‘The Raven’ Premiere Delights, Befuddles Poe Fans

Edgar Allan Poe is often credited with inventing the detective story.

It is perhaps fitting, that 170 years after creating the fictional sleuth, C. Auguste Dupin, a highly fictionalized Poe is himself called upon to solve a series of ghastly crimes.  Those crimes are copied from the real works of the literary icon and form the basis of the new film, The Raven, which previewed in Baltimore last night.

The storyline (from the IMDb) is as follows:  a serial killer begins murdering victims using methods from Edgar Allan Poe’s stories. Poe himself teams up with a young Baltimore detective to get inside the murderer’s mind to try and stop more of his fictional works from becoming grizzly fact. As the hunt intensifies, Poe’s own love, Emily Hamilton, becomes a target for the killer.

The film, which was directed by James McTeigue,  stars John Cusack as Poe,  Alice Eve as Emily Hamilton and Luke Evans as Detective Fields.  Belgrade and Budapest stand in for a decidedly gloomy, gas-lit Baltimore.

Actor/producer Mark Redfield, who has long been associated with the annual Poe celebrations, was present to Emcee the screening, which took place before a near capacity crowd of about 200 at the Landmark Theater in Harbor East.  The Baltimore backdrop of the picture notwithstanding, Redfield was asked if the producers or the writers (Ben Livingston or Hannah Shakespeare) sought any input from any Marylanders in the making of the movie?

“I could be wrong, but as far as I know, no one locally was contacted for any input on any aspect of the film”

The production company did however reach out to the city last fall.

Edgar Allan Poe statue at the University of Baltimore. (Anthony C. Hayes)

“As part of the various Poe celebrations (birthday, death, etc) we always try to plan something special,” Redfield said.  “It turned out that the studio was just beginning its advertising campaign for the film.  We weren’t sure who might come to Baltimore.. John Cusack, Alice Eve?  We were delighted that director James McTeigue and co-star Luke Evans were able to come.  An event/press conference took place at Westminster Hall (the site where Poe is buried).  After dramatic readings by (local actors) Tony Tsendeas and Mark S. Sanders, McTeigue and Evans sat for an hour long Q&A about the film.”

Redfield seemed delighted with the buzz the film has created, but was circumspect with regard to the fate of the Poe House and Museum, which may be forced to close this summer due to cuts in the city budget.  “The house is still open for now on its regularly scheduled days.  I encourage everyone to visit and tell your friends to do the same.”

Also on hand for the screening was Jeff Jerome, the curator of the Poe House and Museum. Earlier in the evening, Jerome played host at a buoyant pre-screening event which was held at The Horse You Came In On Saloon in Fells Point.  One of the oldest bars in Baltimore, it is widely held that Poe used to frequent this historic seafarers tavern.

Jerome (who also maintains the Poe Museum Facebook page) was asked if the film, which opened six weeks ago in a number of countries overseas, has sparked any noticeable up-tick in interest, either in Baltimore’s Poe connections or in the plight of the Poe House?

“There has been an increase of traffic on Facebook, especially from Australia where the film opened a couple of weeks ago.  And visitors to the Poe House have asked questions about the film.  How this may impact the city?  I really don’t know.”

One question that may have been answered with the screening was, ‘How did a group of hardcore Poe fans feel about the film?’  The results seemed to be mixed.  There were both giggles and gasps during the screening and a tepid ovation at the end.  One individual was clearly heard snoring.

As the lights came up, a woman sitting next to me laughingly summed up her feelings with one word: “Nevermore.”  She did however go on to say, “I thought the movie was better than I expected.  The review in the Sun this morning was awful.  The movie wasn’t that bad.  I figured out early on who the killer was, but that was alright.”

Other exiting fans were less interested in the story than in the way Poe was portrayed.  One man, who declined to give his name, was disappointed with the treatment, noting that: “People will come away from this film with a horrible impression of Poe.  (Unlike the film’s depiction) Poe wasn’t a drunk.. He wasn’t an opium addict.. He wasn’t a bar room brawler.”

Surprisingly, Jeff Jerome sees the film in a different way:

“I’ve gotten some grief from a few people who question how I can support a fictitious work?  Well for one, the producers said up front this is purely fiction.  But I compare this film with the Roger Corman/Vincent Price pictures of the 1960’s.  Those films created talk about Poe and interest in his work. I wouldn’t be here, doing what I do, if it weren’t for those films.  If this film (The Raven) sparks that kind of interest in a whole new generation, then that’s OK.”

The Raven opens nationwide on Friday.

The Poe House and Museum is located at 203 North Amity St.  Hours of operation are Wed -Sat Noon-3:45 p.m.