring us The Raven (2012).
Like the forthcoming feature Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, McTeigue's gothic yarn recasts an historical figure in a fictional role as Poe is transformed into a reluctant detective and anti-hero on the trail of a homicidal madman with a very perverse and sadistic taste in humour.
Cusack certainly looks the part and as well as investigating the inner demons of the troubled writer seems to be genuinely having fun with a script that although basically nonsense should provide the basis of an entertaining and chilling romp.
But The Raven although seemingly brimming with ideas only rarely fulfils its premise, due in part to McTeigue and a script that constantly seems uncertain where to take the film as the plot flutters between a succession of different genres without truly finding its own niche.
What commences as an historical slasher flick in the mould of Like Hell (2000) briefly gives way to some stylish old school suspense and chills in the mould of classic Hammer Horror before finally settling on a caper that seems in tune with a classic Conan Doyle adventure as Poe pursues his mysterious nemesis in a mannerism not to dissimilar to Holmes and Moriarty.
Evans is clearly having fun adopting a stateside accent and Eve certainly provides screams galore as her character is buried alive, although likeable, both are essentially playing to type as the standard movie policeman and damsel in distress respectively.
Blood and gore are on show aplenty as each successive atrocity is influenced by a key act found in the stories of Poe and production values are lushly visualised as cinematographer Danny Ruhlmann constantly casts his historical Baltimore in mist and shadow (a wonderfully pitched costume ball sequence also provides a perfect setting to create a heightened sense of hysteria and paranoia).
But between the genre shifting and moments of horror borrowed from the works of the master himself, The Raven seemingly reverts to a run of the mill thriller and fails to investigate the motives of many of its supporting characters whilst the entertaining cat and mouse psychology exchanged between Poe and his ultimate fan may have benefited from being introduced much earlier during proceedings.
With the addition of a poorly animated title sequence accompanied by an equally cheesy closing rock score that is wholly out of place within the film's period setting, The Raven is a mildly entertaining but ultimately unfulfilling thriller that fails to linger in the memory.
Gothic horror, slasher flick or detective yarn? The Raven is a strange bird that attempts to combine several genres without truly gelling into an identity of its own.
Frustratingly unrealised, McTeigue's macabre thriller is worth a view based on Cusack's central performance alone, but is definitely an unfulfilled opportunity to create something memorable.