A mad scientist tampers with a meteor and unleashes a killing force, in this sci-fi shocker from Universal Studios.
Boris Karloff (billed simply as “Karloff”) stars as Dr. Rukh. He is one of those driven mad scientists (the slacker types just don’t have the energy necessary to be evil). He conducts his research in a private lab that is part of the remote castle he leases on a mountaintop in the Carpathians.
If his address wasn’t dead giveaway that he is bonkers, then you only have to meet the castle’s other inhabitants. One is his blind mother (who lost her vision helping sonny-boy experiment with lasers and astronomy) and the other is his neglected wife, Diana. About the only one who sees a lot of him is his loyal Great Dane.
Rukh talks his way onto a safari to Africa that is funded by a millionaire philanthropist named Sir Francis. This guy is happy to bankroll scientists like Rukh and Dr. Benet (the great Bela Lugosi, cast against type as a nice guy physician) provided they tolerate his nepotism, which includes bringing his wife along as well as his adventurer nephew, Ronald.
Cut to Africa, where Dr. Benet offers medical care to the native children while Rukh sneaks off with a whole gang of luggage-toting extras. He aims to find a meteor that landed there a million years previously. Turns out his theory is spot on and he finds the site where the meteor landed. He dons protective gear and lowers himself down into the crater that was formed by the crash.
There, he finds a new element he names “Radium X.” This stuff has some bizarre properties. It can blow stuff up by emitting an invisible ray that is sure to melt rocks and frighten those natives into sticking with him when their instincts scream at them to get away from this crazy dude.
Sadly, his exposure to the ray leaves him with an irradiated body that can kill others on contact. The loyal Great Dane learns this the hard way. Luckily, Dr. Benet develops a serum that must be taken every day to slow the poison in Rukh. It also keeps him from blowing up, literally. He takes his new element back to his castle and uses it to cure his mother’s blindness. Benet is so jazzed about that development that he begins curing the blind children of Paris (this is your only chance to see Lugosi behaving like Willy Wonka, and it is a treat).
Rukh eventually succumbs to his baser instincts, when he finds out that his young wife loved Ronald. He manages to fake his own death by burning up a drunk Frenchman. Now he is free to stalk and kill, simply by touching, everyone who went on the safari. Oddly, most of these deaths occur off camera but you eventually get to see one guy explode and another drop dead when Rukh gives him his patented death caress. Great stuff.
This one has a lot of gruesome touches. Karloff is extra creepy with chips, and he gets a lot of help from a crazy hair-don’t that answers the question of how he would look with an afro. Lugosi rocks a goatee and his usual broken English.
The special effects are limited, but they work except for the bits where Karloff begins glowing in the dark form his exposure to “Radium X.” The muic is a bit over dramatic, but that was how they rolled in those days. It was just as manipulative as today’s flicks, where they actually turn up the volume sometimes to provide a ‘jump scare.
Best of all is that this flick is one of five found in ‘The Bela Lugosi Collection.” Three of the other films also feature Karloff (the best being their wacky take on Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven”). They don’t make them like these anymore.
“I believe that this city is at the mercy of a madman whose body is an engine of destruction.”
“I warned you about your brain.”