of Terror (1933)
(1933/Columbia) 64mins. BW. US.
Aka: HE LIVED TO KILL.
Credits: Dir: Benjamin Stoloff; Prod: Harry Cohen; Sc:
Beatrice Van, William Jacobs & Lester Nielson; Ph: Joseph A. Valentine; Ed: Arthur
Hilton; Art: W.L. Vogel.
From a story by Willard Mack.
Cast: Bela Lugosi, Matt McHugh, Wallace Ford, Tully Marshall, Sally
Blane (Betty Jane Young), George Meeker, Edwin Maxwell, Bryant Washburn, Gertrude
Michaels, Mary Frey.
1933 and Bela Lugosi had already made his mark in Hollywood
following his relocation to America from Germany in 1923. He had appeared in well over a
dozen films before landing himself with the role of the bloodthirsty Count in Universal's Dracula in 1930. A portrayal that would overshadow
him for the remainder of his career.
1932 saw the horror film at its most creative, with the release of some of the revered
classics such as The Old Dark House and The Mummy, both starring Bela Lugosi's stablemate Boris Karloff. Tod Browning then unleashed Freaks onto an unsuspecting public;
First National offered a Technicolor mad scientist caper with Dr. X; Paramount got into the act with the definitive sound treatment
of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and RKO featured Fay Wray in The Most Dangerous Game while "Production 601" later to be
known as King Kong was already in production.
Meanwhile Bela had enjoyed success as the flamboyant Dr. Mirakle in Murders in the Rue Morgue; the malevolent Roxor in the vastly
underrated Chandu the Magician, and the
equally disturbing Murder Legendre in the Halperin Brothers' White Zombie. However, by 1933, Bela must surely have noticed the
decline in the screen-time that was being offered to him. Paramount's extraordinary Island of Lost Souls sees Lugosi barely
recognisable under the makeup of the "Sayer of the Law" and although The
Death Kiss was created to exploit Bela's fame with top billing, he appeared only
briefly as murder suspect Joseph Steiner. The Devil's in Love, one of the few
moments Bela escaped horror movie typecasting by appearing as a military prosecutor, was
made only two years after Dracula, yet Bela's
name does not even appear in the film's main credits!
Following Bela's appearance as Prof. Adam Strang in Mascot's rather monotonous serial The Whispering Shadow, Bela was cast in NIGHT OF
TERROR, one of the few horror films Bela made that seems to have escaped modern appraisal.
The main reason for the oversight is that it falls short of the known classic portrayals,
but it is actually superior to the bottom-of-the-barrel shenanigans made at Monogram.
NIGHT OF TERROR typifies a Ben Stoloff production by
providing an audience with exactly what it expects. The film features an archetypal old
house replete with secret panels and passageways; two suspicious Hindu servants; greedy
mistrustful relatives; a crazed homicidal maniac on-the-loose, and someone being buried
Death is very close...
The film begins with the favoured method of introducing the
cast members, here seen in the reflection of a crystal ball.
Under the light of a full moon, a caped figure pounces upon a courting couple and stabs
them to death. The homicidal maniac has killed again, leaving each of his twelve victims
with a newspaper headline pinned to their lifeless bodies. The maniac's presence goes
unnoticed in the grounds of the Rinehart Estate where Arthur Horsby, (George Meeker),
presumably one of the sanest scientists to appear in a horror film, is working on a
life-suspending serum to benefit mankind. His uncle, Professor Richard Rinehart, (Tully Marshall), enters, unwittingly disturbing the
maniac poised to stab Arthur. Degar, (Bela Lugosi), the Hindu servant, is introduced by
way of a zoom close-up. Degar is wild-eyed, dressed in black with a matching turban and
one large earring, forever portending some imminent doom. His chores seem confined to
simply creeping about the shadowy halls of the estate and peer around doors. His equally
pessimistic wife Sika, (Mary Frey), is regularly prone to bouts of contact with "the
other world", making the most of her momentary trances. Predicting that "Death
is very close", Degar reiterates in his finest Hungarian-Hindustani "Death...is...verrrrry
close" and slowly walks out of the room. Even Degar's pronouncement of
"Dinner is served" is tinged with ominous tones. Both servants seem to do little
work on the estate aside from making the rest of the cast feel ill-at-ease.
Fast-talking, wise-cracking reporter Tom Hartley, (Wallace Ford), and Mary Rinehart,
(Sally Blane), return to the Estate after a night at the Theatre, a clandestine liaison
since Mary is engaged to Arthur, with their chauffeur Martin, a stereotypically cast
"spooked" black servant who seems to constantly stumble over his lines.
Meanwhile, the maniac has struck again, this time stabbing a grave-digger who was
preparing the grave that Arthur will be buried in for his serum experiment.
That night Mary sees the maniac's face before Richard Rinehart is killed in the
laboratory. The police arrive and Bailey, (Matt McHugh), a bull-headed detective proceeds
to declare the murder as an open and shut case. To reaffirm faith in the NYPD.,
wisecracking Tom remarks "...compared to you, Sherlock Holmes was a traffic
A week after the reading of the will in which everyone has a claim
on the estate, including the suspicious servants, Richard's brother John Rinehart, (Bryant
Washburn), and his wife Sarah, (Gertrude Michael), arrive in addition to members of the
Academy Committee who have turned up to witness Arthur's serum demonstration and watch
Arthur being buried alive. Arthur gives a key to Degar that opens a cabinet containing the
serum antidote. However, John steals the key from Degar and is about to open the cabinet
when he joins the numerous victims of the maniac.
When Sika is about to reveal the identity of the killer while in a trance at a seance, she
too becomes a victim with a knife thrust deeply in her back. The police arrest their prime
suspect Degar, who escapes their clutches with surprising ease just before Mary is grabbed
and taken behind a secret door. Quick acting Tom manages to shoot the maniacal killer when
he later emerges from a chest and saves Mary from certain death.
Amid all this chaos, the time arrives to raise Arthur's coffin, but they find that Arthur
is absent. More shrieking ensues when from underneath the coffin Degar emerges with Arthur
Hornsby in handcuffs. When Richard had suspected Arthur's serum to be a fake, Arthur
killed him and then planned to kill all the heirs to the estate blaming the murders on the
maniac. This time the police take the right course of action and arrest Arthur.
As a closing epilogue the maniac returns from death to address the cinema audience.
"I am the MANIAC!! Take heed! I am talking to you, and you, and...YOU! If you dare
tell anyone how this picture ends, if you dare reveal who the murderer really is, I'll
climb into your bedroom window at night and tear you limb from limb. I'll HAUNT you!
Goodnight...Sleep tight...Pleasant dreams..." ending with a mad cackle. This
scene would have surely elicited laughs rather than shudders even in 1933.
This rather juvenile slice
of Hollywood hokum is likely to scare no-one, but this is not to say the film is any the
less entertaining. What lifts this above many other low-budget "shockers" is
Joseph A. Valentine's good photography. Valentine went on to receive an Academy Award for
his work on Joan of Arc in 1948, a year before his death at 49 years of age.
NIGHT OF TERROR was Columbia's first sound feature entry to
the mystery-horror sub-genre. Harry Cohn founded the company in 1924 and during the
Thirties and Forties it was regarded as another of the smaller studios vying for
theatrical bookings against the "big five": MGM., Paramount, Warner, Fox and
RKO. Their usual output consisted of competent co-features and second-billings, with an
infrequent prestigious production such as Frank Capra's Lost Horizon (1937). Boris
Karloff habitually starred in their horror movie outings, most notably the splendidly
gothic The Black Room (1935) and in a series of
five movies during the early Forties as a single-minded scientist tampering with the laws
For NIGHT OF TERROR, Columbia hired director Benjamin Stoloff (1895-1960) who began his career in 1926 with The
Canyon of Light (1926). Stoloff specialised in light musicals and action pictures, but
he seemed equally at home directing comedy-mysteries. Sadly Ben Stoloff did not work
within this genre often enough, despite becoming a producer for RKO in the Forties. Super-Sleuth (1937) and The Hidden Hand (1941) both display
Stoloff's flair for directing this type of film, however, it would be some time before he
received any critical acclaim for his work.
Tully Marshall is the most
distinguished of the cast who began his stage career in 1883 and arrived in Hollywood
during 1914. His dour and drawn expression led to roles of indulgent villainy including The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923), The Gorilla (1927) and most notably as Lawyer
Crosby in The Cat and the Canary (1927).
Bryant Washburn (1889-1963) was previously a romantic hero of the silent screen. He also
appeared as "Clinton" in The Devil's Mate
also in 1933 and later as "Denton" in 1936's The Clutching Hand.
Sally Blane, the heroine of the story, was born Elizabeth Jung, the elder sister of
Loretta Young, and plays an adequate, if routine, love interest.
Dublin born Edwin Maxwell, who portrays the maniac, enjoyed a busy career in Hollywood
until dying at the age of 62 from a cerebral haemorrhage. Maxwell turns up in an
assortment of films including The Jazz Singer (1927), Scarface (1932), Duck
Soup (1933) and Cleopatra (1934). He also appears in the borderline
mystery-thriller Mystery Liner (1934) as a
villain named Major Pope.
Wallace Ford's career cast him in many mainstream movies, but
he was equally at home in a plethora of early mystery-horror pictures including 1932's Freaks, Universal's The Mummy's Hand and The Mummy's Tomb, along with two other films with Bela Lugosi, namely The Mysterious Mr. Wong (1935) and the amusing The Ape Man (1943).
However, it is our friend Bela Lugosi that
steals what show there is. Lugosi was one of those actors who spent his career headlining
substandard vehicles, so it remains ironic that in his finest films, he was relegated to
minor roles, whereas in films that really showcased his undeniable talent, his
performances are invariably the only redeeming quality of the film.
NIGHT OF TERROR was inspired by the activities of a
European scientist who claimed to have created a potion that could revive a person that
had been entombed for seven days. Universal picked up on the idea some ten years later for
their production of Night Monster in 1942 also
featuring Lugosi who again plays second banana as "Rolf", a mysterious butler.
NIGHT OF TERROR, originally titled He Lived to Kill can
be found in various public domain catalogues, but don't expect it to be found on the
latest crop of DVD releases.
Nevertheless this is an enjoyable sixty-four minutes of unadulterated horror pulp.
Visit the official Bela Lugosi website.