Few classic horror films have gotten quite as undeserved a bad rep as Robert Florey’s Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932)—in large part because the film was a consolation prize given to Florey and star Bela Lugosi when Frankenstein (1931) went to James Whale. The critical view of the film has often been something along the lines of “and this is what Florey and Lugosi did while they weren’t making Frankenstein.” The truth is that, no, it’s not as good as Frankenstein. But that’s true of a lot of movies that don’t get held up to it unfairly (and unreasonably) as a yardstick. On its own merits, Murders in the Rue Morgue has some problems (mostly in casting), but it’s actually a fascinating film—and it has one of Lugosi’s most powerful performances. The Raven (1935), on the other hand, really isn’t much of a movie, but its silly plot—and even more amusing contrivances—actually adds to its charm. But more to the point, it’s Lugosi’s big moment in the sun. For once in his career, he gets the cherished “last name is all that’s needed” billing on the film—“Karloff and Lugosi in”—and for once he gets the lion’s share of the movie. Where he and Karloff had been on even footing in The Black Cat (1934), this is Lugosi’s show from beginning to end. (It’s easy to understand why Karloff was always dismissive of this title, though he does have the movie’s funniest line—whether or not it was intended that way.) There would never be a moment quite like this for Lugosi again—and it’s something to savor.
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The Thursday Horror Picture Show will screen Murders in the Rue Morgue and The Raven on Thursday, April 26, 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.