The trailer for The Raven made me fear that it would relate to Edgar Allan Poe about as much as a cement mixer does to Michelangelo. But the film is entertaining as author Poe (John Cusack) tracks a serial killer who is dementedly inspired by Poe’s famous stories. This film is less close to the 1963 comedy The Raven, a Poe-tic ham party (Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff, Vincent Price, young Jack Nicholson), than to Theatre of Blood (1973), starring Price as a ham festival — an actor merrily killing off critics by using the plots of his favorite Shakespearean roles.
Cusack, always a bright actor, only chews a little ham as Poe rushes his last story to the press while sleuthing clues and trying to save his abducted fiancée (Alice Eve). The fiend has crammed her alive inside a coffin, always a fine creep-out (Uma Thurman got more out of it in Kill Bill). Director James McTeigue, well up from Ninja Assassin, achieves old-fashioned melodrama in a Baltimore gone gothic with rain, fog, and ghostly shadows. The city would later have Hannibal Lecter, and this picture has some Lecter taste for blood and wounds. The 19th-century trappings include Luke Evans as a detective whose face deserves a daguerreotype.
Probably the breathless plot would leak like a busted cask if really examined, but it is fun to watch. And the pathos of Poe’s last days feels fairly close to the alcoholic genius whom his French translator, Charles Baudelaire, called a companion spirit. Poe died in 1849, mysteriously. Suspected causes range from syphilis to goblins. The Raven caws his name with considerable verve.