Howard Jackson compares Bram Stoker’s gothic masterpiece Dracula with the equally terrifying work of Edgar Allan Poe
In the same week that the first Hammer movie of ‘Dracula’ appeared on Blu-Ray, the movie, ‘The Raven’, was shown on Sky TV.
Comparisons will be made which is nothing new. When Charlotte Stoker read the novel ‘Dracula’, she said, “No book … has come near yours in originality, or terror – Poe is nowhere.” These are the remarks of a mother rather than a qualified literary critic. Poe is a poet and compared to the inspiration behind ‘The Raven,’ ‘The Fall Of The House Of Usher’ or ‘The Black Cat’ the writing of Stoker is mechanical.
But we are not entitled to belittle the achievement of Stoker who unleashed a powerful imagination on a traditional tale. His mother, Charlotte, was half right. Few horror books match ‘Dracula’ for epic scope and originality. And neither can we assume that Stoker was clueless but somehow lucky with his choice of material. The first two pages of the letter from Lucy, which is packed with characterization, demonstrate real skill.
Hammer’s ‘Dracula’ is now examined for a sub-text about adultery and Sangster is praised for compressing the various aspects into the simple structure required for a low budget movie. Supposedly, this makes the theme more powerful. Such praise ignores a key weakness of Sangster. He wrote terrible dialogue. It is odd to think that Christopher Lee is really that old. And he still has his own teeth. What fans of the novel like is that the text contains so much.
Perhaps culture historians will be as forgiving about the movie, ‘The Raven’, in 50 years from now. At the moment it has produced critical disappointment, as did the original ‘Dracula’ when it appeared in 1958.
Following the plot through the MTV style set pieces is difficult even if you know the stories of Poe. Young viewers without knowledge of Poe will presumably be baffled by events that are often preposterous.
What should be presented as Gothic Horror is adapted to fit a detective format not unlike that seen recently in the BBC series, ‘Ripper Street’.
The BBC managed to half succeed but ‘The Raven’ is even more frenetic and much is lost. But the people who have made the film are Poe fans and it is pleasant to spend a couple of hours logging the various references.
John Cusack plays Poe. Inevitably, Poe is self-destructive and irresponsible but in the movie he is a devoted lover and that should satisfy most Romantic loyalists. The ‘ending’ or what should have been the ending is perfect. It is actually the penultimate scene.
The final conclusion is two minutes of nonsense that can be ignored. Most satisfying of all are the quotations. We have a decent actor speaking some of the finest prose written in Gothic horror, which is why, of course, Charlotte was wrong. Poe is far from nowhere.
As he almost said, strangeness in the proportion will always ensure we have exquisite beauty. ‘The Raven’ may not ‘entreat entrance’ but it is worth a look.
HOWARD JACKSON is the author of Treat Me Nice Elvis, his music and the Frankenstein Creature. He is also one of the contributors to Frankenstein Galvanized which is edited by Claire Bazin. Treat Me Nice and Frankenstein Galvanized are published by Red Rattle Books, which can be followed on Twitter here.