Edgar Allan Poe has a long history in Hollywood, and it is not a very successful one. Filmmakers have been adapting Poe for almost as long as there have been motion pictures, yet very few have gotten both the spirit and story close to the peculiar effect a reader has under the author's dark spell. Poe was a master of language, a poet and a literary stylist. Three definitive qualities for a writer that have almost no parallel in cinema. Poe’s best work is on the short side, and seldom long enough to sustain an entire feature length film. Poe wrote for an effect, not for the turns of plot that modern film audiences expect. Besides, Edgar Allan Poe seldom offered happy endings to his readers and with characters mostly unheroic at best. Roger Corman made a good run at melding Poe’s visions into a nice series of films based on Poe’s work. You could say that the best a modern Poe film could hope for would be to be compared favorably to one of Corman’s classics.
The Raven (2012) takes a different, probably dated (do we still care about serial killers?), approach to Poe’s body of work. Placing a literary star in the center of their own world is not unique to this film, but on the surface would still seem like a great idea. Poe’s work is deeply personal and a film that pushed him into confrontation with those forces would be fertile with meta-content and layers of meaning which might honor his writing in a sincere way. As Poe confronts his nightmares made real, modern audiences could enjoy the subtext of a creator’s responsibility for the fan’s actions, the effect the fiction has on the real world of many. These are just a few of the opportunities that a film like this could offer.
I will say that I am a deep Poe fan and my admiration has grown with age. In some ways, I am the best audience for this film, but I am also the worst audience for it. John Cusack inhabits Poe well, as he is able to deliver both the melancholy of the public Poe with the speculations of what the daily life of Poe may have been. Yet, this story calls for a little too much of a modern-day Sherlock Holmes, and this is not a role the skulking Poe is meant to play. Of course, this is a film, and if Jules Verne can be an extraordinary gentleman, if Abraham Lincoln can be a vampire-hunter, then why can’t the creator of modern detective fiction also play the part of a detective?