Quoth the raven, “What a bore.”
The city of Baltimore was rocked with a devastating earthquake this morning, toppling buildings, injuring hundreds, and registering a record-breaking 13.2 on the Richter scale. Investigators believe the cause of this quake was, in fact, Edgar Allan Poe spinning in his grave.
Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” is a poem about a man, alone on a December night, tormented by his lost love, Lenore. An encounter with a mysterious raven only heightens his torment. The 2006 movie The Raven is about Lenore (Jillian Swanson, Shadows Fall), alive and well, who is now a singer in an all-girl rock band in L.A. She is troubled by visions of a bald man stalking her, possibly as an incident in her past coming back to haunt her. After Lenore’s friends are killed one by one in a brutal manner, she confronts the killer, knowing, in her words, that “the raven will protect me.”
This movie is almost aggressively low-budget, with many scenes caught on digital video in what looks like ordinary folks’ homes instead of sets, all with that flat “low-rent video” look to it. This movie also made me appreciate movie costume and hair designers, because not only do they make our favorite characters look nice, but they also provide consistency for the characters. I bring this up because Lenore looks different throughout the whole movie. Some of this might be to show the changes she goes through as the story progresses, but overall, there are many times in this movie where Lenore looks like a totally different person. Just a little bit more attention to detail could have corrected this.
But I’m getting ahead of myself with this nit-picky stuff. How are the scares? Is there any genuine Poe-style gloom and doom here? I’m going to go with, “no.” Director Ulli Lommel (The Boogeyman (1980)) attempts to establish mood here with various camera tricks. There are quick edits, flashes of light, screwy colors, and homemade CGI effects in almost every shot here. The bad news is that these effects don’t do much to serve the story. Viewers will find themselves getting impatient during all the setting-the-tone montages, hoping that something, anything, will happen. For example, one sequence shows us the killer driving a car, depicted by showing us only his hands on the steering wheel. Next we see a swimming pool at night, surrounded by candles, with Lenore and her friends sitting around it; not saying or doing anything, but just sitting there. Then we have more shots of the killer driving, followed by more shots of Lenore and the girls sitting around. Fro m there, it’s the killer driving, the girls sitting, the killer driving, the girls sitting, the killer driving, the girls sitting, the killer driving, the girls sitting, the killer driving, the girls sitting, a random shot of a jack-o-lantern, the killer at the scene watching the girls, the girls sitting, the killer watching, the girls sitting, the killer watching, the girls sitting, the killer watching, the girls sitting, the killer watching, the girls sitting, the killer watching, you checking your watch, the girls sitting, the killer watching, and so on. You’re thinking all this setup has to be going somewhere, but when the killer finally dispatches one of the girls, all we get a few quick shots of a bloody knife moving up and down, Psycho-style, and an odd text crawl on the screen representing the killer’s shots. Then it cuts to later, for the next long, slow, repetitive setup. In short, the movie is trying to be “edgy” and “experimental,” but it’s doing so at the expense of its narrative.
What if you’re a Poe enthusiast? Where do I even begin? OK, to be fair, the movie is really more inspired by Poe’s poem, rather than a direct adaptation of it. The attitude seems to be, “Let’s take the classic and put a crazy new spin on it.” This Lenore somehow believes that she is the Lenore from the poem, as if Poe somehow could see into the future. To further make this point, Poe himself appears in her dreams (played by Michael Barbour, BTK Killer), while writing the poem—at one point, he’s trying to come up with just the right word to end the line “Once upon a midnight…” Despite these nods to the great writer and despite the presence of his name all over the ads and the packaging, none of this genuinely feels like Poe.
At this point, you might argue, “Roger Corman’s 1963 The Raven also bore little resemblance to the poem, and many movie fans regard it as a classic.” This is true, but Corman had Vincent Price, Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre, and even Jack Nicholson in his version. Lommel’s version has these guys:
Tech time: the widescreen image here is mediocre, more likely due to the movie’s low-budget roots rather than the digital transfer. The audio is hit or miss. There are times when the sound is so muddy it’s hard to make out what the actors are saying. But when the music kicks in, suddenly all five speakers get a great workout. Trailers are it for extras.
All right, I’m done with this movie. Give it any Poe-inspired punishment you like: seal it behind a wall, break out the pit and the pendulum, give it the tintinnabulation of the bells, lock it in a room with an orangutan, whatever.