If it is raining and gloomy where you are, then it is time to snuggle up in your favorite blanket, make some popcorn, and watch a really good (or awesomely bad) movie to celebrate Halloween. Ravens, Crows, and black feathered birds of all kinds have appeared in movies since film was invented. Their voices and presence enable the film creators to convey mystery, foreshadowing, doom, danger, and in some cases – hope.
Some of the most popular feathered flicks of old include Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, Vincent Price in The Raven, and Betty Boop in The Scared Crows. Ravens also appeared prominently in episodes of the Adam’s Family. Since then, Crows, Ravens and their cousins have been used as a signature (for directors such as Andrei Tarkovsky), mystical guide (The Crow), and every kind of harbinger or grim reaper. To help you pick out the right one for you, we’ve compiled a list!
This 1943 french film ‘Le Corbeau’ (The Raven) follows a mysterious writer of poison pen letters, known only as Le Corbeau. who plagues a French provincial town, unwittingly exposing the collective suspicion and rancor seething beneath the community’s calm surface. Made during the Nazi Occupation of France, Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Le Corbeau was attacked by the right-wing Vichy regime, the left-wing Resistance press, the Catholic Church, and was banned after the Liberation. But some including Jean Cocteau and Jean-Paul Sartre recognized the powerful subtext to Clouzot’s anti-informant, anti-Gestapo fable, and worked to rehabilitate Clouzot’s directorial reputation after the war. Le Corbeau brilliantly captures a spirit of paranoid pettiness and self-loathing turning an occupied French town into a twentieth-century Salem.
Dubbed “a fatal mistake from beginning to end” by the New York Times upon its release, this Poe-inspired Universal horror flick has since gained a latter day cult following, with Peary himself referring to it as “great fun”, and accurately noting that Lugosi seems to be having “a field day” playing the “fiendish surgeon” with a penchant for everything-Poe. Equally effective and surprisingly sympathetic is top-billed Karloff as a tortured criminal whose perceived ugliness has prevented him from becoming the “good man” he longs to be; his intentionally botched facial surgery at the hands of evil Lugosi is tragic to behold. An excellent choice for anyone into classic horror.
The Raven is a strange little film from 1960, made for children, in which horror may very well be the funniest thing to happen to you. Vincent Price teams up with Peter Lorre and Boris Karloff in this horror spoof that makes light of every horror movie scare feature.
A classic movie for any Halloween party or gathering is Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds. Starring Tippi Hendren as a blond California woman out to have fun, The Birds shows Hitchcock’s skills of psychological manipulation. Unlike horror movies that rely on straight gore and savagery, the birds scared audiences with the moments of quiet and isolation. The film has since become the single most influential piece Hitchcock ever produced.
The birds in the movie are mostly seagulls, but sparrows and crows do appear, all waiting for their chance to swarm on the helpless people. It struck a nerve with watchers because birds are indeed everywhere, and are usually ignored as friendly or harmless. But what if that flock of doves hanging out on the street decided to become hostile? What if those seagulls circling around at the beach chose to coordinate an attack on someone, for some unknown reason?
One of the most remembered scenes involves the crows on the gym equipment in the children’s playground. As the children quietly prepare for recess, the crows begin to gather in larger and larger numbers. Soon they are a malevolent force, ready for the attack. Where most filmmakers would have only threatened adults, Hitchcock sends the birds after the kids, bringing out the terror in both kids and adults watching. The image is so strong in our culture that few now see a massive group of crows without being reminded of that scene. If you can get your hands on an original Black and White copy of this film, the imagry is even more impressive.
Hitchcock hired Ray Berwick to work with the birds in the film. Ray trained birds for months and months. Ravens and crows are extremely intelligent and even learned to peck hamburger off of actors’ faces, for some ‘attack’ scenes. But the smaller birds were more trouble. In the scene where sparrows fly down the chimney, they tried lowering 2,000 bullfinches down. The bullfinches decided to just hang out on available perches! They ended up having to have the actors pretend to shoo away imaginary birds, and effected in the flying avians.
Seagulls were better. Ray had them trained to circle over actors, attack, and then return to his hand. When working with the children he would carefully wire their beaks shut, just in case, but the birds were extremely well behaved.
The ravens were the smartest and often had minds of their own. One raven, Corvus, hated Rod Taylor and would attack him any time he saw him. Another raven, named Buddy, loved humans and refused to attack them! Both are sadly no longer with us today, but Ray continues to train birds for film, including the Crow in our next pick.
You might think I had to dig deep for this one, but the truth is that I thought this was a great movie when I was 8.
When a serial killer mysteriously and savagely murders a young Indian woman in rural Los Angeles county, her sister McKenna must replace her as the keeper of an amulet, the sacred crescent. Reluctantly, McKenna accepts the role of chosen one. With the amulet and after the rigors of the ritual, she takes on the spirit and powers of the raven, the good forces in the battle against evil, the wolf. McKenna’s powers include a thirst for milk and great sexual energy, which she unleashes on her former boyfriend, Henry, a cop. The spirit of the wolf inhabits Rose, Henry’s jilted lover. Rose wrecks havoc of her own before a final showdown with the chosen one. Great flick if you are 8 or just really drunk.
Direct to Video
Fast forward to the 80’s and you can be sure Stephen King covered this topic thoroughly. His Night of the Crow opens with a couple passing through a small Oklahoma town discover that it has been taken over by a homicidal cult that worships a crow god”“and that all the cult members are children. Not a bad movie for Halloween – we recommend melted candy-corn on your popcorn to go with it.
Guided by a portentous crow , Brandon Lee plays a deceased rock musician who returns from the grave to systematically torture and kill the outlandishly violent gang of hoodlums who murdered him and his fiancÃ©e the year before. The Crow is a film haunted by a chilling production accident, but beautifully executed in spite of itself. The story becomes that much more symbolic and meaningful, even shrouded in comic book dialog and action. Highly recommended!
Kaw is your typical ‘New Cinema’ style horror movie in which the Sheriff of a small town is about to retire when his town is attacked by blood thirsty ravens that eat human flesh. Meanwhile his wife Cynthia visits a farm where a Mennonite family lives to say farewell to her friend Gretchen and discloses a dark secret about the origin of the fierce ravens. Clearly derivative of The Birds, not all is lost. This movie makes good background imagry if you plan to have a large party.
Ricardo De Montreuil’s absolutely brilliant 6 minute short THE RAVEN is fluidly filmed by Director of Photography Alex Sanchez. This is a chase flick, wrapped in the trappings of a not too distant, or far-fetched dystopian future, where men are exterminated by machines (considering as you read this, somewhere unmanned planes are dropping fire from the sky, and major metropolitan municipalities are considering unmanned robotic droids to police the cities”¦ it is a fiction uncomfortably close to tomorrow’s facts).
But above the cautionary tale, which has been and always will be at the heart of sci-fi or speculative fiction, it’s a truly impressive and stylishly made film. This one won’t get you through Halloween, but it will get you through right now. Enjoy!
What movies would you add to the list?