Combustible Celluloid
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With: Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Lester Matthews, Irene Ware, Samuel S. Hinds, Spencer Charters, Inez Courtney, Ian Wolfe, Maidel Turner
Written by: David Boehm, based on works by Edgar Allan Poe
Directed by: Lew Landers
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 61
Date: 07/08/1935

The Raven (1935)

4 Stars (out of 4)

A Midnight Dreary

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Following the success of Edgar G. Ulmer's remarkable The Black Cat (1934), Universal Pictures quickly sought to re-create it, teaming stars Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi for the second time and once again and basing the story, very loosely, on the writings of Edgar Allan Poe. The result, The Raven, is nearly as remarkable, a sadistic, intense little film that is a great deal more prickly than many other early horror films of the era. Lugosi stars as Dr. Richard Vollin, a brilliant surgeon and Poe enthusiast. He reluctantly helps to save the life of a young woman, Jean (Irene Ware), and subsequently falls in love with her. However, she is already engaged. Citing the poem, Vollin becomes obsessed with the idea that his longing for Jean will drive him mad, so he plans to torture her father, her fiancee, and others, until Mary becomes his. (Not a great plan, but... stick with me.) Karloff (credited only with his last name) co-stars as Bateman, a criminal who comes to Vollin to ask for a new face, but Vollin turns him into a monster, half of his face mutated and horrifying, and forces him to do his dirty deeds. Eventually, everyone ends up in his secret lair, which is full of Poe-like torture devices, notably the swinging, bladed pendulum. Director Lew Landers (born Louis Friedlander) brings all this in in just 61 minutes; it's a jam-packed film that never lets up. He lacks the breathtaking, Expressionist visual style that Ulmer brought to the previous film, but makes up for it with the makeup, props, attempts at humor, and Lugosi's bonkers performance.

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