The Raven Is Wrong About the Word Vegetarian

The Raven / Comedy of Terrors - The Raven Is Wrong About the Word Vegetarian1963 was a big year for Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, and Boris Karloff as a team. Of particular interest is that all three of them starred in two of my favorite horror comedies: The Comedy of Terrors and The Raven. Both were also written by one of the greatest horror writers of his generation, Richard Matheson. Recently, I’ve been watching The Raven a lot. And doing that tends to cause one to start noticing really minor things.

There is a very funny moment in The Raven. Peter Lorre shows up in the form of a raven and wants Price to turn him back into his normal form. But Price doesn’t do that old fashioned kind of magic. He’s able to do magic with hand gestures not the kind of stuff the three witches did in Macbeth.

The Vegetarian Joke

Lorre asks if Price has various things like dried bat’s blood. Then he says, “How about some chain links from a gallow’s burg? Jellied spiders, rabbit’s blood, dead man’s hair?” And Price responds, “No, we don’t keep those things in this house. We’re vegetarians.” It’s a wonderful 1963 reference. The comedy comes from the fact that the film does not take place in 1963.

We know that Price’s father died roughly 20 years earlier. And later we see his coffin, which reads, “Roderick Craven: 1423 – 1486.” So we know that the film takes place around 1506. Maybe it’s a little later — 1509, but certainly not as late as 1516.

The Etymology of Vegitarian

The whole thing got me thinking because I know that the very idea of vegetarianism is quite new. Being a vegetarian is an indication that your food supply is quite stable. Certainly different species of animal have preferences for different foods. But humans are the only ones who get to pick and choose.

Until quite recently, we were the same as other animals: we were lucky to get food to eat at all. So we didn’t make philosophical decisions like vegetarians do that we won’t each animals. In fact, that’s why even most animals that we think of as carnivores and vegetarians are actually omnivores, unless they simply don’t have the ability to digest vegetables or animals. If you’re hungry enough, you’ll manage to eat anything.

So I went to the dictionary to find out when “vegetarians” made it into our language. After all, the term does not have to only apply to to humans. We know that cows, for example, are vegetarians. I believe all snakes are carnivores — at least the ones where I live.

Vegetarian Is a Young Word

But it turns out that “vegetarian” is quite a recent word. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the first known use of the word is 1839 — just a little bit more than a century before “vegan.” So The Raven is off by at least 323 years!

I’m not blaming the film. Stupid indeed is the person who trying to learn word etymology from old horror films. That’s especially true when the film at hand is using the word for a joke. The idea of a 16th century sorcerer being a vegetarian is pretty funny.

Two Good Vincent Price and Peter Lorre Films

But since we are on the subject, you really should watch the film. It’s a lot of fun. I always like films where Vincent Price plays a good guy. And this is yet another film where poor old Price is cuckolded by an evil woman.

On the other hand, check out The Comedy of Terrors if you want to see a film where he is just horrible to his wife and Peter Lorre is the sweetest man in the world. And you can get both films together on a single DVD.

There’s something very special about comedy-horror as a genre. The truth is that horror is a very silly genre of film. So it combines well with comedy — as long as you aren’t looking for grammar lessons!

7 thoughts on “The Raven Is Wrong About the Word Vegetarian

  1. “Get Out” was very funny and very scary. I think what ties horror to comedy is both feature characters reacting to ludicrous situations. Deadpan expressions work in both, and the less appropriate a deadpan reaction is, the scarier/funnier the movie. Bruce Campbell is probably the master. He’s just straight-faced enough to be hilarious.

  2. At this stage near the end of his career, Peter Lorre usually comes off as a little sad and tired, but very likable. Another of hs roles around this time is in the 1962 Irwin Allen production of Five Weeks in a Balloon. Although I loved this adventure flick as a child, I can’t call it a good movie. But it does have several features of interest that might make it worth a look.

    The story is based on one of Jules Verne’s lesser known books and the titular balloon is a colorful and interesting gadget design. Besides Lorre and several other well known actors, it stars Barbara Eden at the very peak of her beauty. She’s more understated and natural here than in I Dream of Jeannie. And then there’s the title song, which is one of the most catchy ever written. If you ever heard it, you probably still remember it.

    • Irwin Allen? NOOOOOOO! But I did enjoy that song. I thought immediately of the song “Green Fields Of Summer” from the wretched John Wayne “Alamo,” and it turns out it’s the same group! The Brothers Four, out of Seattle. I listened to a lot of movie soundtrack albums as a kid.

      • The worst movies sometimes have some of the most memorable music. For instance, the 1967 Casino Royale is an excruciating watch, truly one of the worst things ever committed to film in spite of the all-star talent involved. The title track though, is one of the best things the Tijuana Brass ever recorded. I used to sit beside the record player and drop the needle back onto that track over and over again. (The poster for that movie is another classic, an absolutely iconic piece of 1960’s commercial art. Go figure.)

        • Herb Alpert meets Bacharach! A combo made in smooth horn heaven.

          Now here’s something wild I didn’t know. Among vinyl enthusiasts, that soundtrack album is considered to be one of the most amazing-sounding records ever made. There are people who test out audio systems for magazines, and when they get a new system, they’ll put on “Casino Royale.” Apparently there was some kind of super-prototype magnetic tape used on the masters, so the dynamic range (quiets and high volume) is way above normal. Somebody damaged the masters later, so the original LP pressings have that dynamic range while CDs do not.

          Yeah, lots of bad (or at least convoluted) movies with great music. Especially from that period when many films had theme songs (when do we see that anymore, except in Bond films?) “Windmills Of Your Mind” and “One Tin Soldier” are two I can think of (although those weren’t bad movies, the songs are more memorable than the films). For some reason, the songs from Westerns were usually pretty cheesy/lazy. “Blazing Saddles” is actually one of the better ones. I think the 70’s film-school upstarts (Coppola, Scorsese, etc.), as much as I love them, killed off theme songs for prestige dramas. (Although Altman used them.) Theme songs survived for a while in the 1980s for comedies and romances. Then music videos finished that; a hit song associated with a film would have a video with film clips, it wouldn’t be used in the title sequence. Too bad, I wish they’d come back.

          That is a cool poster! It looks like the folks from “Mad Men” designed it.

          • A Summer Place, The Pink Panther Theme, The Magnificent Seven. And of course Disco Star Wars. ;-)

            Unfortunately a lot of early CD’s, including my copies of the Raiders and Jurassic Park soundtracks, did suffer from dynamic range problems, making those swelling orchestral scores sound more like muted AM radio.

            • I think I had a record with “Theme From A Summer Place” on it. Also Magnificent Seven, The Big Country, The Apartment, some others. Good stuff. I like that big sappy sound. Shirley Bassey singing Bond themes, that was a favorite record, too.

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