Toad Welcome back to Vagrant Fox, everybody! Tonight we’re going to dive straight into The Raven, starring John Cusack as Edgar Allen Poe. Enjoy.
Travis There is an opening text about how Poe, near the end of his life, was found on a park bench in Baltimore. Then the movie opens with a high shot of a raven on a branch overlooking a man on a bench, not to keep you in suspense it is Poe. But he does not appear to be not dying… if the movie doesn’t end with him on this park bench dying then I’ll be mad.
Toad I would really like this movie if Poe just followed Ravens around with his notebook writing things.
Travis What’s that trope called where the name of the movie is spoken in the movie?
Toad Title Drop.
Travis Oh yeah, the shitty CG raven.
Toad It was like 30 seconds in and already I was wondering why they bothered. Did no one watch it? Was there really a group of people watching the edited version of this film going, “Eh, good enough.”?
Actually, considering the hour and a half that comes after it that may well be the case.
Travis The raven flies up into the sky and we see the darkness and moon fade in, the raven cry fades into a woman’s cry and a bunch of cops in horse drawn carriages run into an apartment.
I like the guy that comes out and says “4th floor” and the old cop says “Upstairs” but I saw his old face and heard “Oh, stairs”. Yeah dude, we need some elevators up in here.
Toad I liked this line simply because the cop that said “Upstairs” did it in a tone that indicated that he wasn’t sure if the other cops following him realized that “4th floor” meant upstairs. Like, how dumb can you be and still be a cop in the 1840’s?
And do they have this problem with other simple things? Like if someone hands them a glass do they look at the elder cop and he goes, “drink” and then they’re like, “Oh….”
Travis They get to the door just as she stops screaming and someone inside locks the door. They they bust in, woman is dead on the ground all slashed up. The window is locked from the inside and another woman is dead in the fireplace. They do a bit where they search the armoire, and by search I mean they throw open the door and fire a pistol shot in immediately.
Toad That was the best bit. They just said, “F*ck it” and fired a bullet into the armoire as soon as it was open. Anyone could have been in there. A frightened kid, another woman, an innocent guy that was tied up by the murderer…Baltimore PD in 1840 just doesn’t care.
Travis No one is there but 1) If there was a murderer, now you can’t arrest them. 2) What if it was a survivor, you just killed them. 3) where do you think that bullet will go… this is an apartment complex.
Toad Well, it’s 1840 gun technology. My first thought was, if you’re going to shoot whoever’s in the armoire, just fire through the door, but maybe they were worried the bullet wouldn’t penetrate a half inch of wood. In which case the people in the apartment next door are fine. Now we cut to what can only be Poe, sitting in a bar trying to get free drinks based on how famous he thinks everyone in the bar should think he is.
Travis And here we again have Poe; not dying yet, walking into a bar. This is not the start of a joke. I imagine this scene is to show us that he is down on his luck, but by this time had published many works including the raven as he complains that nobody in the bar, except a frenchman has heard of it. This must be part of the no artists are famous until they are dead bit.
Toad It’s very clear from this scene that everyone in the bar, and possibly all of Baltimore, hates Edgar Allen Poe. And after watching him rant about how no one appreciates him I can understand why.
Back at our Murder…
Travis Cut to a man rolling up on the scene, this must be the police inspector. He’s doing some swell CSI work for being a 19th century police man. Back then cop work was more like:
“Is the guy that killed her still here?”
“Well, I guess they got away with it.”.
The copper surveys the scene, finds the trick nail that allowed the man to escape the locked room and has an epiphany. He recognizes this setup… but from whence it came?
Toad He’s a brilliant detective. This scene is here to let us know that he’s a brilliant detective. His mind works in mysterious ways that cause him to push at nails with penknives and thus discover spring loaded windows.
Back to Poe…. (this will be a theme)
Travis The next day, more tales of Poe’s woe as he stops a carriage and jumps in. There is a Alice Eve (of gratuitous underwear flashing in Star Trek fame) playing Emily Hamilton and Brendan Gleeson (famous for being Brendan Gleeson) playing her father Capt. (of what?) Charles Hamilton. Poe makes a pass at the daughter and banters with the father, gets rebuffed (by Emily, Brendan Gleeson is always scowling so he’s a hard read) and run off. But in doing so he drops something in her pocket. Maybe they are having a fling on the sly.
Toad It’s Mad-Eye Moody! Also, the sheriff from the criminally underrated Lake Placid. Yeah, Poe and this chick are definitely banging on the side. Is this his cousin? Lenore? Wasn’t she supposed to be like 13, or am I confusing Poe and the Great Balls of Fire Dude. Dennis Quaid. No, what’s his name, Jerry Lee Lewis.
Travis Poe wanders into the baltimore herald office to find out his review of rival poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was not published, but that instead a poem by Longfellow was instead published depriving him of both a chance to slight his rival and giving further fame and I assume a paycheck, to Longfellow.
Also… Poe hates Longfellow. And all other poets… and the editor of the herald. This guy has a lot of hate, debt and a drinking problem (to hear him say it the problem is that he has run out of drink).
For the record: The paper is the Baltimore Patriot; but I lived in Baltimore and remember the paper as the Herald. It’s easier in this case to be wrong.
Toad Poe is really an intensely unlikable character. He has no redeeming qualities whatsoever. Am I supposed to be rooting for him, or hoping he’s actually the killer? That would have been an awesome twist ending to this movie that’s probably filled with blatant disregard for the truth anyway. Why not just make him the killer?
Now we cut to a mysterious chamber…
Travis Some poor guy is spread eagled out on a table and a pendulum above swings back and forth. We know how this ends, the victim gets cut in half. I was surprised how quickly it happened… if he were bond, it would have taken 30 minutes to reach him. BTW, the cut to this scene will make no sense once the villain is revealed.
Toad Even with the CGI blood this is a pretty gruesome looking way to die.
And we’re cutting back to Poe.
Travis Poe is in a house dissecting a heart, as you do, and Emily from the carriage comes in and starts reading poems at him. Annabelle Lee, I like that poem. I guess he hasn’t published it yet, as she is reading it at him like it was the first time she had heard it.
Toad I think the heart dissecting was just to make him seem creepier, but it really just felt fake. And for no apparent reason Poe has a pet raccoon. Also, Emily, who is not Lenore, apparently, is really pretty and seems nice. What the Hell does she want with Poe? Again, the man has no redeeming qualities.
Travis “I can’t help it. I despise people that despise me.” I might like this character if he was in a better movie.
And the complication, Poe and Emily desire to be married! How sweet, but what to tell daddy? I’m calling it now she is totally getting killed by the serial killer. Well we already know Poe dies so I put odds she gets bumped up to 50/50.
Toad This is some other kind of trope about period pieces that I can’t stand. There’s this constant barrage of perfectly capable adults over the age of 18 who have no say in who they marry or date because their parents don’t approve. Really?
Also, apparently he got the heart from his friend who works at the morgue for “inspiration”. Possibly for the Tell-Tale Heart? But as Travis pointed out we’re just a few days from Poe’s death according to the movie, so…when does he have time to write it?
Travis Cut back to the detective… oh right, there is a better movie happening at the same time… I had forgotten. It appears he has found the passage that tickled his memory. It is from a story by Edgar Allen Poe.
Cut to Poe giving a poetry class… but it’s the next day. Wow they do a lot of cuts. Not so much a class as a reading to a room full of women. This must be the 1840’s version of Iron Maiden. No banging the groupies Poe, the police have arrived to take you to meet with our intrepid Detective Fields.
Toad He does have some of the women in the room reading poems. Is he giving a class? Is Poe also a teacher?
Travis “Ah, yes, the infamous detective fields” Thank you Captain Exposition for letting us know he is famous. That’s good, if you hadn’t told me I never would have known I should have known him.
Toad He’s not famous. He’s IN-famous. Also he appears to be studying some magnetic hair. Does that come up again?
Also, I like that the headline of the paper is “GRISLY DOUBLE MURDER!” in all caps. They knew how to sell papers in those days.
Poe: Do you think I did this?
Fields: Let me see your hands… nope you didn’t do it.
Travis I guess pansy hands is a legit murder alibi.
Toad He should have poked him with his magic penknife.
Travis Word of the Pit and the Pendulum killing has reached the detective and he rushes off to investigate. The Editor of the Herald is there, it would seem the victim did some work for the Herald.
Toad The editor asks if Edgar is a suspect and the cop says, “Everyone is a suspect.” I’m no longer sold on this guy being a brilliant detective.
Editor: Is Edgar a suspect? The only thing he’s ever killed is a bottle of brandy.
Travis I wish my boss could write an endorsement that wringing. Now that his boss cleared him as a killer, Poe can be brought into the fold as a consultant. If I get in trouble, I want Poe’s boss as my lawyer.
Toad Or these cops as the ones hunting me.
Travis And like the Riddler, the killer leaves a clue to his next action. The mask of the red death, and Capt. Hamilton from the carriage is throwing a costume ball the next day. So now we are off to warn Gleeson and inform him that they will take part in this ball to find the killer!
But since this movie has no twists, we know this was part of the killers plans.
Toad This is a trope known as a Xanatos Gambit. The killer has planned everything, including everyone’s reaction to everything that happens.
The brilliant detective wants to leave some policemen in the party dressed as party-goers to catch this guy, but Mad-Eye Moody wants to just hire extra security. I think “I don’t need the police to help me” is also a trope of some kind.
He agrees to let some cops hang around, as long as they “scrape the shit off their boots” first. Ooh, burn.
Travis Emily is playing the piano and an old woman says “She is so full of life”. Clue two that she is totally going to die.
Toad They probably cut the scene where she was supposed to retire in a few days.
Poe sneaks in to prove that the police aren’t capable of keeping him out. Um…good job. Now what?
Then Mad-Eye gets a nice burn. The cop tells him Poe has a unique perspective on these murders and he asks, “Why? Is the killer a raving alcoholic?”
Travis Poe sneaks away to talk with Emily; he wants to delay the engagement announcement scheduled for tomorrow. So now we know when she dies… if the script is any good, it will be before she can announce the engagement at the party.
Toad Now we’re at the party. I love that the police are “blending in” by wearing police uniforms and Roman helmets with masks.
Also note, someone tells the newspaper editor that he must be selling a lot of papers with two murders this week. Actually, dude, it’s 3 murders, but two incidents. Maybe he didn’t actually read the papers.
Travis Cut to!… a horse running through the night time mist. Is something interesting going to happen? No haha.. back to the ball.
At the party Detective Fields spies someone in red.. is it the killer! queue overly loud music! No, it is just an old man… drat, false alarm. We can all relax.
But No! Back to the horse… does this mean the horseman is the killer? Suspense! I have to think that the Horseman is Hitchcock’s bomb under the table; but it’s not working here.
On to Poe, oh right… he’s the star of the movie. I keep forgetting that. He chose a poor mask, as it looks like Blackface but is instead just a full face mask. he snags a drink, spies his woman and downs it in one gulp.
Toad Poe takes a glass of wine from a waiter, downs it, and tosses the glass behind a curtain where it smashes. He is a complete ass.
Travis Earlier he had convinced Emily to delay the engagement, but after some of his magical elixir he spies Emily across the ballroom floor and must dance with her. The effect is lost somewhat before pulling down his mask he says “Nevermore”. I know you wrote it, but you’re still a dork.
Poe and Emily dance and mid lambada…Payoff! The horseman comes bursting in and gets capped by Capt. Hamilton. Ha, crash my party will you! I do appreciate how he had no qualms firing at the Horseman in the middle of all of his guests.
But during the commotion, the Killer stole Emily! Er.. How… there were like 100 people there. No one saw anything?
Toad He’s clever, this one.
Travis They clearly show someone guiding her away after the horseman barges in ok, she really could have fought harder… but Poe is also being driven the opposite direction by the crowd…. and by crowd, I mean one old woman. Seriously Poe, you need to hit the gym when you get roomba’d by a geriatric dancer.
The Horseman had a note for our heroes. The villain has upgraded himself from the Riddler to Simon from Die Hard with a Vengeance having challenged Poe, and by extension Detective Fields, to a challenge of wits and crime solving with Emily’s life as the prize.
The killers note also mentions the Descent into the Maelstrom though I am unclear if Poe is writing it now as an original work, or if it is just being serialized during this event.
A Quick cut to Emily presumably being buried. It’s a bit odd; we are suspect that she is not being properly buried.
Toad And she’s apologizing to the person burying her, as though it’s her fault.
Travis Next scene! In the morgue a doctor is going to teach a class but instead a dead woman and a raven “lol” is in the box. This is another Poe Tale, the unfortunate fate of something something… now he has to try and remember every detail in order to find the differences… maybe they are clues.
Toad The Mystery of Marie Roget. Touted by wikipedia as the first time a real life crime had ever been fictionalized. That’s a nice touch by the screenplay writer, actually.
Interestingly, Poe claimed to know who killed the girl this murder was based on, published parts 1 and 2 in a Ladie’s Journal Magazine, then delayed part 3 when new information was uncovered, which indicated she might have died as the result of a botched abortion, then Poe changed the ending to part 3 and claimed he knew it all along.
Maybe the fictionalized asshole Poe is in fact really an asshole.
Travis The woman in the casket was presumed to be a common whore; but the blood on her dress was fake blood. She’s no whore, she is an actress! And at the Theater they’re currenly doing a show! So the killer got her away from the show and into the morgue with none the wiser; he’s good.
Toad When Fields is talking to the guy teaching the morgue class he asks about his hands, whether the guy touched the lock and the guy shows him his hands. That’s two. One more and it’s a fetish.
Poe tells Fields, “Regardless of what you think of me, I am a master of my art.”
Well, at least he’s humble.
Turns out our actress friend who turned up dead was in Macbeth. And we’re off to the theater!
Remember what MST3K taught us, kids. Don’t put a better story in the middle of your mediocre story.
Travis Wait! a stage hand is missing.. quick, split up and search for him… yeah, that’s the best way to do it.
Toad As taught to us all by every single episode of Scooby Doo.
When they question the stagehands Fields makes them show him his hands. That’s three. That’s a legit fetish right there.
The missing stagehand is named Maurice. I hope when they find him he’s a space cowboy.
Fields tells his cop buddies to shoot the stage hands if they move while he and Poe search the building for the stagehand that Poe is convinced is “still here”. Why would he be there? If he killed a woman wouldn’t he have bailed when the cops showed up?
Also, the play is still clearly going on while the cops have the stagehands held at gunpoint. Which means either the play is being done terribly in front of a paying audience or someone is about to realize they can run a theater without stagehands.
Travis During the search, the cop corners someone and says “Show yourself!” and Poe up in the rigging says the same thing to some shrouded figure “show yourself”. I thought it was odd the first time I heard it, the second I merely thought it was lazy writing.
Toad Then a cop gives Poe a pistol. I can already tell you this is a bad idea.
Travis The rafter guy drops a canvas on poe, which makes him tumble and he drops the pistol the cop just gave him. I’ve seen Castle, it took like 2 seasons for those cops to trust the writer with a gun. guess things were more off the hip back then.
Toad The infamous detective is holding, at gunpoint, a small child. He tells the kid, “Come out or I will shoot you.” I can attest to you, small, innocent child, he’s not kidding. Baltimore cops like shooting people.
Travis The gun Poe dropped goes off which causes a panic, everyone runs and the bad guy gets away.
Toad The moment of genius that happens here is that when the gun goes off Detective Fields actually looks at his own pistol for a second to make sure he didn’t just accidentally kill a kid.
The scooby gang find another clue, this time a severed tongue with a quill stuck through it. Before we can figure out what the hell this scene is all about, a cop runs in yelling about an accident. Someone has torched Poe’s house. Fires are extremely stupid in a city, I find it hard to believe someone would burn down a house to punish him.
Travis Punish him btw, for an article he wrote which apparently incited hatred in the populace… i’m ok with that, what i’m not ok with is we didn’t get to read what he wrote so we don’t know why they are angry.
Toad Nice juxtaposition of Poe smoking while his house burns down.
Also, the firemen found a raccoon. Poe can tell from it’s voice that it’s his. How many people had pet raccoons in Baltimore?
Travis We get to see Emily again. I’m now thinking she is buried under the floorboards of a house, but it’s hard to tell. It still sounds like dirt he is throwing on her coffin type prison.
Toad It’s weird, she’s clearly laying down on her back when they show her in the box, but when she pokes a hole out and looks at the room it looks like she’s got a clear view of the room like she’s standing up.
And then she stabbed him in the eye! Which just made him cover her back up with dirt.
Travis And back to poor Poe wandering the night, he has no place to stay, so he shows up at Detective Fields house. Poe blows his lid that no progress is being made and exclaims that he has never written of a sailor. There is a lightning flash outside and we see a man standing in the rain. I presume the killer, but what does it accomplish?
Toad I like Fields and Poe living together like some kind of 19th century Odd Couple. This would have made a better sitcom than a movie. They can solve crimes together, get drunk and randomly shoot at things. Plus, they already have a wacky raccoon.
Fields tells Poe that to find a needle in a haystack you just have to go through all the hay. Brilliant! Thanks for helping out detective.
Travis Poe has never written about a sailor, but the name of the ship, Fortunato is from the Cask of the Amontillado. So now they are in the waterworks looking for recent masonry. they find some, in all of the sewers mind you, and begin to dig, though I suspect that what they will find is an older corpse.
Toad So, what appears to happen is, first of all, someone gave Poe an axe and he’s just randomly tearing up the sewers under Baltimore. Secondly, a policeman finds some masonry that appears to have different color mortar, though how he could see that is well beyond my comprehension because I’ve watched that scene 3 times now and I still don’t see it.
But they tear through the wall, shove a lantern in the hole and what it looks like is the other side of the wall is another tunnel, where the killer is holding up a woman with blonde hair. Inspector Fields see this and runs off to find the other tunnel, and the killer drops the body to the ground.
This is important to note only because as the inspector gives chase Poe and the other cops keep digging and the girl falls through the wall as though she were propped up against it. Which defies all logic and reason. Actually it looks like she’s on a slightly raised platform and they pull her through, though that’s not what the earlier scene indicated at all.
Travis Instead Fields using his magic cop instincts instead runs off on a hunch, and finds the killer. A chase is afoot!
The best part of the chase is the cops shoots, misses, then yells out “Halt”. Yeah, that will inspire me to stop running.
Toad I’m sure there are plenty of people in the Baltimore morgue right now that would tell you that this is a technique the police have been using there for years.
Travis Calling it now… the butler did it. It would explain how he captures emily so easily, she would go with him since she knows him. Also when she is begging for release she never asks who he is, just why he is doing this to her.
Catching the killer failed so back to the corpse in the wall. They pull some clues off the dead sailor that was found in the wall. They get longitude and latitude to St Croix island across the sea. Obviously they can’t go that far, but the name means Holy Cross I guess which is a nearby church.
Toad Well that’s a bit of luck, isn’t it? I mean, otherwise this movie would be an hour longer while we waited for them to charter a boat.
Travis Our heroes run to the Church and immediately separate… again… and the killer is up over a doorway for some ambush action. Wait, why is he at the church… and why is he over THAT doorway? Some redshirt cop sees the killer, pulls his gun and gets a shot off… missing the guy jumping right at him. For his folly, the cop gets his throat slit.
Detective Fields rushes to the scene and gets stabbed in the back leaving only Poe to chase the killer down who easily escapes, probably because you let a drunk poet lead the chase.
They find a grave with Emily’s name on it, but it turns out to be empty.
Toad Meanwhile Poe and Mad-Eye have a touching moment where they become best friends and Emily’s Dad blames himself for everything. At this point I was almost still convinced he was behind the whole thing.
Now with the day over, Poe must go write a story about the day. He is writing about Emily trapped in a coffin. So I guess the whole Maelstrom thing is “Serialized, like the Maelstrom” as he has to write daily. Maybe that would have made more sense if I didn’t have to look up what the hell The Maelstrom was.
Travis Speaking of Emily… she is escaping from… it was a floorboard. You go girl. She is in some sort of catacomb room, but before she can escape the killer sneaks up on her with some “Does this rag smell like chloroform?” action. I would appreciate that he was there waiting for her to escape, dashing her hopes, if he wasn’t also everywhere else at the same time.
Toad There’s really only one explanation for this that makes any sense: clones.
Obviously they got Tesla to build them a cloning device…no, wait, that was a different movie.
Travis Poe goes to visit Detective Fields but there is a newspaper and a note from the killer. The note from the killer is wet, the paper is dry. Only two people read that story, the editor and Ivan the assistant. My bad, the butler didn’t do it.
Toad Oh, Ivan. He’s somehow simultaneously chloroforming Emily and stopping Poe from strangling the editor of the paper. This movie would have made more sense if Ivan had a twin brother.
Travis Poe bust in on the editor! Ah ha oh.. you’re dead I guess this clears you. You, Ivan the typesetter! At this point I would like to imagine the story where Poe didn’t figure out the wet note / dry paper thing and Ivan killed the Editor for no good reason.
Toad And even that would have made more sense than this.
Ivan: My secret is now known. That means it is time for The Villain Soliloquy (tm).
I had to speed things along so that you could realize it was me. Ivan the humble typesetter, your biggest fan. Ok Ivan, what up to this point would have led us to believe it was you committing these crimes? At the very least, all of your notes were handwritten. Way to be TYPESETTER.
Toad So the plot all along was, “You’re not writing enough, I’ll kidnap your woman, make you crazy and get you to write some more stories.”?
Also, how did Ivan know about Poe and Emily? Wasn’t that like a secret or something? The plot led us to believe her dad wasn’t even aware of it.
For that matter the plot led us to believe that Ivan was one person who could teleport around Baltimore at will, so there’s really no logic going on here.
Ivan at one point here tells Poe, “Rather disappointing denouement, I have to say.” Is he watching the movie too?
Then he tells him, “But that’s life isn’t it? So much less satisfying than fiction.”
Maybe not this fiction.
Travis Ivan wants Poe, whom he admires, to talk about his sick and devious mind in setting up this little escapade. But Poe, the guy with the gun, just wants to know where Emily is. Ivan gives Poe the lovers bargain. Drink the poison and I’ll tell you where Emily is. Poe drinks poison, and as Ivan walks out gives Poe the clue so that he learns Emily is below the floorboards. Note to Poe, at this point, you may now shoot Ivan.
Poe tears up the floor and finds a hidden room and I guess gets a second wind, some respite from the poison, as he really tears up that floor to get downstairs looking for emily.
Finally Poe tears up the floor again in the secret room, the secret catacomb room in the Newspaper building mind you, to find Emily buried… again what is this the 4th time, that guy has no imagination.
Toad Emily is going to spend the rest of her life scared of shovels.
Travis Poe gets his Third Wind from the poison as he carries emily upstairs to the waiting ambulance. Did they have those back then?
Toad Sure, why not. Somebody’s got to be carting off all the bodies Detective Fields leaves in his wake.
Travis And now back to Edgar sitting on the park bench… oh good, it had come full circle. I feel better now. Poe doesn’t, he’s dead… but I take back 40% of my complaints.
Toad But there’s more! Ivan has made his way to Paris, where he arrives at…a matte painting. And then Detective “Gunny” Fields is waiting in a cab to shoot him. Glad he got to shoot somebody.
But how did he know which cab Ivan would get in? I guess he was running his own Xanatos Gambit.
Well played, Fields.
Travis Lets get the Good, Bad and Ugly out of the way. Todd, hit us with some good.
Toad Is there good in this movie? The raccoon hit all it’s marks.
Travis Raccoons don’t get enough play.
Oy.. and now the bad. I’m going with John Cusack. He just… you know, he didn’t even Cusack his way through this movie… because that would have been enjoyable. He went out of his way to be completely unlikeable.
Toad Yeah, nobody who made this movie wanted me to like Edgar Allen Poe. Mission accomplished. He’s an ass.
Also, everything. Everything was bad.
Travis Maybe Longfellow made this movie.
Toad I have no trouble believing that. We should look up this director and see if he’s a descendant of Longfellow.
For the Ugly…I don’t know, how terrible is this movie that I can’t even figure out what the Ugly is?
I’m gonna say the teleporting villain. Jason Voorhees has nothing on this guy. He’s literally in two scenes, occurring at the same time, in different parts of the city and that happens at least twice during the movie.
Travis For my ugly i’m going to quote Superheidi, as user from IMDB. “This insipid film should carry the tagline “Poe for Stupid People Who Like The New Sherlock Holmes Movies”
Toad There you have it. The Raven. We watched it…
Travis … so you don’t have to. Final word Todd?