Splatterfest did not exactly go off without a hitch this year. There were sick cats to contend with, early morning work that could not be ignored, friends who didn’t show up, pizza places who failed to give us the chocolate ice cream we were promised.
But it was not all for naught. A small group of us gathered and feasted upon pizza and the sweet, sweet delight that is mockery.
Oh yes. There was mockery to be had last night.
Light spoilers. Nothing that you don’t find out in the first ten seconds of the film. Serious spoilers will be saved for the aptly named Spoiler Section.
Edgar Allan Poe (John Cusack) teams up with Detective Fields (Luke Evans) to solve a series of gruesome murders that are copied directly from Poe’s stories.
1. It’s hard to say what’s worse in this movie, the writing or the acting. On one hand, the writing is pretty terrible. There are a couple of semi-funny lines, but most of them are unintentionally hilarious, and some of them that just make no sense at all. On the other hand, some lines you shouldn’t even be able to flub — calling out a woman’s name, for instance — and yet the people in this movie still somehow manage to do it. Sometimes, a little scenery-chewing makes for a good time, but this . . . this is taking the art to a terrible extreme.
2. For instance, John Cusack?
Cusack fucking gnashes on this scenery. It’s beyond ridiculous. I like him in some movies, I really do, but my God, is he woefully miscast here. He seems so out of place in the 19th century setting. His accent — for lack of a better word — feverishly bounces back and forth, and he seems to yell about 87% of his dialogue. Presumably, this is so we understand what a crazy, drunken, egotistical genius he is . . . but you know, crazy, drunken, egotistical geniuses are a dime a dozen these days as protagonists, and most of them do just fine without shrieking, “VIVA LA FRANCE!”
3. Also, “EMIIIIIIIIIIILY” is going to be the next “WAAAAAAAAAAALT,” I think. Between this and the guy who can’t even scream in terror correctly . . . yeah, I think our casting director might deserve a slap to the head.
4. Although, I don’t know that the other actors are quite as bad. Luke Evans — who I can only assume picks up all the shitty roles that James McAvoy turned down — is a little bland, but not absolutely horrifying. Emily (Alice Eve), the Love Interest, isn’t terrible when her life’s in danger — come now, it’s hardly a spoiler — but when she has to flirt with John Cusack?
Wow. She’s annoying, and their chemistry is awful.
5. I’m also trying to decide who did a worse job at recitation — Cusack doing “The Raven” or Eve doing “Annabel Lee.”
No, no . . . it has to be “Annabel Lee.”
For Christ’s sake. Is there a question marking after the “chilling and killing my Annabel Lee” line that I’m forgetting? How many awkward pauses can you throw in there? Why don’t you finish the fucking poem? (Admittedly, they didn’t start at the beginning. But we’re really going to stop one stanza away from the end? Really?)
People, I am not great at reciting poetry; I’m just not. Then again, I don’t get paid for it, either. If you’re going to recite “Annabel Lee,” (or really anything by Edgar Allan Poe) it really needs to sound like this:
6. Also — who gets turned on by your lover reading your own poetry to you? Isn’t that just fantastically, egotistically weird? I mean, I don’t write a whole lot of love poetry, tragic or otherwise, but if I did, I absolutely would not want a man to read it back to me in hopes of getting some make-out time. Yuck.
(By the by, apparently the funniest thing about this movie was my reaction to the poetry, at least according to my friends. Kirsten likened it to “attempting to melt into the floor.” It seemed as good of a survival method as any other.)
7. I wouldn’t dream of trying to mock every historical inaccuracy — actually, from what I can tell, some things were almost clever. (That is to say, they could have been clever in more skilled hands.) But three points:
7A. One of the victims in the movie, Rufus Griswold, was actually a critic who was still alive at the time of Poe’s death. From what Wikipedia tells me, Griswold wrote a pretty scathing and tasteless obituary of Poe, presumably to get the public to shun or otherwise ignore his work. Clearly, the strategy backfired.
I’m of two minds about this. On one hand, it does kind of amuse me that the writers took time to get back at a literary critic who’s been dead for about 150 years. On the other, if they were mad at him for making Poe look bad — well, I can’t say they helped make him look much better. Seriously, the guy just swipes another dude’s drink because John Bates wouldn’t serve him free booze, and I’m supposed to . . . what? Feel sorry for him? Edgar Allan Poe is not exactly likable in this movie.
7B. Less of an inaccuracy and more of a . . . shall we say reluctance to give all the facts? The film makes sure to mention Poe’s first wife who tragically died of tuberculosis. It quite fails to mention that his wife was also his cousin, and that she was thirteen when he married her. (Different times, I know, but he was 27 at the time . . . I think even then that was a bit of a controversy.)
7C. The Raven begins like so:
“On October 27th, 1849, Edgar Allan Poe was found, near death, on a park bench in Baltimore, Maryland.
The last days of his life remain a mystery.”
Watching this, I’m like, Ahhhh. So this is going to be one of those movies, eh? We’ll see the secret, secret things that really happened to Poe right before he died and the tragic twists of fate/massive conspiracies that kept this information from the public. Got it. Except . . .
There is no way, no way, that any of this could have happened if this story was actually real. None. Zippo. If they had framed The Raven as a slight AU, well, that would be something different. I don’t mind them changing historical fact. I mind them saying, “Oh, this is what really happened” when, in fact, if this had happened, everyone would know about it. The last days of Poe’s life can’t be a mystery when the evidence of his activities are published in the fucking paper.
8. Sadly, it’s not just terrible writing or overacting or poorly thought up framing devices that ruin this film. There’s also the unavoidable fact that it’s, frankly, a little boring. The death scenes are grisly enough, particularly the one featuring Rufus Griswold, but the scenes in between them are deathly long and, honestly, duller than hell. There’s a half-assed attempt to explore the working relationship between Poe and Detective Fields, I suppose, but it’s so exceptionally poorly developed that it makes very little sense. (It’s very, “Now we’re arguing because this is the time when partners argue! Dramatically!”) Even John Cusack munching on the scenery and then ralphing it back up gets a little stale, after awhile.
9. I tend to not get very riled up about anachronisms, but there are exceptions. If you’re going to randomly name drop an author that has nothing to do with Edgar Allan Poe — say, for instance, Jules Verne — you should probably make sure he’s published something before your protagonist bites it. (Also, let’s just not? Only bring up other historical and/or literary figures when there’s an actual story reason to do so.)
10. Also, writers — learn to write. Seriously. Okay, there were approximately three lines that I thought were funny — though I can’t remember any of them right now — and then there was . . . I don’t know. Could you really classify this as witty repartee?
Dude in Bar: “You better get to the door before I split your head open.”
Poe: “My head is already split open, overgrown mouth-breather, so show me some respect, or I’ll give you a personal tour.”
Um . . . yeah. Good comeback. I’m scared of you now, Poe.
11. At one point, there is such ultra fake blood spatter that I was strongly reminded of Ninja Assassin. Guess who directed The Raven?
Yup, James McTeigue. Besides The Raven and Ninja Assassin, he also directed V for Vendetta.
Now, I enjoyed Ninja Assassin and I mostly liked V for Vendetta — although it’s been awhile since I’ve seen either — but The Raven is not quite on par with these movies. On one hand, about the only positive thing you can say about this film is that some of the visuals are actually kind of cool. (I didn’t notice at first, being honest, probably because I was still horrified by Alice Eve ruining “Annabel Lee.” But my friends pointed it out, and I was forced to agree. Some shots are actually kind of pretty.)
Still, McTeigue makes some missteps himself. Agreeing to direct this movie, for one. Not reigning in the horrifically hammy performances for another. Also, slow-mo bullets. Seriously, no one likes those, especially in period pieces.
12. Finally, the end credits? I have never seen end credits that so badly contrast with the film. I’m convinced that the company who did them never actually saw the movie and had no idea the story took place in the 1800’s because wow. They are terrible.
If you’d like to know the identity of the serial killer, follow bellow.
Well, it’s some dude named Reynolds.
I should have gotten it earlier — much, much earlier — but I stubbornly held to my hope that Luke Evans was the bad guy for a long time because that’s what I guessed from watching the trailer, and I love accurately guessing twists from the trailer. It makes me laugh.
But no, it’s the meek guy who works at the paper — always the meek guys. Can’t trust timidity. He kidnaps Emily from the ball that her father (Brendan Gleeson — Gleeson, you are so much better than this movie; why are you here) is too stupid to cancel. (Emily’s also too stupid to postpone her engagement announcement plans at the party. Cause yes. This is the time to rebel to your daddy — when a serial killer obsessed with your boyfriend is on the loose. Sweet Jesus, lady, grow a brain or something.)
Reynolds also demands that Poe starts writing a work of fiction mixed with fact based on the murders that Reynolds is committing, or something. These stories are published in the paper. Poe ends the story by having his character sacrificing himself. Because Poe is an idiot. Seriously, there are a lot of ways to make a dramatic ending, you know? I’m okay with Poe sacrificing his life for his lady love, but I want that sacrifice to feel necessary. Here it mostly feels necessary because it’s the basis for the whole movie — what actually caused Poe’s death?
Not that it should be a mystery, mind. Okay, so after the only interesting character is predictably killed off (Maddux, played by Kevin McNally — who played Gibbs on all of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies), Poe agrees to drink poison to find out where Emily is being held. Reynolds quotes something from “The Tell-Tale Heart,” leading Poe to realize that she’s buried somewhere underneath the floorboards. He rescues her while Reynolds escapes.
While Emily is being taken to the hospital, Poe wanders off to a park and semi-incoherently tries to pass on the message that Reynolds is the killer. By the time Fields gets there (he was shot earlier), Poe is dead. Fields does get the message, though, and shows up in France to kill Reynolds.
And that’s about the end of the movie — that, and Cusack reading a very shortened version of “A Dream Within a Dream.” Which actually annoys me much more than the shortened “Annabel Lee,” if only because they read the first few lines and then skip to the last line as if that’s the whole poem. (Although, amusingly, I totally called that they would use this poem at the end of the movie when Poe died. Well, I suppose it wasn’t so hard with lines like “and in parting from you now”. Still.)
But back to that pesky puzzle of Poe’s death — it’s kind of cool that “Reynolds” apparently was one of the last things Poe (real Poe) said when he was found on that park bench. Like I said earlier, some things in this film could have actually been clever . . . if not for the monumental problem of how in the hell is Poe’s death a mystery? Okay, the authorities don’t have to know the exact poison that was used, or even if it was poison for sure — although the fact that his character in the published story sacrifices himself might have been a clue.
But all of the events that happened — the gruesome murders, the letters to the police, Poe’s involvement in the investigation — there’s no reason for any of this to be covered up. In fact, most of it couldn’t have been. The murders were reported on. Poe’s stories were published. Maybe the public wouldn’t have immediately known about Poe’s involvement, but the police certainly did. If Reynolds got away, maybe, maybe some of it would make sense — but Fields gets the message, understands it, and kills the bad guy. So . . . where is that mystery again?
Mostly absurd. Unfortunately, it’s too slow to really be the enjoyable cheese that it ought to be, but I suppose if you’re looking for a movie to mock (and nothing else) . . . well, John Cusack as Edgar Allan Poe solving crime isn’t the worst place in the world to start.
Um . . . the pendulum?
CHARACTER WHO MOST DESERVES TO BE SLAPPED WITH A BIG, DEAD, SMELLY FISH:
Probably Emily’s dad. Emily’s plenty dumb too, but it’s his call to keep the party going when a serial killer is extremely likely to attend. Who does that?
If your plans to announce your engagement are likely to be interrupted by a serial killer who enjoys particularly gruesome murders, well, just make sure you’re getting married to someone who writes horror stories. Because then continuing on with your plans isn’t idiotic. It’s romantic.