[31 Days of Horror: Resurrection] Bowery at Midnight (1942)

Director: Wallace Fox
Cast: Bela Lugosi, John Archer, Wanda McKay, Tom Neal
Screenplay: Gerald Schnitzer
61 mins. Approved.

It’s always fun to experience some of our horror icons outside of their generally-recognized roles. Most people only know Bela Lugosi as Dracula (or perhaps Plan 9 From Outer Space), but he was rather prolific among other horror realms. Today, we’ll look at one of them.

Professor Brenner (Lugosi) is a well-respected voice in the psychology department, but he also moonlights, under the name Karl Wagner, at a soup kitchen in the Bowery. While in the kitchen, he lures and recruits criminal into a crime organization under his leadership. When one of his henchman fails him, he kills them and hands over their bodies to his doctor, who performs experiments on them. One of Brenner’s students, Richard Dennison (John Archer, White Heat, Destination Moon), begins to connect Brenner to the sinister Karl Wagner, and once he gets in too deep, it will be difficult for him to uncover the truth and survive.

There’s a tendency (as with Torture Ship) of having a film with a 60-minute run time and just jam it full of plot and exposition. There’s so much going on in the film, and so much of it is so unnecessary to the film. Brenner’s dual life and lie are rather captivating, but we don’t get time to dive into that because we’re jumping over to the misogyny-filled Richard, a man telling his kinda girlfriend how their life will be whether she likes it or not, and then we’re back to this mysterious doctor and his mysterious experiments (a subplot that seems to exist over to satisfy the standards board rules at the time, but it simply doesn’t add much of value) and now we’re back to Brenner for a bit, but just a bit.

That being said, Lugosi’s performance makes the film infinitely more watchable as he chews up scenery as two practically different characters. He’s having fun, and that translates to us having more fun with him. While Dracula seemed to pigeonhole Lugosi into horror and suspense for the rest of his career, at least he’s embracing it by going all in.

The narrative is constantly altering and changing with twists and turns that are all surprising, whether or not they lead anywhere of value, and that may be why the film has stayed in the memory of some horror fans, but really exploring every possible avenue. If that sounds appealing, Bowery may be for you.

Bowery at Midnight is super-silly and far from good, but you may enjoy the consistent surprises in store, but don’t hold much stock in them, as the narrative is just as likely to forget or ignore. Come for the bonkers storytelling, stay for the Bela Lugosi of it all. All others need not apply.

-Kyle A. Goethe

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