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Directed by Roger Corman in 1963 and written by Richard Matheson (obviously, though very loosely, based on the famous poem by Edgar Allan Poe), The Raven stars Vincent Price as a man named Erasmus Craven, the son of a powerful sorcerer now deceased. When we meet him, he's given up his own practice in magic and is instead pining away for his lost Lenore (Hazel Court). Shortly thereafter a large black raven appears to him and speaks to him about his plight (voiced by Peter Lorre). It turns out he's actually Doctor Adolphus Bedlo and he's been turned into the bird by a rival sorcerer named Doctor Scarabus (Karloff). Bedlo would like Craven's help in turning him back to his previous human form. There's more to it than that, however, as Bedlo tells him that Lenore is not dead as Craven believes but actually living in Scarabus' creepy old castle.
Of course, Craven and Bedlo wind up teaming up in an attempt to win the day, but Scarabus may yet prove to be the better magician.
Corman and Matheson don't really adapt Poe's poem in the literal sense so much as they simply take some of the characters from it and run with it in a few different directions. Very much played as much for laughs as anything else, this is definitely one of the more comedic entries in the Corman/Price Poe run and it's quite a bit of fun. The cast really makes it work. Price is as excellent here as he ever was in the lead while Peter Lorre and Boris Karloff both prove to be every bit his equal (you don't necessarily associate Karloff with comedy but he's great in this picture). All three veteran horror stars do a really strong job with the material, finding that right balance of humor and horror throughout the film. Throw in the beautiful Hazel Court as the love interest and an amusing supporting role from a young Jack Nicholson as Bedlo's son and it's hard not to have a good time with this movie.
The comedy, mostly satirical in nature, is pretty effective throughout but Corman still manages to create some nice, eerie atmosphere in the film. Lots of gothic trappings and fun period dress keep the visuals interesting while the effects used in the magic scenes have their own quirky charm. This is particularly evident at the film's finale when Craven and Scarabus effectively go toe to toe in the finale that we all saw coming. It really seems like everyone involved in making this film was having a great time, and that comes through in the quality of the product. The Raven may not be a masterpiece of terror and suspense, but it is a lot of good fun.
The Raven is presented in AVC encoded 1080p 2.35:1 widescreen. The transfer takes up 26.9Gbs of space on the 50GB disc. While this likely wasn't sourced from a new scan, the picture quality here is quite nice. The lush camera work comes through nicely and the colors look really strong. Black levels are good and while detail would probably get a boost from a new 4k or even 2k scan, there's still quite a bit of good depth and texture to take in here. There's very little noticeable print damage to note and the image looks nice and clean. Compression is held in check and noise reduction and edge enhancement are non-issues.
The English language 16-bit DTS-HD 2.0 Mono track sounds good. Optional subtitles are provided in English only. No problems here, the audio sounds nice and clear, very clean. The track is properly balanced and free of any noticeable hiss, distortion or sibilance. Range is a bit limited due to the original elements but overall it sounds just fine.
Extras start off with a new commentary track from film historian David Del Valle. He starts by talking about seeing the movie for the first time in the theater in 1963 as a thirteen year old, how great it was to see the three main cast members working together, the use of Les Baster's music, Price's delivery of the first stanza of Poe's poem, notes on the cast and crew featured in the picture, Corman's directing style, his own feelings on whether or not the film is a send up of the three leads or of Corman's style, how Lorre was very accident prone during this period of his life, how Floyd Crosby's cinematography often overshadows everything else in the Corman/Poe films, how AIP was going head to head with Hammer with House Of Usher, the quality of the editing in the film and lots more. Del Valle's clearly very passionate about this film and that comes through in his informative talk.
Carried over from the previous DVD release is the six-and-a-half minute Richard Matheson Storyteller featurette where the late writer talks about his feelings on how the three leading men delivered the lines he wrote for them and provides some thoughts on the effectiveness of the movie. Also carried over from that DVD is Corman's Comedy Of Poe, an eight minute piece in which Roger Corman talks about Nicholson and Lorre's relationship on the film, the effects set pieces, working with Price and Karloff and the success of the film. Last but not least, we also get a Raven Promotional Record bit which is an audio recording of Karloff and Paul Frees delivering a promotional reading while a still gallery of related ephemera plays out on screen.
The disc also includes a trailer for the feature, a Trailers From Hell entry with Mick Garris, as well as bonus trailers for The Raven, Master Of The World, Tales Of Terror, The Comedy Of Terrors, Master Of The World, The Last Man On Earth, The Tomb Of Ligeia, Scream And Scream Again, Theater Of Blood and The House Of Long Shadows. Menus and chapter selection are also offered and this release comes packaged with a slipcover.
The Raven is a great time at the movies, a movie that is as genuinely funny as it is atmospheric, and watching Price act alongside Lorre and Karloff is reason enough to want to check it out. Kino's Blu-ray offers a good presentation with some extras highlighted by an interesting commentary track. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.