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When Jean Thatcher (Irene Ware) has a car accident & seems to be
beyond saving, Doctor Vollin (Bela Lugosi) reluctantly agrees to save her
life upon her father Judge Tatcher's (Samuel S.Hinds) begging ... &
during the rehabilitation phase, he falls in love with the girl, & she
becomes a bit inafatuated with him too.
However, her father wants her married off to Dr Holden (Lester
Matthews), & instead of showing gratitude to Vollin for saving his
daughter, he forbids him to see her ... & what's even worse, Jean,
ignorant about his feelings towards her, tells Vollin she is going to
marry Doc Holden.
Vollin is furious, which is when a cutthroat, Bateman (Boris Karloff)
crosses his path & wants plastic surgery to get a second chance.
Instead, Vollin asks him to kill Judge Thatcher, but Bateman, honestly
wanting to reform himself, refuses. So, Vollin agrees to the plastic
surgery, but gives him the ugliest face imaginable, & tells him that he
will only operate on him again if Bateman helps him exact his revenge on
Judge Thatcher, his daughter & his associates.
To that end, Vollin invites them all for a weekend to his mansion, as a
sort of reconciliation, & at first he is the perfect host, only his
servant, Bateman, seems a bit scary. But ultimately, Vollin uses all
tricks of the trade imaginable to scare the heebeegeebies out of his
guests, including all sorts of racks, a room that turns into an elevator,
secret passageways & even a hidden dungeon in the cellar.
Soon, Judge Thatcher is stretched to a rack with a pendulum swinging
above him, coming ever closer to his body (as in Edgar Allan Poe's Pit
and the Pendulum), while Jean & Doc Holden are locked away in a
room with the walls closing in on them, intent on squashing them.
But Vollin has not taken into account that Bateman would eventually
change sides, fight against his mad master & release Jean & doc
Holden. He is shot by Vollin for that, but has just enough life left
inside of him to lock Vollin into the room with the moving walls, &
ultimately Vollin is squashed while Judge Thatcher can be saved ...
Why Universal even claimed this is was somehow based on Edgar
Allen Poe is left at anybody's guess, the film's story as well as
predilection for fancy, spooky gadgets & disfigured killers all
clearly originate from pulp literature of its time.The film however
doesn't quite hold up to its promise, the pure fun of telling a pulp story &
fascination of its subject gets lost somewhere in the rather muddled plot
& the compulsion to every now & again quote lines from Poe's poem,
even if they are completely out of place.
Oh well ...