I’m still digging into the less flashy Universal horror films! This 1935 film that was “suggested” by the famous Edgar Allan Poe poem, is the second teaming of Karloff & Lugosi.
In this movie, Bela Lugosi plays the weird, smug, egotistical Dr. Richard Vollin. Vollin is obsessed with Poe to the point of building torture devices in his basement that were inspired by many of his poems (the pit and the pendulum, shrinking room, etc). The movie itself cleverly twists the poem into a thriller while acknowledging the poem itself (the poem is Vollin’s favorite).
Lugosi’s character is coaxed out of retirement to help save the life of a young woman by the name of Jean Thatcher (the very striking Irene Ware). After he does this, he begins to fall for the girl. The girl begins to develop a crush on him as well and her father confronts the good bad doctor telling him to take it easy and let his daughter marry the man she is already engaged to. Hearing that Jean has an “infatuation” with him really drives Vollin to insanity and he begins to plot torture and murder for all in his way so that he may finally have Jean (his “lost Lenore”).
As luck would have it, the wanted criminal Edmund Bateman (Boris Karloff) arrives on his doorstep looking to have the doctor operate on and change his face. Vollin agrees to do this but only if Batemen will torture and kill for him. Bateman reluctantly agrees and as insurance, Vollin damages Bateman’s face in the operation, promising to finally change his face for the better once the job is done.
Where it goes from there is pretty fun and twisted and this movie was apparently very controversial for the time and it is not hard to see why given the theme of torture throughout.
Lugosi OWNS this movie. Predictably, Karloff got top billing, the Lugosi’s presence here is amazing. It is said this is his other great role. Karloff does a fine job too, when he comes to us, we know he is a murderer on the run (he says he had no choice but to murder) but he quickly earned my sympathy as someone who just wants to shed his self-described ugly face and live out a decent life in anonymity.
This is another short movie, barely going past an hour. For the shocking theme of the time and the delightful Lugosi performance, this is a must-see.