Night of Terror features what any audience would expect of any low budget horror movie, plus Bela Lugosi as Degar, a suspicious Hindu manservant.
Although Lugosi's role is small, this horror film is a cut above the rest due in part to Ben Stoloff's direction and Joseph Valentine's photography.
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Nigt of Terror (1933)Night of Terror (1933)

(1933/Columbia) 64mins. BW. US.
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 alive.

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 Lugosi, Meeker, Mayne and Washburn in Night of Terror (1933)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 " 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 cop..."
Wallace Ford, Bela Lugosi and Sally Blane in Night of Terror (1933)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.

Publicity still featuring Lugosi, Ford, Blane and Maxwell as the maniac in Night of Terror (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 of nature.

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.

Available from...On VHS/DVD-R

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