I Vant to Steal Your Bride!
Mystery Science Theater 3000, Season 1, Episode 5: "The Corpse Vanishes"
After focusing on a longer feature in the last episode, Women of the Prehistoric Planet (which didn't really have "women" from that planet, so that title was a complete lie), we now move on to a Golden Age of Cinema Horror cheapie starring Bela Lugosi, The Corpse Vanishes (which, frankly, doesn't have any corpses and what vanishes is much more than one... so again, the title is a lie). This film is actually not bad, for the time period, but we'll get into the specifics below.
It is interesting to see what happens when Mystery Science Theater 3000First aired on the independent TV network KTMA, Mystery Science Theater 3000 grew in popularity when it moved to Comedy Central. Spoofing bad movies, the gang on the show watch the flicks and make jokes about them, entertaining its audience with the same kind of shtick many movies watchers provided on their own (just usually not as funny as the MST3K guys could provide). It became an indelible part of the entertainment landscape from there, and lives on today on Netflix. covers a film with some actual quality to it. Traditionally the show goes for the worst of the worst to lampoon but, sometimes, when the movies are actually half-way decent the cast and crew are able to bring better material. That's the case here, where the crew really is able to stretch better as they're not forced to pad for time (or sit there staring blankly at absolutely nothing of importance). That makes this, actually, one of the better episodes we've seen so far, which is great.
Short: Radar Men from the Moon, Chapter 3: "Bridge of Death"
But before we can get to the main movie we have to check back in with Commando Cody and his relentless, and awful, adventures. Last we checked in, Cody and one of this assistants (whose name is unimportant and will never be mentioned again) were trapped in a cave as the walls of rock were melted by a heat ray from the moon men. There seemed to be no escape for our intrepid heroes... until Cody see there's a side shaft they can run down and immediately escape. That's serial cliffhangers for ya. The guys get back to the ship and are able to launch it despite the moon men shooting at them.
They fly back home (like its a Sunday drive) and land, only to be met by goons from the moon men sent to kill the crew. These goons, though, fail, and lead Cody on a merry car chase through a quiet suburban town. It's all really goofy and, even with a seeming cliffhanger leaving Cody in danger once more (as the bridge he's driving across explodes), I doubt our hero is in any real danger at all. We'll see next time, I'm sure (as we have at least six more parts to this serial the series will cover).
This serial sucks. Even before we get into the awful sci-fi (and it is awful) we have to acknowledge that the writing is bad in general. This is a lazy and hackneyed production start to finish, and it's the exact kind of fodder this show loves to cover. That said, the crew really does seem to be in their element making fun of short films more than longer productions. I feel like, as bad as the Commando Cody shorts are, the guys are able to come up with so much material for these little films (the highlight here being fashion commentary from Crow and Servo that I had to go back and watch a couple of more times as it was super funny).
Seriously, while I might think Joel's run isn't the best in general, I really appreciate the spark he (and his team) brought to all the short films they cover. This episode is just another sterling example of that.
The Main Event
Meanwhile, the main event gives us Bela Lugosi in a non-Universal horror film. This movies is, well, pretty awful but it's awful in a way that's different from Commando Cody. That serial was just goofy and dumb but this film suffers not from an attempt to do something interesting but from the fact that the movie can't ever nail down its tone. It has too many things going on at once, not all of them horror-related, and it all just amounts to not a lot of anything by the time the credits roll.
In the film, a series of mysterious deaths all occur, one by one, to brides on their wedding day. Time and again young women step up to the altar and then seemingly fall over dead before they can say "I do." Worse, as the bodies are heading off to the morgue they mysteriously vanish, never to be seen again. One reporter, Patricia Hunter (Luana Walters), thinks that there might be a connection between the corpses vanishing and a mysterious orchid that keeps showing up at the various weddings. Although she has a hard time convincing her editor, she's eventually allowed to pursue the lead which takes her to the home of Dr. Lorenz (Bela Lugosi).
Lorenz, it turns, is the leading expert on orchids in the region. In fact, the exact orchid Patricia finds at all the weddings is the same orchid that Lorenz specially developed. Naturally, he says that that he hasn't grown those flowers in years, but Patricia has her doubts. She confides her suspicious to Lorenz's lab partner, Dr. Foster (Tristram Coffin), and sure enough, the truth is eventually revealed: the brides aren't dead, they're just in stasis, and Lorenz needs something from their blood so he can save, and heal, his wife, the Countess Lorenz (Elizabeth Russell). But with the press, and the police, bearing down on the mad doctor, his whole plan could soon fall apart...
There are many flaws with The Corpse Vanishes but certainly the biggest issue is that is mashes a horror movie up against a newspaper farce. In scenes with Patricia dealing with her editor (and another reporter on her beat as well), everything is sarcastic jokes and a lot of humor at Patricia's expense (as she's "the woman in the office"). But then we go to Lorenz's mansion and suddenly its something out of a Universal MonstersThis franchise, started off with Dracula and Frankenstein in 1931, was a powerhouse of horror cinema for close to two decades, with many of the creatures continuing on in one-off movies years later. flick (just without the talent). Tonally the film is all over the place and it doesn't help keep viewers in the moment at all.
There's also the fact that the film doesn't treat its female characters at all well Patricia suspects there might be something about the orchids but no one believes her. Patricia sees weird things at the mansion and no one believes her. It's only when her doctor friend does his own investigation (after dismissing everything Patricia initially says) that he comes on board and that's when everyone starts listening because a man said it. Meanwhile, the Countess is little more than a prop, trotted around and made to act like a foul shrew but there's no development of her. What's her condition? Is she actually a vampire? Why do only young brides suit her needs? None of this is explained despite that fact that some development would have gone a long way towards us viewing her as an actual villain, let along a threat to our heroine.
This film was obviously designed to act as a vehicle for Lugosi, and he's great in the role he's given. Of course, the man had personality and charisma so he could sell whatever evil villain role you gave him. There just isn't enough meat here, though, to sustain his performance or any others in the movie. It's not the worst film, and in comparison to other movies we've seen in the series so far, it's actually pretty well made (thus giving us just enough quality that the MST3K crew can really dig into it). But overall there's a reason this film has fallen out of favor with horror fans: it sucks.