After seeing Bela Lugosi as Dracula and as the gypsy werewolf who bites The Wolf Man, I was ready to see more. This disc provided me with three films which have the bonus tidbits of being based on Edgar Allen Poe works and two of them also feature Boris Karloff.
Murders in the Rue Morgue
I had a hard time seeing Bela as anything other than Dracula for this one. His character, Dr. Mirakle, was very similar in tone and mood to me, even if it's a very different role. He's a scientist who is obsessed with proving that man is descended from apes and plans to mix the blood of a gorilla and a human to prove it. He also has the ability to speak with an ape in its native tongue. Erik the Ape-man is played alternately by a chimpanzee and a man in a gorilla suit. They refer to him as a gorilla and the suit is much bulkier than the chimpanzee, so the effect is rather distracting. I also couldn't help but worry that maybe they were mistreating the chimp to get him to look so upset so often. Perhaps the most interesting part is to see a movie where an ape falls in love with a woman and ends with him carrying her over rooftops a year before King Kong was released.
From a storytelling stand point the biggest issue I had with the movie is that Dr. Mirakle flat out reveals to the characters and a whole crowd his intentions to mix the blood but it takes forever for Dupin to figure out he's the one behind the murders.
The most amusing scene comes when a German, an Italian, and a Danish are all questioned by police and swear that the language they heard the murderer speak is one of the others' languages. They eventually dissolve into shouting at each other in their native tongue and it's quite humorous.
While the story of the movie does not match the original story exactly, I think they did a good job of keeping some of the key points while toning down the violence and adding both supernatural and romantic elements typical of the time period in which the film was made.
The Black Cat
Watching Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff play off each other makes this a must see. It's also really nice to see Bela getting to play the protagonist for once, even if he has a slightly dark side to him. For a character that is reminded of his dead wife by a young woman, you might think this would be him playing Dracula all over again, but it's really not. It's quite good. I really sympathized with his character and it felt like a much different role for him. You also get to hear him speak Hungarian at certain points which I thought was kind of neat.
The plot of the movie is nothing like the Poe story, and the black cat in the movie doesn't even really effect the plot. It's there because Lugosi's character is afraid of them, but there's really no reason why he is. The movie is all about two characters who have a past and one's desire to get revenge on the other for how they've done them wrong. The suspense builds slowly throughout the film and comes to a satisfying conclusion.
Your first instinct is probably to think, how could they base a movie off the poem? It's actually pretty well inspired by it, even if it's not the exact story. Bela plays a brain surgeon who is obsessed with Poe and also falls in love with a young woman. When he can't have her, he comes up with a plot to torture and kill her, her father and fiancee. He takes inspiration from Poe's stories to do so, with almost Saw like traps. Karloff gets thrown into it as an ugly man who begs Bela to make him look better, but instead Bela makes him look even worse. The makeup is really quite impressive for the time, even down to the fake eye. Karloff even gives off a Frankenstein's monster grunt at one point in the movie. I really enjoyed this one because it reminded me a lot of modern horror, with a man trapping a group of people in his house and trying to kill them. It was still chilling without showing any extreme violence. Bela's performance is a bit over the top in this, but seeing as how he's portraying a mad man it fits in perfectly.
While this collection put the highlight on Bela Lugosi, I can't deny that I'm becoming a huge fan of Boris Karloff the more I see him in. So far I've seen Frankenstein, The Bride of Frankenstein, and The Mummy as well as those above and I just love his performance every time. His voice has that perfect creepy quality to it while also being sympathetic. I can understand why they billed him simply as "Karloff" in these movies.. there could be no one else to replace him.