Arts

Cult Movie: Trio of Bela Lugosi horror classics unleashed on Blu-ray

The Raven led to all American horror movies being banned in Britain for two years
Ralph McLean

Bela Lugosi

YOU know how it is, you wait an age for a Bela Lugosi movie to come out on Blu-ray and three come along at once. Eureka Entertainment have released a trio of Lugosi vehicles from the golden age of horror – Murders In the Rue Morgue, The Black Cat and The Raven – and every one is a moody monochrome gem.

Unveiled as part of the company's Masters Of Cinema series, this trio of 1930s creepers is a limited release (2000 copies only) and should become part of any self-respecting cult lover's collection.

Besides providing starring roles for the much-loved Lugosi, these three films are connected by another couple of fearsome factors. All three come from the venerable Universal stable that gave us the first true run of Dracula and Frankenstein 'creature features' in the 1930s and they are all based on the work of that master of the macabre, Edgar Allen Poe. Two of the features also benefit from the involvement of Lugosi's old Universal co-worker Boris Karloff, which only serves to make them even more desirable, frankly.

All three titles also benefit from being produced in the so called 'Pre Code' era before the Motion Picture Production Code stamped down on themes of dubious morality. That means the content within still displays considerable nastiness and darkness unlike the lily-livered filmic fayre that would limp out after Hollywood got on its moral high horse.

Director Robert Florey, who gave the Marx Brothers their first cinematic outing with The Cocoanuts in 1929, imbues Murders In The Rue Morgue (1932) with a creepy, expressionistic verve that still startles today. Lugosi gets to run riot as a mad scientist in charge of a bizarre carnival sideshow in 19th century Paris who murders women to find a mate for his talking ape. The results are every bit as odd and twisted as that bizarre synopsis suggests.

The Black Cat (1934) is even better. Marking the first on screen collaboration between Lugosi and Karloff, it cranks up the strange psychodrama vibes to new heights as a Satan worshipping, necrophiliac nut job (Karloff) goes head-to-head with an old friend (Lugosi) who's trying to track down his family. Director Edgar G Ulmer scored a big hit with this offbeat beauty and his talent for creating a dreamlike logic to all the madness makes it a fascinating film to lose yourself in even today.

Best of the lot, though, might just be the final offering: The Raven (1935) is so strange and warped it led to all American horror movies being banned in Britain for two full years following its release.

This disturbed little nightmare of a film sees Lugosi chewing up the scenery as a plastic surgeon who is obsessed with Poe and plays out his freaky fantasies on a fleeing murderer (Karloff). Directed by B-movie stalwart Lew Landers, The Raven remains an oddly unsettling viewing experience despite the passing decades.

As always the set comes with impressive extras, from commentary tracks to video essays. Go get it now.

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