After three years of almost no employment, Bela Lugosi suddenly found himself very much in demand in 1939 as part of the rebirth of the horror movie—and one of the places where he was in demand was Great Britain. So, having knocked off Son of Frankenstein, The Gorilla, Ninotchka and the serial The Phantom Creeps, he set sail to England to star in this film version of Edgar Wallace’s 1924 novel Dark Eyes of London, which made it to the US under the title The Human Monster in early 1940. As is often the case with Edgar Wallace adaptations, the film wasn’t that far removed from the source. Wallace, after all, wrote very to-the-point, often rather grisly books that lent themselves nicely to the horror genre. (The Germans were so wild about Wallace that they knocked out a whole string of Wallace-based thrillers in the 1960s.) The film offered Lugosi one of his nastiest, most unsympathetic villains in Dr. Orloff, an insurance broker and would-be medico (“But they got together—those prejudiced, narrow-minded medical men—to see how they could ruin me!”). Orloff uses a home for the blind as a front for his murderous scheme for heavily insuring men—and making sure he manages to collect. That the front also offers him a terrifying, blind, homicial giant (Wilfred Walter) to help make sure the policies pay off is a bonus. The film was considered extremely distasteful in its day (that it was made in Britain at all, particularly considering the British censors’ aversion to horror pictures, is hard to understand), and it’s still a little surprising today in its grisliness. Lugosi is in fine form as the “brilliant, but unbalanced” Orloff and seems to be enjoying every last drop of his incredible perfidy.
The Thursday Horror Picture Show will screen The Human Monster (Dark Eyes of London on Thursday, April 5, at 8 p.m. in the Cinema Lounge of The Carolina Asheville and will be hosted by Xpress movie critics Ken Hanke and Justin Souther.