IN THEIR THIRD appearance together for Universal Pictures, Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi have the routine down pat.
Lugosi oozes maniacal glee as the Poe-obsessed surgeon with a torture chamber in his basement.
And Karloff, (who was billed with just his surname for this picture, which goes to show how symbolic his name had become in the industry) plays a fugitive on the run from the police.
The film begins with an actress, Jean Thatcher (Irene Ware) hanging on for dear life after a car accident.
Her father and her betrothed seek the help of a retired surgeon, Richard Vollin (Lugosi) to pull her through.
Vollin then develops an unhealthy infatuation towards Jean, who is indebted to him for saving her life.
Vollin attempts to sway her much to the reluctance of Jean’s father.
A crazed plan only comes to light for Vollin when a chance encounter with Edmond Bateman (Karloff) seeking refuge with a proposed operation to change his appearance.
Bateman’s words hang firmly in the mind of Vollin when he mentions how being ugly may have led to him doing ugly things.
In what Bateman hopes will be a transformation for good, Vollin seizes upon this and turns him into a disfigure monster followed by a promise that he will aide him in exacting revenge on the Thatchers.
The conclusion of the movie centres on a dinner party which soon descends into the basement of torture, where one by one the guests face the likes of the pit and the pendulum, and the shrinking room.
It is Bateman’s tortured soul that wins the day though, as he searches for a good heart within and turns the tables on the fanatical Vollin, forcing him into the shrinking room and in turn his demise, but not without inflicting a fatal bullet wound in the process.
Upon release the movie received poor box office receipts, which is a shame, as I found the narrative and performances to be one of the strongest outside of the ‘monster’ features.
Both Lugosi and Karloff are particularly strong in their respective rolls, but it was deemed the subject matter of torture and disfigurement (themes that would be welcomed today among cinema-goers) too strong for the audience.
The following year would see Universal Pictures change hands, and the proprietors were less interested in the stories of the macabre and The Raven’s poor performance was evidence enough for them to make this decision. It not for long.
- Paul Farrell