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As a literary figure, Edgar Allan Poe works have been a popular source for film adaptations for nearly a century, but what about films about the man himself? Raven’s Hollow, which landed last week on Shudder, attempts to mine a part of Edgar Allan Poe’s biography for a fantasy horror film.

Does this Shudder Original evoke the master of suspense and horror, or does it end up lacking?

Raven's Hollow (2022) key art from Shudder

Raven’s Hollow (2022)

The 2022 horror thriller, Raven’s Hollow, follows a group of West Point cadets, including a young Edgar Allan Poe, who find a dying man lashed up in a field during a routine training exercise, leading them to the secretive and dready community of Raven’s Hollow. Soon they will find themselves involved in a mystery that threatens to take out every cadet.

Raven’s Hollow is the directorial effort of Christopher Hatton who co-wrote the story with Chuck Reeves, loosely adapted from Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven and elements of Poe’s biography. The film stars William Mosely as Poe, with Melanie Zanetti, David Hayman, Kate Dickie, and Oberon K.A. Adjepong.

A still from 'Raven's Hollow' (2022) - depicting West Point cadets encountering a dying man.
A grim discovery on the road promises a mystery that does not deliver.

What Worked with Raven’s Hollow

The film in concept seemed interesting, but the execution was lacking. The idea of a young Edgar Allan Poe as a West Point cadet engaged in some mystery that resulted in his being thrown out of the army is an interesting one, but the film didn’t quite stick the landing. With that said, there are a couple of bright spots.

While the cast as a whole is fine, the real standouts are Kate Dickie (Game of Thrones) who plays Elizabet Ingram and Oberon K.A. Adjepong (The Many Saints of Newark) as Usher. They have the more interesting roles as the secondary cast and their performances feel appropriately grounded for the situation. I should also mention the rather over-the-top characterisation of Dr. Garret, as played by David Hayman. Hayman plays Garret as a broader figure, but it suits the tone, reminding me of the tone of Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow.

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What About Poe, Though?

As for the lead, William Mosely (The Royals), I found him effective. I suppose. The Edgar Allan Poe of this film has no real character beyond that of protagonist. He doesn’t have much to work with, and the fact he keeps getting called Poe, when historically his army surname was Perry, indicates the film is trying to brute-force the idea he is Edgar Allan Poe into viewer’s minds without showing the traits that actually made the man who he was. It also didn’t help that the West Point cadets as a whole kind of ran together and at times I lost track of who was who as a few of them have striking similarity to one another in looks and about one personality stretched across four men.

Visually, some of the scenery of Latvia, where most of the location shoot took place, can be quite nice, and I found most of Michael Rizzi’s cinematography to be good. It’s just a shame that the color grading and lighting just made everything look flat, cold, and grey.

A still from 'Raven's Hollow' (2022) - Edgar Allan Poe (William Moseley) in a cart
A young cadent Poe catches a ride.

What Didn’t Work

I have a number of problems with the film that can probably be classified into three camps: accuracy, aesthetics, and storytelling, and I found significant issues in all three areas.

Raven’s Hollow is a fantasy film that tries to forge an event in the life of it’s version of Poe that would inspire him to take up the pen later in life. I don’t have an issue with that, either. It can be a fun storytelling conceit, but the films tone doesn’t really evoke Poes writings at all, and there are some elements of his biography that go ignored to service the story. Such references grow doubly-insulting when the film’s references to his eventual canon are ham-handed.

The film is also dreary to look at. For something gothic that would make sense, but this film is so grey and flatly lit that it is visually exhausting. The film’s best, most colorful moment comes from a splash of blood on a glass window that actually provides some thematic color to a scene. That was the only time this happened, however leaving the majority of the runtime a tiring grey and black screen. Poe can be visually interesting… look at any of Vincent Price‘s Poe films.

Lastly, the story is a mess. The central mystery is non-sensical and doesn’t offer many shocks as people are picked off in a creepy village that exists solely to whittle down the cast. The legend that comprises the entity at the center of the film also has seemingly nonsensical and the resolution is dramatically inert.

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A still from 'Raven's Hollow' (2022) - a still depicting a funeral
When your whole aesthetic evokes the feeling of a funeral, the funeral fails to stand out.

Final Impressions of Raven’s Hollow

Raven’s Hollow didn’t work for me for a few reasons, namely how little I cared for the story and the connections to the works of Edgar Allan Poe feel so cursory and lacking any depth. In truth, there seemed little connection to the West Point cadet of the film and the man who would come to write some of America’s greatest gothic literature. The film is also overly drab and offers a bizaar and nonsensical series of events it presents as a “mystery.”

I cannot recommend Shudder‘s Raven’s Hollow at all, even for the very few interesting moments that pop up in the film’s 1 hour 38 minute runtime. 1.5 out of 5 stars (1.5 / 5)

Want A Better Slice of Poe? (Sponsored)

If you are looking for a better Edgar Allan Poe experience overall, might we suggest a copy of 1961’s The Pit and the Pendulum with Vincent Price? it’s a wonderful adaptation of Poe’s story directed by Roger Corman. Snatch a blu-ray for yourself and use our sponsored link to help support Haunted MTL.

David Davis is a writer, cartoonist, and educator in Southern California with an M.A. in literature and writing studies.

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Movies n TV

Goosebumps, Cuckoo Clock of Doom

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Named for the 28th installment of the original book series, The Cuckoo Clock of Doom has the least in common so far with its source material.

Thankfully, the story isn’t negatively impacted by this. I can honestly say so far that these episodes just keep getting better.

The story

After the last episode’s explosive ending, I’m sure we were all more than a little worried about James. I for one was worried we were going to have an example of the Bury Your Gays trope on a kid’s show.

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Cover of R.L. Stine Cuckoo Clock of Doom

Thankfully, that’s not the case.

We go back in time again to Halloween night, and this time we see what James was up to.

Mostly he was up to trying to flirt with his crush. Everything seems to be going well until James lies about being interested in football.

He tries to leave the house, but instead finds himself back at the basement door when Isaiah is trapped and the cuckoo clock is going off. James then shows a remarkable amount of genre savvy and tries his best to escape the house. Each time he does, we see another version of him walking away.

Eventually, he devises a plan to break the clock at just the right moment, but not before he gets some intel on his crush’s favorite team so he can score a date.

Back in the real world free of the time loop though, James finds that he has far more worries. Every time he tried to escape the house, a duplicate version of him was created. And all of those duplicates are waiting for him.

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Back at the Biddle house, though, there’s a surprise waiting. One of the James duplicates has brought Harold Biddle a box. A ventriloquist dummy-sized box.

An empty box.

What worked

The effects of this show so far have been wonderful. When the other characters hit a James duplicate, it doesn’t just die. It explodes in a Nickelodeon-style wave of slime. This is just fun, and I’m kind of sad there doesn’t appear to be more of the duplicates around.

I mean, I wouldn’t rule it out.

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Ana Yi Puig in Goosebumps.

Did I mention that these duplicates appeared to smell like watermelon Jolly Ranchers when they exploded? That was a visceral detail that was both alarming and terrific. They could have smelled bad. They could have smelled like rotting plants or people. But no, they smell like candy.

Of course, the characters continue to steal the show. Margot and Isaiah could be said to be the main characters, but everyone comes into this with main character energy. They are all funny, all capable, all smart. And they all seem to care about each other.

I loved that James and Isaiah talked about how they were feeling. I think it’s important that we’re modeling that for young men. They talked about what was bothering them, and they made up.

Finally, though, we have to talk about Justin Long again. His acting in this just keeps stealing the show. He dances like a cartoon and jumps from joyful to violently furious at a moment’s notice. The character doesn’t know how to act, and watching him fail to act right in front of people never fails to make me laugh.

What didn’t work

I honestly can’t say that anything didn’t work in this episode. But there is something about the show that I, at least, don’t like.

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There’s no real blood or gore. There’s more blood when I eat an actual jolly rancher because I always cut my tongue on them.

Now, this show is pretty clearly not for kids and young adults so there’s probably not a lot of need for too much gore and violence. But if the bloody stuff is more your style, like me, the lack of it might disappoint you.

Fans of the Goosebumps books will know that everyone ended with a twist. And the show so far has been no different. And the ending of this episode has been the best so far. The tension of Margot’s mom’s impassioned reaction, blended with the revelation that Slappy is somewhere in town is just too much. I can’t believe we’re only three episodes in and I am this invested. I hope you are too.

Viewer beware, I suspect things are going to get a lot worse for our characters before they get better.

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4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

If you’re a fan of my work, please check out my latest story, Nova, on Paper Beats World. New chapters launch every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

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Movies n TV

Goosebumps, The Haunted Mask

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Episode two of Goosebumps was honestly more fun than the first. It was dark, funny, infuriating and wonderful. Best of all, it has a killer twist ending.

Let’s discuss.

The story

Based loosely on the 1993 story of the same name, The Haunted Mask begins sort of partway through the first episode.

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Cover of R.L. Stine's The Haunted Mask.

We’re introduced to a character we haven’t seen much of so far, named Isabella.

Isabella’s life doesn’t seem great. She’s all but invisible at school. She is responsible for taking care of her little brother. It seems like her only real joy is bullying people online. She was the person who tried to get Allison’s party canceled by sending the invite to her parents. Why? Because she is a very unhappy person.

Despite trying to get the party canceled, she decides to go anyway. At the Biddle house, a voice calls her down to the basement. There, she finds a mask.

The mask inspires her to do wild things. She wanders around the party, flirting with everyone. And she has a great time.

Several days later, after Isaiah breaks his arm, Isabella brings an expensive drone to school to get shots of the football team’s practice. Unfortunately, Lucas breaks it fooling around. And Isabella, tired of being ignored, says some awful things to him.

When her mother grounds her because she took the drone without asking, the mask compels her to do some awful things.

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What worked

I would first like to talk about the storytelling structure in this season. It appears that we’re going to be getting the events of Halloween night multiple times, from multiple points of view.

Ana Yi Puig in Goosebumps.

I love this structure. It’s unique, and it allows for more mystery in a shorter period. It’s also more complex, showing just how much madness was happening, while just showing one part of the story at a time.

Another thing I appreciated was the evolution of the character Lucas.

On one hand, it’s easy to be angry at Lucas. Even if he thought the drone belonged to the school, it’s still kind of a selfish move to break it.

But Lucas just lost his father. We don’t know how yet, but we know from Nora that his death caused Lucas to start doing things like jumping on drones and skateboarding off the roof from his bedroom window.

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We all mourn differently. Losing a parent as a teen is awful. So while we can all agree that he’s being a problem, he’s also being a sad kid working through something hard.

And the same can be said for Isabella.

Look, we still don’t know what the adults of this town did to make Harold Biddle haunt them. But we do know that these parents are messing up in all sorts of other ways. And Isabella is suffering from parentification. She’s being forced to play mom at home while being ignored by her classmates at school. Even without the mask, I could see her lashing out and trashing the house.

Finally, I love Justin Long in this series. His visual comedy was fantastic here, as he falls through the hallways. But he also manages to be scary as hell. His creepy smile and jerky movements are enough to make anyone’s skin crawl. I honestly can’t think of a living actor who could have played this better.

What didn’t work

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If I have one complaint about this episode, it’s the music. It’s not terrible, but it’s not great. Every song seems like it’s just screaming what the characters are thinking. Which isn’t really what I’d consider the point of a soundtrack.

Maybe it’s just a curse on RL Stine. None of his projects can ever have good soundtracks aside from the theme song.

Unlike the original Goosebumps series, there were moments in this episode that did startle me and unnerve me. Which is wonderful. And while it’s still clearly for kids, it’s something anyone can sit down and enjoy. I’m very excited for the rest of the season. But what do you think? Let us know in the comments.

4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

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If you’re a fan of my work, please check out my latest story, Nova, on Paper Beats World. New chapters launch every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

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Movies n TV

Goosebumps Say Cheese and Die

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Released in 2023, Goosebumps is the latest in a line of content based on the insanely popular children’s book series with the same name. And if you’re here, I’m guessing I don’t have to tell you a lot about Goosebumps. Most horror fans are at least passingly aware of the colorful covers, dark plotlines, and surprise twist endings. Some of us even have a few of the original books lying around.

For nostalgia.

Cover for Say Cheese and Die, Goosebumps number 4.

With so many good and bad versions of the original stories floating around, I was unsure how to feel about this brand-new series. I was sure, however, that I had to watch all of it. Especially with the infamous Slappy appearing so prominently in the advertising.

So, how was the first episode?

The story

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We start this episode with a flashback to 1993, and a young man named Harold Biddle. We don’t spend a lot of time with him. He comes home from school and goes right to the basement. There he starts writing some concerning notes in his journal. This is interrupted when a fire consumes the basement, killing him.

We then flash forward thirty years to the real start of our story. The Biddle house has just been inherited by a man named Nathan Bratt, played by the delightful Justin Long. He adores the place but is less than thrilled when a bunch of teens crash it for a Halloween party.

The teens end up not being thrilled either.

Now we come to our real main characters, Isaiah, Margot, Allison, and James. It is the four of them that planned the ill-fated party.

Zack Morris in Goosebumps

While in the house, Isaiah finds a Polaroid camera. He starts taking pictures of his friends, only to find that they don’t come out right. One of them, Allison, shows her on the ground in the woods, terrified for her life. Another shows Margot in a panic next to a snack machine.

Of course, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that he eventually sees both of the girls in those exact situations. The real trouble comes when Lucas takes a picture of him, and it shows him on the football field, horribly injured.

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All of these near-death experiences seem to be caused by the flaming spirit of Harold Biddle. And it soon becomes clear that the adults of the town likely know more than they’re willing to tell about what went down at the Biddle house thirty years ago.

What worked

For someone who grew up with the series, and is therefore of a certain age, the first scene of the episode was a lot of fun. It oozed 90’s vibe in a way that’s immediately recognizable to most, and familiar to my generation. Well, insomuch as wearing flannel and coming home to an empty house is the pinnacle of being a 90s kid.

It was also fun for the constant references to books in the original series. Blink and you missed them, but I saw the Cuckoo Clock of Doom, Haunted Mask, and Go Eat Worms. These make sense, as they each have their episode this season. But I’m sure I missed a few. Please let me know in the comments.

That was a lot of fun for someone who grew up with the series. But it wasn’t so constant and all-consuming as to distract from the story. Someone could have never read a Goosebumps book in their lives and just enjoy this episode of television.

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More importantly, younger viewers can watch this and feel like it’s for them. The main characters aren’t the parents, they’re the kids. And it’s clear even in this first episode that, even if it was the grownups who caused this horror, it’s going to be the kids that fix it.

This is a series that is for kids. And that’s great. It’s introducing a whole new generation to a series in a way that feels like it can be theirs just as much as it was ours when we were kids.

What didn’t work

All that being said, the story also felt a little dumbed down. A little too predictable. There was one line that particularly irritated me in this regard. When Nora goes to see Isiah’s dad in the hospital, she just flat-out says, “The children will suffer for the sins of the fathers.”

Not only is that just a bad line, it’s also a lazy one. It’s awkward and unrealistic. People simply do not talk that way. And we frankly didn’t need this information dropped on us. It was pretty clear during the football game that at least some of the grownups in town were going to be involved with this when we saw Nora recognize what was happening to Isaiah and try to stop the game. Kids are smart. They would have figured this out by themselves.

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It’s also a really tired trope. Freddy and Jason after all, are both killing young people for the sins of their parents. It was a big part of the storyline in Hide. And while I get that this might feel relevant to the next generation who are all paying for the mistakes of Boomers that Gen X and Millennials have not done enough to solve, it’s also a bit lazy. I just feel like, if this is going to be our main story, it could have been a better one.

But this isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy this episode. Overall, it was a fun start that left me with lots of questions. I’m excited to see where the rest of the season takes us.

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

If you’re a fan of my work, please check out my latest story, Nova, on Paper Beats World. New chapters every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

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