The poet, horror writer, and critic Edgar Allan Poe died under mysterious circumstances in 1849.  He was found on the streets of Baltimore, Maryland.  He was rambling incoherently, and he spoke the name “Reynolds” several times.  He appeared to be inebriated.  He seemed to be wearing clothes that were not his own.  He was brought to a local hospital, where he died without ever being able to explain how he came to be there, whose clothes he was wearing, and who on earth this “Reynolds” person was.

Everything I’ve said so far is true, and you can read more about Poe’s death in lots of places, including The Guardian, TruTV, and (of course) Wikipedia.

For over 150 years, both fiction and nonfiction writers have been theorizing about what really happened during Poe’s final days, and treating “Reynolds” as a word as fascinating as “Croatoan” in terms of unsolved mysteries.  Here are just a few of the theories about Edgar Allan Poe’s last days:

  • Reynolds was someone he was trying to contact.
  • Reynolds was the person who left him to die, or who actually caused his death.
  • Poe had been beaten.
  • He was addled by drugs.
  • He had a brain tumor.
  • He was wearing different clothes because he sold his old clothes to pay for more liquor.
  • He was wearing different clothes as part of the voter fraud that was taking place in Baltimore on that election day.
  • His death was caused by vampires.

Like I said, there have been a lot of theories about Poe’s death over the years.  In The Raven, a new film directed by James McTeigue and starring John Cusack, we see yet another theory of how Poe came to meet his untimely end.  The film opens with some text on the screen telling the audience about Poe’s mysterious death, and implies that this film will help us learn what REALLY happened to him.

The Raven opens with Edgar Allan Poe — author, alcoholic, and widower — who is fighting for both money and recognition.  As we see him arguing with a bartender to serve him, arguing with his editor to publish his reviews, and arguing with his girlfriend’s father to accept their relationship, we feel sorry for him.  But then we think … Well, yes, he’s a self-centered alcoholic … but on the other hand HE’S A FRIGGING GENIUS and HE LOOKS LIKE JOHN CUSACK!!!

So in some ways, I found it difficult to feel sorry for this character because he was just too damn cute.  Okay, John Cusack isn’t at the Say Anything adorability level anymore, but still.  You know.  Cute.

However, I will say that Cusack IS very effective in conveying the anger and frustration of a genius who isn’t recognized the way he should be (except by one drunk French guy in a bar, and that hardly counts).

But wait … it turns out that Poe DOES have an enormous fan.  Unfortunately, this fan is demonstrating his admiration for Poe’s work by recreating some of the grisly scenes from his stories.  The scenes in which the police are investigating these murders will be especially interesting for any Poe fans in the audience, as they will start to recognize plot details before the police do.  I remember watching a scene, letting the details on the screen synchronize with the plot points in the recesses of my memory, and thinking, “The fireplace!  Check the fireplace!”  Then they checked the fireplace, and …

… oh dear, oh dear, oh dear …

As the story progresses the police figure out that the killer is emulating Poe’s work, and they start consulting with the author to help them brainstorm some solutions.  Detective Fields (who is also attractive, but whose hotness is undermined by the fact that he KEEPS YELLING ABOUT EVERYTHING) works closely with Poe, and the more time they spend together the more Fields realizes that Poe is a) a genius and b) kind of a dick.

Any story connected to Edgar Allan Poe is going to require a certain suspension of disbelief.  Believe me, I get that.  I’m a fan of Poe’s poetry and his stories, and I know that there’s a certain level of ridiculousness built in.  But seriously, Dear Readers, let’s think about this.  Imagine a giant pendulum that’s big enough to saw a person in half.  How do you build it?  What materials do you use?  Where do you build it?  How do you set it up?  Do you do it by yourself, or with accomplices that you probably have to kill afterwards?  How can you afford its construction?  These questions were nagging at me all along, and then when the identity of the killer was revealed, those nagging questions carried even more weight than before.

Let me sum up some of the high and low points of this film:

BAD STUFF:

  • The logistics of that damn pendulum.
  • Occasional uses of modern-day vernacular that were so jarring that they gave me mental whiplash.
  • All the yelling!  Not since Akira has a climactic scene involved so much damn YELLING!
  • All the blood and guts.  Okay, I guess this depends on how you feel about blood and guts on the screen, but to me this film pushed the grossness envelope a little too far.

GOOD STUFF:

  • There are several scenes in which a character is buried alive (I would say “spoiler alert,” but come on!  It’s an Edgar Allan Poe story!)  Anyway, these scenes are very well-done and very believable.  Like “I need to run out of this theater right now and get some fresh air” believable.
  • Poe and his girlfriend Emily have good chemistry together, so it’s easy to believe that they’re really involved in a relationship.  Plus, it’s always nice to see him involved with a lovely woman his own age, rather than [*shudder*] his teenage cousin.
  • In an example of turning lemons into lemonade, you can always try playing The Raven drinking game.  Just take a drink every time a character yells something.  NOTE: you might need to start diluting your drinks as you go along if you’d like to remain conscious until the end of the movie.

Overall, I do recommend seeing The Raven, but I don’t know if it was worth the $13.00 that it cost me to see it in a Manhattan theater.  If you can get a cheaper ticket that might be worth the money; otherwise you should probably wait until it comes out on cable / Netflix / DVD / etc.

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