The final days of author and original emo, Edgar Allan Poe, remain one of great mysteries of the literary world. Roaming Baltimore, delirious, in someone else’s clothes and asking after ‘Reynolds’, Poe died soon afterwards giving no indication of what had happened to him. James McTiegue’s The Raven tries to tie all the loose ends together with a wholly fictional account that sees Poe (John Cusack) trying to solve a series of murders based on his macabre tales.
The Raven looks sumptuous; all cracked red leather seats and cigarello smoke. And that’s the good points out of the way.
Thematically, the film awkwardly staggers along the line between the Hughes Brothers pi-faced From Hell and Guy Ritchie’s slap-around Sherlock Holmes series. When Cusack isn’t beating his chest and shaking his fist at the heavens, he’s sharing quips with surly Inspector Emmett Fields (Luke Evans) in what looks like an attempt at camaraderie. This unevenness of tone is just the tip of an iceberg that encapsulates an overlong running time, a worthless antagonist and an ending that is unsatisfactory to say the least.
A young woman finds herself drawn inexplicably to a run down theatre, becoming witness to a series of morbid tales, hosted by a human sized ventriloquial figure. Yes, we’re in the terror-tory (Ha! Pun!) of portmanteaus – a genre of horror that the term ‘mixed bag’ was genetically grown for. Whereas in the distant past, other films of this type (The House that Dripped Blood, Asylum) have tended to be headed up by one team behind the curtain, Theatre Bizarre goes the way V/H/S, with different directors and writers for each segment.
Unfortunately, unlike V/H/S, it’s just not very successful. Some stories simply substitute gore and tits for story, whilst others seem to tag on a surprise ending at odds with the rest of the tale – a case of ‘he was walking down the street, eating an ice cream and then his knees fell off’. One story in particular, in which a mother tries to make light of her young daughter’s fascination with death after witnessing a bike accident, stands out the most because of its maturity amongst all the blood and boobs. It’s the bright spark in an otherwise depressing number of z-grade stories that not even the appearance of uber-legend, Tom Savini, can save.
100 Ghost Street: The Return of Richard Speck
Following on from the exploitative nature of 8213 Gacy House, the Asylum crew build their latest cheapovision horror around the legend of real life serial rapist and murderer, Richard Speck. People run through dark corridors, then walk, then run some more, then shout ‘what what the fuck was that?!’ whilst running. It’s all very tedious and reaches the pinnacle of vulgarity when we, the viewing public, are treated to a two-minute rape scene by Richard the Friendly Ghost. The fact the scene reminded us of Scary Movie 2, just heightened our displeasure. 100 Ghost Street plays like a bingo card for all other found footage horrors, showing a lack of originality we haven’t seen since Exorcismus. Avoid like the plague.