After the success of Dracula in 1931, Bel Lugosi took the lead in a trio of Edgar Allan Poe adaptations for Universal Pictures. The Murders In The Rue Morgue, The Black Cat and The Raven feature Lugosi at his best and the latter two also feature fellow horror icon and Universal star Boris Karloff.
Off-screen Lugosi had a dislike for Karloff because he felt that the Frankenstein star got preferential treatment from Universal, including better billing (‘Karloff’) and a greater salary. This might be true, but Lugosi more than shows his skill as as performer in these classic movies. The actor was surrounded by demons on and off screen, and his place in horror iconography is assured because of Dracula (which often frustrated him), but these Poe films show that there was much more to him than the Prince of Darkness.
The three movies are perfect examples of how Universal Pictures became a success by crafting a wonderful collection of horror movies throughout the 1930s after its early successes with Dracula and Frankenstein. It’s something of a misnomer to say that they’re adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe‘s stories as they have little to do with the author’s work, aside from their titles. However, this doesn’t stop them from being prime examples of horror’s golden age.
Robert Foley’ The Murders In The Rue Morgue (1932) is wonderfully expressionistic murder-mystery with beautiful cinematography and set design. It features a scenery chewing Lugosi as the side-show circus man with the killer gorilla who is terrorising the streets of Paris.
Edgar G. Ulmer’s The Black Cat (1934) sees Lugosi face-off against Karloff’s satanic necrophiliac. Universal’s biggest hit of 1934, the film once again features superb set design, alongside some wonderfully looming tension.
In Lew Landers’ The Raven Lugosi plays an evil surgeon with a penchant for torture and sadism. This time around Karloff takes the role of criminal who is tortured by the doctor when he seeks refuge.
All three films were made before the Motion Picture Production Code’s set of moral guidelines, so there’s a darkness and freedom to the movies which is lacking in many subsequent horrors (necrophilia!). The Black Cat is the best of the bunch, but all three film have much to recommend.
Once again Eureka!’s Masters Of Cinema series delivers an outstanding release. This 2-disc set includes beautifully presented versions of all three films and commentaries, essays and old radio plays from Peter Lorre and Lugosi and Karloff. Stunning.