The Raven (1935) is noted for nearly ending the production of horror films in the United States and caused the ban of all American horror films in Great Britain from 1936 to 1937. By February 1935 Universal Studios had already cast Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi and their second film together. A press release issued by the studio said that the copies of the script had been sent to Poe Memorial Societies for feedback and that the final script would include elements from Edgar Allen Poe’s The Gold Bug, The Pit and the Pendulum and the Raven however the finished product had little to do with any of Poe’s works.
Universal’s publicity department also circulated a story claiming that Karloff wore a 50 pound bulletproof vest and real shots were fired at him by one of Universal’s ace marksman in the final scene to add realism. The shot allegedly knocked Karloff to the ground and Karloff suffered a large bruise caused by the bullet.
The Raven (1935) directed by Lew Landers (billed under his real name, Louis Friedlander) was the third film supposedly based on the works by Edgar Allan Poe released by Universal. Lugosi had appeared inother Poe inspired films Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932) and The Black Cat (1934) with Karloff. These two films proved successful for Universal and the studio was eager to continue the trend. This time pushing the envelope with a twisted plot involving a Poe obsessed plastic surgeon, Dr. Richard Vollin (played by Lugosi) with a torture chamber in his basement and a convicted murderer named Bateman (played by Karloff).
Vollin, who is in love with Jean Thatcher (played by Irene Ware) attempts to blackmail Bateman into killing his romantic rival and Jean’s father by using torture devices including a pendulum and a room with compacting walls.
Despite second billing Lugosi delivers one of his best performances and clearly demonstrates that it is he who is the real star of this film. Many Lugosi fans argue that The Raven (1935) is his best performance.
Released in the United States on July 8, 1935 the American audience found The Raven (1935) disturbing with its themes of torture, disfigurement and revenge. As a result the film performed poorly at the box office and indirectly led to a temporary ban on American horror films in Great Britain.
The film brought about a tremendous backlash in Great Britain against what was perceived as the corrupting influence of horror films. Edward Shortt president of the British Board of Film Sensors had warned the American studios that such films were unfortunate and undesirable and needed to be curbed. One English critic declared that The Raven (1935) was "quite the most unpleasant picture he had ever seen exporting cruelty for cruelty sake." Pressure from religious and civic groups and their powerful allies in the press and local government for stronger film censorship resulted in the British putting a ban on all U.S. horror films from 1936 to 1937. With a horror genre providing such a poor return on the studio’s investment production of horror films virtually came to a halt in 1936.