Review for Murders In The Rue Morgue / The Black Cat / The Raven :Three Edgar Allan Poe Adaptations Starring Bela Lugosi (Masters of Cinema) Ltd Edition 2-Disc Blu-ray
Edgar Allan Poe is generally regarded as one of the greatest writers, especially in the horror genre. This set brings together three of Universal’s adaptations from the pre-code 1930s era all starring Bela Lugosi. Containing Murders in the Rue Morgue, The Black Cat and The Raven these are generally regarded as classic horror films from the era, although I shall go into detail as to why that is a very loaded statement to make.
In Murders in the Rue Morgue, Lugosi is a mad scientist running a sideshow with a large ape who he claims he can communicate with. He is searching for someone with ‘pure blood’ for him. The Black Cat also features Universal star Boris Karloff as a leader of a satanic cult trying to keep his old friend away from learning about his lost family. Finally, The Raven features Lugosi as a plastic surgeon obsessed with Poe who after saving the life of a woman will stop at nothing to make her his.
These three films are all just around an hour long, which was typical for the time, but seems strange in this era of two-four hour long films. That being said, all three are great at setting up the story and characters and rushing towards the end, I would not be surprised if a modern-day long version could do that. However, this is not to say they are great films. I will not comment on the special effects which are adequate, but the acting is at times awful. Lugosi works so well as Dracula, but it just feels every performance is just him trying to do this again. It is not surprising that he was typecast in this role as it does feel like this is all he could do.
Boris Karloff does have some range and his two performances in The Black Cat and The Raven are very unique as the satanic leader in The Black Cat and the ‘sympathetic’ murderer who Lugosi experiments on. These are both great, my only issue is that apart from these two (or one in the case of Murders in the Rue Morgue) no one else really shines. There are bizarre attempts at humour which I can only assume were attempts to lighten the grisly tone of the film, but they just seemed so out of place it was like whiplash watching them. The scene from Murders in the Ru Morgue with three people all declaring the murderer had a certain accent was hilarious, but would have been better suited in a Marx Brothers film. This would make sense seeing as the Director Robert Florey was responsible for their first film Cocoanuts.
Despite The Raven resulting in the UK banning all horror films for two years I am not sure what, if anything, was so scary. Possibly after so many years of Texas Chainsaw/Slasher and Saw films, these just seem very tame. Even the infamous end scenes from The Black Cat which were voted one of Bravo’s Scariest Movie Moments was nothing much to scream about.
The three films come with multiple extras including multiple commentaries. As the films are all only an hour or so long these are fine to listen to and if you are a fan of classic film history then you may enjoy some of the stories they tell about their creation and the lives of Lugosi and Karloff. It is a shame that more is not made of this as I have seen other documentaries regarding their ‘friendship’ and it would have been great to have learnt more about this.
Cats in Horror is a very bizarre look at the portrayal of cats in horror films and only briefly mentions the Black Cat film. American Gothic is a look at the horror gothic film style and how it came about and became popular. These are both fine, but really don’t add much to these films. The New interview with Kim Newman is interesting and it is a shame he didn’t contribute his own commentary as he was very informative and probably could have talked for longer about these films.
Also included is a number of old radio and audio performances. The Black Cat starring Peter Lorre, The Tell-Tale Heart starring Boris Karloff and also Bela Lugosi reading The Tell-Tale Heart.
Vintage Footage is a quick piece of film from The Black Cat with a host of children parading a variety of black cats by Lugosi and Karloff. Finally, we have the usual Trailers and Still shots which are fine in general.
If you are fan of old cinema there is quite a lot to enjoy from this set. It seems to hit a lot of demographics such as the Lugosi/Karloff fans, the Universal monster fans, Poe fans, Horror fans and those who generally love old films. However, by doing this I’m really not sure who would want to buy this set. It tries to be so many things, but really if you are a fan of Lugosi you should just watch Dracula and there have been better adaptations of Poe’s work over the years. That is not to say there isn’t much to enjoy here and if you are in any or all of those demographics you will love reliving these classics.