Bela Lugosi ushered horror into the sound era with 1931’s Dracula. However, he only played the part officially twice. He reprised the role of the iconic count in the hilarious Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. Still, Lugosi, with his deep Hungarian brogue and piercing eyes, managed to make his mark in other hallmark horror pictures. Peer into our eyes as we gaze upon the most chilling Lugosi films that aren’t Dracula.
5. Island of Lost Souls, Bela Lugosi’s Memorable Beast Role
This 1932 film only ranks so low because Bela Lugosi’s part is slim (but memorable). Based on H.G. Wells’ novel The Island of Doctor Moreau, Island of Lost Souls depicts a mad doctor conducting horrifying genetic experiments on a remote island in the South Seas. This terrifies and disgusts a shipwrecked sailor who becomes trapped there. Fresh off the success of playing Dracula, Bela has the pivotal role of the “Sayer of the Law”. His face covered in fur, Lugosi still manages to give a memorable, haunting performance as one of Moreau’s tragic experiences.
4. White Zombie
Another film fresh off the success of Dracula, Bela Lugosi takes center stage in 1932’s White Zombie. Bela is brilliantly wicked as Murder Legendre, a ghastly corpse-master in this Haiti-based zombie horror. He compels his reanimated minions to toil at a massive mill while scheming to ensnare an unsuspecting young woman, rendering her ill, deceased, and ultimately his beguiled captive. Of course, rocker Rob Zombie got the name of his band from this landmark horror film.
3. Mark of the Vampire
This one is a bit of a cheat since Bela Lugosi is clearly channeling Dracula in 1935’s Mark of the Vampire. This also reteams the star with his Dracula director Tod Browning. Described as a talkie remake of Browning’s silent film London After Midnight (1927), Lugosi plays Count Mora. His character is suspected of murder (and of being a vampire) after a nobleman is mysteriously killed. With cinematography by the great James Wong Howe, Lugosi’s vampire glory is masterfully cast in shadows and light. It’s a must-see for any fan of Dracula.
2. The Black Cat, Bela Lugosi’s Heroic Turn
This is a rare heroic turn for Bela Lugosi. In this beautifully designed art deco film, Lugosi, alongside fellow horror titan Boris Karloff, delivers a captivating performance. The Black Cat revolves around necrophilia, sadism, and the chilling display of preserved dead wives in the basement. While Bela’s career was already in decline and Boris’s was on the rise, Lugosi steals the show in the final reel when he decides to gruesomely skin his screen rival alive.
1. Son of Frankenstein
Though Bela Lugosi has a lower billing than rival Boris Karloff here, he once again steals the show. In 1939’s Son of Frankenstein, Lugosi gleefully plays the demented Ygor, a broken-necked undead being who is friends with Karloff’s monster. Ygor manages to manipulate the son of Frankenstein, also a doctor, to recharge his father’s creation. After he’s restored to full strength, Ygor sends the monster on a rampage of revenge, laughing all the way. Ygor was such a fan favorite that he returned for the sequel, Ghost of Frankenstein.
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