A mad scientist, a creepy mansion, his nefarious basement lab, an assortment of oddball underlings, and a witchy wife; you’d think that Bela Lugosi had us just where he wanted us. But The Corpse Vanishes doesn’t deliver much horror despite the intriguing elements.
The concept of tapping young women’s spinal fluid to keep his aging wife youthful is quite a premise. Something like this was behind another B horror movie from the ’40s, The Wasp Woman. In that plot, waspy stuff did the job that the spinal stuff does here. If anything, Wasp Woman was even more wacky than The Corpse Vanishes.
Although ‘Corpse’ plays out like a murder mystery, Lugosi actually only kidnaps the brides-to-be to use them in his vampire-like process.
Unfortunately, ‘Corpse’ is mucked up by an uneven tone. The overly chipper, wise-cracking pair Patricia and Dr. Foster (Luana Walters and Tristram Coffin) make a nice swing-era couple. Nonetheless, as the Countess’s (Elizabeth Russell’s) doctor, Foster ought to be alarmed by her unusual physical state. Instead he waits for the disappearing bride sequence to play out before showing serious concern.
Logic problems aside, neither Walter’s nor Coffin’s performances really measure up in this movie. I could accept ‘Corpse’ as a decent spoof of the old dark house genre–the nuttiness of the creepy couple sleeping in coffins achieves that–but there’s not enough horror, whether played straight or not–to carry the movie. Maybe it would’ve been more interesting had almost all of the scenes taken place at the mansion.
Lugosi had it better in Night Monster, Invisible Ghost, and other B horror films of that era; he was among whole group of more or less hapless victims stuck at a creepy mansion. There were light-hearted bits in those plots that worked within an overall macabre atmosphere.
As a mystery/crime drama ‘Corpse’ could’ve worked by focusing on the orchid-influenced brides, their kidnappings, and the police response. In that case the droll dialogue and world-weary antics of the outsiders would help instead of clash with the sinister tone at the mansion.
The Corpse Vanishes is entertaining, but looks like it’s two half-finished movies: one featuring an old dark house, the other, a bunch of missing brides. Mystery and horror are a good mix, but not with this recipe. 5/10.