Universal Terror III: 1932
In 1932, Universal released its first horror film after Frankenstein. It was titled Murders in the Rue Morgue and it was loosely based on the story by Edgar Allan Poe. Murders in the Rue Morgue was the second film that Universal released starring Bela Lugosi. Bela Lugosi plays the mad scientist Dr. Mirakle. Dr. Mirakle works at a carnival in Paris with a giant gorilla named Erik. Mirakle uses his sideshow to promote his own theories of evolution. At night he kidnaps a young street girl and injects her with Erik's blood to test his theories, she dies from the experiment. Dr. Mirakle kills several women for his experiments. A young medical student, Pierre Dupin (Leon Waycoff) discovers that the women were killed by an injection of ape blood. Pierre immediately suspects that Dr. Mirakle may be behind the crimes. Pierre is unaware that Dr. Mirakle has become infatuated with his girlfriend Camille (Sidney Fox). Dr. Mirakle sends Erik to capture Camille and bring her to him. The gorilla kills Camille's mother in the process. At Dr. Mirakle's lab, Erik becomes violent and kills Mirakle before he can inject Camille. Pierre and the police arrive to see the ape carry off Camile. Pierre pursues the ape along the Parisian rooftops and finally shoots it, saving Camille.
Robert Florey directed Murders in the Rue Morgue. It was the only Universal horror film he would ever direct. Florey was given the job of directing Murders in The Rue Morgue when he was removed from Frankenstein. Robert Florey's direction of the film was greatly inspired by German expressionist films like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919). The cinematography was by Karl Freund, the man who also filmed Dracula. Karl Freund had worked with the great German film makers and his cinematography is also heavily inspired by German cinema. The combination of Robert Florey's direction and Karl Freund's cinematography gives Murders in the Rue Morgue a surreal atmosphere. The odd shaped buildings and creeping shadows give a perfect atmosphere to the horrific story.
Like Robert Florey, Bela Lugosi was asigned to Murders in the Rue Morgue after his departure from Frankenstein. Bela Lugosi's performance is more crazed and multi-dimensional than in Dracula. Charles Gemora played the part of Erik, clad in a large gorilla suit. Footage of a large, snarling chimpanzee is effectively intercut for extreme closeups of Erik.
The screenplay for Murders in the Rue Morgue was written by Tom Reed and Dale Van Every. Additional dialogue was written by a young John Huston. The film was billed as being form the story by Edgar Allan Poe, but it only borrowed the element of the murderous ape.
The Hays Office for Film Decency believed that Murders in the Rue Morgue contained "improper use of horror" because of the scene where Dr. Mirakle experiments on the street girl. Robert Florey and Karl Freund met the Hays Office's demands and toned down the level of gruesomeness of the scene.
Murders in the Rue Morgue has become a largely forgotten film, but becuase of its hypnotic atmosphere and Bela Lugosi's chilling performance it deserves a second look.
Universal's next horror film of 1932 was The Old Dark House, released in October of 1932. The film was a reunion of Boris Karloff and James Whale, the star and director of Frankenstein. A written prologue appears at the beginning of the film informing the audience that the Karloff in the film is the same Karloff who played the "mechanical monster" in Frankenstein. Five travelers, Phillip Waverton (Raymond Massey), Margaret Waverton (Gloria Stuart), Roger Pendrel (Melvyn Douglas), Sir William Porterhouse (Charles Laughton), and Gladys DuCane (Lillian Bond) seek shelter from a storm in the creepy old Femm house. Horace (Ernest Thesiger) and Rebecca (Eva Moore) Femm are the two quarelling siblings that live in the house. The butler Morgan (Boris Karloff) is a mute, who becomes violent when drunk. The storm confines the inhabitants of the house in for the whole night. Morgan becomes drunk and disorderly and attacks Margaret. Meanwhile, a romance develops between Roger and Gloria. Margaret and Phillip investigate the old house and find the ancient patriarch of the Femm family, Roderick Femm (Elspeth Dudgeon). Roderick warns that Morgan may release Horace and Rebecca's homicidal brother Saul (Brember Wells). Morgan does release Saul and Saul sets the upstairs floor of the house on fire. Roger struggles with the insane Femm, till they both fall from the flaming, upstairs balcony. Saul does not survive the fall, but Roger survives. The next day, the travelers leave the house.
The Old Dark House may have been short on story, but it makes up for it in atmosphere and comedy. A review from Variety summed up the film perfectly saying, "...it has all the elements for horror and thriller exploitation, including as it does a mad brute butler (Boris Karloff), insanity, ghosts in the family closets, sex, romance..."
The film's cast is one of the greatest ensembles ever featured in a horror film. The Old Dark House was released before Raymond Massey, Charles Laughton, or Melnvyn Douglas became well known character actors. Boris Karloff had just became a star with his portrayal of the Frankenstein monster. Boris Karloff would reunite with fellow cast member Ernest Thesiger and director James Whale to make Bride of Frankenstein in 1935. The oddest member of the cast was Elspeth Dudgeon, billed as "John" Dudgeon on the film. The old, decrepit woman played Sir Roderick Femm giving an extra element of strangeness to the role (Internet Movie Database).
The Old Dark House was made after James Whale's tremendous success with Frankenstein. Universal agreed to fund an adaptation of J.B. Priestly's novel "Benighted." Ben W. Levy wrote the screenplay based on Priestly's novel with additional dialogue by James Whale's friend R.C. Sheriff. With the large budget he was given, James Whale used the money to construct the creepy and labyrinthine Femm house. The house was lavishly adorned and filled with passage ways, stair cases, and mysterious rooms.
The Old Dark House may seem old fashioned because of its lack of spectacle, but watching it's quirky, grim story unfold makes it enjoyable. The Old Dark House proves that horror films can exist without blood and guts.
The Mummy was the next horror classic of 1932 from Universal Studios. The Mummy directed by cinematographer Karl Freund, who filmed Dracula and Murders in the Rue Morgue. The film begins with a 1921 expedition to Egypt. Sir Joseph Whemple (Arthur Byron) and Professor Muller (Edward Van Sloan) examine the new mummy they have just discovered. The mummy of Imhotep (Boris Karloff) is devoid of all embalming scars. Whemple and Muller conclude that Imhotep was buried alive. While Muller and Whemple leave the camp, their assistant (Bramwell Fletcher) reads an acient scroll found with the mummy. The scroll's words cause the mummy to come to life. The mummy leaves the camp, the sight of it driving the assistant insane.
Ten years later, Sir Joseph's son Frank (David Manners) is lead to the tomb of Princess Ankhsenamon by a mysterious man named Ardeth Bey (Boris Karloff). The relics from the tomb are brought to Cairo, and Ardeth Bey follows. Ardeth Bey is actually Imhotep, brought back to life. He has come to Cairo to find Helen Grovener (Zita Johan), who is the reincarnation of Princess Ankhsenamon. Sir Joseph allows Ardeth Bey to visit the museum where Ankhsenamon's mummy is after hours. Ardeth Bey hypnotizes Helen to come to him at the museum, but a museum guard interrupts him. The next day Sir Joseph and Dr. Muller find the murdered guard clutching an ancient scroll in his hand. It was the same scroll that went missing with the mummy of Imhotep. When Ardeth Bey visits the Whemple house, Muller confronts Ardeth Bey about being Imhotep. Ardeth Bey demands the scroll be returned to him and warns them that he can not be destroyed. Sir Joseph tries to burn the scroll, but Imhotep murders him with a spell from his lair. Imhotep's Nubian servant (Noble Johnson) takes the scroll and brings it to Imhotep.
Imhotep once again hypnotizes Helen to come to his lair. In his magic pool, he shows her his life story. Imhotep was in love with Anksenamon. When the princess died he tried to resurrect her with the scroll of Thoth. The Hight priests' caught him and Imhotep was sentenced to death for sacrilege. He was buried alive and the scroll of Thoth was buried with him. Helen leaves Imhotep, but he says he will return for her.
Frank and Muller try to keep Helen from returning to Imhotep. Imhotep casts a spell on Frank, nearly killing him. Helen escapes and meets Imhotep at the museum. Imhotep's plan is to kill Helen and resurrect her with the scroll of Thoth. Helen's personality reverts to Ankhsenamon's and she prays to Isis to save her from the mummy. A statue of Isis emits a ray of light that destroys Imhotep, reducing him to a pile of dusty bones.
The Mummy has much in common with Dracula. Both films feature a powerful, un-dead villain pursuing a young woman. Both films feature David Manners and Edward Van Sloan as the ineffectual hero and wise doctor.
The original story for The Mummy was based on a the short story "Cogliostro" by Nina Wilcox Putnam. "Cogliostro" was about an ancient Egyptian magician who discovers the secret of immortality by injecting himself with nitrates. The evil wizard kills every woman he sees who resembles the woman that spurned him eons ago. Cogliostro uses such modern devices as radio and television rays to carry out his evil schemes. Richard Schayer wrote a screenplay based on Putnam's story, but it was rejected.
The final version of the screenplay was written by John L. Balderston who had earlier helped bring Dracula and Frankenstein to the screen. Balderston's screenplay was written to cash in on the recent uproar over the "curse" of King Tutankhamen's tomb. John L. Balderston had been a journalist covering the opening of the tomb, so he had qualifications to write the "mummy movie" screenplay. The two main characters of Balderston's script were named after actual historical figures. Imhotep was named after a man who was a high priest, doctor, poet, and architect serving under the Pharaoh Zoser. It was the real Imhotep who built the first pyramid in Egypt. Ankhsenamon was named after King Tutankhamen's queen. The title of John L. Balderston's script went through many changes. It was titled King of the Dead and Imhotep before it was called The Mummy.
The original version of the film featured a longer flashback sequence than the final version. The original film had Ardeth Bey showing Helen her other past lives after Ankhsenamon. In his magic pool, Ardeth Bey showed her as medieval princess among the Vikings and as a noble woman of France.
One of the most shocking parts of The Mummy is Boris Karloff as the mummy of Imhotep. Jack Pierce considered the Imhotep make up to be his finest creation. Pierce based the make up on the mummy of Pharoah Seti I. Jack Pierce stretched Boris Karloff's skin and applied a cotton strip dipped in collodion, when the skin relaxed it would give the appearance of a wrinkle. To give the mummy an aged look, Jack Pierce brushed a layer of Fuller's earth over Boris Karloff's face.
Karl Freund's talent carries over from his role as cinematographer to his position as director. The Mummy contains very little, actually horrific scenes. The "horror" in The Mummy comes from the mood rather than the actual depictions of horror on screen. Karl Freund retains his title as master of atmosphere that he earned with Dracula and Murders in the Rue Morgue.