Once upon a midnight dreary…an eerie presence befell a sleepy village. A winged beast swooped from the sky, leaving behind severed hands and bloody hearts.
The Poe-centric Raven’s Hollow is a retelling of the author’s most famous poem, “The Raven,” well, sort of. While the film doesn’t necessarily follow the poem’s narrative to the letter, it does contain motifs, images, and themes from the work. Its Gothic imagery and meditation on grief and madness make for a fun watch during spooky season. The Shudder original has the right blend of atmosphere and mystery befitting for anything dealing with the 19th Century writer.
The Raven: A Recap
For those who haven’t read “The Raven” since 8th grade English class, here’s a quick recap. The poem centers around a grief-stricken unnamed narrator. In the opening lines, the man tries to distract himself by reading esoteric books, hoping it’ll ease his mind over the loss of his love Lenore. Suddenly, he hears something at his door. When he opens it, nothing’s there. He whispers, “Lenore” to the blackness outside and is greeted only with the echo of his words. He then hears something at his window. When he opens it, a raven perches on the windowsill.
Jokingly, the man asks the raven its name, and it responds, “Nevermore.” Throughout the rest of the poem, the speaker asks the bird a series of other questions, namely about his lost love and whether he’ll ever heal. The raven continually replies, “Nevermore.”
As each stanza progresses, the narrator descends into madness, tormented by his grief. The raven itself becomes a symbol of death and heartache. The poem is a masterclass in imagery and symbolism and remains one of the author’s most famous works. The chilly December setting, the speaker’s strife, and the bird’s famous response are hallmarks of American literature, bleak as they may be.
Raven’s Hollow and the Retelling of Poe’s Poem
Raven’s Hollow stars William Moseley as Poe. The film is set during the author’s brief stint at West Point. For those who don’t know, Poe did have a military background. To earn money, he enlisted in the army as a private in 1827. After a few short years, he quit the army and enrolled in West Point in 1830. However, he didn’t last a year.
The film is not a historical record of Poe’s time at West Point, however. Rather, it’s a Gothic tale that begins with a young woman (Marija Mara Markus) walking along a leaf-laden road. Suddenly, she’s attacked by a monstrous raven. It’s an effective opening that would fit right at home in one of Poe’s tales. The writer and his fellow cadets stumble upon a dead man tied to a rack. They investigate and soon learn about the winged demon that’s been tormenting the village.
This is a nasty little creature. It lifts one of the cadets in mid-air, pushes him out of the house, and impales him on a fence spike. It swoops down and lifts another man off his horse and drops his beating heart into Poe’s hands.
The Parallels Between Raven’s Hollow and Poe’s Work
Though Raven’s Hollow isn’t a totally faithful adaptation of the poem, there are parallels. At one point, a mysterious and alluring villager named Charlotte (Melanie Zanetti) explains to Poe that the demon/bird killed her sister, Lenore, leaving her parents grief-stricken, just like the poem’s narrator. Without spoiling too much, Charlotte’s story plays a major factor in the rest of the film, and she becomes a love interest of Poe’s.
The villagers, including Charlotte, view the raven as a demonic, evil presence. A stable hand, Usher (Get it, “The Fall of the House of Usher”), says, “Ain’t no bird. I couldn’t say what it is. Spirit? Devil? Indians call it bad medicine. It’s been here since before their time.” The poem’s narrator eventually calls the raven, “Thing of evil, prophet still, if bird or devil.” While the cadets laugh off Usher’s story, the death count grows. Raven’s Hollow isn’t a bloody or gory film, but there’s more than one devilish kill. In the film, like “The Raven’s” narrator, Poe becomes convinced the bird is evil. And similar to the narrator, he descends into madness and obsession, consumed with fear of what the raven may or may not be. This also plays up the reputation of a mad, mad Edgar Allan Poe, for better or worse.
Perhaps most importantly, the bird symbolizes loss. Charlotte’s family was never the same after Lenore’s death. Poe becomes crazed after he loses his colleagues, one by one. Like each passing stanza of “The Raven,” Poe’s mental condition worsens the more death he encounters. It consumes him.
Will Poe Fans Like Raven’s Hollow?
Poe fans need to keep in mind that Raven’s Hollow is by no means some biographical work of the author’s life, including his short stint at West Point. Instead, it’s a thriller steeped in Gothic tones and imagery. Poe becomes a dashing leading character, out to solve what’s causing death after death in a village filled with grisly secrets. It takes general themes and motifs from “The Raven” to create a broader story, with not-so-subtle references to other Poe works, including “The Tell-Tale Heart.” Moseley does a decent job playing Poe, though he sometimes slips into his British accident, which is mildly distracting. Zanetti gives a beguiling performance as Charlotte. Some of the other characters feel like fodder, however.
The film’s greatest strength lies in its tone and atmosphere. Fog rolls across dirt paths leading to a cemetery where the raven perches on a crooked tombstone. The film’s mystery creates enough suspense to keep a viewer engaged. Overall, Poe fans should find enjoyment in Raven’s Hollow. It’s a tale that could have been penned by the author of the macabre himself.
Brian Fanelli is a poet and educator who also enjoys writing about the horror genre. His work has been published in The LA Times, World Literature Today, Schuylkill Valley Journal, Horror Homeroom, and elsewhere. On weekends, he enjoys going to the local drive-in theater with his wife or curling up on the couch, and binge-watching movies with their cat, Giselle.