Saturday, June 26, 2010

“Up? I’ve been up all night with dead people!”

Bela Lugosi had some awesome roles in Universal Horror franchises like Dracula and Frankenstein. Unfortunately, he also made some serious stinkers. 1942’s The Corpse Vanishes is just such a dose of schlock.

So there’s this scientist/horticulturalist who is trying to keep his aging wife alive. To do so, he orchestrates an extremely convoluted plot that involves breeding a kind of poisonous orchid that he delivers to brides on their wedding days that seemingly kills them. Then he and his henchmen steal the body by pretending they’re ambulance/hearse drivers and after that unnecessarily labor-intensive phase of the plot, takes the brides to his mansion’s basement and drains bodily fluid from their glands in order to restore his wife’s youth and beauty. That sound you hear is the collective thud of the heads of every science major reading this slamming their heads against their desks. There’s also a plucky news reporter trying to figure out all this, because it’s that kind of movie.

Dr. Lorenz: Bela Lugosi is arguably the best thing in this movie. I say “arguably,” since its pretty clear he’s not really trying here. Part mad scientist, part riding on his “Dracula” image (they even have Lorenz & his wife sleeping in coffins for one scene), there’s a little bit of pathos to the character in that he’s doing some pretty evil stuff in the name of love. And while his scheme is suitably insane (a staple of these low budget mad scientist films) its not a memorable performance. Doesn’t stop him from being the badass of the film, but that’s really more of a commentary on the quality of the other actors.

Patricia Hunter: Luana Walters is our plucky young reporter. She’s a real go-getter and like Lois Lane, this gets her into all kinds of trouble later on and like the mythological Cassandra, nobody really believes her when she starts figuring out the mad doctor’s plot. Then she gets saddled with an extraneous (and rather useless) love interest.

Dr. Foster: Tris Coffin is the extraneous love interest. He’s a small town doctor in Dr. Lorenz’ town that takes Patricia up to the spooky looking mansion and is completely naïve to the possibility that Bela Lugosi might be up to no good in a B Movie.

Countess Lorenz: Elizabeth Russell is the wife who’s life is being unnaturally prolonged. She’s kind of a bitch and I’m not really sure why she’s a “Countess” unless…oh…. Really? They’re trying to make this a modern spin on the Elizabeth Báthory story? Oh geez.

Fagah: Minerva Urecal plays Dr. Lorenz’ servant, an old crone who’s two sons Toby (Angelo Rossitto) and Angel (Frank Moran) serve as henchmen and whipping boys (literally in Angel’s case) for the Doctor. (Like that ever ends well in these kinds of movies). Toby is a dwarf and Angel is a mentally challenged hunchback.

Directed by Wallace Fox, there’s really not a whole lot going for this movie visually outside of the wedding scene at the opening where you get the setup of a bride dying right after saying “I do.” And I suppose there’s also the shot of Dr. & Countess Lorenz sleeping in coffins, but other than that, its pretty dull. Very dull, considering its only 64 minutes long.

Sam Robins, Gerald Schnitzer & Harvey Gates on story duties. Terribly impractical scheme, cardboard characters and bad dialogue notwithstanding, the initial premise of a mad scientist kidnapping comatose brides on their wedding days in order to drain their still-living bodies of fluids is a legitimately disturbing one. Hell, it almost sounds like one of the modern gorn (which is actually not a word I just made up) films making mad bank at the theaters.

There is no original music. There is no music whatsoever. That’s the kind of film we’re dealing with.

The Corpse Vanishes is pretty damn bad. It gets some redeeming points for having an interesting (if thoroughly impractical) plot and some small interesting parts, but the characters are awful and misused (how do you NOT use the hunchback for more than just opening up doors?) and the whole thing is plain old boring. A complete waste of time if you watch it as-is.


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