Halloween Havoc! Extra: Bela Lugosi in THE DEVIL BAT (PRC 1940) Complete Horror Movie

Today, we celebrate the birth of a true horror legend, the great Bela Lugosi! 

Bela Lugosi helped usher in the horror era in 1931’s DRACULA , but nine years later, the Hungarian actor was taking whatever roles he could get. I’ve told you before how much I love THE DEVIL BAT (just click on this link to find out!), an entertaining little fright flick despite its rock-bottom production values and some really bad writing. Only Bela Lugosi could make a film like this work, and he does so brilliantly! Grab some popcorn, put your feet up, and enjoy horror’s first icon Bela Lugosi in THE DEVIL BAT!:

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Halloween Havoc!: CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN (Universal 1943)

Universal decided the time was ripe for a new monster, and 1943’s CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN introduced the world to Paula Dupree, aka The Ape Woman! What’s that you say? You’ve never HEARD of her? Don’t worry, you’re not alone – The Ape Woman is the most obscure of the Universal Monsters despite the fact she was featured in three films, with various degrees of quality. The first is the best of the bunch, a fun little ‘B’ lifted by the presence of John Carradine in the first of his patented mad scientist roles.

Animal trainer Fred Mason returns from Africa with a shipload of lions, tigers, and a powerful female gorilla named Cheela. He’s greeted at the docks by his sweetie Beth Colman, who tells Fred that her sister Dorothy has “some kind of glandular problem” and is being treated at Crestview Sanitarium by endocrinology expert Dr. Sigmund Walters. Walters has some rather strange ideas on treatment, including experimenting with large animals.

The outwardly charming doctor is invited to visit Whipple’s Circus, where Fred and Beth work, at their winter headquarters. He spies Cheela and gets one of his aforementioned strange ideas, and uses Gruen, fired from his job as animal handler for being drunk, to steal Cheela away. Gruen does so, and is promptly dispatched when Walters tosses him to the big ape. Walters will let nothing stand in his way of the advancement of science, including murder, as his nurse finds out! Her brain is used to transform Cheela into a beautiful woman, who he dubs ‘Paula Dupree’ (apparently because he just likes the name!). Walters brings ‘Paula’ to visit the circus, and when Fred is attacked in the cage by the big cats, she enters and the kitties back off! Now Fred wants to use ‘Paula’ as part of the act, but when she sees Fred and Beth making out, her jealousy transforms her into The Ape Woman…

Yep, it’s another “Science Gone Too Far” scenario, and Carradine has a grand old time as Walters, killing in the name of science and creating his Ape Woman. He’d go on to play the “mad scientist” part in almost two dozen films, the horror role he’s most remembered for by genre fans. I love Evelyn Ankers in this; Universal’s #1 “Scream Queen” gets to do more than just be a pretty decoration in need of saving, and even disposes of the villain on her own! Milburn Stone (GUNSMOKE’s Doc Adams) plays Fred; his resemblance to famed circus lion tamer Clyde Beatty (at least from the back!) allowed Universal to use lots of stock footage from Beatty’s 1933 film THE BIG CAGE for all the animal action shots.

The lovely but not-so talented Acquanetta is ‘Paula’, product of Walters’s mad science. She plays the part mute, which is fine, because the former model wasn’t the greatest of thespians. Born Mildred Davenport in South Carolina, the studio dubbed her “The Venezuelan Volcano” because of her exotic good looks. Acquanetta later claimed to be of Arapaho ancestry, though most research points to an African-American heritage. Whatever the case, her film career was brief, but later in life she became a local celebrity in Mesa, Arizona by starring in her third husband’s car dealership commercials on TV, and hosting segments of the local late nite movie show. She passed away in 2004 at the age of 83.

Ray “Crash” Corrigan  broke out his gorilla suit to play Cheela, a teenaged Martha Vickers (under the name MacVicar) is little sister Dorothy, Lloyd Corrigan (no relation to Crash) circus owner Whipple, and Vince Barnett, Paul Fix , Fay Helm, Frank Mitchell, Ray Walker, and Grant Withers all pop up in small roles. CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN was directed by Edward Dmytryk, whose later filmography includes BACK TO BATAAN , CROSSFIRE, THE CAINE MUTINY, and THE CARPETBAGGERS. It’s not the greatest of Universal Horrors, but compared to its two sequels, it’s a classic, as we’ll soon find out…

Halloween Havoc! Extra: When Strikes Tor Johnson!!

Today we celebrate the birthday of everybody’s favorite wrestler-turned-actor named Johnson… no, not Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, but the hulking Tor Johnson (1902-1971)! Before he starred in all those Ed Wood epics, Tor was a pro wrestler billed as ‘The Super Swedish Angel’ (a bad guy, of course), and performed in hundreds (perhaps thousands) of bouts around the globe. Each year, Cracked Rear Viewer pays tribute to the 6’3″, 400 lb. behemoth, and this year I’ve unearthed a clip from a 1948 Budd Boetticher-directed noir called BEHIND LOCKED DOORS, in which Tor beats the crap out of another horror/sci-fi icon, Richard Carlson . Happy birthday, O Mighty Tor!:

Your 2018 American League Champions: The Boston Red Sox!

October isn’t just about Halloween and all things spooky – there’s the MLB Playoffs going on, and since everybody knows what a Boston sports fanatic I am, I’d just like to give a shout-out to my beloved Red Sox, your 2018 American League Champs! David Price finally earned his first postseason victory after oh-so-many tries, Number Nine hitter Jackie Bradley Jr. is your ALCS MVP, and first year manager Alex Cora gets to celebrate his 43rd birthday in grand style! The champagne is flowing in Houston, but these 108 game winning Boys From Fenway aren’t done yet. Next stop: The World Series! Until then, enjoy the party – we’ve got four more wins to go!

Halloween Havoc!: FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN (Universal 1943)

FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN was Universal’s first Monster Mash-Up, and in my opinion the best of the lot. From here, things got a little crowded, but by spotlighting just two supernatural terrors, we get a spooky, atmospheric ‘B’ film that really works. Lon Chaney Jr. returns to his signature role of Lawrence Talbot, suffering from the curse of lycanthropy, and he’s even better than in the original (which I reviewed in 2015 ). And The Monster is played by 60-year-old Bela Lugosi , in the part he rejected twelve years earlier. Bela’s interpretation is… interesting (but more on that later).

The eerie opening scene features two graverobbers under a full moon, breaking into the Talbot family crypt. Opening the lid of the late Larry Talbot’s coffin, they find the body is covered in wolfbane, and one of them recites that familiar “Even a man who’s pure in heart…” poem. As Talbot’s body is bathed in moonlight, the dormant werewolf revives, and a hand reaches out from beyond the grave, snatching one unfortunate graverobber. This beautifully shot sequence by DP George Robinson sets the mood for the horrors to come.

Talbot is found unconscious in Cardiff and taken to the local hospital, where he’s treated for a skull fracture by Dr. Mannering and questioned by Inspector Owen. A routine call to the police in Llanwelly to verify Talbot’s identity finds Lawrence Talbot “died four years ago”. The full moon beckons once again, and Talbot leaves his room as The Wolf Man, killing a constable, and found in the morning slumped in his bed. Talbot confesses to Mannering and Owen his cursed affliction, but they think he’s insane. The two men then take a trip to Llanwelly, discovering the dead graverobber and an empty coffin inside the crypt. A call to the Cardiff hospital reveals Talbot has escaped.

Talbot now wanders Europe searching for Maleva, the gypsy woman whose son inflicted the curse on him. Finding the elderly Maleva in a gypsy camp, she takes him to see Dr. Ludwig von Frankenstein, healer of “Diseases of the Mind” in Vasaria (who, as we all know from GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN, perished in that film fiery finale). The Wolf Man kills again, and is chased by angry villagers to the ruins of Frankenstein’s estate, where he awakens in a frozen cavern and discovers The Monster encased in ice. Talbot searches unsuccessfully for Frankenstein’s notebook, which contains “the secrets of life and death”, then (under an assumed name) contacts Baroness Elsa von Frankenstein. Elsa (who must’ve dumped fiancé Erick from the previous film) refuses, but the Mayor invites them both to stay for the Festival of the New Wine, celebrated in song by an uncredited Adia Kuznetzoff:

… obviously, Talbot doesn’t dig the song! Just then, Mannering, who’s been tracking Talbot’s path of destruction across Europe, arrives, as does The Monster, terrorizing those villagers again! Talbot and the creature escape, the villagers are in an uproar once again, and Mannering, Elsa, and Maleva return to the Frankenstein homestead to destroy The Monster and cure Talbot of his curse. But like all scientists, Mannering lets his curiosity get the best of him (“I’ve got to see Frankenstein’s creation at its full strength”), resulting in an epic Battle of the Monsters (well, as epic as a three-minute fight can be!).

Curt Siodmak’s  script retains the continuity of both THE WOLF MAN and GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN, unlike some of the other entries before and after. Veteran director Roy William Neill handles the pacing well, and creates a genuinely creepy atmosphere throughout, aided by Robinson and John Fulton’s camera tricks during the transformation scenes of Talbot to The Wolf Man. Chaney his outstanding as “his baby” Lawrence Talbot/The Wolf Man, eliciting sympathy as the man and getting gruesomely physical as the werewolf. Ilona Massey, making her second Universal Horror appearance,  takes over the role of Elsa from Evelyn Ankers. Patric Knowles gets the ‘mad scientist’ role, though he’s not really mad… just curious! Maria Ouspenskaya returns to the part of Maleva, Lionel Atwill is the Mayor of Vasaria, Dennis Hoey the Inspector, and Rex Evans an angry villager. Also appearing as a villager is Dwight Frye , marking his seventh and final Universal Horror role  (Frye died at age 44 nine months after the film’s release).

Then there’s Bela Lugosi as The Monster, who had all his dialog cut out of the film by the studio after test audiences laughed during a pre-screening. If you recall GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN, you’ll remember Ygor’s brain was transplanted in The Monster’s body, and he went blind due to having the wrong blood type. This explains Lugosi’s outstretched arms and lumbering gait through the movie, but filmgoers didn’t have DVD or DVR back in the 40’s, and had short memories (besides, no one back then took these little ‘B’ films seriously). And since the Monster’s blindness isn’t mentioned by any character in this one, Lugosi’s performance  has been a source of ridicule for generations. It wasn’t Bela’s fault… he was playing the part according the original script. Despite this studio meddling undoing Lugosi’s portrayal of The Monster, FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN remains a classic outing in the genre, and that’s more than can be said for subsequent Universal Frankenstein films to come…

Halloween Havoc!: THE MUMMY’S TOMB (Universal 1942)

Universal followed up THE MUMMY’S HAND with 1942’s THE MUMMY’S TOMB, casting their new horror sensation Lon Chaney Jr. in the role of the undead Kharis. But it didn’t really matter who was under all those bandages, Karloff , Chaney, Tom Tyler, or Lou Costello (okay, maybe not Costello), the part is just a non-entity used to further the plot along, and the new film was almost completely scuttled by a bad performance from Turhan Bey as the latest High Priest of Karnak, Mehemet Bey.

THE MUMMY’S TOMB kicks off with Dick Foran under Jack Pierce’s old age makeup relating the tale of finding Princess Ananka’s tomb thirty years ago to his son John (John Hubbard), John’s fiancé Isobel (Elyse Knox, mother of NCIS star Mark Harmon), and sister Aunt Jane (Mary Gordon ). Or rather, stock footage from the previous film tells the tale, which takes up about 15 minutes of the film’s 61 minute running time, and also serves to show what a better movie THE MUMMY’S HAND was than this lame sequel!

Meanwhile, over in Egypt, it seems Andoheb (George Zucco again) didn’t die in HAND after all, nor did the monster Kharis. Andoheb prepares new priest Mehemet to travel with Kharis to Mapleton, MA and wreak vengeance on Banning and those who dared defile Ananka’s tomb (but why he waited thirty years is beyond me!). Mehemet is set up as a cemetery caretaker, and brews the familiar nine tanna leaves to revive Kharis, sending him out to kill Banning. Wherever Kharis treads, his shadow brings an eerie chill down the spine of whoever he passes, though no one ever sees him, which is odd because he walks so damn slow!

The Sheriff suspects a ‘fiend’ is on the loose in Mapleton, and there is unexplained dust or clay of some type on Banning’s throat. Steve’s old pal Babe Hanson (Wallace Ford, who was Babe Jensen in the original) comes to town, and when Jane Banning is found dead with that same dust on her throat, Babe knows what it is – mold from Kharis’s dead flesh. Meanwhile, Mehemet gets a gander at Isobel, and WHAM! falls instantly in lust (hey, being a High Priest of Karnak is a mighty lonely profession!).

John, being a man of science, is skeptical about Babe’s Mummy theory, and so is the Sheriff, so the formerly jovial Babe (who’s turned into a pretty crusty old dude from his glib younger self) shoots his mouth off to reporters (who’ve swarmed into sleepy Mapleton like a gaggle of CNN newshounds) at the local saloon. Mehemet overhears him, and it’s bye, bye Babe, as Kharis strangles him in an alley. A pice of bandage found at the scene is taken to Prof. Norton (Frank Reicher), who claims there’s “no doubt about it… we’re dealing with the presence of the living dead”. NOW they believe it!

John gets his draft notice (there was a war going on, you know), and has three days to marry Isobel. Mehemet sees them kissing and gets all horned out, so he has Kharis kidnap her, just like Andoheb did to Marta in the previous entry, and straps her to a table in his cemetery HQ, threatening to fill her with tanna fluid and make her immortal. The townsfolk arrive with torches and pitchforks (and more stock footage), and Mehemet is shot, but Kharis escapes with Isobel, dragging her to the Banning mansion for a fiery finale.

Chaney doesn’t get to do much here but kill people, and he always said he hated this role. It’s easy to understand why… there’s virtually no acting involved! Too bad Turhan Bey DID get to act, because he’s terrible. THE MUMMY’S TOMB was directed by Harold Young, a former editor with one distinguished picture on his filmography (1934’s THE SCARLET PIMPERNAL) and not much else. Though The Mummy films were popular with audiences, it was pretty clear Kharis was destined to be a second-stringer in the Universal Horror pantheon, and poor Lon Chaney Jr. would have to endure Pierce’s hours-long Mummy makeup job for two more films.

Halloween Havoc!: INVISIBLE AGENT (Universal 1942)

INVISIBLE AGENT could very well have been subtitled “The Invisible Man vs The Nazis”! This is the only Universal Horror that addresses the topic of the war in Europe (despite the fact most of them take place in Europe!), and though there aren’t many scares going on, Curt Siodmak’s sci-fi flavored screenplay, John P. Fulton’s fantastic special effects, and a cast featuring Peter Lorre in his only Universal Horror appearance make this one of the most enjoyable movies of the whole bunch!

Frank Griffin, grandson of the original Invisible Man, is living in London under the assumed name Frank Raymond and running a small printing shop. A gang of Axis creeps led by Gestapo spymaster Stauffer and Japanese Baron Ikito pay him a call, demanding his grandfather’s secret of invisibility, which of course they want to use for their own nefarious purposes. Frank manages to escape their clutches, and goes to the American Embassy. The Allies want it too, but Frank refuses to share the dangerous drug – until Pearl Harbor, then he gets all patriotic and agrees, on the condition he’s the one to use it! Frank’s airlifted to Berlin, where he takes a shot of invisibility juice, parachutes behind enemy lines, and is sent to meet beautiful double agent Maria, who all the Nazis are hot for (and who can blame them?). Frank’s mission is to retrieve the secret book containing the names of all Axis spies and saboteurs in America, and he winds up in and out of danger before the bad guys get what’s comin’ to ’em and the good guys chalk up another victory for liberty and freedom!

That’s right, it’s pure WWII propaganda, as well as pure escapism, and as such works on both levels. Siodmak, who along with brother Robert fled the Nazi regime in the 1930’s, delivers a fast paced and fun script, depicting most of the Nazis as bumbling boobs, except for the totally hissable main bad guys. Director Edwin L. Marin handles the material well, keeping the pedal to the metal at serial-paced speed. Fulton’s special effects are Grade ‘A’ for the era, and he received an Oscar nomination for them. The film, curiously, is produced by two-time Oscar-winning director Frank Lloyd (THE DIVINE LADY, CAVALCADE), usually associated with more prestigious productions.

Square-jawed Jon Hall, Maria Montez’s costar in Universal’s sword-and-sandal epics, is as stalwart a hero as they come. Beautiful Ilona Massey, who was paired with Nelson Eddy in three musicals, makes for a voluptuous spy as Maria. Sir Cedric Hardwicke is downright mean and nasty as the Gestapo chief Stauffer. Lorre plays his Japanese counterpart Baron Ikito, a sinister  menace who threatens to chop off Hall’s fingers with a paper-cutter in the opening scene. J. Edward Bromberg as Nazi Heiser is a treacherous little rat who tries to cut in on Maria while Stauffer’s away (there’s a whimsically funny scene where Maria and the horny Heiser are trying to have dinner, and invisible Frank keeps messing with the Nazi’s head!). Albert Basserman of Hitchcock’s SABOTEUR has a small but strong part as an underground agent. And Familiar Face spotters will have a blast identifying people like Walter Tetley, Phil Van Zandt, and Keye Luke in brief bits.


So now it can be told – The Universal Monsters helped combat The Nazi Terrors, at least in INVISIBLE AGENT, a treat for both horror buffs and 40’s film fans. And remember: the secret password is “Empire Style”!