Corpse Vanishes, The (Monogram 1942)
Monogram and Lugosi struck again in 1942, with The Corpse Vanishes, a frivolous wheeze about drop-dead gorgeous brides apparently dropping dead at the altar.
Behind it, of course, is abominable Bela, kidnapping the ‘corpses’ to extract gland fluid to keep his 70 year old missus (Elizabeth Russell) young and beautiful.
Beauty before age: Countess Lorenz (Elizabeth Russell) relies on husband Dr George (Bela Lugosi) to keep her young and beautiful, with the assistance of the loyal Fagah (Minerva Urecal) in The Corpse Vanishes (Monogram 1942)
Out to thwart him is feisty newspaper reporter Luana Walters, who attempts to engage the assistance of Lugosi’s unwitting colleague Tris Coffin (no, really) to expose the putrid professor to editor Kenneth Harlan.
Along the way we have miscreantal hi jinx from Lugosi’s loyal ‘family’ in the guise of old crone Minerva Urecal and her unfortunate offspring, dwarf Angelo Rossitto and gormless mute brute Frank Moran.
Gag the gob: Dr George Lorenz (Bela Lugosi) attempts to silence reporter Patricia Hunter (Luana Walters) in The Corpse Vanishes (Monogram 1942)
It’s all great fun and frolics with low budget atmosphere in spades, not to mention some of the campest lines in cinema history: bride-to-be Joan Barclay intones to frantic mother Gladys Faye “You should forget all that silly nonsense about those brides dropping dead,” just before ‘perishing’ herself, and “I’ve been up all night with dead people”; Walters to Coffin.
The Corpse Vanishes was Lugosi’s fifth of nine collaborations with the poverty row studio, and what it lacks in budget it more than makes up for in brash style. Many view these cheap shockers as lacklustre, and denigrate them as beneath the actor’s abilities, but Lugosi was increasingly a working actor as major roles dried up, and some of the Monogram offerings gave him character roles that were simply not forthcoming from the likes of Universal and MGM.
Stairway to Heaven: Dastardly Dr Lorenz (Lugosi) has fiendish plans for Patricia Hunter (Luana Walters) in The Corpse Vanishes (Monogram 1942)
A Sam Katzman and Jack Dietz special, The Corpse Vanishes was directed by Wallace Fox, from Harvey Gates’ screenplay. The Sam Robins / Gerald Schnitzer story on which it was based took its inspiration from the real life 16th-century Hungarian countess and serial killer, Elizabeth Báthory, who allegedly believed she could preserve her beauty by bathing in the blood of young virgins.
Ruinous repository: Swooning Patricia Hunter (Luana Walters) is deposited in Dr Lorenz’s (Bela Lugosi) underground ‘morgue’ in The Corpse Vanishes (Monogram 1942)
With above par acting and unreserved Monogram camp, The Corpse Vanishes is a deliciously dark 64 minutes of nonsense which, ironically, improves with age. More savvy than they were ever given credit for in their day, these Monogram romps were not the career-blighting dross that the harsher critics denounced them as, and although the bucks were not big, Lugosi clearly enjoys himself and is treated with a respect that was less forthcoming from the major bats. That in Bowery at Midnight (1942) we actually see a couple of cops standing outside a cinema which bears a huge poster for The Corpse Vanishes, including Lugosi’s name and image, is testament to how knowingly these gutsy little capsules of horror were produced.