Directed by: Lambert Hillyer (Dracula's Daughter)
Starring: Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Frances Drake, Frank Lawton, Beulah Bondi, Walter Kingsford
Lambert Hillyer’s The Invisible Ray (1936) is the penultimate title in the first wave of Universal horror films. It’s also the third teaming of Karloff and Lugosi, the nearest the first wave came to pure science fiction and the most underrated film of the lot. It’s also the closest the Thursday Horror Picture Show could come to an appropriate title for Bastille Day, since it partly takes place in Paris (or the studio equivalent). (Unless you’re a fan of Jean Rollin’s softcore sapphic vampire pictures, the woods aren’t exactly full of French horror films.) The film has become almost legendary owing to the scene in Tim Burton’s Ed Wood (1994) where a hapless Conrad Brooks (Brint Hinkley) makes the mistake of telling Bela Lugosi (Martin Landau) that he was “great as Karloff’s sidekick.” The truth is that here Lugosi might almost fit that description, though most fans consider his underplayed Dr. Felix Benet far more interesting than Karloff’s over-the-top mad scientist, Janos Rukh. Regardless, it’s a terrific pairing in an unusual story involving a new element (Radium-X) that Rukh finds in Africa—and which turns him into a glow-in-the-dark, even-madder scientitst whose very touch kills. Solid production values, a great supporting cast, a fine Franz Waxman score and Hillyer’s direction make it an essential for classic horror fans.
The Thursday Horror Picture Show will screen The Invisible Ray on Thursday, July 14, 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.