The Corpse Vanishes is a 1942 American mystery and horror film starring Bela Lugosi, directed by Wallace Fox, and written by Harvey Gates. Lugosi portrays a mad scientist who injects his aging wife (played by Elizabeth Russell) with fluids from virginal young brides in order to preserve her beauty. Luana Walters as a journalist and Tristram Coffin as a small town doctor investigate and solve the disappearances of the brides. The film bears some resemblance to the real world story of Elizabeth Báthory, a 16th-century Hungarian countess and serial killer who was said to preserve her beauty by bathing in the blood of virginal young women.
On the day of Alice Wentworth’s wedding, mad scientist Dr. Lorenz sends the young bride an unusual orchid, the scent of which places the young woman in a state of suspended animation resembling death. He then spirits her body away to the basement laboratory of his isolated mansion and extracts glandular fluid from behind her ears to inject into his vain and aged wife in order to renew her youth and beauty. This is only the latest in a series of brides who appear to die at the alter and whose corpses subsequently vanish en route to the hospital or mortuary, and the police are thoroughly stymied.
A young journalist, Patricia Hunter, investigates the case and discovers it involves an unusual orchid. She is directed to Lorenz, a known expert on orchids, and visits his mansion where she meets with a chilly reception from his wife. She is forced to spend the night when a storm washes out the bridge to town, and discovers horror in the cellar beneath the Lorenz mansion: a crazed old woman and her two sons, one a sadistic dwarf and the other a hulking half-wit, all of whom assist Lorenz in his activities; and a mausoleum in which he keeps the bodies of his bride-victims, not all of whom may be entirely dead yet.
Also staying the night is a neighboring young doctor, who attends Countess Lorenz for other medical issues. When Patricia confides in him what she is investigating and what she has witnessed in the house, he agrees to help her. She leaves the next day for the city and, with her editor, develops a plan to trap Lorenz with a staged wedding and plenty of police protection, but he outfoxes them, chloroforming Hunter and carrying her to his laboratory to now use her bodily fluids upon his wife. However, during his escape, his dwarf-accomplice is shot and captured by the police. Back at the mansion, Lorenz is stabbed by the crazed old woman, Fagah, who holds Lorenz responsible for her sons’ deaths. He strangles her, then collapses and dies. Fagah rallies weakly and stabs the Countess to death. The police, and the young doctor who has led them to the mansion, arrive and Hunter is freed.
**The failure of the original copyright holder to renew the film’s copyright resulted in it falling into public domain, meaning that virtually anyone could duplicate and sell a VHS/DVD copy of the film. Therefore, many of the versions of this film available on the market are either severely (and usually badly) edited and/or of extremely poor quality, having been duped from second- or third-generation (or more) copies of the film.
Talk About Your Ambulance Chasers
I have enjoyed the films of Angelo Rossitto, particularly “Fairy Tales”. But when Rossitto and Bela Lugosi join forces (both here and in “Scared to Death”) there is an element that really sets a tone for a good eery horror film.
This film is about brides who are seemingly killed and then kidnapped so their lifeblood can keep a mad scientist’s wife young. A nosy reporter, who seems to take some sick delight in getting photographs of dying brides, trails the mad scientist to his mansion and may become his next victim.
As usual, Lugosi does not disappoint. He is great as a mad scientist with his European look and accent. The supporting cast is also well chosen. While I am not familiar with them (besides Rossitto), this is not a strike against them but actually a positive sentiment. Without being known faces to me, they more successfully blended into the characters they were supposed to represent.
While not the strongest of Lugosi’s films by any means, any fan would be missing out if they failed to check this one out. There is an undercurrent of black humor that keeps the film rolling and is definitely missing (unfortunately) in the films of today.
“Someday the master will catch you, then you’ll be sorry.”
Author: classicsoncall from Florida, New York
18 August 2005
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I’m surprised at the rather low rating IMDb viewers have given this film, as I rather like the set up for this one. Beautiful young brides wind up dead at the altar just as they are about to recite their wedding vows, and their bodies are stolen shortly after. Mad scientist Dr. Lorenz (Bela Lugosi) is behind the mayhem in this low budget Monogram creep fest; he uses glandular and spinal fluid from the victims to inject into his haggardly wife (Elizabeth Russell) to keep her young and beautiful. Countess Lorenz is rather one dimensional in her role, but at least she mimics Lugosi’s speech pattern rather effectively.
Lorenz is surrounded by a veritable menagerie of sideshow outcasts, including the wizened Fagah (Minerva Urecal), and her two sons, one a hulking brute and another a freakish dwarf named Toby (Angelo Rossitto). Hot on the trail of the missing bride mystery is reporter Pam Hunter (Luana Walters), who follows up on her theory that the brides died from inhaling the sweet but deadly odor from a poisonous orchid developed by Dr. Lorenz. When Lorenz becomes wise to the reporter’s initiative, he sets out to make her yet another victim, but alas, he’s done in by his own sweet Fagah, in revenge for killing her brute son who had a penchant for stroking the hair of the doctor’s corpses.
“The Corpse Vanishes” offers just the right blend of atmospheric sets and bump in the night action to keep things interesting, a nifty little vehicle for Bela Lugosi’s talents. You can have some fun with this one, made to order for that clichéd dark and stormy night.