Move over John Carter, another action hero is headed to the big screen -- and would you believe it's Edgar Allan Poe? Indeed, the famed poet and fiction writer will appear this spring in The Raven, under the direction of V for Vendetta's James McTeigue. And unlike recent poet biopics like Bright Star (which conjures up John Keats) and Howl (Allen Ginsberg), The Raven is far more interested in entertainment than the truth.
The Raven focuses on the mysterious circumstances surrounding Poe's death. On his way to take a job in Philadelphia, Poe stopped in Baltimore for unknown reasons, where he was found delirious, wandering the streets. He died in a hospital a few days later of "acute congestion of the brain." Many suspect that Poe's lifelong struggles with alcoholism and depression were behind his death, though rabies, of all things, is also a possibility.
The Raven has other ideas: namely that in his last days Poe found himself in a murderous battle of wits -- think Seven -- with a killer bent on recreating the writer's goriest short stories. When the killer's intent becomes clear, an investigator utters a line that will make anyone familiar with Poe's work chuckle: "Are there any other stories in the collection?" he says, "stories specifically about murder?"
The movie brings the best-known of those stories to life, including "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," "The Tell-Tale Heart," and the maniacal torture device in "The Pit and the Pendulum":
Looking upward, I surveyed the ceiling of my prison. It was some thirty or forty feet overhead, and constructed much as the side walls. In one of its panels a very singular figure riveted my whole attention. It was the painted figure of Time as he is commonly represented, save that in lieu of a scythe he held what at a casual glance I supposed to be the pictured image of a huge pendulum, such as we see on antique clocks. There was something, however, in the appearance of this machine which caused me to regard it more attentively. While I gazed directly upward at it (for its position was immediately over my own), I fancied that I saw it in motion.
All the horror should be fun to watch. John Cusack, who plays Poe in the movie, told the British press that he had a wonderful time playing the volatile writer, whom he repeatedly, and affectionately, called a lunatic. He told the BBC, "He had so many paradoxical qualities: he was courageous, weak, vain and yet incredibly romantic."
But you shouldn't expect an Oscar winner -- the early reviews are mixed. David Edwards of the Scottish Daily Record, wasn't impressed:
"Since his death in 1849, Poe has been painted as a tortured genius, which isn't the same thing as a wildly unsympathetic protagonist given to melodramatic random shouting."
The Guardian enjoyed it a bit more, giving it three out five stars, and noting, "there's some gruesome drama and Cusack is on decent form."
The Raven opened in the UK on Friday and will be coming to the States in April, when we can look forward, at least, to more attention being paid to one of literature's great innovators and one of poetry's best recruiters. In the mean time, you can read a selection of Poe's work here.