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Film / The Raven (1963)

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The Raven is a 1963 Horror Comedy film loosely based on the poem of the same name, written by Richard Matheson, directed by Roger Corman, and starring Vincent Price, Peter Lorre and Boris Karloff.

The fifth film in Corman's "Poe Cycle", it tells the story of 16th-century sorcerer Dr. Erasmus Craven (Price), who - still heavily depressed over the death of his late wife, Lenore (Hazel Court) - one day gets visited by the eponymous bird... who actually turns out to be another sorcerer, Dr. Adolphus Bedlo (Lorre), who was transformed into said bird by still another sorcerer, the wicked Dr. Scarabus (Karloff). After Craven restores Bedlo to himself, they — along with Craven's daughter Estelle (Olive Sturgess) and Bedlo's son Rexford (Jack Nicholson) — go after Scarabus for revenge.

"The Macabre Masterpiece of Tropes!":

  • Adaptation Expansion: The movie accurately adapts the first verses of the poem, but resolutely goes in a completely different way as soon as the Raven is introduced, which puts the amount of screentime based on Edgar Allan Poe's poem a whooping seven minutes opening credits included. The rest of the film is not only unrelated to the novel, but generally doesn't have much in common with Poe's work in general.
  • Ambition Is Evil: The reason Dr. Bedlo worked for Dr. Scarabus was because Scarabus promised to teach him rare forms of magic, which would give Bedlo higher standing with the rest of the sorcerers.
  • Anything but That!: Dr Bedlo convinces Scarabus to turn him back into a bird rather than have to face torture.
  • The Archmage: Dr. Scarabus, the frighteningly powerful (and extremely wealthy) Grandmaster of the Brotherhood of Sorcerers. Complete with Big Fancy Castle and oddly pope-like clothing.
  • Back from the Dead: Dr. Craven's father briefly returns from the grave to warn his son to "Beware". The younger Craven laments that his advice couldn't be more specific.
  • Badass Bookworm: Dr. Craven seems like the quiet and studious type, and has of course been studying "volumes of forgotten lore". He's also the most powerful sorcerer around, as he shows in the final duel.
  • Beneath the Mask: A recurring theme in the film.
    • Dr. Erasmus Craven first comes across as an innocent, yet inept wizard, a neurotic and depressed single dad, only to reveal that he is the most powerful sorcerer in the film.
    • Dr. Bedlo acts as a drunken fool of a wizard with a grudge against Dr. Scarabus for beating him in an "unfair" duel, only to reveal that he was working for Dr. Scarabus the whole time under the promise that he teaches him secret magic.
    • Dr. Scarabus presents himself as a kind and humble host that does not provoke easily only to have masterminded the entire night's events, has taken Craven's wife willingly for himself and would even torture his daughter so that he would give up the secrets of his family's magic.
    • Lenore is believed to be dead only to not only be alive, but she is willingly with Scarabus for his wealth and power. She tries to win Craven back when the castle burns, but he won't have it.
  • Big Fancy Castle: Dr. Scarabus has one, which collapses at the end as a result of Craven deflecting fireballs at the walls. Dr. Craven's castle is a bit more modest, but still fairly fancy.
  • Brainwashed and Crazy: The Crusty Caretaker of Craven's estate - and later, Rexford - are both briefly possessed by sinister magic.
  • Brought Down to Normal: Dr Scarabus loses his magic at the end. He can still do it but at Inept Mage levels.
  • Collapsing Lair: Scarabus' castle at the end.
  • Comic-Book Adaptation: Was adapted into a Dell Movie Classic.
  • Crows And Ravens: One of the few elements things linking the film to the poem it's named for. Dr. Bedlo is magically transformed into a raven.
  • Death by Adaptation: Implied. In the Novelization, Lenore and Scarabus seemingly die when the castle collapses rather than emerging from the wreckage.
  • The Ditz: Rexford.
  • Dr. Genericius: Dr. Erasmus Craven and Dr. Scarabus, obviously. Dr. Bedlo's name does not end in -us, but is still a Latin-sounding name, as well.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Dr. Bedlo is visibly horrified when Dr. Scarabus implies that he will torture Estelle to get Dr. Craven to talk, although he is too cowardly to say so.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: Dr. Bedlo arrives at the Craven estate around dusk one morning and the characters ride to confront Scarabus the next day. They reach his castle at night and the remaining action and final scene take place before morning. All told, the film seemingly encompasses less than 36 hours.
  • Eye of Newt: The potion to restore Dr. Bedlo to human form requires this sort of weird ingredient. A call for "dead man's hair" requires him and Dr. Craven to engage in a bit of light Grave Robbing.
  • Familial Foe: Dr. Scarabus was a bitter rival of the late Roderick Craven for decades and drove him to an early grave. During the film, he manipulates, kidnaps and threatens Roderick's son and granddaughter.
  • Faking the Dead: Craven has been mourning his late wife Lenore, who, it turns out, is alive and well, having left him for Scarabus.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Dr. Scarabus is always polite and genial to the heroes, even as he threatens to torture Estelle in front of her father or when he sends Bedlo to what he thinks is his death.
  • Forced Transformation: Dr. Bedlo has been turned into a raven by Dr. Scarabus, and asks for Dr. Craven's help in returning him to human form.
  • Gentleman Wizard: Craven and Scarabus are both well-dressed medieval gentlemen with big castles. We don't see Dr. Bedlo's house, but he is implied to be not quite as wealthy as the other two.
  • Gold Digger: Lenore admits to Scarabus' face that she has no actual feelings for him and that she left Craven for him for his wealth and power. Scarabus knows this and doesn't seem to mind.
  • Gratuitous Latin: While casting his spells, Bedlo says "Veni vidi vici", "De mortuis nil nisi bonum", "Cave canem" (beware of the dog), "Si vis pacem parabellum" ("If you want peace, prepare for war") and "Ceterum censio Carthaginem esse delendam" ("Furthermore, I believe Carthage should be destroyed.")
  • Grave Robbing: Heavily downplayed. When the potion to return Dr. Bedlo to human form calls for "dead man's hair", he and Dr. Craven visit the latter's family crypt to borrow a few strands from Erasmus' late father. Erasmus is uncomfortable with this, but assures himself that "Pops" would understand.
  • I Am Not Weasel: In his raven form, Dr. Bedlo gets indignant when mistakenly referred to as a "blackbird".
  • Implacable Man: Scarabus survives his castle crumbling on top of him, although the magical effort needed to protect himself strains him so much that he loses control of his powers in the ordeal.
  • Implied Love Interest: There's definitely some chemistry between Estelle and Rexford.
  • In Name Only: Has very little to do with the original poem, not just in terms of having very little to adapt, but also in terms of its overall tone, world, and narrative.
  • Informed Ability: The whole reason why Dr. Scarabus engineered everything was so that Craven would divulge in the secrets of his family's gestural magic. Thing is though, Scarabus is already fluent in gestural magic of his own, and Craven only wins their Wizard Duel by being the craftier sorcerer. What exactly was he hoping to discover?
  • In the Blood: A great deal is made about Craven's late father being a great sorcerer in his own right, and rivaling Dr. Scarabus, suggesting that magical aptitude runs within the family.
  • The Lost Lenore: One of the few elements of the poem to make it into the film! Dr. Craven is introduced as still mourning his late wife, Lenore, who has been gone for two years. Ultimately subverted, however, when it turns out she was only Faking the Dead and willingly left him for Dr. Scarabus.
  • Magical Society: The Brotherhood of Sorcerers that Dr. Scarabus is head of. Dr. Craven's father had previously been the Grandmaster, although Erasmus himself has had no interest in getting involved in wizarding politics. See Meaningful Name, below.
  • Meaningful Name: While Craven is a family name, Dr. Craven himself admits to being a coward for not taking his birthright as Grandmaster of the Brotherhood of Sorcerers, citing his apathy as the reason why an Evil Sorcerer like Scarabus was able to rise to power.
  • Minimalist Cast: Only ten characters appear in the entire movie: Craven, his daughter, his briefly reanimated father, Lenore, the Bedlos, Scarabus, and three servants (one who works for Craven and two who work for Scarabus), with only six of those characters having notable amounts of screen-time.
  • Morally Ambiguous Doctorate: All the wizards in the film are called 'Doctor', which may imply graduation from some sort of Magic School it's never explained.
  • Nightmare Face: Rexford makes one when he becomes possessed by Dr. Scarabus' magic. Even at this young age, Jack Nicholson's skill at making scary faces was being put to good use.
  • No Ontological Inertia: When Scarabus is defeated, Lenore tries to bluff that she was under his spell and is now free, but nobody believes it for a second.
  • Novelization: Eunice Sudak wrote one based on the script which was republished in 2012.
  • Pathetic Drooping Weapon: Bedlo attempts to attack Scarabus, using a wand along with his incantations. Scarabus smugly blows on the wand, which goes completely limp.
    Dr. Bedlo: (reproachfully) Oh, you dirty old man!
  • Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves: After Craven, his daughter and Rexford are imprisoned by Scarabus and Lenorre, Scarabus then has Bedlo wrapped up, ready to be tortured like the rest of them in-spite of having helped Scarabus by leading them there in the first place. When he begs for his life at the expense of the others, Scarabus grants his wish and turns him into a raven again. After they escape, Craven "takes it under advisement" when Bedlo asks to be turned back, citing that even though Bedlo helped them by untying his hands, he was still the one that led them into danger in the first place.
  • The Rival: Dr. Scarabus attempts to frame his relationship with Craven Senior as this.
  • Sadistic Choice: Scarabus forces Craven to choose between Estelle getting tortured and giving up the secrets of his "hand magic".
  • Talking Animal: The title bird (though only because it's really Bedlo turned into a bird by Scarabus).
  • Wicked Stepmother: Downplayed. It's established early on that Lenore was Estelle's stepmother (Estelle's actual mother is never named), so when Lenore is ultimately revealed to be evil, she becomes this to Estelle. However, the relationship between the two is not explored in much detail, and isn't the focus of the film.)
  • Wizard Duel: Between Craven and Scarabus. Hilariously, their magic being the only factor at play, they're not even doing anything during the duel other than wave their hands, and go through the whole thing comfortably sitting in armchairs.


The Raven (1963) Pillory Scene

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