Lugosi's name is of course synonymous with the character he created and perfected, Dracula:
Lugosi's tuxedo wearing vampire with his aura of mysterious charm and sexual attraction was a far cry from how the character was depicted in Bram Stoker's novel and in earlier cinematic versions, like Nosferatu:
Lugosi's portrayal emphasized the man, rather then the monster, and earned him a place in cinema history as well as in the hearts of thousands of female fans who would reportedly faint during screenings of 1931's Dracula. However, it also left him hopelessly type cast and he died largely forgotten after decades spent working in B movies. While he is remembered today most people are hard pressed to name any film other then Dracula that he appeared in.
However, Lugosi did make other films during the 1930s and several of them are excellent with Lugosi's performance being their best element. One such film is 1935's The Raven.
In the film Lugosi is perfectly cast as a truly sinister character, Dr. Richard Vollin, a talented surgeon with an Edgar Allen Poe fixation.
When Jean Thatcher, a beautiful dancer,
is injured in a horrific automobile accident
her father and her fiance beg Dr. Vollin to operate. He does and miraculously restores her to perfect condition.
Jean is deeply greatful to Dr. Vollin and learning of his Poe obsession she attempts to thank him by creating a Ballet inspired by the Raven in his honor. The scene where Jean performs the eerie, macabre ballet, with Lugosi's Dr. Vollin lookin down from the theatre box above, is beautifully done.
Dr. Vollin is now convinced that he has found in Jean his Lenore and is completely smitten.
Jean, for her part, seems somewhat attracted to the mysterious Dr. Vollin, but frightened of him as well, and then there is the matter of her dutiful, if dull, fiance and her father who strongly disapproves of the creepy doctor.
Jean's father informs Vollin that he is to have nothing romantically to do with his daughter and that Jean will be getting married as soon as possible.
Faced with this heart break Vollin goes completely mad and decides to enact a Poe like revenge.
Conveniently for Dr. Vollin along comes the perfect assistant, Boris Karloff, in a rare stooge roll. Karloff portrays Edmond Bateman, a convicted murder on the lam who wants Dr. Vollin to operate on him and make him look different. Dr. Vollin agrees, operates, and indeed makes Bateman look very different:
Having mutilated Bateman, Dr. Vollin has him under his control. He promises to restore Bateman's looks if he will help enact revenge on Jean, her father, and her fiance. His house is perfectly suited for this task since he has spent his time creating replicas of torture devices from Poe's work, including a pit and a pendulum.
Dr. Vollin invites everyone involved over to his house for the world's creepiest, and best dressed, sleepover party.
Once they are trapped in his house, Dr. Vollin begins pitiously exacting his Poe inspired revenge. Including pendulums, pits, and walled of rooms for burying victims alive.
The Raven wasn't very popular when it was released in 1935. Audiences found its themes of torture and revenge too dark and depressing. Inexplicably, though Lugosi clearly had the leading role and gave an outstanding performance, the publicity for the film depicted Karloff as the star. A move that hurt Lugosi deeply, and caused a bit of a feud between the two actors.
Despite it's failure at the time it was released The Raven is truly an excellent film that should not be forgotten by modern audiences. It is available to rent from netflix, or to purchase from amazon as part of the Bella Lugosi collection. Perfect Halloween viewing.