The Corpse Vanishes (1943) [31 Days of American Horror Review]

If it’s a month with 31 days in it, you can be sure that Jules will be firing out the horror movie reviews.

So, following on from his on “31 Days of Hammer” in January, his “31 Days of British Horror” in March and May, and his “31 Days of American  Horror” in August, Jules is once travelling across the pond this October with… you guessed it… 31 MORE Days of American Horror!

Director: Wallace Fox
Starring:  Bela Lugosi, Luana Walters, Tristram Coffin, Minerva Urecal, Elizabeth Russell

For all it’s twisted themes of necrophilia, murder, obsession, evil dwarves and er, mad horticulture, The Corpse Vanishes still can’t help but feel cheap, amateurish and knocked out in a hurry.

Bela Lugosi’s fourth film for Momentum (who handled the distribution for even-smaller production company Banner) would be the usual weak fare for the Poverty Row studios, but his presence, as well as the aforementioned transgressive concepts at play, lift The Corpse Vanishes up a few levels. Okay, we’re still not in the “must-see” category, but we’re edging close to the “well worth a look” area, which for a Momentum film, is quite impressive.

A series of society brides dying at the altar is made all the more mysterious by their corpses being abducted once they are en-route to the mortuary. The authorities are baffled as to what is going on, but a young journalist, Patricia Hunter, investigates the case and discovers it involves an unusual orchid.

Her investigation leads her to the door of the charming Doctor Lorenz (Bela Lugosi), a noted horticulturist and expert on orchids, as well as encountering a frosty reception from his wife, the Countess Lorenz (Elisabeth Russell). Forced to stay the night in their foreboding mansion, Patricia discovers the truth behind the disappearances in the basement – Dr Lorenz has synthesised an orchid that’s aroma induces a deep coma that resembles death. With the aid of his cellar-dwelling servants, namely the crone-like Fagah and her two sons, one a sadistic dwarf and the other a giant, brutish half-wit, the Doctor has been abducting young women where he keeps them in the bowels of his house to extracts their glandular fluid to inject into his vain and ageing wife in order to renew her youth and beauty…

Okay, where do we start here? For all it’s cheapness and knocked-out feeling, The Corpse Vanishes is actually pretty enjoyable in a sick and nasty way.

Right from the first whistle, you know you’re in for something a bit…off. A bride seemingly drips dead just before taking her vows, only to be picked up by a rarely more lascivious Lugosi in his hearse, heavily telegraphing there might be more going on in the back with the women’s bodies than just stealing them. Brrr.

As the plucky young reporter threatened with the sack if she can’t break the story (see also: Doctor X, Mystery Of The Wax Museum etc), Luana Walters gives just the right blend of cockiness and enthusiasm to warm you to her, making her descent into the dark underbelly of Lorenz’s operation feel all the more seedy.

It’s luridly realised, revelling in its weirdness and wrongness for its own sake. The scientist and his wife sleep in coffins for no apparent reason, while he plays a grand organ as his partner sits on a throne and a dwarf randomly walks through the shot.

Ah yes, Toby the dwarf. Part of the disturbing family of lackeys in the basement, this is where things get really twisted. Lorenz clearly despises them all and mistreats them terribly, regularly beating the larger brother Angel and telling his mother that he does it “because he’s a beast, an animal and one day I shall have to destroy him!” It’s nasty stuff and sits weirdly with how very matter of fact a mad scientist he is, the kind who doesn’t forget to wash his hands after a strangling.

As that all isn’t disturbing enough, the brides aren’t actually dead in the basement, they’re all still alive, like an own-brand version of The Black Cat’s Fort Marmaros, with women forever preserved in their youth for nefarious purposes. Oh and it’s not just Lorenz who had use for them, as the hulking Angel looks like he has his own ideas too. Again, brrrrr.

The Corpse Vanishes is in no way a great film, but it’s one that is most definitely making its origins in the gutter as much of a virtue as possible. It’s weird, it’s nasty, it’s funny and it’s got some solid performances in there. And a rubbish comedy ending. Sometimes, that’s all you need. Apart from the ending, nobody needed that.

Rating: 2.5/5.

JULESAVThe Writer of this piece was: Jules Boyle
Jules tweets from @Captain_Howdy

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