THE CORPSE
VANISHES

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Movies E.C. McMullen Jr. Review by
E.C.McMullen Jr.
The Corpse Vanishes
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THE CORPSE VANISHES - 1942
Banner Productions, Monogram Pictures
Ratings: N/A

Here is a movie that wastes no time in getting to the point.

A couple at the altar are getting married (the actor playing the groom can't stop his eyes from wandering to and looking directly at the camera). The bride swoons and passes out. The doctor is on hand to immediately pronounce her dead and a hearse waiting in the driveway takes her body away (now THAT'S a Wedding Planner who thought of EVERYTHING!).

Things go awry however when the morgue attendants finally show up and ask where the body is. What? Aren't you the guys who took her away?

A reporter (Luana Walters: DRUMS OF FU-MANCHU, CAPTAIN MIDNIGHT, THE SHE-CREATURE) and her photographer, present at the wedding, can't contain their glee in front of the grieving. Oboy! This makes the fourth wedding in a row! Whatta great story!

Yes, young women from very wealthy families are dying at the altar and everyone is stumped as to why. But the cops are closing in and taking stronger precautions with every wedding. This makes the bad guy, in the form of Dr. Lorenz (Bela Lugosi: DRACULA [1931], WHITE ZOMBIE, THE HUMAN MONSTER, THE DEVIL BAT, THE WOLF MAN, FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN), take ever wilder measures to distract police attention while he does his dastardly deeds.

But why would he kill young women at their weddings?

Historically speaking, the earliest reference I know for a woman killing other young women to steal their youth, dates back to Queen Elizabeth Bathory, who bathed in their blood. It took a few years of progressive age for her to realize it didn't work, but hey, a luxury once savored becomes a necessity. Once you grow accustomed to blood baths, its kinda hard to stop - short of an intervention - which she got.

Anywho, aging decrepit women killing young women to extract their youth, or having the men in their life do it, is an old staple of lots of horror movies (THE BRAIN THAT WOULDN'T DIE, THE ATOMIC BRAIN, NIGHTMARE CASTLE). THE CORPSE VANISHES, being released in 1942, may be the first. It marks a sub-genre of the vampire genre, where the motivations of the vampire are essentially the same.

I also may be dead wrong about that and reserve the right to update this review as I see fit so "Nyahh!"

Dr. Lorenz has an adopted family of henchmen including an old woman (Minerva Urecal: THE LIVING GHOST, THE APE MAN, GHOSTS ON THE LOOSE) and her two adult children: the hulking figure Angel (Frank Moran) who is mentally retarded and likes gurls, to the midget Toby (Angelo Rossitto: FREAKS, SPOOKS RUN WILD, SCARED TO DEATH, INVASION OF THE SAUCER MEN, DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN [1971], BRAIN OF BLOOD, THE CLONES, MAD MAX BEYOND THUNDERDOME) who gets a real kick out of seeing Dr. Lorenz beat the crap out of Angel - with a whip - whenever the hulkster pets the hair of the dead women. Kidnapping, murder, and desecrating a corpse (with a big scary hypodermic needle!) the good Doctor can deal with: But grieving over strange beautiful women? Why that's just SICK!

The reporter soon discovers an important clue in the form of a rare fragrant orchid (an orchid with an odor? Another clue!). The orchid is so rare that it could only be the work of a single European botanist named Dr. Lorenz, who luckily happens to live in the old castle on the hill outside of town (yeah, the doc didn't think that one through).

With the help of one of Dr. Lorenz' colleagues, she wheedles her way into the castle and almost immediately tries to wheedle her way out. No such luck. An inopportune storm keeps her there and here is where the story begins.

With everything happening so fast, in a movie only 64 minutes long*, you certainly won't have time to be bored with THE CORPSE VANISHES.
*they didn't screw around in those days - most theaters only had a single screen and a lot of theaters didn't even have that! They wheeled their projectors into a courtyard or alley and showed the movie against the nearest available wall!

Made super cheap in what is described as one of Bela Lugosi's "Poverty Row" movies, the script by Harvey H. Gates, Sam Robbins, and Gerald Schnitzer, sets up broadly drawn characters without depth. Director Wallace W. Fox tells the story well but perfunctory. The Production Design and Cinematography give the movie what is needed to see everything, and while the lighting of Bela Lugosi's famous face can be creepy, it was practically a template by 1942.

Made ten years after Bela completed DRACULA, success during the intervening years put a lot of weight on him. No matter, as with everything the man ever did, Bela gave it his evil all in THE CORPSE VANISHES. More than an expressive face and body, Bela was born with unusually large hands and knew how to use them to excellent effect. Even in the movie placards of the time, the still frames captured Bela in the act of dramatically using his famous hooks: covering a woman's mouth, strangling a man, and wielding a whip.

On the other hand, if you've seen plenty of Lugosi movies then you know Bela had only one way to be evil. And unless the director knew how to direct his talented actor to bring out the subtleties, he got Bela's template "evil". Bela's willingness to take the check and do so many of these "Poverty Row" contributed to his career slide in the first place.

THE CORPSE VANISHES, despite its shoestring budget, does what it set out to do, which is entertain (way back when entertaining the audience with a movie was the studio business model for earning money).

Three Shriek Girls.

Shriek GirlsShriek GirlsShriek Girls
This review copyright 2012 E.C.McMullen Jr.

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