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SCARED TO DEATH(director: Christy Cabanne; screenwriter: W.J. Abbott; cinematographer: Marcel le Picard; editor: George McGuire; music: Carl Hoefle; cast: Nat Pendleton (Bill Raymond), George Zucco (Dr Joseph Van Ee), Bela Lugosi (Professor Leonide), Molly Lamont (Laura Van Ee), Douglas Fowley (Terry Lee), Roland Varno (Ward Van Ee), Gladys Blake (Lillybeth), Joyce Compton (Jane Cornell), Angelo Rossitto (Inigo), Lee Bennett (Rene), Stanley Andrews (Autopsy surgeon); Runtime: 65; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: William B. David; Alpha Video; 1947)
“Turns out to be more comic than gothic.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The only film Bela Lugosi ever made in color. B-film director Christy Cabanne (“The Mummy’s Hand”/”Dixie Jamboree”/”Top Sergeant”) helms this cheaply made horror thriller that turns out to be more comic than gothic, that’s so unbelievable that it becomes precious because it’s so dreadfully bad; it’s written by W.J. Abbott.

It opens in the Central City morgue. The corpse of a pretty young woman, Laura Van Ee (Molly Lamont), lies on an autopsy table. The doctor already knows she was murdered by since there’s no marks on her he is anxious to know the cause of her death. Rather than perform an autopsy on such a lovely gal, he wonders what were her last words. Laura then chronicles her demise from her point of view (it’s that kind of an absurd pic!).

Laura is singing in the local nightclub when Ward Van Ee (Roland Varno), son of the sinister doctor Joseph Van Ee (George Zucco), who specializes in treating the mentally ill, accepted his drunken friends dare to ask the singer to marry him. She surprisingly accepted and he married Laura, but it resulted in a loveless marriage and one where she refused to give him a divorce. Things change for the worse when Laura receives some threatening letters from Europe, where she escaped from after the Nazi occupation of Paris. She now believes the father and son are conspiring to either drive her crazy or kill her, as a number of odd things are happening to her since those letters arrived.

Dr Van Ee is visited one day by Professor Leonide (Bela Lugosi), a sinister charlatan legerdemain and hypnotist, who arrives along with his deaf-mute midget companion named Indigo (Angelo Rossitto, appeared in Freaks). Leo was an inmate at Van Ee’s house when it was an institution for the insane, some twenty years ago, and he fled to Europe after constructing secret passageways to escape. Also on the premises are the following list of dummies: Bill Raymond (Nat Pendleton), an inept private policeman hired by Dr Van Ee for security, who was was kicked off the homicide squad because he’s a bumbling idiot and hopes to redeem himself on this job and get back on the city police force; a nosy and smarmy loudmouth reporter, Terry Lee (Douglas Fowley), who comes hoping for a scoop and brings the bimbo blonde police switchboard operator Jane Cornell (Joyce Compton); she gave him the tip there was trouble in the house when Dr Van Ee called and wanted to tag along to see how a reporter operates; and the unpleasant and dimwitted maid, Lillybeth (Gladys Blake), who detests Laura and is always snooping on her.

The plot line has to do with finding out from a recovered photo that suddenly appears in Ward’s possession, the identities of Rene and Laurette who used to perform ‘The Dance Of The Green Mask’ in a Parisian nightclub. It all leads to us finding out that Laura was murdered by the killer seeking revenge on her for something awful she did during the Nazi occupation and the killer literally scared her to death.

Even though it begs to be dismissed as rubbish, I couldn’t resist Bela or the hokey story and found myself enjoying it for what it is and not caring as much as maybe I should have that it can’t hold a candle to any quality type of Old Dark House thriller.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”