Meddling anew in things best left alone

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Inspired by the success of Son of Frankenstein, Universal decided to create a sequel to The Invisible Man. In March 1939, they began searching for the right screenwriters and director. Finally, they settled on Curt Siodmak and Lester K. Cole as writers, and Joe May as director. Mr. May was a pioneer of German film, and escaped to the U.S. in 1933 after the Nazis came to power.

Though there’d been hints of Boris Karloff or Béla Lugosi playing the lead, Universal wanted an unknown actor, a “young, good-looking contender even though he would remain invisible until the last reel.”

Filming began 13 October 1939 and was supposed to last 27 days, with a budget of $243,750 ($4,564,262.59 today). However, they were behind schedule by the second week, and by November, everyone was working till midnight. There was scant expectation of wrapping on schedule.

Production ended 11 November 1939, followed by a projected few days of post-production for special effects. Once again, they went over, and post-production lasted fifteen days. On the final day, the crew worked till 4:15 AM.

On 12 January 1940, the film was released. It earned $815,000 from national and international profits combined ($15,802,714.29 today).

Below stairs at Radcliffe Manor, several servants anxiously await word about a death row reprieve for Sir Geoffrey Radcliffe (Vincent Price), who’s falsely accused of murdering his brother Michael. Also very worried is Helen Manson (Nan Grey), his fiancée.

After more and more time ticks by without any happy news, Dr. Frank Griffin (John Sutton), brother of the first Invisible Man, Jack, goes to see him in prison.

During this tightly-supervised ten-minute visit, Geoffrey mysteriously vanishes into thin air, leaving his clothes behind. With the authorities convinced he’s the real murderer, a manhunt is launched. In the wake of Geoffrey’s disappearing act, Helen also vanishes.

First Richard Cobb (Sir Cedric Hardwicke) and then Inspector Sampson (Cecil Kellaway) come to Frank’s lab, convinced he knows something. Sampson is certain Frank used the invisibility potion on Geoffrey.

Geoffrey meets Helen at the remote home of Ben Jenkins (Forrester Harvey). Helen hopes they can hide out there safely until Frank discovers the antidote, but Geoffrey won’t rest easily till the real killer is found.

Though there’s no one else around for miles, Geoffrey is extremely on-edge from the incessant barking of Ben’s dog. Helen makes Ben chain him up far from the house.

The dog attracts the attention of a cop bicycling through the woods. He’s still barking crazily when the cop arrives at the house. A fight breaks out, with the cop suspecting Ben has visitors and demanding to search the house.

Against Ben’s agitated attempts to block the cop from going upstairs, Geoffrey is discovered. The cop runs back downstairs to phone for help, and is told to not let Geoffrey take off his clothes no matter what.

Geoffrey does just that and escapes out the window before the cop and Ben return.

Geoffrey wastes no time in going to Frank’s lab. Frank has been working busily hard on the antidote, and recently had success with a guinea pig. Now he manages to take a blood sample from Geoffrey, despite his invisibility, to use in the next version.

Geoffrey’s suspicions are triggered when Willie Spears (Alan Napier), the new superintendent of the Radcliffes’ coal mine, visits the lab. Based on what Spears says, Geoffrey has reason to believe Cobb (his cousin) is the real killer. Not wasting a moment, he perches on Spears’s car and stalls it in the woods.

Spears is terrified when Geoffrey makes himself known. First he thinks he drank more than he was aware of, then thinks it’s Satan. Geoffrey chases him through the woods, taunting him and saying there’s no escape.

Fueled by terror, Spears makes a full confession and says Cobb would’ve killed him if he told authorities what really happened. He begs for mercy, and it looks like Geoffrey is satisfied.

Until, that is, Spears is ambushed in his house after packing a suitcase. Geoffrey ties him up and says he’ll be back after settling a score with Cobb.

Now begins a calculated campaign to prove Cobb’s guilt to the authorities and take revenge, all while Frank continues trying to find an antidote before Geoffrey goes mad like Jack.

A mad surgeon seeks revenge

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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.

Making a macabre mate for a monster

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Bride of Frankenstein, the first sequel to the 1931 classic Frankenstein, premièred 19 April 1935 in Chicago and went into general release the next day. Universal’s horror franchise was at its peak during the 1930s, with big budgets and strong scripts guaranteeing A pictures.

A sequel was in the works since the very successful preview screenings of the 1931 film, though director James Whale was very reticent to revisit the story. When he was finally convinced to take the job, he rejected several scripts from different writers. Finally, the work of William J. Hurlbut and Edmund Pearson was accepted and submitted to the infamous Hays Office for approval in November 1934.

Filming began 2 January 1935, with a budget almost equal to that of the original, $293,750 ($5.48 million in 2020). Shooting was projected to take 36 days, but went ten days over, wrapping on 7 March. Director Whale shut down production for ten days because O.P. Heggie wasn’t available to play the Hermit on schedule.

The final cost was $397,023 ($9.27 million today), over $100,000 ($1.86 million today) over budget. The final edit was finished just days before the première.

BOF earned $2 million by 1943 ($29.6 million now), with a profit margin of $950,000 ($14 million today). By and large, critics highly praised it, a reputation which has remained consistent over the last 85 years.

In 1988, BOF was added to the U.S. National Film Registry for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant,” and it routinely appears on those incessant best-of lists.

Mary Shelley, her husband Percy Bysshe Shelley, and their buddy Lord Byron are hanging out on a dark and stormy night. When the fellows praise Mary for her novel Frankenstein, she stresses her intention was to impart a moral lesson, not merely to entertain. She also says there’s more of the story yet to be told, since neither monster nor creator perished.

We then shift to the end of the 1931 film, when it looked as though the Monster was burnt alive in a windmill as a mob of angry villagers cheered. This euphoria is quickly dashed when they realise Dr. Henry Frankenstein is also probably burnt to a crisp along with his creation.

Hans, father of Maria (the little girl the Monster accidentally drowned in the first film), wants to see the remains to prove this menace is gone. Towards this end, and against his wife’s wishes and the Burgomeister’s orders, he makes his way to the still-burning windmill.

Curiosity kills the cat when Hans falls through a hole leading to a flooded cavern under the windmill, where the Monster lurks. Both Hans and his wife are killed. The Frankensteins’ servant Minnie (the hilarious Una O’Connor) comes upon the scene next, and flees in terror.

No one believes Minnie when she says the Monster is still very much alive.

Henry (Colin Clive) is taken home, where his fiancée Elizabeth (Valerie Hobson) realises he’s not dead, just wounded and shocked. After Elizabeth lovingly nurses him back to health, Henry tries to settle down to a quiet, peaceful life, but you know what they say about the best-laid plans of mice and men.

Dr. Septimus Pretorius (Ernest Thesiger), Henry’s old mentor, visits and suggests Henry continue his experiments with reanimating the dead. Elizabeth has a very bad feeling about this.

Pretorius shows Henry a bunch of miniature people in jars—a king and queen, a ballerina, an archbishop, a mermaid, a devil. There’s a bit of humor when the king escapes his jar to be with the queen, resulting in Pretorius picking him up with tweezers and putting him back in his jar.

Creating a life-sized human is the ultimate goal, and Pretorius suggests they make a mate for the Monster. Pretorius will create the brain, and Henry will collect body parts.

Meanwhile, the Monster saves a shepherdess (Anne Darling) from drowning, and has his kindness repaid by screams. After two hunters wound the Monster, they alert the villagers, and presently an angry mob captures the Monster, takes him to a dungeon, and chains him up.

The Monster manages to escape and flees into the forest, as the mob continues hunting him. At night, he enters the cabin of a blind old hermit playing the violin, and for the very first time makes a friend. For so long, the hermit has been praying for a friend to take away his loneliness. The hermit also teaches him to speak.

Their newfound mutual happiness is short-lived, as very soon two lost hunters arrive and recognise the Monster. They can’t see the pure, kind-hearted creature the hermit does, and provoke him into accidentally burning down the cabin.

While hiding in a crypt, the Monster spies Pretorius and two other guys grave-robbing. After the other two leave, Pretorius tells the Monster about the plan to create a wife.

But will Henry hold up his end of the bargain in bringing this creature to life, and will the two monsters live happily ever after?

A lunatic lycanthrope lurks in London

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Released 13 May 1935, Werewolf of London was the very first well-known werewolf film. The film widely considered the first werewolf film, the 1913 short The Werewolf, was sadly lost in a 1924 fire at Universal Studios. The earliest surviving werewolf film, 1925’s Wolf Blood, takes forever to broach the idea of a man transmogrifying into a wolf, and shows no transformation at all. The filmmaking is also said to be awful even in the context of that era.

Though probably all classic horror fans consider Lon Chaney, Jr., the quintessential werewolf, Henry Hull does a solid job here. However, unlike Chaney’s Larry Talbot, the character here doesn’t evoke much sympathy or human warmth. It’s not hard to understand why his wife feels emotionally neglected.

Makeup artist Jack Pierce’s original look was identical to that of the later Wolf Man films, but TPTB vetoed it. They thought a simpler style would do a better job of making the werewolf’s true identity obvious to other characters.

Rich English botanist Dr. Wilfred Glendon (Henry Hull) travels to Tibet in search of the rare mariphasa flower, which is said to be the cure for lycanthropism and only blooms under the light of a full Moon. Despite being warned against this mission by a fellow Englishman (who’s been there for at least 40 years), he persists.

Wilfred and his assistant experience phantom pains and weird bodily movements as they make their way to the reportedly cursed valley where this flower is located, yet keep pressing on.

A werewolf attacks Wilfred just as he’s about to get the flower, leaving a long double-scratch on his arm and drawing blood. Wilfred, devoted to his mission, fights off the assailant and takes the flower.

Back in London, Wilfred throws himself into full-time experimenting and refuses to let anyone into his lab. This naturally makes his young wife Lisa (Valerie Hobson) feel quite neglected, and she begins spending a lot of time with her childhood friend Paul Ames (Lester Matthews).

Wilfred makes the reacquaintance of Dr. Yogami (Warner Oland), whom he very briefly met in the dark in Tibet. Dr. Yogami too is searching for the elusive mariphasa, for the same reasons, and asks Wilfred if his mission were successful. Though Dr. Yogami managed to get the flower, it died en route back to England.

Dr. Yogami says one bitten by a werewolf will also become a werewolf. Wilfred thinks this is a bunch of unscientific nonsense, but Dr. Yogami says there are two current cases of lycanthropism in London.

In the course of his research, Wilfred discovers he has indeed become a werewolf. Hair appears on his hands under the light of his lamp replicating moonbeams, which he’s using to try to make the flower bloom.

The mariphasa proves itself a successful antidote.

Dr. Yogami gets into the lab to speak with Wilfred again, and says this flower isn’t a cure, but just an antidote lasting a few hours. He also says a werewolf “instinctively seeks to kill the thing it loves best.”

In his house, Wilfred reads an old book which says a werewolf must kill at least one thing during a full Moon, or else become permanently affected. Lisa and Paul barge in while he’s reading, inviting him to a party. Wilfred refuses, and becomes very agitated when they turn on the lights. He claims he put medicine in his eyes and that light is very painful.

After they leave, Wilfred’s cat goes nuts, yowling, arching its back, hissing, and clawing at him. Wilfred looks at his hands and discovers he’s turning into a werewolf. Full of horror, he hurries towards the lab, only to find the mariphasa not blooming.

A strange howling fills the air, which piques the interest of everyone at the party. Lisa’s aunt Ettie (Spring Byington) reacts with laughter and odd comments. Out of concern, she’s taken up to her room, where Wilfred attacks her.

When Lisa and Paul come to investigate her screams, they find her alone and believe she had a nightmare or drank too much.

Wilfred then murders a woman in Goose Lane. This makes headline news, and an investigation is launched.

The mariphasa still refuses to bloom, and a full Moon is coming up. Wilfred begs off going riding with Lisa and Paul, and forbids Lisa to go. When he relents, he asks Lisa to promise she’ll be home before the Moon rises. This too is met with outrage, and Lisa stalks off with Paul.

Wilfred goes to rent a room out of town, hoping he’ll stay safely confined there and not turn into a werewolf. If he transforms anyway, he prays to be kept away from Lisa.

Since sometimes the answer to a prayer is “no,” Wilfred becomes a werewolf and jumps out of the locked window. The older women running this boardinghouse, Mrs. Whack and Mrs. Moncaster (Ethel Griffies and Zeffie Tilbury), provide great comic relief every time they’re onscreen.

Now the race to find the antidote and stay confined is on, before Wilfred can transform again and attack the one he loves most.

A hypnotic murder mystery

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Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) was so popular, a second Meet film was created for them. Originally, Meet the Killer was entitled Easy Does It and intended for Bob Hope, but Universal bought the rights and reworked it. A&C’s prior two films, Mexican Hayride and Africa Screams, weren’t exactly their strongest work, and they needed another hit.

Boris Karloff’s character was initially a woman named Madame Switzer, and the film was called Meet the Killers. Five days before shooting began, Karloff was hired, and the character became a swami.

In New Zealand and Australia, censors removed every scene with a corpse. Denmark banned the film because of a scene where corpses play cards.

Meet the Killer was filmed from 10 February–26 March 1949 and released on 22 August 1949. Sadly, Lou was stricken by a relapse of rheumatic fever after filming wrapped and bedridden for several months. That November, he had to have an operation on his gangrenous gallbladder. Because of his illness, the next A&C film didn’t begin production till 28 April 1950.

Freddie Phillips (Lou) and Casey Edwards (Bud), a bellboy and detective, respectively, at the Lost Caverns Resort Hotel, are swept up in a lot of trouble when famous, short-tempered criminal lawyer Amos Strickland checks in. Shortly after he has Freddie fired for his hilarious incompetence, Freddie goes to his hotel room to apologise.

Freddie doesn’t realise Strickland is a corpse, nor does he see a mysterious hand in a black glove reaching under the curtains. When it finally gets through to him, Freddie races to the lobby in terror.

Suspicion is cast on Freddie when guest Mike Relia reports someone broke into his room and stole his gun. Bellboys have keys to all the rooms, and he also yelled at Strickland and was fired shortly before the murder.

The missing gun turns up in Freddie’s room, which makes him look even worse. Casey believes his innocence, and goes with him to Relia’s room to return the gun. While in the room, they discover a damning telegram.

Freddie opens the door to check if the coast is clear while Casey plants the gun in a suit pocket, and up comes a swami who hynotises Freddie.

Inspector Wellman (James Flavin) and Sgt. Stone (Mikel Conrad) order Freddie kept in custody as a guest of the state in his hotel room until his name is cleared. This is hardly a punishment, as Freddie lives it up with room service and beautiful female employees giving him beauty treatments.

Freddie’s luck becomes even worse when his date Angela compels him to write and sign a confession, pretending the real killer will confess when he sees it.

Casey sends Relia’s fingerprints to HQ and reports he has a criminal history, with Strickland serving as his lawyer. The investigators don’t think this is damning evidence, since his criminal past is common knowledge and ancient history, and six of Strickland’s other past clients are also at the hotel and received the same telegram.

Angela falls under suspicion too when she’s accused of mixing a poisonous champagne cocktail.

The swami creeps into Freddie’s room that night and hypnotises him again. His orders entice Freddie into putting a noose around his neck, but Freddie is cowardly even under hypnosis, and falls backwards instead of jumping.

Not deterred, the swami asks Freddie to kill himself with a gun. This also fails, and the swami asks how he’d prefer to die. Freddie wisely answers “Old age.”

The swami asks him to jump out of a window next, but Freddie jumps backwards into the room. All these refusals make the swami angry, and he goes after Freddie with a knife, ordering him to plunge it into his heart.

Freddie still refuses to kill himself.

The swami thinks he’s finally found success when he asks Freddie if he’d plunge the knife into the heart of the man in the mirror, and Freddie says yes. Things don’t go as planned when Freddie tries to stab the swami, believing that was the man in the mirror.

Casey comes to the rescue after the swami scrams.

And then the bodies start turning up in Freddie’s closet. Even more damning, he comes into possession of a bloody handkerchief.

Several attempts are made on Freddie’s life, culminating in a mysterious voice ordering him to bring the handkerchief to the Lost Cavern.