The Bela Lugosi Collection

One point if you thought Dracula, two if you thought Plan 9, but Bela Lugosi was so much more than a vampire and an Ed Wood fixture — according to this new collection, he either was a mad scientist or could recommend one as your health practitioner. He's the former in Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932), where by day he shows off his ape Erik and by night injects women with his blood. Edgar Allen Poe could quibble with the details, but the pre-code salaciousness is deliciously rank and Karl Freund's cinematography is agreeably moody. The Black Cat (1934) finds Lugosi in thrall to satanic architect Boris Karloff, with the two locked in combat for the souls of a young lovely and her husband. Alas, Karloff blows poor Bela off the screen as the elegant expressionist monster with the penetrating gaze. By far the best film of the bunch, it's directed with morbid flair by Poverty Row genius Edgar G. Ulmer, who packs it tight with goth-ready stylistic flourishes. The Raven (1934) is a step back from these first two, with less potent direction and a more standard plot. Here, Lugosi is the mad doctor, this time disfiguring escaped con Karloff so that he'll off the father who stands in the way of the doctor's true love. It's by the numbers but with a sense of humour about things that lifts it above mere programmer status. Least interesting of the collection is the most elaborate. The Invisible Ray (1935) has Karloff discovering "Radium X" only to a) have it ripped off by colleague Lugosi, and b) become poisoned to the point that he kills whatever he touches. Somebody could have read something into this "tamper not with God's domain" number but here it's listless and implausible, though Karloff has a nice death scene. Lugosi has almost nothing to do with Black Friday (1940), which stars Karloff as a scientist who transplants part of a criminal's brain into that of scholar friend Stanley Ridges; it all goes well until the villain awakes and starts hunting down his old gang. It's really a Karloff movie, with Lugosi in a supporting role as a gangster, which is an idea that makes sense even when it shouldn't. Again, it strains credulity, but as there's not a calm moment in its action-packed 70 minutes, why ask why? Plus: trailers for Murders, Invisible Ray and Black Friday. (Universal)