Poe’s final challenge explored in “The Raven”

In 1849, Edgar Allan Poe, one of the most well-known of American
writers, died under mysterious circumstances. He was found in a park,
wearing someone else’s clothing, delirious and incoherent, and was
said to be repeating the word “Reynolds.” He later died at a
hospital, and without the benefit of modern pathology, the cause of
his death never was determined.

Director James McTeigue (“V for Vendetta”), based on a script by Ben
Livingston and the interestingly named Hannah Shakespeare, offers a
fictionalized look at those final days of Poe’s life, crafting an
intelligent murder mystery in “The Raven.”

Poe, known as the “Godfather of Goth,” had written what are now
classic and grisly murder tales, notably “The Masque of the Red
Death,” “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” “The Pit and the Pendulum,”
“The Fall of the House of Usher” and “The Tell-Tale Heart.” He also
wrote poetry. Today, any serious fan of horror literature would have
Poe’s collected works at hand.

John Cusack tackles the role of Poe in “The Raven,” picking up in
those final days of the writer’s life. Living in Baltimore in the
1840s, Poe is past his writing prime and now barely makes a living
writing poems or critiques. He finds solace in drinking and seems to
have conceded he never again will produce the horror tales that made
him famous.

Possibly the only thing in life that keeps him from being a total
washed out drunk in his love for Emily Hamilton (Alice Eve), the
refined daughter of the wealthy Captain Hamilton (Brendan Gleeson),
who by the way despises Poe.

A baffling double murder of a woman and her young daughter proves
puzzling to the investigating officer, Det. Fields (Luke Evans), who
soon realizes the killings seem to have been inspired by one of Poe’s
stories. Poe is ruled out as a suspect but Fields drafts the services
of the writer to try and get inside the mind of the killer.

It soon becomes apparent the murders are a direct challenge to Poe,
especially when Emily is kidnapped and confined to a coffin at some
unknown location.

The killer leaves various clues in his subsequent murders, usually
in reference to one of Poe’s writings, forcing Poe and Fields to try
to piece together where Emily might be. “The Raven” keeps the viewer
guessing too.

Emily is shown in claustrophobic scenes inside the coffin,
buried, with only a small hole providing ventilation. Eventually, in
order to unravel the mysteries of the killer and save Emily, Poe must take pen in
hand again and write his dark prose.

It is of interest that although the story takes place in Baltimore,
the movie actually was shot on locations in Serbia and Hungary. The
gloomy climate during which the story takes place adds to the dark
tone of the film. Also, there are graphic depictions of violence, so
a strong stomach might come in handy when viewing “The Raven.”

One can see why Cusack was eager to play Poe. It is an inviting
challenge to portray a brilliant if tormented talent like Poe, shown
here as being ambivalent about his body of works, certainly
acknowledging their impact on his life while not being eager to
continue such writings.

Beautifully photographed with a musical score by Lucas Vidal that
captures the urgent and chilling tone of the story, “The Raven” is a
must-see for fans of Poe’s stories. Those familiar with his works
will enjoy seeing how the writer’s stories tie into the what the
killer is doing.

Poe’s stories have been adapted to the screen: “Murders in the Rue
Morgue” in 1932 featuring Bela Lugosi; “The Fall of the House of
Usher” (1960) and “The Masque of the Red Death” (1964) both featuring
Vincent Price; a definite adult-oriented version of “The Pit and the
Pendulum” in 1991 starring Lance Henriksen and Jeffrey Combs; and in
post-production is a film version of “The Tell-Tale Heart” that will
include Rose McGowan in its cast.

And even Clint Eastwood offered a nod to Poe in his directorial
debut, “Play Misty for Me,” in 1971. The psychotic Evelyn Draper
(Jessica Walter), stalking Carmel-based radio personality Dave Garver
(Eastwood), assumes the alias Annabel Lee, based on the Poe poem, to
move in with Garver’s unaware girlfriend Tobie (Donna Mills). When
she is ready to reveal what she has done, she quotes to Garver lines
from that poem: “And this maiden she lived with no other thought than to love and be loved by you.”

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