Wednesday, February 26, 2014

'The Corpse Vanishes' is a delightfully bizarre cheapie from Monogram starring Bela Lugosi

By Doug Gibson

I have been watching "The Cult Vanishes" a lot recently. The 1942 thriller starring Bela Lugosi is no weirder than many of his other Monogram flicks, but it has -- as my colleague Steve D. Stones has pointed out -- some similarities to Lugosi's later Ed Wood flicks, particularly "Bride of the Monster." Lugosi whips one of his henchmen (Frank Moran), just as he does Tor Johnson in "Bride ...," and there is a very cheesy basement in both films, where the bizarre doings with young lovelies take place. Both "Corpse" and "Bride" have very very fake bricks painted on the studio walls.

Steve has done a great job summarizing "Corpse ...," so go to his review (here) to read it. I'll just say that Dr. Lorenz (Lugosi) lives with his wife in a remote area. She is kept young by Lugosi kidnapping brides who fall "dead" at the altar and taking fluid from their necks, which he gives to his wife (Elizabeth Russell). Lugosi sends the brides a rare orchid flower that renders them senseless and then with the help of his henchmen (Moran) and Angelo Rossitto, take them back to the remote home. A young reporter (Luana Walters) tries to get the story and solve the crime. (I also long ago wrote a review of "The Corpse Vanishes" for this site, (read) but I think I like the film better now.)

Luana Walters is a tragic figure. A rodeo star who was mainly in westerns, she was a beautiful woman and a good actress. She easily out-acts the male romantic lead, Tristam Coffin, who defines wooden. Unfortunately, Walters' career faltered while Coffin managed to do well in the business for 30-plus years. Her husband's death in 1945 further depressed Walters, and she suffered from alcoholism, a disease that would eventually destroy her liver and kill her in 1963 at the age of 50. In 1956, after being out of films for 7 years, she made her final two films, one of which was "She Creatures."

The very low budgets of Monogram are easily depicted in the cramped sets and amateur bit part players, such as the first groom of an afflicted bride (who is only capable of a goofy stare) and a police operator (who drips through some cool lines with the emotion of a fat lizard.) Supporting players (at Lugosi's home, including Moran, Rossitto and the cool Minerva Urecal (who had her best role in "The Ape Man," are better. A casting coup for "Corpse .." is Russell as Lugosi's insane wife. She was a favorite in Val Lewton's RKO thrillers, including "Bedlam,"and I recall her also in a Universal "Hidden Sanctum" film, "Weird Woman," with Lon Chaney Jr. Less impressive is Kenneth Harlan as Walters' Editor Keenan. He's gruff, but the lines he's forced to utter also make him appear stupid, and unable to sense a good story. Lou Grant he's not. Joan Barclay, who was Lugosi's co-star in the Monogram effort "Black Dragons," has a small part as an afflicted, kidnapped bride.

"Corpse" has a great twist ending, with Urecal's character letting out frustration on Lugosi's "Jeckyl/Hyde" Lorenz. I agree with Lugosi biographer Arthur Lennig, that "Corpse..." would have been much better if more action had focused on the strange relationships between Lugosi, Russell, Urecal, Moran and Rossetti than the plodding romance between boring Coffin and Walters, but it's still a fun film to watch, often and oftener. Watch it above!

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