Dancer Jean Thatcher (Irene Ware) is speeding through the stormy night in her car when suddenly a detour sign looms out of the darkness, startling her and sending her vehicle off the nearest cliff. She is seriously injured and as she lies in hospital, her father, Judge Thatcher (Samuel S. Hinds) implores the doctors to do something. One of them realises that the only person who can help now is Dr Richard Vollin (Bela Lugosi), a brilliant surgeon and scientist, but at this moment he is negotiating with a museum representative to sell his collection of Edgar Allan Poe memorabilia and refuses to save Jean. However, he is persuaded to change his mind - with unexpected results...
When The Black Cat was a success for Universal, another Poe themed horror was rustled up to cash in, and like its predecessor, the film had not much to do with the work that inspired it. Unusually for a team up between Lugosi and Boris Karloff, it's Lugosi who is the star of the show here, with Karloff playing second fiddle for once; in fact he doesn't show up until the hour long film is nearly a third of the way over. Scripted by David Boehm, the film is a traditional mad scientist movie not unlike the same year's Mad Love, and just as outrageous, with Lugosi splendidly over the top and Karloff attempting to go for sympathy.
When Jean is restored to health, Vollin falls for her in a big way, inviting her over for a pipe organ recital (doesn't everyone have a pipe organ in their living room?) and at the moment he takes her by the shoulders and prepares to announce his true feelings, she reveals she is about to be married to another doctor, Jerry Holden (Lester Matthews). We're supposed to believe this news sends Vollin over the edge of sanity into florid madness, but considering what we discover later on it looks as if he's been a little touched for some while.
As if to taunt the Poe-obsessed doctor, Jean invites him to see her dance on stage in a tribute to the great author, and here Judge Thatcher notices that Vollin has an unhealthy attatchment to his daughter. The plot begins to take shape when Karloff arrives at Vollin's door, playing Edmond Bateman, a vicious criminal on the run who goes to the doctor hoping for plastic surgery to change his appearance and aid his disappearance. Vollin agrees, but uses him to illustrate his theory that an ugly countenance breeds hatred in the soul, and, in a great sequence, reveals his handywork to Bateman with a wall of mirrors - he has been hideously disfigured to resemble Two-Face from the soon to be published Batman comics.
After roaring with laughter at Bateman's reaction - he shoots every mirror in the room - Vollin has blackmail on his side when he persuades the criminal to be his butler (his old butler's response is unrecorded). He then invites Jean, Jerry and the Judge over for the night along with a few friends and you'd expect Vollin's idea of entertainment to be an evening of poetry readings, but what actually occurs is a night of playing with a horse racing gambling game. His friends seem to be rather flighty, too. Anyway, it's not long before a Pit and the Pendulum set up is revealed in Vollin's torture dungeon basement, and he adopts an "if I can't have her, nobody will!" attitude towards Jean. The gleeful sadism of Lugosi's performance is immensely enjoyable, but the film is awfully difficult to take seriously, which may well be part of its appeal. Music by Clifford Vaughan.