A young woman named Jean Thatcher crashes her car and is left in critical condition. Her concerned father convinces retired Dr. Richard Vollin (Bela Lugosi), a noted Edgar Allan Poe hobbyist, to help her. He manages to save her life and becomes infatuated with her. Her father is displeased with this development and orders Vollin to leave her alone. Vollin, grudgingly, agrees.
Soon after this, a man on the run from law named Edmond Bateman (Boris Karloff) approaches Dr. Vollin about fixing his face so that he can end his life in crime. Vollin pretends to take up on the offer to help him, but ruins his face instead and forces him to be a part of his mad scheme of revenge.
The examples in this film:
- Beardness Protection Program: Bateman hides from the law in plain sight by having a beard. It doesn't fool Dr. Vollin when Bateman approaches him about getting his face altered.
- Beauty Equals Goodness: Bateman believes that his ugliness is to blame for his life in crime.
- Bookcase Passage: Dr. Vollin has one in his office to his secret laboratory.
- Brains and Brawn: Dr. Vollin is the schemester main villain and Bateman is his unwilling muscle.
- Creepy Ravens: Dr. Vollin thinks of ravens as his talisman, and keeps a stuffed one on his desk.
- A Glass in the Hand: When Judge Thatcher tells that he doesn't want Dr. Vollin and Jean to start a relationship, Dr. Vollin in anger crushes the vial in his hand.
- Hoist by His Own Petard: When Bateman finally retaliates on Dr. Vollin, he lets Jean and Holden out of their death trap, and locks the doctor there instead.
- Hostile Weather: Stormy weather builds up outside during the night while the Dr. Vollin's guests stay at his mansion. Due to it, a tree branch crashes through Jean's window just as Bateman tries to enter her room from a trap door.
- Love Makes You Evil: Dr. Vollin's love for Jean drives him mad, and seek revenge on those whom he deems to be responsible about being driven to madness for his love for her.
- Morally Ambiguous Doctorate: Dr. Vollin is a man of medicine turned into torture-inducing madman by his love for a woman.
- Pendulum of Death: Dr. Vollin has Bateman drag Judge Thatcher out of his bed, and strap him into a slab that's beneath a pendulum blade that slowly swings down on his chest.
- Rage Against the Reflection: When Edmond sees what Dr. Vollin has really done to his face on a row of laboratory mirrors, he starts shooting them one by one in anger.
- Sarcasm Mode: Holden's remark about the success of Jean's play.Jean: They really liked me!Holden: No, not much. They only called you back twelve times.
- Screaming Woman: Jean screams in horror when she sees Bateman, who at the moment is acting as Dr. Vollin's manservant.
- Torture Cellar: Dr. Vollin's basement hosts a collection of various torture devices inspired by the works of Poe. Yes, even a bladed pendulum.
- Two-Faced: To ensure Edmond's servitude, Dr. Vollin makes half of his face even uglier.
- The Walls Are Closing In: Dr. Vollin's grand plan for Jean and her beloved Holden is to lock them up in a room that works on this principle, and have them crushed to death.
- Working for a Body Upgrade: Since he he has been promised to be made to look physically better, Edmond works for Dr. Vollin.