We start with credit graphics and a score that wails FRANKENSTEIN and clearly MURDERS is chasing the same pockets that were emptied for that fine James Whale film. But it's fails to attain the same lofty heights and has to settle for being a diverting little time-waster, notable mostly because it begins Bela Lugosi's long fling with ape cinema (he'd go on to do THE GORILLA, THE APE MAN, THE RETURN OF THE APE MAN, and BELA LUGOSI MEETS A BROOKLYN GORILLA).
It's weird how often early horror went out of its way to appropriate carnival settings. I don't know if it's because they were trying to exploit that element and gain that audience, or if it's more of a smear job, in that they were showing how seedy and disreputable carnivals could be (so go to a movie instead). At any rate, MURDERS opens in a nineteenth century carnival complete with bellydancing girls and white-slaying Indians and Bela Lugosi, again with immaculate eyebrows.
Lugosi plays the hell out of Dr. Mirakle (I know), a mad scientist who exhibits and allegedly communicates with a gorilla named Erik. He's so imperious, with his proto-Darwinist lectures and disses against the rest of the carnival. In his spare time, he kidnaps girls, ties them to the rack in lingerie, and plays around with their blood in scientific ways.
There are a lot of things to like and a lot of things to not mention out of politeness, so let's start with the positives. I liked Lugosi, as usual. You get what you'd expect with his Dr. Mirakle, a lot of leering and raised eyebrows and unpredictable inflections. I've seen enough Lugosi now that I feel comfortable calling him the Hulk Hogan of actors (if Hulk Hogan is not the Hulk Hogan of actors). He does his thing and it's generally the same thing every time and you're either on board with that or not. Dr. Mirakle here is pretty much your typical mad scientist, singling out one perfect girl to stalk in hopes of making his blood thing work out. Yawns, mostly, but in Dr. Mirakle's defense, look at this fucking stationary that has an ape on it OMG so rad!!!
MURDERS is like Mirakle writ large, pretty much meeting our expectations and only occasionally offering something spectacular. The camera-on-a-swing scene is analogous to ape stationary and it's definitely a highlight, illogical though it seems, since the rest of the film is really conventionally shot.
It's mostly downhill after the swinging, as the last portion of the film reaches inexplicably for scads of comedy. These light scenes involve immigrants bantering and help to really break up the tension in this very short film and make it seem both longer and less effective.
Other flaws involve the monkey, which is played by a guy in a decent-looking suit and also by incongruous cuts of a close-up chimpanzee. The editing with respect to the gorilla is pretty bad, exposing to even the most forgiving viewer that we're not looking at the same thing from scene to scene.
It's slightly over an hour and feels much longer in places, but MURDERS is pretty fun if you're not demanding too much from your entertainment. It's definitely no classic and can't hold a candle to its early-30s Universal brethren, but it's not excruciating or anything. "Not excruciating" is definitely the rave you want for your movie poster.