Dr. Scarabus (Boris Karloff), The Raven
As the 1960s arrived, Karloff was finding himself as busy as ever. He hosted 67 episodes of the anthology series Thriller, not to mention starring in numerous episodes, as well as appearing in other programs and specials, such as Arsenic and Old Lace in 1962. Later than same year, Boris Karloff teamed up with Peter Lorre and Lon Chaney Jr. for a memorable appearance on the Route 66 television series in the episode “Lizard’s Leg and Owlet’s Wing”. Karloff agreed to wear the monster makeup one more time, the first in more than 20 years. To Karloff, it was a pale shade of what once was but it did prove that Karloff was more popular than ever.
The Shock Theater package was now playing on televisions nationwide, giving a whole new generation of fans opportunity to discover his classic films. There was a renaissance of interest in all things Karloff so it was no surprise to find Hollywood knocking on his door once more. Karloff turned down an opportunity to star in William Castle’s version of The Old Dark House because it just wasn’t the right film for him. But, when American International Pictures offered him a role in The Raven (1963), he eagerly accepted the role.
Director and producer Roger Corman (House of Usher, Pit and The Pendulum) teamed up with writer Richard Matheson (Tales of Terror, the novel I am Legend) for a more lighthearted loose adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s classic poem. Vincent Price was in his prime and would be reunited with Karloff for the first time since 1939s Tower of London. Peter Lorre rounded out the trio of terror with a great supporting cast of Hazel Court (The Masque of the Red Death) and a very young Jack Nicholson (The Little Shop of Horrors).
Karloff stars as the aging Dr. Scarabus, who allegedly turns Dr. Adolphus Bedlo (Peter Lorre) into a raven after being challenged to a duel of magic. Bedlo comes tapping at the chamber door of Dr. Erasmus Craven (Vincent Price), who is still mourning the loss of his wife Lenore (Hazel Court) some two years earlier. After turning Bedlo back into a human following a hilarious pursuit of ingredients for a magic potion, Bedlo informs Erasmus that his wife is alive and well at the castle of Scarabus. With their children Estelle Craven (Olive Sturgess) and Rexford Bedlo (Jack Nicholson), they all head off to the castle for a confrontation with Scarabus. He greats them with open arms and smiles that only Karloff could pull off, leaving one with a chill. Not everything is as it seems as a final battle of magic looms in their future.
The Raven was Karloff’s first starring role in nearly five years and the years were not being entirely kind to Karloff. His back was continuing to plague him and walking long distances was becoming more and more difficult. His opening scene walking down the staircase is clearly edited for time. Lorre would improvise lines and while Price went along with chaos, Karloff struggled with the unexpected. His poor health was beginning to hinder long shooting schedules. Nonetheless, any on set difficulties never showed on screen and The Raven was a huge box office hit. Needless to say, I highly recommend it as one of my personal favorite Karloff and Price films.
The Raven is played purely for laughs and it is indeed an incredibly fun film. The final battle between Karloff and Price is, well, priceless and Lorre’s comedic lines always bring a smile to my face. Check out the trailer on your way to track down this film. It’s available either as a triple feature alongside The Pit and the Pendulum (1961) and Tales of Terror (1962) or as a double feature with The Comedy of Terrors (1963). Better yet, you can get it on Blu-ray in The Vincent Price Collection II. Speaking of The Comedy of Terrors, more Karloff and Price and Lorre goodness is in store for our next installment of the 3rd Annual 31 Days of Halloween!