It’s 62 minutes of sheer entertainment for the most avid Lugosiphile, full of memorable lines, wild posturings, preposterous situations, and tons of Lugosi touches we love so well. Although Karloff gets top billing, it’s Bela’s show all the way. At times subtle and nuanced, at other times wildly over the top, his performance is 100% fun.
Dr. Richard Vollin is a famous neurosurgeon who is obsessed with Edgar Allan Poe. He particularly relishes Poe’s torture devices and is obsessed with pain and “how much pain a man can endure.” Jean Thatcher (Irene Ware) is a dancer who has a serious car accident and although Vollin is begged by Jean’s father (Samuel S. Hinds) to operate, he refuses, claiming he only does research now. When the other doctors say he is the only hope and his vanity is appealed to, he relents and agrees to operate.
Once he sees Jean and cures her, he is hopelessly smitten. Jean’s father sees this and after she does a dance performance based on the poem The Raven to thank the doctor, he decides to visit Vollin to discourage his infatuation. The doctor tells him he will have Jean, objects not withstanding, and when Judge Thatcher calls him a raving lunatic and storms off, Vollin vows revenge.
Meanwhile, a convict on the lam, Edmond Batemant (Boris Karloff) is looking for plastic surgery to change his appearance to hide from the law and an acquaintance recommends Vollin. He goes to visit the doctor and reveals himself to be a somewhat sympathetic character, despite some of the horrible things he’s done. The doctor concocts a plot to disfigure him and force him into helping with his revenge plan or he’ll refuse to restore his normal appearance. If we didn’t already know how cruel and sadistic Bela is, he shows us by taunting Karloff with his new “monstrous ugliness” by gleefully exposing him to a room full of mirrors!
Vollin pretends to apologize to Judge Thatcher and Jean for his behavior and invites them and some others of their crowd for a weekend at his home. They soon find out they are imprisoned and with Bateman’s help, the doctor shackles the judge to a swinging axe that slowly descends ala Pit and the Pendulum and puts Jean and her fiance into a room where the walls slowly come together. At this point, Vollin completely loses his sanity, which has been hanging by a thread, wildly laughing and greatly relishing the torture he is inflicting. We also get to enjoy some of Bela’s greatest and most outrageous lines of dialog (example: “Poe you are avenged!”).
Bateman decides to save all the guests and dies for them since Vollin shoots him for not cooperating, but not before he puts the doctor into his own suffocating torture device. If it all sounds amusing and entertaining – and perverted – it is and a lot of silly enjoyment and some good thrills are packed into a mere 62 minutes. The pacing and sets are well designed, as well, and the supporting actors are efficient, but Bela is the chief reason to savor this engaging this little horror film. It may make YOU into a Lugosiphile!
Director: Louis Friedlander
Cast: Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, Irene Ware, Samuel S. Hinds
CURT LOVES OLDIES: Curt Solash dishes on the best and worst movies of all time
Curt Solash is a retired educator, an antique advertising collector and a lifelong cinemaphile from New York City who now lives in sunny Florida with his life partner.
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