NOTE: This spoiler was submitted by Kevin D
"The Raven" stars John Cusack as Edgar Allan Poe and turns the story of the last ten days of his life into a murder mystery that often feels like an episode of a forensic/police investigation TV show like "Bones", with Poe taking on the role of the oddball expert (like the Dr. Temperance "Bones" Brennen character on Bones) and a police inspector named Fields (played by Luke Evans) filling the role of the cop who needs the expert to solve a series of murders. The movie unfolds as Poe and Fields must race from clue to clue left by the murderer, with each clue found on the body of another person murdered in a style reminiscent of one of Poe's literary works. Little explanation of these works is given to the audience, so if you are not a Poe scholar you may miss the meaning of most of these clues.
The killer is Ivan (played by Sam Hazeldine) who works as a typesetter in the offices of the Baltimore Patriot, which is a newspaper where Poe attempts to have his work published. During the period in which the film is set, Poe's great works are all long behind him and he's reduced to churning out critiques of other poets' works (such as Longfellow) to eek out drinking money from the editor of the paper (who keeps pressing Poe to write more of his gory works about the supernatural and murders, since those are what people clamor for...and since the editor's obsession with gruesome things is a red herring that later makes the audience think the editor is the killer when it's actually the typesetter). Ivan became an obsessed fan who later admits to going crazy when Poe stopped writing since Ivan needed his fix of gruesome fiction -- and in that time period, Poe was the only writer who delved into the macabre and deranged in this fashion.
Emily Hamilton (played by Alice Eve) is a beautiful young woman whom Poe wants to marry -- she's become the new love of his life after his original wife died of consumption some time before. Hamilton's father, Captain Hamilton, hates Poe. There's a scene in the beginning of the film where Captain Hamilton even tries to shoot Poe in a carriage when Poe won't leave Emily alone. Emily loves Poe and only pretends to dislike him in front of her father. Seemingly, the reason Captain Hamilton wants Poe to leave Emily alone is because Poe is so poor.
The movie establishes both Poe's poverty and his ego in scenes such as one in a bar where Poe can't afford to pay for drinks and has an overdue bar tab...and he loudly proclaims himself to be a celebrity and elicits praise from the other drunks in the bar, trying to get them to quote lines from his poems. A few Frenchmen can say a few words from "The Raven", which delights Poe. He's clearly drinking himself to death and at the end of his career. Randomly, he also has a pet raccoon named Karl which eats human hearts that Poe acquires from a fan of his work who happens to work in a mortuary (and steals the hearts so Poe can feed them to his raccoon).
A violent double murder occurs and Inspector Fields rushes to catch the killer, who has locked himself in a boarding house room. After a thorough inspection, it's determined the window was not actually locked but had a trick lock on it -- which is something that Fields recognized from one of Poe's stories. Having a weird sense of deja vu over this, Fields goes to a bookstore and finds the story of Poe's that featured a crime like that...and Poe is then hauled into the police station for questioning since it seems like he brought his murder to life. The name of the story this locked window appear in was flashed quickly across the screen on the book cover but never spoken aloud to the audience (and this spoiler author missed the name of this work by Poe). Poe is innocent and Fields only believes him when it's determined that he had no blood on his hands or under his fingernails and he didn't have any money to hire accomplices so he must be innocent. It's then that Fields proposes Poe volunteer his services to help the police solve these murders. Having nothing else to do and hoping there would be some payment involved later, Poe agrees.
Shortly thereafter, Ivan (the Killer) captures and murders a literary critic named Griswald who carried on a longstanding feud with Poe in the newspapers -- the murder is based on "The Pit and the Pendulum" and Griswald was sliced in half by a giant cutting blade affixed to an elaborate clockwork contraption. NOTE: In real life, Griswald was an actual person who not only hated Poe but also took pleasure in making up lies about Poe after he was dead. Though Poe was an alcoholic, he was not an opium addict though Griswald wrote a definitive book on Poe that asserted he died from abuse of drugs. It seems the filmmakers took creative license and offed Griswald in this movie as an evening of the scales for Poe in the Pit and Pendulum scene.
When Poe sees how Griswald died, he's horrified that someone brought his story to life. Fields discovers a red mask near the body and it's deduced that the killer will next strike at the masquerade ball that Captain Hamilton just happens to be throwing. This is clearly a reference to "The Masque of the Red Death". In this particular Poe story Death comes to a ball and claims the life of a character named Prospero first, before killing everyone at the ball. Poe and Fields believe the killer is after Captain Hamilton because he is throwing the ball and he is a very prosperous man. Fields assigns undercover policemen to dress as masquerade guests to ensure Hamilton's safety...but just before the stroke of midnight a man wearing a skeleton costume and riding a horse bursts into Hamilton's mansion and interrupts the ball. Fields shoots the man, who quickly screams that he is an actor and was only paid to be there for the party. Poe then realizes that Emily has been kidnapped and the horse was a distraction.
Sure enough, Ivan has Emily chloroformed. When she comes to, she's in a wooden box of some kind that Ivan covers with dirt, leaving only a small hole that Emily dug so she can catch glimpses of where she is. It's later made clear that Emily was held the whole time under the floorboards of the Patriot's newspaper office, in a secret room that Ivan kept that also included a shrine to Poe and a collection of all of his works. Emily screams and screams for help but it's after office hours and no one can hear her.
Poe and Fields still have no idea Ivan's the killer. Soon the clues being left at the scenes of murders include instructions for Poe to start writing columns for the newspaper that would blend fact and fiction and be inspired by the things the killer was doing. Ivan wants the satisfaction of doing things that make his favorite writer churn out a gruesome new story that Ivan inspired as both a "writing partner" and a Muse.
Fields tells Poe he must go along with this and the newspaper editor is thrilled to have something juicy and sensational to run on the front page. The papers of course sell like morbid hotcakes as all of Baltimore is fixated by the murders.
Next up, an anatomy class at the medical school discovers a live raven trapped inside a wooden coffin that was supposed to contain an old man who donated his body to science. Instead, the coffin held an actress who was murdered in her Lady Macbeth costume. This murder is based on an obscure story that involved a wealthy Frenchwoman who drowned...though the murdered actress has blood all over her and the woman in Poe's story had none. NOTE: Poe stated the name of this story in the film, but this spoiler author missed it and couldn't find the story in the list of Poe's work available online. The difference between the blood/no-blood in real life versus fiction led Poe to figure out that they needed to rush to the theater where Macbeth was showing because the murderer could be there.
When they get to the theater, Poe, Fields, and a few dozen cops rush the stage and start demanding to see all the stage hands. None of the theater people realized the actress was murdered and just assumed she was off drinking or fooling around somewhere. One of the stage hands is missing, a man named Maurice who was also a sailor (it's explained that sailors, when not serving on boats, often worked in theaters as stage hands because they had skills pulling on ropes and tying knots). A big chase ensues because Poe and Fields spot the murderer running around the creaky catwalks, but Poe accidentally drops his gun and it misfires, causing a distraction and a stampede of theater goers that allows the murderer to get away. Poe and Fields then search Maurice's employee locker and discover another clue that makes them believe Emily has been buried alive in catacombs, like what happened in another of Poe's stories, the Cask of Amontillado.
There are no catacombs in Baltimore, but there are old brick tunnels under the city and a quick search of them revealed an area with fresh brickwork that might hold Emily. Poe and Fields smash through the brick and discover what appears to be a woman with blonde hair in the dress Emily wore the night she was kidnapped -- but it's actually the sailor Maurice who was killed, dressed in drag, and stuffed into that brick tunnel. The sailor is from a ship whose name sounds something like "Amontillado"...just like Poe's "Cask" work.
Two clues are found on Maurice: a pocket watch that was stopped at 2:58 and then stuffed into his mouth (with his mouth then sewn shut) and a tattoo on his back that had some flesh carved out of it. Poe and Fields deduce these clues will give the location of Emily, so they race to Captain Hamilton's house because he has all the maps and charts needed to find the location. On the map, it turns out to be St. Croix in the Caribbean...and Poe realizes it really means "Holy Cross" and there's a church in Baltimore called Holy Cross so that's where Emily must be. This is also the church that Emily and her father actually belonged to.
Everyone races to the church but they find it locked. While attempting to break in, one policeman shoots at Ivan (the killer, who was wearing all black and a big black hat and a mask totally covering all of his face) but Ivan jumps from the roof and simultaneously whips out a razor and slits the cop's throat like in Sweeney Todd (which was not a Poe story, FYI).
Poe and Fields hear the shooting and race to catch the killer, but Ivan shoots Fields and incapacitates him. Poe takes after the killer in a horse race that ends with Poe shooting at the killer in the woods and the killer shooting back. Then Poe walks back to the church where he meets up with Captain Hamilton, who finally kind of apologizes for being such a jerk to Poe and accepts that Poe really loves his daughter after going through Hell to find her. Fields discovers a grave at the church that has Emily's name written on a wooden cross, but the grave is empty and Emily is not really in it.
Poe then decides to up the ante and write a new column in which he tells the killer that he's tired of this game and is willing to exchange his life for Emily's if only the killer would release Emily. Poe dashes this new column off quickly, the editor loves it, and Ivan the typesetter is then tasked with getting the column to print.
People in Baltimore, while still enjoying the excitement of the murders, decide to burn down Poe's house because they blame his stories for inspiring this bloodshed (while ironically loving both that bloodshed and also arson).
Poe then moves in with Fields because he no longer has lodgings. In the morning, the maid gives Poe both the newspaper and a letter from the killer (who is still unknown to Poe). The newspaper is dry but the note has water stains on it. Poe deduces that the killer left the note on the doorstep and rain got on it because it was raining the night before. Then, the paper boy came by and put the newspaper on top of the note after it stopped raining. Poe therefore deduces that the killer is someone who read his new column before it was published because the note made reference to Poe exchanging his life for Emily's. Poe then assumes the killer is the newspaper editor.
Fields, meanwhile, is having surgery with no anesthetic to remove a bullet in his shoulder the killer fired into him. The doctor uses a magnet to find the bullet in his flesh...and Fields later uses this experience to realize that the ink the killer used in all his notes had funny ink that was magnetic. Since this is the type of ink used in newspaper printing, Fields will later independently realize that someone at the paper is the killer while Poe is making this deduction himself using different clues. Poe and Fields are not in a scene together again as his injury and surgery meant that Poe was left alone to confront the killer and find Emily.
Poe reaches the newspaper office and finds the editor dead, with his wrists slit and his body arranged at his desk as if he was writing a letter. In front of the editor is a note that reads, "Getting Warmer!"
Poe turns around and sees Ivan the typesetter standing there. Ivan congratulates him on finding him, and then expositions why he did what he did. Short answer: it was because he missed Poe's writing so much that he decided to make up a story of his own and then act it out in real life so that Poe would have to write about it.
Poe pulls a gun on Ivan but Ivan reminds him that Emily will die if Poe pulls the trigger. So Poe hands the gun over to Ivan and tells Ivan he can kill him if he will really release Emily. Ivan then gives Poe a vial of poison and tells him to drink it -- so that Ivan can keep talking to his "favorite writer" while the poison slowly kills him. Once Poe is too weak to run away for help, Ivan tells Poe that he's moving to Paris because he wants to do the same sadistic thing to Jules Verne to force him to write more books too. Poe overhears Ivan talking to someone outside about a cab to the train station and Poe learns the name Ivan will be traveling under is "Reynolds".
Before Ivan leaves, he makes a reference to the Telltale Heart and Poe realizes that Emily is buried under the floor right where he's sitting. He breaks through the floor into the cellar and then digs Emily out. The police get there and put Emily into an ambulance...but Poe wanders off to a park bench to die after telling Emily that they will be married in heaven together as ghosts.
While he's sitting there, a bearded man comes over and says he recognizes him as "Edgar Poe" the famous writer. That pleases Poe, but the poison has him so addled all he can say to the man is "tell Fields his name is Reynolds", which the man interprets as nonsense.
Later, at the hospital where Poe is pronounced dead, the doctor tells Fields that Poe's last words were "tell Fields that he's Reynolds".
Fields then realizes the killer's new name is Reynolds. Off-screen, Fields figures out that Ivan/Reynolds went to Paris to kill Jules Verne. Fields hides in a carriage and when Ivan/Reynolds steps into the cab, Fields shoots him dead.