Halloween Havoc! Extra: Boris Karloff in THE SNAKE PEOPLE (Columbia/Azteca 1971) Complete Horror Movie!

Boris Karloff frightened the nation in 1931’s FRANKENSTEIN , and continued to terrify audiences for over three decades. In 1968, at the age of 81 and suffering from emphysema and crippling arthritis, Boris signed on to do four low-budget horror films for a Mexican production company. Unable to travel, Karloff’s scenes were shot in Hollywood by Jack Hill (SPIDER BABY, THE BIG DOLL HOUSE, SWITCHBLADE SISTERS). These films had a limited release here in the U.S. in 1971, two years after Karloff’s death, then went straight to late night TV.

THE SNAKE PEOPLE is probably the best of the quartet (which admittedly isn’t saying much!), featuring some bizarre imagery, flesh-eating zombies, voodoo rituals, human sacrifice, and other cool stuff! Karloff looks ill (and he was), but still manages to command every scene he’s in. Enjoy a last visit with the King of Horror, Boris Karloff, in THE SNAKE PEOPLE!:

Halloween Havoc!: JUNGLE CAPTIVE (Universal 1945)

The third and final entry in Universal’s Paula Dupree/The Ape Woman series, JUNGLE CAPTIVE was released in 1945. I’m happy to report it’s a slight upgrade on JUNGLE WOMAN – by no means a classic horror movie, but certainly more enjoyable than that wretched sequel to CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN . The budget is lower-than-low, but the performances and script are far better, and it makes a good finale to the Ape Woman saga.

Hulking brute man Moloch, henchman of biochemist Mr. Stendahl (who’s not a doctor, by the way), strangles a morgue attendant and steals the body of the Ape Woman from it’s slab (where we left it in the last film). Inspector Harrigan is called in on the case, and a lab smock found near the abandoned crashed-and-burned meat wagon leads him to Stendahl’s lab, where he encounters pretty assistant Ann and her fiancé Don working (actually, they’re necking when he barges in!. Don becomes a suspect, even more so when Ann doesn’t return home one night. In reality, Stendahl has kidnapped her and brought her to his country estate, planning on reviving the monster by using her blood!

The mad non-doctor succeeds, but Paula is in a semi-catatonic state, so he has Moloch (who feels pity for Ann) kill Dr. Fletcher (remember him from JUNGLE WOMAN?) and steal the diaries of Dr. Walters (remember him from CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN? Yep, we got some continuity going on!). Paula’s “brain is gone”, so Stendahl figures it’s time for a brain transplant… sorry, Ann! When Paula escapes through a window, Moloch rushes to the city to find Stendahl, instead finding Don, who notices his frat pin on Moloch’s lapel, and follows the brute to Stendahl’s place, where things really get ugly…

Acquanetta is gone, replaced here by Vicky Lane, who does well as the snarling beast behind Jack Pierce’s makeup. There’s not much information out there on Miss Lane (1926-1983), except that she made six films (mostly uncredited), was married to volatile actor Tom Neal (DETOUR ) from 1944-49, then to noted jazz musician Pete Candoli from 1953-58, with whom she recorded some jazz singles and an LP, including this sexy number:

As Joe E. Brown said in SOME LIKE IT HOT, “Zowie”! Otto Kruger plays the arrogant not-a-doctor Stendahl, Jerome Cowan is good as the intrepid Harrigan, and Amelita Ward (Leo Gorcey’s spouse) and Phil Brown (STAR WARS’ Uncle Owen) are Ann and Don. Then there’s Rondo Hatton, Universal’s latest horror sensation, playing a variation of his “Creeper” character as the murderous Moloch. I’ll have much more to say about the unfortunate Mr. Hatton on Sunday, I promise, so stay tuned…

Rondo gets his spotlight this Sunday!

Halloween Havoc!: THE MUMMY’S CURSE (Universal 1944)

Okay, how the hell did Kharis and Ananka get from Mapleton, Massachusetts to the Bayous of Louisiana? That question is never answered in THE MUMMY’S CURSE, though I suppose it doesn’t really matter. The Mummy series needed an injection of something, and despite the unexplained change of scenery, this last entry is better than the previous two.

The Federal government is determined to drain the local swamp (how’s THAT for a switch!) down in Cajun Country, when two representatives of the Scripps Museum, Drs. Jim Halsey (Dennis Moore) and Ilzor Zandaab (Peter Coe ) arrive, sent to retrieve the two mummies lost there in our last episode (even though the swamp was in Mapleton then!). Project leader Pat Walsh (Addison Richards) protests, but there’s nothing he can do about it. One of the workers is found murdered, and the rest of the superstitious lot suspect Kharis has returned (“The devil’s on the loose and he’s dancing with The Mummy!”). Unbeknownst to all, Ilzor is actually a High Priest of Arkham, who with his flunky Ragheb (Martin Kosleck ) has arrived to return Kharis and Ananka to Egypt (as Ilzor explains to Ragheb in some stock footage flashbacks from the 1932 and 1940 films).

Kharis is already hidden in an abandoned monetary, but bulldozers unearth Ananka (or is it Amina?) from the clay (in a ghoulish-looking scene). Once she gets cleaned up, we discover she’s…

…Mrs. Olsen from all those 1960’s-70’s Folgers Coffee commercials!

Actually, she’s actress Virginia Christine , with no memory of who she really is or “what I’m doing here” (small wonder, since she’s a long way from Mapleton!). Worker Cajun Joe finds her wandering around muttering “Kharis, Kharis”, and takes her to Tante Berthe’s Café to recuperate. Ragheb sees this and Kharis is sent to bring her to the monastery, killing Tante Berthe in the process. Ananka escapes, and is found on the side of the road by Jim and Betty Walsh (Kay Harding), Pat’s niece/secretary (and how do you “drain the swamp” yet still hire your secretary through nepotism? But I digress…). The mystery woman seems to know a lot about ancient Egyptian history though, but Kharis is sent out again to capture her, killing a doctor this time. She runs, and a search party is sent out, as Cajun Joe gets killed (another gruesome scene), and Kharis recaptures his Princess, In a plot twist, this time it’s flunky Ragheb who succumbs to the temptations of the flesh, as he lures Betty up to the monastery for nefarious reasons. Ilzor calls him on his crap, resulting in a literal stab in the back by Ragheb, and an atmospheric climactic scene where Kharis serves traitorous Ragheb his just desserts, Ananka returns to her mummified state, and the forces of good are triumphant once again.

Though the “Cajun” accents are horrible and the change of setting never explained, THE MUMMY’S CURSE is a satisfying finale to the saga of Kharis and Ananka. Director Leslie Goodwins, primarily associated with comedies (shorts with Edgar Kennedy and Leon Errol, the Lupe Velez/Mexican Spitfire films, sitcoms like MY FAVORITE MARTIAN and GILLIGAN’S ISLAND), ratchets up the horror quotient a few notches, and although many Mummy movie fans don’t hold THE MUMMY’S CURSE in high regard, I’d place it right behind THE MUMMY’S HAND as best of the series. Maybe that’s not saying much, since  the series isn’t really all that great to begin with, but it’s something!

Halloween Havoc!: THE MUMMY’S GHOST (Universal 1944)

THE MUMMY’S GHOST, Kharis the killer mummy’s third time around, finds the plot wearing a bit thin in this rehash, as once again the High Priests of Arkham… wait, what? Arkham? What happened to Karnak? Did the High Priests suddenly change religions? Just another example of continuity shot to hell in this series, though we do get an upgrade in the High Priest department with John Carradine boiling the tanna leaves instead of Turhan Bey .

At least George Zucco as Andoheb is still around to brief Yousef Bey (Carradine) on the plot up til now, dispatching him to Mapleton to fetch back Princess Ananka and Kharis to the temple, though the usual tanna leave spiel is upped from three to nine. There are no more Bannings in Mapleton, but still plenty of victims for Kharis to kill. Frank Reicher is back too, as Professor Norman, giving a lecture on the saga of Kharis to his university students, including 31-year-old Robert Lowery as Tom (probably trying to avoid the draft… there WAS a war going on, remember). Tom’s girlfriend is Egyptian babe Amina (Ramsay Ames), who gets the creeps whenever Egypt is mentioned in an obvious case of foreshadowing.

Norman is experimenting with tanna leaves, which of course brings Kharis back on the scene (looks like he’s packed on a few pounds, too). Kharis kills the old Prof and drinks his tanna tea, and the following morning Amina is found passed out on the front lawn in her nightgown, sporting a streak of white in her hair. Mapleton’s in a tizzy again, with rumors of The Mummy’s return running rampant, and who shows up… yep, Yousef Bey’s in town. Bey hooks up with Kharis and they try to steal Ananka’s body from New York’s  Scripps Museum, but after killing the guard, find Ananka has turned to dust. “Her soul has entered another form”, says Yousef, and I’ll give you three guesses just WHOSE form it is!

Big city Inspector Walgreen (Barton MacLane ) is called in, and after being briefed states, “Sounds like a lot of applesauce to me” in his gruff, Barton MacLane kind of way. Moving on to Mapleton, Walgreen has a plan to capture Kharis (though it’s not a very good one), however, the shambling mummy kidnaps Amina and brings her to Yousef, who suffers from the fatal flaw in all High Priests of Karnak (er, Arkham. Whatever!)… he can’t keep his fez in his pants! Strapping her to a table, Yousef vows to make Amina and himself immortal via Tanna fluid injection, only to be killed by Kharis, who fights off Tom and carries Amina off into a swamp, where they sink into the mire.

Ramsay Ames was a beauty, and a popular G.I. pin-up girl during WWII, but not a great actress. Not even a good one. Lowery is pretty stiff, too, though he managed to have a long career, mostly in Westerns, serials (he was the screen’s second Batman), and on TV as the big-top owner on CIRCUS BOY (co-starring 12-year-old  future Monkee Mickey Dolenz ). Carradine hams it up, MacLane just plays a variation of his gruff cop characterization… in fact, acting honors in this one go to Peanuts, Tom’s faithful little pooch! Director Reginald LeBorg tries to create a chilling atmosphere, but is hampered by the lower-than-usual budget. THE MUMMY’S GHOST is the weakest entry in the story of Kharis and Ananka, but there’s one more to go before we wrap those mummy bandages up for good…

 

 

Halloween Havoc!: THE INVISIBLE MAN’S REVENGE (Universal 1944)

Jon Hall is back as The Invisible Man, but not the same one he played in INVISIBLE AGENT . Like all the Invisible Man movies, THE INVISIBLE MAN’S REVENGE features a new protagonist, as Hall plays Robert Griffin, an escaped mental hospital patient who comes to London seeking his share of a diamond mine after being left for dead in the African jungle by partners Sir Jasper and Irene Herrick. Griffin has returned to get what’s coming to him, and he does… Irene dopes him, and the couple throw the rascal out. Disoriented, Griffin stumbles into a nearby river, where he’s saved from drowning by shady Cockney Herbert Higgins.

Higgins and his disreputable attorney pal try to shake down Jasper, but are confronted by the local chief constable. Griffin’s left to fend for himself, when he stumbles upon the home of Dr. Drury, a scientist experimenting with invisibility on animals. After some scientific mumbo-jumbo, Griffin agrees to act as a human guinea pig for Drury, who successfully turns him transparent. But Griffin leaves him flat and sets out to get his revenge on the Herricks…

Jon Hall was mainly cast in heroic roles, notably in John Ford’s THE HURRICANE and a series of Arabian Nights fantasies with Maria Montez and Sabu. Here he gets a villainous turn, and he’s quite good as the madman Griffin. Too bad Hall didn’t get more horror parts, though later in his career he directed and starred in the 1965 cult film THE BEACH GIRLS AND THE MONSTER. Never really noted for his acting abilities, Hall carries himself well in this programmer.

A restrained John Carradine plays Dr. Drury without his usual horror movie scenery-chewing. Gale Sondergaard makes a sinister Irene, but her role is small. Lester Matthews (THE RAVEN ) tries for sympathy as Sir Jasper, but didn’t  receive any from me. In fact, most of the cast members are unsympathetic due to their backgrounds as written in Bertram Milhauser’s screenplay. As for the romantic leads, Evelyn Ankers gets limited screen time as Julie Herrick, and Alan Curtis as her boyfriend, reporter Mark Foster, is just plain boring.

That leaves veteran comic actor Leon Errol to steal whatever scene he’s in as Herbert. Errol had been spending most of his time making shorts for RKO and supporting Lupe Velez in her “Mexcian Spitfire” films, and he’s given a good showcase here playing Hall’s more-than-slightly crooked confidant. There’s a very funny scene set in a pub involving Errol, an invisible Hall, and a game of darts that allows Leon the opportunity to show off his comedy chops, which he does with his usual expertise.

John P. Fulton’s  special effects in THE INVISIBLE MAN’S REVENGE don’t seem up to his usual high standards, which could be a result of the film’s lower-than-usual budget. Ford Beebe keeps things moving swiftly in the director’s chair, and there are some decent horror parts, but on the whole THE INVISIBLE MAN’S REVENGE is the weakest entry in the series. H.G. Wells’s classic creation, like all the Universal Monsters, would meet Abbott & Costello in 1948’s A&C MEET FRANKENSTEIN , and return with the duo in 1951’s A&C MEET THE INVISIBLE MAN. Then poof, he was gone… not seen again until revived for a 1958 British TV series (where he still wasn’t, uh, seen!).

Halloween Havoc!: JUNGLE WOMAN (Universal 1944)

Paula Dupree, the Ape Woman of CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN , returned in a sequel titled JUNGLE WOMAN a year later. While the former film has a kind of goofy charm to it, the sequel is a wretched concoction that’s not worth the time it’ll take me to write this – but I’m gonna do it anyway, so bear with me!

JUNGLE WOMAN is the very definition of a ‘quickie’, and I don’t mean that in a good way. A good chunk of the film is made up of stock footage from the original, including the stock footage that film used from Clyde Beatty’s THE BIG CAGE. Even so, it took three screenwriters to come up with this nonsense! The movie starts out okay, with a female fiend attacking a man, who gives her an injection, shown in shadow. But it quickly bogs down as we’re at a coroner’s inquest, with Dr. Carl Fletcher being held responsible for the death of Paula Dupree. Flashbacks (and that stock footage) tell the tale of what happened the night Cheela the gorilla was shot – but not killed, as we thought! Fletcher nursed the ape back to health, and bought Walters’ old Crestview Sanitarium. Cheela disappears, and Paula shows up, as do Fletcher’s daughter Joan and her fiancé Bob.

The mute Paula finally speaks when she gets a load of Bob – which was a big mistake, since Acquanetta (as Paula) has trouble with even her limited dialog. Bob and Joan take a moonlight canoe ride, and their boat mysteriously capsizes. Joan claims “something” was trying to drown her, and simpleton handyman Willie is suspected. But when Willie is discovered dead, Fletcher realizes The Ape Woman is on the loose…

Acquanetta is pretty bad (and she doesn’t even turn into the monster until the bitter end, when she’s already dead and lying on a morgue slab!), but romantic leads Lois Collier (Joan) and Richard Davis (Bob) are even worse. J. Carrol Naish manages to draw some sympathy for his character Dr. Fletcher, not an easy task, given the ludicrous dialog. Speaking of dialog, Evelyn Ankers gets top billing here, yet speaks less than fifty words (excluding the stock footage) at the inquest – and yes, I counted! Milburn Stone is back as Fred Mason, horror fan favorite Samuel S. Hinds is the coroner, Douglass Dumbrille the DA, and ex-cowboy star/future PLAN 9 participant Tom Keene plays a fingerprint man (under the screen name Richard Powers). Eddie Hyans makes an inauspicious film debut as Willie, who’s obviously patterned after Lenny in OF MICE AND MEN, but reminds me instead of an old Warner Brothers cartoon:

 Bad as JUNGLE WOMAN is (and it’s bad), Universal soon came up with a third chapter in the Paula Dupree/Ape Woman saga. Is it any better than this turkey? Put it this way: it can’t be any worse!

Halloween Havoc!: SON OF DRACULA (Universal 1943)


Director Robert Siodmak is remembered today for his dark excursions into the world of film noir: THE SUSPECT, THE KILLERS , CRY OF THE CITY, CRISS CROSS . His first entry in the genre is generally recognized as 1944’s PHANTOM LADY , but a case could be made for SON OF DRACULA, Siodmak’s only Universal Horror that combines elements of both genres into what could best be described as supernatural noir.

A train pulls into the station in a sleepy Louisiana town. Frank Stanley (Robert Paige) and Dr. Brewster (Frank Craven ) are there to meet Count Alucard, invited for a visit by Kay Caldwell (Louise Albritton), Frank’s fiancé, who has long been interested in the occult. Alucard isn’t aboard, but his trunks are, and Brewster notices Alucard spelled backwards reads as Dracula. The trunks are delivered to Kay’s family plantation, Dark Oaks. The scene shifts, and we meet Kay speaking with old Queen Zimba (Adeline DeWalt Reynolds), a Hungarian gypsy woman who warns, “The Angel of Death hovers over a great house… I see you marrying a corpse, living in a grave…”.

A grand party is held that night at Dark Oaks, a reception for the visiting Count. Frank expresses his concerns about Kay’s growing interest in occult matters, but she cryptically tells him “what I’m doing is best for both (of us)”. Alucard remains a no-show, but we know he’s present, as he pays a late night visit to Kay’s father Col. Caldwell, who’s pronounced dead of a heart attack, though Brewster notices two puncture wounds on his throat. Count Alucard (Lon Chaney Jr. ) then announces his arrival shortly after the guests depart. Brewster later places a call to his old friend, occult expert Professor Laszlo (J. Edward Bromberg ).

At the reading of the will, Kay’s sister Claire (Evelyn Ankers ) inherits all the monies, while Kay becomes the sole owner of Dark Oaks. Nightfall arrives, and Kay meets Alucard in private, his coffin rising from the swamp, a mist bringing him to corporeal form, gliding across the murky water to her. Frank spies the two, and follows them to a Justice of the Peace, where they are wed. Barging in on them at Dark Oaks, Frank is easily overpowered by the Count. The startled Frank pulls his gun and shoots, his bullets passing right through Alucard and striking down Kay. Unnerved and in shock, Frank runs to Brewster’s home, telling the doctor, “I don’t even know if it’s real, maybe it’s a nightmare or something!”.

Brewster investigates at Dark Oaks, and makes a shocking discovery: Kay is alive! Alucard warns the doctor off, forbidding visitors, stating he’s “engaged in some scientific research and do not wish to be disturbed… anyone who enters here without my permission will be considered a trespasser”. Frank confesses murder to the local sheriff, and those involved head to Dark Oaks – where Kay’s dead body is found resting in the family crypt! Laszlo comes to town, and after being updated is convinced Dracula (or his descendant) is on the loose, a fact confirmed when the Count materializes before the two men. Frank, currently locked in jail, is paid a visit in his cell by Kay, who reveals her goal all along has been to make them both immortal, and for him to destroy the only thing that stands in their way – Alucard…

Siodmak’s tight shots and cinematographer George Robinson’s deep shadows bring a claustrophobic quality that would be the envy of any film noir. The eerie, moss-covered grounds of Dark Oaks give the film a Southern Gothic look that compares favorably to titles like DARK WATERS and NIGHT OF THE HUNTER . Eric Taylor’s script (from a story by Robert Siodmak’s brother Curt) makes Frank a true noir protagonist, trapped in a nightmarish downward spiral by femme fatale Kay. The feverish, downbeat ending is no “happily ever after” fantasy where the lovers embrace, as in most Universal Horrors, but instead Frank’s only way out.

Much has been written about Lon Chaney Jr.’s interpretation of the Count. most of it unfavorable. I disagree with those who slam the performance, and will go as far as saying that, besides his Larry Talbot/Wolf Man character, this is his finest Universal Horror role. He may not be a suave sophisticated vampire like Lugosi, but Chaney does give an imperious bearing to his Count, his voice conveying an ominous tone despite his American inflections.  Chaney’s vampire is the most physical of the Universal Draculas, giving us a full-blooded (pardon the pun) Count that paves the way for Christopher Lee’s later work for Hammer. This Dracula is evil incarnate, coming to America with a purpose, to obtain fresh new blood, and it’s among Lon’s best horror roles, deserving of reassessment.

The story is slowly and deliberately paced, the least serial-like of the 1940’s Universal Horrors, which is strange in itself considering the producer is serial king Ford Beebe. I’d go as far as saying SON OF DRACULA, with its film noir look and feel, is the one of the best Universal Horrors of the 40’s, still able to send shivers down the spines of horror aficionados, and should be essential Halloween viewing for lovers of the macabre – like you!

Halloween Havoc! Book Extra: DARK DETECTIVES (Edited by Stephen Jones; Titan Books paperback 2015)


Back in September, I was browsing at the local Barnes & Noble (as I frequently do, given the lack of independent bookstores around here) looking for something to review this Halloween season. I’d just finished with Stephen King’s REVIVAL (Pocket Books paperback, 2017), and while it’s good, everybody does King this time of year, and I wanted something different. I wandered through the fantasy section, and waaaay up on the top shelf I spotted a title that caught my interest. DARK DETECTIVES: An Anthology of Supernatural Mysteries, combining two of my favorite genres, horror and detective fiction! Curiosity piqued, I grabbed the book and bought it (along with the great James Lee Burke’s latest novel, ROBICHEAUX).

DARK DETECTIVES, first published as a limited edition in 1999, features ten short stories, some old, some written especially for the anthology, by authors I’m familiar with (and I assume you are too, if you’re into horror fiction): names like Clive Barker, R. Chetwynd-Hayes, Neil Gaiman, Brian Lumley, and Manly Wade Wellman. Interspersed between these stories of supernatural sleuthing is Kim Newman’s serial “Seven Stars”, based loosely on Bram Stoker’s novel JEWEL OF THE SEVEN STARS, using it as a starting point to tell a Lovecraftian tale  that spans the centuries. Each chapter features one of Newman’s creations battling against the other-worldly power of the jewel: Charles Beauregard and Edwin Winthrop of The Diogenes Club, the 70’s-styled sleuth Richard Jeperson, futuristic Jerome Rhodes (aka Dr. Shade), and the vampiress Genevieve Dieudonne. There are some amazing twists and turns in this 187-page novella, and it will definitely hold the interest of any horror aficionado.

The other stories are quite good as well, some more on the detective side (Peter Tremayne’s “Our Lady of Death”, Basil Copper’s Sherlock Holmes pastiche “The Adventure of the Crawling Horror”), others out-and-out horror (Lumley’s “Dr. Marigny’s Clock”, Brian Mooney’s “Vultures Gather”, Barker’s “Lost Souls”, Gaiman’s prose poem “Bay Wolf”), all guaranteed to keep you up at night. Another thing about DARK DETECTIVES that was fun for me is the connection between the stories and film. Stoker’s original “Seven Stars” was made into a Hammer film in 1971 (BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY’S TOMB ), Chetwyn-Hayes’s short stories have been adapted into the horror portmanteaus FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE and THE MONSTER CLUB, and Barker is well-known as a filmmaker in his own right (HELLRAISER, NIGHTBREED, LORDS OF ILLUSION). Some of the stories also feature famous film luminaries along the way, Familiar Faces like John Barrymore, Errol Flynn, Peter Lorre, John Carradine, and… John Wayne??? Wait, what’s The Duke doing among all this Lovecraftian weirdness, you may well ask – but you’ll have to read Marty Burns’s “The Man Who Shot The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” to find that out!

An example of Randy Broecker’s artwork

Illustrations by noted fantasy artist Randy Broecker accompany each spooky story. Editor Stephen Jones, winner of the Lifetime Achievement Award from the prestigious Horror Writers Association, has complied another wonderful collection of creepiness sure to please the horror lover in all of you. I suggest you scan your own local B&N, or wherever you may go to get your literary horror fix, and pick up a copy soon as you can, gather by the fireplace with your favorite beverage, and be prepared to let some spellbinding authors carry you to places you dare not go alone!

Halloween Havoc!: THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (Universal 1943)

Universal’s 1943 remake of the 1925 Lon Chaney Sr. classic THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA is definitely an ‘A’ movie in every way. A lavish Technicolor production with an ‘A’ list cast (Claude Rains, Nelson Eddy, Susanna Foster) and opulent sets (including the Opera House interiors built for the ’25 silent), it’s the only Universal Horror to win an Oscar – actually two, for Art Direction and Cinematography. Yet I didn’t really like it the first time I saw it. It’s only through repeated viewings I’ve softened my stance and learned to appreciate the film.

Claude Rains’s performance in particular has made me a convert. As Erique Claudin, he’s a sympathetic figure, and one can’t help but feel sorry for him. When he’s let go from the orchestra by the maestro, after twenty long years as a violinist, his arthritis causing his playing to become subpar, I felt pity for a man who gave so much for his art. Though he commits the murder of the publisher he believes has stolen his concerto, Erique didn’t deserve to have acid flung in his face by an angry secretary. His howls are that of a wounded animal as he escapes into the sewers below the streets of Paris. Rains, with his black cloak and hat, his grotesque face covered by a stage mask, cuts a fine figure as The Phantom. His only motivation is to further the career of budding soprano Christine, whom he’s loved from afar, and he’s determined to eliminate everything that stands in the way of that goal. His mind has become as scarred as his face, and like the best of monsters, he’s a figure to be pitied, not hated.

Nelson Eddy (Anatole) and Susanna Foster (Christine) are in fine voice; even though opera’s not really my thing, I can certainly appreciate their talents. I could do without the love triangle with Christine, Anatole, and Inspector Raoul Dubert (Edgar Barrier), but it’s necessary to the plot as constructed by writers Eric Taylor and Samuel Hoffenstein, who took several liberties with Gaston Leroux’s 1910 novel in order to fit in Universal’s newest star Eddy, who’d recently left MGM after seven years under contract.

A better-than-average supporting cast features J. Edward Bromberg , Leo Carrillo , a young Hume Cronyn , Jane Farrar, Fritz Feld, Steven Geray, Miles Mander, Frank Puglia, and Special Guest Star Franz Liszt! Actually, it’s not the famous composer (who’d been dead since 1886), but actor Fritz Leiber (father of science fiction writer Fritz Leiber Jr. ), who plays an important part in the proceedings. The score by Edward Ward consists of original operatic music especially composed for the film (though better ears than mine will notice some Tchaikovsky and Bach thrown in), and was also Oscar nominated (but lost to THIS IS THE ARMY, a patriotic flag-waver based on the music of Irving Berlin).

Director Arthur Lubin took time off from helming Abbott & Costello vehicles to make PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, and does a fine job. The famous chandelier scene is thrillingly staged, and the unmasking of The Phantom deep inside the catacombs (a highlight of the ’25 version) is sufficiently gruesome, although Jack Pierce’s makeup can’t hold a candle to Chaney’s iconic original. I admire the film today, with reservations. It’s more a Nelson Eddy/Susanna Foster vehicle than Universal Horror, and I would’ve liked to have seen more emphasis on Claude Rains’s Phantom. As it stands, it’s an uneven but interesting and watchable entry in the history of the horror film.  

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!: