Thursday, 8 October 2009

Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932)



The next follow-up to Dracula and Frankenstein may not seem terribly obvious to us. It had no iconic monster and the text on which it is based does not tend to stand out uniquely from the authour's whole body of work. Yet it takes us back to a time when there was nothing obvious about horror films... The genre was still being invented! The formula of horror and a whole, let alone what the Universal Studios brand of it, was in the process of being created and no one knew exactly what it should mean.

That ambiguity, then, bring us to the 1932 Edgar Allan Poe adaptation, Murders in the Rue Morgue. A year off of rising to iconic status as the undead prince Dracula, Bela Lugosi returned as the malevolent Dr. Mirakle: a sadistic murderer sheathed in a maniacal evolutionary biologist disguised as a circus showman of the cosmos' freakish mysteries.

Like many films that would come after, the concept and the title were inspired by Edgar Allan Poe, and that's about it. The circus, the ape and heroic Auguste Dupin are all there, but this is no mere tale of wildlife running amok. The titular murder is part of a larger scheme by Mirakle to prove his obscure theories of evolutionary progress. The doctor, it seems, has a strange penchant for strapping Parisian prostitutes to St. Andrew's Crosses, where he injects them with the blood of apes. When the experiment inevitably results in the death of the subject (blamed, of course, on their tainted whorish blood), a handy trap door dumps the girls into the River Seine.

Suffice it to say, the strongly Expressionist-influenced Murders in the Rue Morgue was released before the Hays Code went into effect in 1934, limiting the amount of violations against Nature, Divinity and rural, working-class senses of common decency that could be fit into a Hollywood film. Unfortunately, the film never did do as well as its predecessors. That did not, however, stop further theoretically Poe-inspired films from being made. Karloff and Lugosi would unite for The Black Cat and The Raven, both of which seem to take place in their 1930's setting.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised you didn't note this film was directed by Robert Florey, who was supposed to direct Frankenstein when that film was announced as a follow-up to the hit Dracula became. At the time, Bela Lugosi was widely expected to play the Monster, and their dismissal almost makes this film look like a consolation prize. Florey is reputed to be the source of the plot element of a criminal's brain being used in the Monster, leading to so much of the trouble after he's brought to life.
Thanks!
Darci