Plot: After a terrible car accident, Jean Thatcher (Irene Ware) is in bad shape and in desperate need of medical care. While her boyfriend Dr. Holden (Lester Matthews) and other medical professionals are available, everyone seems to agree that only one man has the skills this situation requires. But Dr. Vollin (Bela Lugosi) assures them he is retired and that the doctors at hand can handle the case, at least until Jean’s father steps in to ask for his assistance. At that point, Dr. Vollin agrees and operates on Jean, saving her life and in the process, he finds himself attached to his patient. Jean’s father can sense Vollin’s growing affections toward his daughter, but the warnings only cause the doctor to become more entranced. He soon hatches a plan to have her to himself, but before he can do that, he will need the help of a criminal on the run (Boris Karloff), to make the plan come together.
Entertainment Value: This old school chiller isn’t based on Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven, but instead it centers on a man obsessed with Poe’s work, an approach that lends a fresh texture to the picture. After all, much of The Raven follows the usual horror formula of the time, with Lugosi and Karloff in prominent roles, an eerie old mansion, and a mad doctor going too far, so the new elements work wonders. The impact that art can have on those who consume it is always debated, especially when people blame art for their actions, so to see the concept explored a little in the 1930s is interesting, even if it doesn’t dive too deep. Otherwise, The Raven has that special Universal horror vibe and style, with good atmosphere and effective visuals, as well as production design elements that keep things on the creepy side. The special effects are fine, though Karloff’s makeup doesn’t hold up well, adding some unintentional humor once he has undergone the transformation. Even so, The Raven stands as a competent slice of Universal horror and it lets us watch two horror legends entertain us, so without question, this movie is recommended.
I’ll be honest, any movie with Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff in their primes is bound to warrant a look for me, so I might be biased. And The Raven does indeed feature these two cinematic titans at peak performance, with both turning in great efforts that genre fans should delight in. Karloff has the smaller role in this case, but is able to bring so much to each of his scenes. I think his ability to make even monsters and criminals have that touch of humanity is one reason Karloff is such a timeless performer, a trait on full showcase here. His character here might be a criminal, but Karloff makes him vulnerable and even fragile at times, while also keeping the potential threat of the man ever present. Meanwhile Lugosi threads a remarkable turn and his spiral into delusion is quite a sight to behold. I know some will complain he chews the scenes too much, but it works and while over the top, Lugosi’s performance here is effective and if nothing else, a lot of fun to watch. The cast also includes Lester Matthews, Irene Ware, Samuel S. Hinds, and Ian Wolfe.
The Disc: Scream Factory has released The Raven on Blu-ray, as part of their Universal Horror Collection Volume 1, complete with a new 2k scan of the original film elements, which fans will appreciate. The end result however, is not as impressive as I had hoped and while watchable, this presentation is inconsistent. The print is mostly clean, but detail greatly varies and softness is sometimes a concern, while contrast is also uneven in stretches. I think this is still an upgrade over the DVD versions I’ve seen, but not the definitive edition some might expect. I love that the supplements include a reading of The Tell-Tale Heart by Bela Lugosi, as it is as good as it sounds and is a fantastic bonus feature. The extras round out with a look at the making of The Raven, two commentary tracks from film authors, and some still photos.