Poor Edgar Allan Poe can’t get a break from Hollywood—at least, not since Roger Corman made his famous adaptations in the 1960s with Vincent Price. Even the 1963 Corman movie called The Raven with Price, Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre, and young Jack Nicholson had nothing to do with Poe’s immortal poem; neither did the 1935 picture starring Karloff and Bela Lugosi. They do have one thing in common, however: they’re a lot more entertaining than the new release that bears this title.
John Cusack plays Poe at the end of his life, a pariah who can’t rustle up a drink in his hometown of Baltimore. He’s utterly obnoxious, and even abuses the newspaper editor who has published his work. This is not a good way to start a film; while we eventually learn some of the reasons this celebrated author has wound up impoverished and alone, they still don’t make him an ideal hero. Circumstance is the only reason we root for him as a police inspector (Luke Evans) discovers that a series of grisly murders is being enacted according to the exact details of Poe’s macabre writings. When the woman Poe has fallen in love with (Alice Eve) is abducted, the stakes get even higher: now Poe and the policeman must race against the clock to rescue the innocent woman.
Ben Livingston and Hannah Shakespeare’s original screenplay is reasonably clever, and director James McTeigue (V for Vendetta) keeps the action moving at a brisk pace. But the dark-hued film is so grisly and unpleasant that when the mystery is finally solved, the only satisfaction derives from knowing that it’s over.
The gulf between this film and the actual stories of Edgar Allan Poe is as wide as Mark Twain’s famous comparison of the words “lightning” and “lightning bug.” All it represents is a waste of time and talent.