Grisly grave-robbing in Edinburgh

Released 25 May 1945, The Body Snatcher was based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1884 short story of the same name. It was the first of three films Boris Karloff did with RKO Radio Pictures after leaving Universal, and the final film in which he co-starred with Béla Lugosi.

Though Karloff continued doing horror pictures, he felt the Frankenstein’s Monster franchise had run out of steam, and didn’t want to be involved with it in any capacity any longer, even though he no longer played the Monster in these films. He lauded RKO producer Val Lewton as “the man who rescued him from the living dead and restored, so to speak, his soul.”

In 1831 Edinburgh, cabman John Gray (Karloff) drops Mrs. Marsh (Rita Corday) and her young daughter Georgina (Sharyn Moffett, now 84 years old) off at the home of the esteemed Dr. Wolfe “Toddy” MacFarlane (Henry Daniell). Little Georgina was paralysed after a carriage rolled on top of her, an accident which took the life of her father. She seemed to be recovering at first, but then her condition worsened.

Mrs. Marsh says all the other doctors recommended Dr. MacFarlane very highly, and feels he’s their final hope. The consultation doesn’t seem to be getting anywhere, since Georgina can’t even tell him where exactly it hurts, but everything changes when Dr. MacFarlane’s student Donald Fettes (Russell Wade) comes in.

Georgina immediately warms to him, and lets him pick her up and put her on a table in another room. Without even trying, Fettes gets all the preliminary information needed. He calls Dr. MacFarlane in to take a look at the bony tumour at the base of Georgina’s spine, and surgery is suggested.

Dr. MacFarlane bears no ill will towards the Marshes, but begs off performing surgery. He’s far too busy with his teaching duties, and isn’t sure if he’s still as good of a physician as he is a med school teacher. If he operated on all the desperate people who come to him, he’d have no time to teach.

After the Marshes leave, Fettes announces he’s quitting med school because he hasn’t enough funds. Dr. MacFarlane, loath to lose one of his best students, offers him a paid position as a lab assistant for a very important research project.

At night, Gray arrives with a fresh corpse for Dr. MacFarlane’s anatomy class, and tells Fettes to unlock a desk where the money is kept. His fee for this service is £10. Fettes doesn’t think too much of it until he discovers just where this body came from.

Fettes is horrified to discover the body was the victim of grave robbery, and that the young man’s loyal little dog was murdered while standing watch over his lost master. He understands the importance of human vivisection for teaching med students, but doesn’t feel it’s right to obtain the bodies by robbing graves.

Mrs. Marsh returns to beg Fettes for Dr. MacFarlane to operate on Georgina. Initially Dr. MacFarlane agrees, but soon walks back to his fear of no longer being a good enough surgeon and better-suited to the classroom.

Gray and Fettes manage to convince Dr. MacFarlane to do the operation. Fettes appeals to his humanitarian side, while Gray reminds him there’s a dark secret in his past. It would be a shame if that secret were revealed.

Not realizing what kind of trouble he’s about to wade into, Fettes asks Gray to get another body for anatomy class. He assumes Gray will dig up a grave, but instead is delivered the fresh corpse of someone who was alive and healthy just that night.

When Fettes shares his suspicions with Dr. MacFarlane, he’s told he might be arrested as an accomplice to murder if he reports Gray to the cops.

Georgina’s operation appears to be a success, but she doesn’t think she can stand up and walk. Dr. MacFarlane did everything right, but Georgina insists it’s impossible. As someone who couldn’t walk for eleven months following my car accident, I know all too well that powerful mind-body connection.

Dr. MacFarlane goes to the local tavern to drink away his disappointment, and Gray once again taunts him about that dark secret from his past.

Then Dr. MacFarlane’s servant Joseph (Lugosi) pays a visit to Gray and attempts to blackmail him, which sets in motion a thick and fast parade of horrors.

 

A horrific commingling of bats and aftershave

Released 13 December 1940, The Devil Bat was the very first horror film made by then-new Poverty Row studio Producers Releasing Corporation (which went on to make many quality films which earned high praise). This film was also part of Béla Lugosi’s comeback after his career had gone into decline (due to new Universal management and the U.K.’s ban on horror films).

Dr. Paul Carruthers (Lugosi) of Heathville is a beloved citizen and respected research scientist for Heath-Morton Cosmetics, Ltd. Little do the villagers know what dark, twisted secrets are lurking in his hidden lab overlooking Martin Heath’s impressive estate.

Dr. Carruthers is keeping a bat whom he greatly increased in size, and training it to attack anyone wearing his Oriental aftershave.

Dr. Carruthers is invited to a party at the Heath estate, but begs off attending because he’s working so hard on a new formula. Everyone is disappointed he’s a no-show, since they planned to surprise him with a $5,000 bonus check.

Roy Heath visits him to deliver the check in person, and is talked into trying out the new aftershave. Dr. Carruthers tells him goodbye instead of goodnight when he takes his leave.

Instead of seeing that check as a generous gift, Dr. Carruthers feels insulted. He’s worked so hard for that company and helped to make them rich, while they expect him to be grateful with peanuts in return. Enraged, he sends his bat into the night.

The bat swoops from the sky to attack Roy when he arrives home, as his sister Mary (Suzanne Kaaren) and her friend Don Morton (the co-founder’s son) look on in horror. Dr. Carruthers is called to the scene and pronounces it a hopeless case.

The local newspaper immediately jumps on this mysterious unsolved murder, with young reporter Johnny Layton (Dave O’Brien) and cameraman One Shot McGuire (Donald Kerr) leading the investigation. Despite their boss Joe’s natural skepticism, they believe Dr. Carruthers’s theory that the culprit was a bat.

Tommy Heath tests the aftershave next, and once again Dr. Carruthers tells him goodbye instead of goodnight before releasing the giant bat. In full view of a horrified Mary, Johnny, and McGuire, Tommy is attacked and killed.

All of Heathville now lives in terror of the Devil Bat. This fear increases when the bat attacks a third victim, Don Morton.

All three victims had the same aftershave, leading to suspicions that a disgruntled factory employee is the one offing people in the Heath and Morton families.

Johnny and McGuire are fired when it comes out the Devil Bat they photographed was made in Japan, but that doesn’t deter them in the least. They continue the investigation on their own.

Dr. Carruthers cordially cooperates with the police chief and Johnny when they question him about the ingredients of his aftershave and why the three victims were wearing it. The chief begs off trying the aftershave, for fear his wife would suspect another woman, but Johnny takes a sample to use later. Yet again, Dr. Carruthers says goodbye instead of goodnight.

While Johnny and McGuire are waiting for the bat that night, their big chance arrives. They shoot it dead, a  development which is immediately the subject of many news stories.

Not one to be deterred easily, Dr. Carruthers gets another bat. His next victim, co-founder Henry Morton, takes more convincing than the others to put the aftershave on his face then and there instead of waiting till morning.

Dr. Carruthers is enraged when Henry reminds him he sold his first formula for only $10,000 and gave up his partnership stake, while the company has made over a million dollars. He once more says goodbye instead of goodnight.

With the second Devil Bat on the loose, Heathville once again lives in terror. Now Johnny, who’s been rehired, makes his move to prove once and for all who’s really behind these attacks.

A mad surgeon seeks revenge

Released 8 July 1935, The Raven is, as might be expected from the title, inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s famous poem. But just as with the previous year’s The Black Cat, it has very little to do with the source material. TPTB also once again insulted Béla Lugosi by billing him second to Boris Karloff, despite being the main character. To make it even worse, Lugosi only earned $5,000 for the film vs. Karloff’s $10,000.

At least seven people worked on the script from August 1934–March 1935. To avoid “running the risk of excessive horror,” the Production Code Administration forbade Universal from showing operation scenes, as well as much more horrific makeup for Karloff’s character.

The Netherlands, Ontario, British Columbia, and China were among the places which banned the film. The Raven was the final horror film approved by the British Board of Film Censors.

The Raven was also the last film in Universal’s trilogy of Poe-inspired films, the others being Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932) and The Black Cat.

Young dancer Jean Thatcher (Irene Ware) is injured in a horrible car accident, and all her doctors pronounce her too far gone to save. Her dad, Judge Thatcher (Samuel Hinds), and her fiancé Jerry Halden (Lester Matthews), however, refuse to abandon hope, and beg retired Dr. Richard Vollin (Lugosi) to operate.

Dr. Vollin has many reservations, and doesn’t think they should fear the natural, inevitable process of death, but finally is compelled into operating.

Jean and Dr. Vollin become close friends after the surgery, and Jean sees him as more of a god than a man. In the course of their friendship, Dr. Vollin tells Jean about his love of Edgar Allan Poe and shows her his macabre collection of torture devices. They’ve become so attached to one another, they want to marry.

Judge Thatcher is none too pleased to learn of their plans, particularly since Jean’s already engaged to another man. Dr. Vollin exchanges harsh words with Judge Thatcher before taking his leave in a huff.

Dr. Vollin sees a perfect window of opportunity for twisted revenge when a fugitive, Edmond Bateman (Karloff), comes to him and begs for surgery to disguise his appearance. No one will nab him for murder, bank robbery, and escaping prison if he looks nothing like his old self.

Dr. Vollin says he’s not a plastic surgeon, but asks Bateman for help in getting revenge on the Thatchers. Bateman refuses, saying he believes his anti-social behaviour is the result of being called ugly his entire life. A brand-new face is the perfect chance to turn over a new leaf.

Sorry about the obnoxious watermark on a public domain image!

Bateman is horrified to see the results of his surgery. The left side of his face is normal, but the right side is utterly deformed. Dr. Vollin cackles maniacally, from his observation post just above the operating room, as Bateman shoots at all the mirrors which emerge from behind curtains. Bateman tries to shoot Dr. Vollin next, but is out of ammo.

Having little choice, Bateman agrees to help Dr. Vollin in getting revenge. Dr. Vollin promises to fix his face if he does this.

Jean, Jerry, and Judge Thatcher are among the guests at a dinner party Dr. Vollin presently throws. When Jean goes to her guestroom to fix her hair, she sees Bateman standing behind her and is terrified. She rushes back downstairs, where Dr. Vollin calmly explains Bateman is his servant, and makes up a story about how his face came to be mutilated. Dr. Vollin also claims it’s natural for doctors to love death and torture.

Judge Thatcher has serious reservations about spending the night in Dr. Vollin’s house, but Jean and Jerry laugh off his fears.

With all the guests retired for the night, Dr. Vollin shows Bateman his dungeon, full of torture instruments from Poe’s work. While Dr. Vollin is lying on a torture slab from “The Pit and the Pendulum” to demonstrate how it works, Bateman throws the switch to manacle his hands and feet and start the swinging pendulum.

Dr. Vollin persuades Bateman to release him by saying Bateman’s face will remain disfigured if he dies.

As a thunderstorm rages, Dr. Vollin intensifies his Poeian plan for revenge, which grows more and more deranged by the minute.

Arising from the shadows of the past

Released 13 January 1939, Son of Frankenstein marked the final time Boris Karloff played the Monster, the first time Béla Lugosi played Ygor, and the last A production in the Frankenstein franchise. It was a huge shot in the arm to Universal’s declining horror reputation.

On 5 April 1938, an almost-bankrupt L.A. theatre screened Frankenstein, Dracula, and King Kong. It was a major moneymaker and inspired many other successful revivals. Universal, seeing dollar signs, decided to make another Frankenstein sequel.

James Whale, director of Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein, didn’t want to do another horror film. In his place, Universal chose Rowland V. Lee.

Baron Wolf von Frankenstein (Basil Rathbone), Dr. Henry Frankenstein’s son, moves his wife Elsa (Josephine Hutchinson) and their little boy Peter (Donnie Donagan, now 85 years old) to the family castle upon coming into his inheritance.

Wolf’s enthusiasm for this new chapter of his life isn’t shared by his family, nor anyone else. The house gives Elsa and Peter the creeps, and the locals deeply resent their existence. After all, Wolf’s dad created a monster who terrorized them.

Inspector Krogh (Lionel Atwill) visits on the first night to try to warn Wolf away. Krogh’s right arm was torn from the roots by the Monster when he was a boy, something he’s never forgotten. He tells Wolf the Monster may still be at large, committing murders, despite being believed dead for years.

Across from the castle is Henry’s old lab, whose roof was blown off when the Monster was destroyed. Wolf eagerly goes to explore it after breakfast, and encounters Ygor. Earlier, Ygor peered in on Peter while he was sleeping.

Ygor is a body-stealing blacksmith who survived a hanging and now lives in the old lab, away from the eyes of the world. His neck was permanently deformed by the hanging.

Ygor takes Wolf to the family crypt, where his grandfather and father are entombed. Also in the crypt is the Monster’s comatose body.

Ygor says they’re friends, and that the Monster does things for him. The Monster is now comatose because he was struck by lightning under a tree while hunting. He can’t die because Henry made him live for always.

Ygor demands Wolf reanimate the Monster, on condition he not be seen by anyone.

With help from Ygor, Wolf hauls the Monster’s body up into the lab and tethers him to the table he was brought to life upon. Ygor pushes Wolf’s loyal assistant Benson (Edgar Norton) out of the door, but ultimately relents when Wolf explains how valuable Benson is.

Wolf and Benson meticulously examine the Monster every which way to determine what kind of state he’s in. Startling discoveries are two bullets in the lung and very unusual blood.

Ygor is hauled before the court to spill all he knows about Wolf and his experiments. If he doesn’t cooperate, he’ll be hanged again, properly this time. Ygor argues he was legally pronounced dead, and is told to leave and not cause trouble.

After concluding his extensive examinations, Wolf says as a human he should destroy the Monster, but as a scientist, it’s his duty to reanimate his father’s creation.

After Benson turns on the generator, the process initially seems to work very quickly. However, the signs of life fade away, appearing mere reflexes. Wolf declares the Monster is too comatose to reanimate.

While dining with Krogh, it comes out that Henry’s lab was built by the Romans, over a natural sulphur pit used as mineral baths. The sulphur is now over 800 degrees. Krogh doesn’t know how Wolf can bear to work with those sulphur fumes.

Peter’s innocent babble also reveals the Monster indeed reanimated and is on the loose. Full of a foretaste of horror, Wolf rushes off to the lab.

Ygor is nowhere to be found when Wolf arrives, but Wolf does find the Monster. Differing from the previous two Frankenstein films, he now wears a fur vest and can no longer talk.

When Ygor arrives, Wolf insists the Monster can’t leave. No one can know he’s there, despite Ygor’s claim the Monster only does what he tells him. Wolf also says he must continue his experiments. The Monster can walk, but his mind isn’t well yet.

Back at the castle, Wolf tells Benson what happened and swears him to secrecy. Despite his sheer terror, Wolf is determined to finish his work and become the greatest scientist of all time. He trusts the Monster will only do what Ygor bids him.

Trouble begins when Benson disappears. Ygor reports he ran away in fear of the Monster, but Wolf is terrified the worst happened.

And thus begins a new wave of horror as the Monster prowls through the town and the villagers seek blood revenge on Wolf.

A honeymoon full of horrors

Premièring 7 May 1934 in the U.S. and going into general release on 18 May, The Black Cat was the first of eight films co-starring horror icons Boris Karloff and Béla Lugosi, and Universal’s biggest hit of the year. Many consider it the granddaddy of psychological horror.

Though the film takes its name from Edgar Allan Poe’s 1843 short story, it has little to do with the purported source material. It also has no relation to the 1941 film (also starring Lugosi) of the same name.

In the U.K., it was titled House of Doom.

Newlyweds Peter and Joan Alison (David Manners and Julie Bishop) experience the ultimate inconvenience on the way to their honeymoon in Budapest—a third passenger joining them in their private cabin. Dr. Vitus Werdegast (Lugosi) says he’s on his way to visit an old friend.

Eighteen years ago, Vitus went to war and experienced every soldier’s ultimate horror when he was captured by the enemy. For the last fifteen years, he was held captive in a brutal Siberian prison camp.

Vitus also joins the newlyweds on the private bus to their hotel, but this continued deprivation of privacy is soon forgotten when Joan is injured in a road accident and they’re all forced to share lodgings in Visograd.

Their host is Hjalmar Poelzig (Karloff), whom Vitus has been longing to get even with since the war. He blames Hjalmar for the murder of 10,000 soldiers and the imprisonment of many others, including himself. After Hjalmar betrayed their country to the enemy and saved his own hide, he stole Vitus’s wife Karen and their daughter.

Now Vitus wants to kill Hjalmar, but very slowly. Immediately killing him wouldn’t be nearly so satisfying.

During the night, Vitus demands again for Hjalmar to take him to his wife. Peter is greatly disturbed when they come into his room by mistake, and after they leave the room, he says next time he’ll go to Niagara Falls.

Hjalmar takes Vitus to Karen’s mummified body standing upright in a glass casket. She died two years after the war, and Hjalmar has kept her beautifully preserved ever since. Hjalmar says their daughter died too.

Vitus is about to shoot Hjlamar in a rage when a black cat wanders by and scares Vitus so much he stumbles against a glass wall which breaks. Earlier, another black cat terrified him so much he killed it, and Hjalmar explained he suffers from one of the more common phobias, ailurophobia.

Hjalmar temporarily talks sense into Vitus, then goes to see Karen, Jr., his stepdaughter turned wife, who’s very much alive and in their bed. He orders her to stay in their room until Vitus is gone, and says no one can take her away from him.

Vitus has no intention of giving up on revenge so easily, and speaks with one of Hjalmar’s servants about a plan to blow up the estate.

At their next meeting, Vitus announces to Hjalmar his desire to let Peter and Joan leave after Joan’s recovery. Towards this end, Vitus agrees to play a game of chess with the newlyweds’ release as winning prize.

They’re interrupted when authorities arrive to get statements about the bus accident, and then again when a servant reports the car is out of commission. Peter is very eager to get out of this creepy estate, but circumstances keep conspiring to keep him and Joan there. Even the phone is dead, so he can’t make arrangements for other transportation.

Peter fetches Joan and says they’re leaving immediately, even if they have to walk and leave their luggage. Another obstacle crops up when Peter discovers someone took his automatic, and then a servant guarding the door knocks him out and carries Joan back to her room.

After Hjalmar locks Joan into the room, Peter is carried away to the cellar and dumped on the floor.

While Hjalmar is playing the organ, Vitus steals a key and creeps off to Joan’s room. He tells her how evil Hjalmar is and that he’ll get his revenge in due time. Vitus also tells Joan to be brave if she wants to get out of there alive.

The horror increases in the wake of a Satanic service Hjalmar hosts.

Will Vitus finally get his well-deserved revenge on the man who ruined his life, and will Peter and Joan ever escape?