In The Raven, John Cusack gains an inky black goatee and loses as much of his puckish ironic attitude as possible to play Edgar Allan Poe, the godfather of modern psychological horror. The movie is one of those faux-suspenseful, imitation-thriller biopics that are all made up (and don’t pretend otherwise). It gets basic details right, like the fact that Poe was a hard-drinking poet and author in 19th-century Baltimore who struggled to survive on income from his writings. (He was one of the first famous American writers to try to do so.) But the film, devising events that led up to his mysterious death in 1849, is also the most gruesomely literal-minded of period detective stories.
On the cobblestone streets, a serial killer is loose! Staging murders inspired by Poe’s stories! Which means that one person gets offed with a scythe-like pendulum, another gets buried alive, and so on. It’s Se7en redone as a Classics Illustrated potboiler. Yet there isn’t a whisper of Poe’s creepiness, of true Poe-etic horror, to these rotely ritualistic murder games. Cusack’s Edgar, teaming up with a local detective to solve the crimes, has a charmed feverishness, but there are no unspoken shadows haunting his soul. Everything about him is tirelessly revved up and spelled out, and that’s true of the film, too. C