Directed By: Wallace Fox
Starring: Bela Lugosi, Luana Walters, Tristram Coffin
Tag line: "Keeper of the Grotto of Torture!"
Trivia: This film bears some resemblance to the real-life story of Elizabeth Báthory, a 16th-century Hungarian countess / serial killer who was said to preserve her beauty by bathing in the blood of virginal young women
The Corpse Vanishes, a 1942 horror / sci fi flick starring Bela Lugosi, is a bad movie. In fact, I’d say it’s worse than an Ed Wood film; if nothing else, Wood’s pictures provide a few laughs with their over-the-top dialogue and cardboard set pieces. The Corpse Vanishes doesn’t even offer that much. It just kinda sits there, lifeless and dull, challenging you to give a damn about what’s going on (SPOILER ALERT: you won’t).
A killer is on the loose, one who murders brides on their wedding day, then steals their bodies before the guys from the morgue show up. Determined to get to the bottom of this bizarre case, reporter Pat Hunter (Luann Walters) gathers up several clues (chief among them being an orchid that emits a mysterious odor), all of which lead her to a spooky mansion owned by the strange scientist, Dr. Lorenz (Bela Lugosi). In an effort to keep his beloved wife (played by Elizabeth Russell) from aging, Dr. Lorenz has been abducting the brides (who, it turns out, aren’t really dead) so he can extract fluid from their glands, which he then injects into his wife, thus giving her a youthful glow. When a storm forces her to spend the night at the mansion, Pat, with the help of Mrs. Lorenz’s personal physician, Dr. Foster (Tristram Coffin), sets to work looking for more incriminating evidence, but will she live long enough to write her story?
Luann Walters turns in a lackluster performance as the plucky reporter, and the character’s somewhat callous attitude early on makes it hard to root for her as the movie progresses (at one wedding, the bride’s body is stolen within minutes of her dropping dead, causing Pat to rush out of the chapel, barely able to contain her glee as she shouts “What a story!”). Not faring much better is Tristram Coffin, whose Dr. Foster is something of a bore; he and Pat function as the film’s heroes / love interests, yet they have no chemistry whatsoever. Also quite weak is the flimsy dialogue, which occasionally approaches Ed Wood-like territory; at one wedding, the Bride’s mother (Gladys Faye) expresses concern over the recent rash of killings, to which her daughter (Joan Barclay) replies “You should forget all that silly nonsense about those brides dropping dead”. Silly, indeed!
Bela Lugosi, always the consummate professional, plays it as straight as he can, and diminutive actor Angelo Rossitto (Freaks, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome), who stands just under 3 ft. tall, is also interesting in his brief appearance as Dr. Lorenz’s henchman, Toby. Yet try as they might, neither of them can rescue this movie. The Corpse Vanishes is a true stinker in every sense of the word.