It is said that Edgar Allan Poe’s death began on October 3, 1949 as he was found wandering and delusional in a Baltimore park muttering something about “Reynolds, Reynolds”. The cause of his distress has been attributed to all and sundry, including suicide, murder, rabies, syphilis and a love of absinthe and opium. The recently released film, The Raven, offers a romantic, fictional explanation for his state of disassociation. This tale is told as historical fiction: a few real people and events animated within a work of fiction. The actual death of Poe concluded 4 days later. The cause remains unknown.
John Cusack stars as Poe, an American writer struggling to eke out a living on a writer’s salary alone; a feat unheard of in his day. The movie opens with a boisterous and broke Poe failing to convince the local barkeep to extend him credit for a drink he desperately needs. Later, a Baltimore tabloid editor, Henry Maddox, warns Poe that he’ll make no money submitting criticisms and introspective peices. To get published, Poe must get back to writing what the people are thirsty for; tales of the macabre. The only (barely) shining light for Poe is his love for and his secret engagement to the rich Emily Hamilton. This, of course, to the chagrin of surly father who threatens to have him killed should he attempt to see Emily.
Baltimore is rocked by a grisly murder of a mother and a daughter. As Det. Fields investigates, he realizes that details of this case are oddly similar to those that appear in Poe’s published tale, “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.” Initially, Poe is a suspect until his fiance, Emily Hamilton, is kidnapped. A ransom note from a serial killer claiming responsibility, demands that Poe partcipate in the investigation. The killer promises to leave clues of Hamilton’s whereabouts at the scenes of upcoming murders. All clues are associated with Poe’s published works. Their resolution will lead Poe to Hamilton, hopefully before she dies of asphyxiation. This cat and mouse game is made public by the killer’s demand for Poe to publish a daily account of their investigation in Maddox’s Baltimore tabloid.
Upon learning that Cusack would star as Poe, I wondered how well he could portray a character that I assumed to be serious and somewhat dark…he didn’t. Cusack’s Poe was closer to a comic/manic version of a typical Nicolas Cage characterization. All in all, The Raven contained a sufficient amount of gore , intensity and just enough passion to make Poe’s determination to save his fiancée believable.
If you are a Poe fan and plan to see the film, the experience may be enhanced if you reread his poems Annabel Lee , A Dream Within a Dream and of course, The Raven. If time allows, read The Pit and The Pendulum and The Murders in the Rue Morgue. My rating for The Raven is 7 out of 10 boxes of Junior Mints. Take into consideration that two of those boxes can be respectively attributed to my love of John Cusack as well as the frequent reciting of Poe’s poetry. If you’re not particularly enamored with either, you may want to wait for this movie to show up on Netflix.
Enjoy the true Prince of Fear, Vincent Price, as he performs an eerie telling of The Raven.