Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.5
USA, 1934. Universal Pictures. Story by Edgar G. Ulmer, Peter Ruric, Screenplay by Peter Ruric, suggested by a story by Edgar Allan Poe. Cinematography by John J. Mescall. Produced by Carl Laemmle Jr.. Music by Heinz Roemheld. Production Design by Charles D. Hall. Costume Design by Edgar G. Ulmer. Film Editing by Ray Curtiss.
It’s amazing how much fun a director can pack into a mere sixty-five minutes, this is one of the most beautifully striking and deliriously enjoyable of the horror films made by Universal in the thirties. It begins when an American couple (David Manners, Julie Bishop) are on their honeymoon in Hungary and share a train compartment with a mysterious gentleman (Bela Lugosi) who accompanies them on their bus to the town they are planning to visit. A rainstorm causes their vehicle to crash, killing the driver and forcing the survivors (which also include Lugosi’s manservant) to find refuge in the nearest home. If you’d seen The Most Dangerous Game two years earlier, you’d know that surviving an accident is the part that turns out to be your worst move; the party end up in the Art Deco dream of a home by a famous architect (Boris Karloff) who has built his mansion atop a former military fort that was the site of one of Hungary’s worst war atrocities and who is, as is obvious from his haircut, completely mad. Lugosi has a score to settle with Karloff, having to do with the loss of his wife and daughter, while Manners and Bishop try to be good houseguests but find there’s suspiciously too much resistance to their attempt to leave the place once the weather improves. The magnificence reaches its apex in the film’s climax involving subterranean vaults, dead bodies preserved behind glass to look like floating Greek statues and devil worshippers performing rituals to bring Old Scratch back to Earth. It’s the most satisfying of all the films that involved casting both of Universal’s monstrous stars, who have terrific chemistry together; the visuals dazzle you with overtly stunning beauty while the script, in a perversely enjoyable way, tells a tale of the trauma that wars leave behind on the lands upon which they are fought, something the world was soon to find out more about in the years to come.