Thursday, October 8, 2015

TFD PRESENTS THE HORROR ICON SERIES - Vol. 1 - Bela Lugosi



With the Halloween season upon us, there's no better time to celebrate the films of Bela Lugosi. Here are six to get you started...

THE MYSTERIOUS MR. WONG  (1934)
Out of the night creeps a shadow, striking terror into the heart of Chinatown!  Bela Lugosi plays a sinister character in this thriller from Monogram Pictures.  Poverty Row ace William Nigh directs a tale of kidnapping and intrigue, with a cast that includes Wallace Ford (Freaks, Shadow of a Doubt) as a wiseguy reporter who falls into the diabolical clutches of the menacing Wong, a man driven mad by his lust for power! "Lugosi," reported Variety upon the film's release, "despite a marked Slavic accent, clicks impressively as an Oriental menace..."

This was Lugosi’s fourth film of 1934. The others were The Black Cat, Gift of Gab, and The Return of Chandu…

THE DEVIL BAT (1940)
Sharp Fanged Blood Sucking DEATH Dives from MIDNIGHT SKIES! A deranged scientist (Bela Lugosi) develops an aftershave lotion that incites his gigantic bats to kill! Director Jean Yarbrough (House of Horrors, She-Wolf of London) guided Lugosi to one of his most fiendish performances in a film that turned out to be a big hit for Producers Releasing Corporation (PRC).  This movie may not stop you from shaving, but it will make you crave more horrors from Hollywood’s poverty row!  

Boosted by Lugosi’s presence, this was the first, and most successful, horror film from PRC after it was formed from the failed Producers Distributing Corporation (PDC). Boosted by Lugosi’s presence, this was the first, and most successful, horror film from PRC after it was formed from the failed Producers Distributing Corporation (PDC). Of course, it wasn't universally revered - a critic from the Oakland Tribune wrote, "The story is whacky and the production and acting is pretty ghastly. When the cinema begins to sink, it can do so with a vengeance. This baby dropped into the artistic sea without a trace."  Meanwhile, Lugosi biographer Richard Bojarski noted that the film may now be seen as "camp", but that Lugosi "managed a credible, brooding performance..." 

THE INVISIBLE GHOST  (1941)
Out of the darkness comes the ear-piercing cry of a terrified girl...

Bela Lugosi headlines this creepy thriller about an influential man who becomes a bloodthirsty maniac after being deserted by his wife. Director Joseph H. Lewis (Gun Crazy, The Big Combo) elevates this low budget potboiler into something memorable. As one film historian noted of Lewis' work, there was always "an operating intelligence through even the most trivial of circumstances." Aided by veteran cinematographers Harvey Gould and Marcel Le Picard,  Lewis creates the perfect atmosphere for this tale of a murderer who strikes in the night and leaves no clues. Though the Brooklyn Daily Eagle described the plot as “a little ridiculous,” the paper’s nameless critic admitted the film gave Lugosi “an opportunity to make some of his best spine-chilling faces…”

First of nine films made by Bela Lugosi under contract with Sam Katzman for Monogram Pictures...

THE CORPSE VANISHES (1942)
KIDNAPPED BRIDES Are The Victims Of His Terror! Prepare to shudder when you see the strange practices of this doctor who sacrificed beautiful women for the sake of a mad love! One of the definitive horror features from Monogram Pictures, Lugosi stars as  a mad scientist who injects his aging wife with fluids from virginal young brides in order to preserve her beauty. Considered one of the best of Lugosi’s films for Monogram, this film’s plot bears a very loose resemblance to the true story of Elizabeth Bathory, the notorious “Blood Countess” who’d ordered the death of hundreds of girls in order to bathe in their blood. Lugosi shines as “the keeper of the grotto of torture,” while the rest of the cast includes Luana Walters, Tristram Coffin, the small but sinister Angelo Rossitto, and the always mysterious Elizabeth Russell as Countess Lorenz. The New York Evening Post noted, "Mr. Lugosi smirks and menaces in his best style, but the game is familiar." Well, we would hope so...


Producer Sam Katzman never met a genre he couldn’t exploit. While he spent most of the 1930s and 40s overseeing low budget titles for the likes of Lugosi and the Bowery Boys, as well as a series of jungle features that earned him the nickname “Jungle Sam”, he later moved on to sci-fi schlock like It Came from Beneath the Sea, and Earth vs. the Flying Saucers. He also jumped on the youth market and pumped out several rock & roll/drag racing titles, eventually graduating to producing films for Elvis Presley, including Harum Scarum and Kissin’ Cousins.  Katzman once said, “Lord knows I'll never make an Academy Award movie, but then I am just so happy to get my achievement plaques from the bank every year.” 

ONE BODY TOO MANY (1944)
YOU'LL DIE SCREAMING WITH...Laughter!
This murder mystery will give you as many chuckles as chills!  Horror icon Bela Lugosi stars along with Jack Haley (The Wizard of Oz) and Jean Parker (Little Women) in a tale of missing bodies, insurance schemes, and creepy mansions. It’s all presented with a sinister twist by director Frank McDonald (Bulldog Drummond Strikes Back).  Variety reported, "...good suspense throughout."

One of 73 movies produced by Pine-Thomas Productions between 1941 and 1957…


SCARED TO DEATH (1947)
A Thrilling Mystery of A Supernatural Killer!
The only color film to star Bela Lugosi was this mystery thriller from director Christy Cabanne (The Mummy’s Hand) made for the short-lived Golden Gate Pictures during the early months of 1946. Though the New York Evening Post dubbed this feature "1947's worst movie," we love the Post critic's assessment that it was "the kind of simplified nightmare an idiot child might have after ten years of seeing nothing but horror movies."

Lugosi plays Professor Leonide, a cagy character who may have had something to do with the death of a young woman. The woman, by the way, happens to be telling the tale from a slab at the morgue! George Zucco, Molly Lamont, and Joyce Compton also star, as well as Angelo Rossitto, (Freaks) as a menacing dwarf with a habit of stepping on Lugosi’s foot!

Zucco, well-known for playing aristocratic creeps, replaced an ailing  Lionell Atwill in the role of Dr. Joseph Van Ee…


All of these movies are available through thefilmdetective.com, where vintage movies are restored, remastered, and reborn. Follow us on Twitter @FilmDetective

Or follow me at @DonStradley

No comments:

Post a Comment