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!: 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!: GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN (Universal 1942)

The success of Universal’s SON OF FRANKENSTEIN meant a sequel was inevitable, and the studio trotted out GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN three years later. Horror stalwarts Bela Lugosi (as the broken-necked Ygor) and Lionel Atwill (although in a decidedly different role than the previous film) were back, but for the first time it wasn’t Boris Karloff under Jack Pierce’s monster makeup. Instead, Lon Chaney Jr., fresh off his triumph as THE WOLF MAN , stepped into those big asphalter’s boots as The Monster. But while SON OF was an ‘A’ budget production, GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN begins The Monster’s journey into ‘B’ territory.

Old Ygor is still alive and well, “playing his weird harp” at deserted Castle Frankenstein. The villagers (including Dwight Frye! ) are in an uproar (as villagers are wont to do), complaining “the curse of Frankenstein” has left them in poverty, and storm the castle to blow it up once and for all. The Monster gets jarred loose from his sulfur-pit grave, in a weakened condition (and without his fur vest), and escapes with Ygor into the night. A storm is brewing (because that’s how things go in these movies), and The Monster reaches out to the lightning. “Your father was Frankenstein, but your mother was the lightning”, says Ygor, and they’re off to see The Wizard… actually, to see Ludwig, “the second son of Frankenstein”.

Ludwig von Frankenstein lives at an estate in the village of Vasaria, specializing in “Diseases of the Mind” (it says so right on the sign). Ludwig and his two assistants, Drs. Bohmer and Kettering, perform a successful brain operation, but Bohmer harbors deep resentments (“in those days, I was the master, Frankenstein was just a pupil…. but I made a slight miscalculation”). Meanwhile, Ygor and The Monster arrive in Vasaria, asking a pretty young villager for directions to Frankenstein’s home (and the fact she doesn’t flee in terror at the sight of these two boggles the mind!). When The Monster helps the little child Cloestine retrieve her ball from a rooftop, he shows compassion… which is more than the villagers show, as a cadre of cops subdue him.

Village prosecutor Erick, who happens to be Ludwig’s daughter Elsa von Frankenstein’s boyfriend (what a coincidence!), asks Ludwig to examine the “madman” who’s “already killed two villagers”. When Erick leaves, Ygor appears, asking Ludwig to “harness the lightning” and return his friend to full strength, or he’ll spill the beans about Ludwig’s true ancestry (although the name Frankenstein is probably a dead giveaway). At the inquest, The Monster recognizes his ‘brother’ Ludwig and breaks free of his chains, escaping with Ygor in a waiting cart. Meanwhile, Elsa finds her grandfather’s diary on Ludwig’s desk and begins reading, giving the filmmakers the opportunity to utilize stock footage from the 1931 classic (and giving Dwight Frye the opportunity to appear in two different roles!).

The dastardly duo return to Frankenstein’s lab, where The Monster kills Dr. Kettering. Ludwig turns on the “knockout gas” to render them unconscious (and his own daughter in the process). Ludwig decides the only way to stop this madness is to “dissect” The Monster, but receives a ghostly visitation from his father (hence the title), and changes his plan: he’ll remove The Monster’s criminal brain and transplant the brain of Dr. Kettering! Ygor protests, wanting instead his own brain transplanted in The Monster’s body, and The Monster himself has an idea of his own… use Cloestine’s little brain! The sneaky Dr. Bohmer conspires with Ygor, and they pull a switcheroo, and Ygor now has “the strength of a hundred men” (and speaks with the voice of Lugosi!). But The Ygor Monster goes blind, result of a wrong blood type, and goes berserk just as the villagers blow the whole place to Kingdom Come!

Despite my glibness, GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN is an enjoyable entry in the Universal Horror canon. The main problem is Scott Darling’s silly script, but the all-star cast of horror veterans and director Erle C. Kenton (ISLAND OF LOST SOULS) somehow make it work.  Lugosi’s Ygor is one of his classic roles, and Atwill as Dr. Bohmer shows once again why he was the best mad doctor in the business. Sir Cedric Hardwicke (THE INVISIBLE MAN RETURNS ) takes his Ludwig von Frankenstein seriously, and WOLF MAN costars Ralph Bellamy and Evelyn Ankers are lovers Erick and Elsa. Little Janet Ann Gallow (Cloestine) is expressionless and wooden, but like Donnie Donagan in SON OF…, she’s just a kid, so I’ll cut her a break.

As for Lon Chaney Jr. as The Monster, he really isn’t given much to do besides bring his imposing physical presence and brute strength to the part. He doesn’t even get to grunt like Karloff, but that may be due to The Monster’s weakened condition. Later in the film, after the brain transplant takes place, Lon perks up a bit, miming the words overdubbed by Lugosi. This change in character leads directly to the next sequel, FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN… or rather, it was supposed to, as we’ll find out…

Halloween Havoc!: THE MAD GHOUL (Universal 1943)

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I’m pressed for time, so no 1000 word essay tonight. Instead, let’s look at one of Universal’s lesser horror films, THE MAD GHOUL. The movie’s a “stand alone”, not connected to any of the studio’s monster series (Frankenstein, etc). I chose it because it stars one of horror’s unsung stars, George Zucco. The bug-eyed British character actor with the smooth delivery plied his trade in A list films (THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME) and Grade-Z clunkers (SCARED TO DEATH). He was the evil high priest Andoheb in three of Universal’s Mummy movies, Professor Moriarty in THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES, and played a pivotal role in the monster fest HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN. Like his contemporary (and frequent costar) Bela Lugosi, Zucco wasn’t picky about where he worked, getting top billing in a string of PRC chillers. In THE MAD GHOUL, Zucco gives his best performance in a gruesome little tale about bringing “death to life”, graverobbery, and murder.

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The plot concerns college instructor Dr. Morris (Zucco) recreating a “poison gas” used by the Mayans to put people in a zombie-like state. The only way to revive them however, is by combining certain herbs with fluids from a fresh heart. His assistant Ted (David Bruce) is exposed to the gas and becomes a fiend. Ted has a girlfriend Isabelle (Evelyn Ankers of course), a singer also loved by Morris. When she confides to Morris she doesn’t love Ted anymore, the doctor thinks she wants him and exposes Ted to the zombie gas to get him out of the way. But it’s not the vain doctor she loves, it’s her pianist Eric (Turhan Bey). But Ted’s zombieism can’t be reversed without fresh hearts,  so Morris and Ted go on a graverobbing and murder spree, as they follow Isabelle on her concert tour.

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The cast also features King Kong’s Robert Armstrong as a hot-shot reporter, Milburn Stone of TV’s GUNSMOKE as a cop, and  tough guy Charles McGraw as his partner. It’s Universal’s most out-there 40s films, with it’s ghastly subject matter well ahead of its time. The director is James Hogan, better known for his Bulldog Drummond and Ellery Queen mysteries. This was Hogan’s first foray into horror, and sadly his last; he died soon after making this one. THE MAD GHOUL doesn’t get much attention from classic horror fans, but it’s well worth seeking out for a creepy B shocker unlike anything else made in its era. So show some love to George Zucco and THE MAD GHOUL, won’t you? And stay away from the zombie gas!

Halloween Havoc!: THE WOLF MAN (Universal 1941)

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We’re heading down the Halloween Havoc! homestretch and for the last week of October I’ll be dusting of my Universal Classic Horror tapes (yes I still have a VHS player…doesn’t everybody?) From watching them on late night TV to reading about them in “Famous Monsters of Filmland” and “Castle of Frankenstein” magazines, these are the films that got me started as a life-long lover of macabre movies. So let’s take a trip down Monster Memory Lane with one of my personal favorites, THE WOLF MAN.

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Prodigal son Larry Talbot returns to his Welsh home of Llanwelly after spending 18 years in America. Father Sir John Talbot is an astronomer, and through the telescope Larry spies beautiful village girl Gwen Conliffe. Fun loving Larry is captivated by her, so he heads to her father’s antique shop to work his charm on the lass. Larry flirts away,  and on impulse buys a cane with a silver wolf’s head attached. This is where we hear that famous poem for the first time: “Even a man who is pure at heart and says his prayers by night/ May become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms and the Autumn moon is bright”. (I tried to find a YouTube clip but no dice! Sorry!)

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Gwen agrees to go to the gypsy camp to have their fortunes read, dragging along her friend Jenny Williams. When Bela the gypsy reads Jenny’s palm, he sees doom in her future. She’s attacked by a wolf and Larry bashes its head in with his silver cane, getting bit in the process. Gwen and Maleva, gypsy mother of Bela, bring Larry home, but the next day Bela’s dead body is discovered in the wolf’s stead. Larry’s wound is mysteriously gone, in its place a pentagram…the sign of the werewolf!

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Lon Chaney Jr always said Larry Talbot was his “baby”, and the role made him a star at Universal. The transformation from happy-go-lucky Larry to conflicted, morose victim of lycanthropy earned Chaney the title of “The Screen’s Master Character Creator” in Universal’s advertising hype. Chaney is the only actor to portray all the studio’s major monsters: Frankenstein’s Monster, Dracula, and The Mummy, as well as appearing as The Wolf Man in four sequels. His roles in mainstream films like OF MICE AND MEN, HIGH NOON, and THE DEFIANT ONES brought critical acclaim, but Chaney’s lifelong battle with the bottle saw him ending his career in B-Westerns and Al Adamson schlockers. Larry Talbot was his signature role, and his contributions to cinematic horror will not be soon forgotten.

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“A Universal Cast is Worth Repeating” and nowhere is that truer than in THE WOLF MAN. Scream Queen Evelyn Ankers was Universal’s go-to girl when it came to horror, and she’s at her best in this one. Bela the gypsy is of course horror icon Bela Lugosi. Lugosi only gets about two minutes of screen time as the doomed gypsy, but he makes the most of it, playing the part with an understated melancholy. The Invisible Man himself, Claude Rains lends dignity to Sir John, who refuses to believe his son is a werewolf. Also giving a dignified performance is diminutive Russian actress Maria Ouspenskaya as Maleva. The twice Oscar nominated Ouspenskaya returned to the role in the sequel, FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN. Warren William, Patric Knowles, and Fay Helm (the unfortunate Jenny) lend good support, but Ralph Bellamy is annoying as the local constable.

Curt Siodmak wrote the intelligent script. The German immigrant never achieved the success of his brother, director Robert (THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE, THE KILLERS, CRISS CROSS), but was a major figure in the horror genre. His novel Donovan’s Brain is a classic, and his screenplays for THE INVISIBLE MAN RETURNS, I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE, and THE BEAST WITH FIVE FINGERS hold up well. As for his directorial career…well, he was a good writer! George Waggner directed this one, and while his screen career is undistinguished, he found his niche working on television shows like 77 SUNSET STRIP, THE MAN FROM UNCLE, and BATMAN. Makeup artist Jack Pierce created one of his masterpieces for Chaney, and the Wolf Man’s visage still  manages to frighten. THE WOLF MAN ranks with the best of Universal’s 30s classics, and while the recent remake wasn’t all that bad, it was missing one key element. Sorry Benicio Del Toro, but you’re just no Lon Chaney Jr!

Halloween Havoc!: Abbott & Costello in HOLD THAT GHOST (Universal 1941)

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Before they met Frankenstein, The Mummy, or Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, Bud Abbott and Lou Costello made their first foray into scary territory in 1941’s HOLD THAT GHOST. This was the boys’ third released film that year, and one of the team’s all-around best. Bud and Lou are two relief waiters at a swanky nightclub (is there any other kind in theses 40s flicks?). Ted Lewis (“Is everybody happy?”) and his orchestra provide the entertainment, along with singing sensations The Andrews Sisters. Of course the boys get fired because of Lou’s bumbling, and return to their regular jobs as gas pump jockeys. Along comes gangster Moose Matson, and clumsy Lou accidentally fires a gun he finds in Matson’s back seat. This gets the cops attention, and they chase down Matson with Bud and Lou in tow. Matson is killed by the police and, according to his will, the boys (being “the last people with me when I die”)  inherit his roadhouse, the Forrester’s Club.

Left to right: Bud Abbott, Lou Costello, Evelyn Ankers, Joan Davis and Richard Carlson in HOLD THAT GHOST (1941), directed by Arthur Lubin.
Left to right: Bud Abbott, Lou Costello, Evelyn Ankers, Joan Davis and Richard Carlson in HOLD THAT GHOST (1941), directed by Arthur Lubin.

Crooked lawyer Bannister and his associate Charlie Smith are trying to get ahold of Matson’s hidden loot. They set Bud and Lou up with a ride from a disreputable bus service. But the greedy driver books some other fares,including professional radio “screamer” Camille Brewster, pretty young Norma Lind, and nerdy scientist Dr. Jackson. The driver strands them all at the Forrester’s Club, a spooky, cobweb-infested, rundown hotel. That’s when the fun begins, as they encounter dead bodies, hidden rooms, clutching hands, and the usual things one finds in “old, dark house” movies. The boys end up finding the hidden money and chase off the villians. Dr. Jackson discovers the waters at the roadhouse have “miraculous therapeutic powers”, and the duo turn the old place into their own swanky nightclub, complete with Ted Lewis and company. The Andrews Sisters swing out to their hit “Aurora” and ‘everybody’s happy’ at the end.

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Abbott and Costello were at their peak in this entry, and their incredible wordplay still astounds me. I especially enjoyed the “figure of speech” routine, aided by funny girl Joan Davis (Camille). Davis, a veteran of radio and vaudeville, more then holds her own with Lou in the slapstick department, almost stealing the film. Their comic dance sequence is hysterical, as is the old “moving candle” routine (later reprised in ABBOT & COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN, on top of Dracula’s coffin). Joan Davis went on to star in the early 50s television sitcom I MARRIED JOAN, and passed away in 1961.

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A Universal cast is worth repeating, and this film’s no exception. The studio’s resident “Scream Queen” Evelyn Ankers plays Norma, and shows a comedic side not usually seen in her fright films. Richard Carlson (Dr. Jackson) was just beginning his picture career, which would take him to sci-fi fame in CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON and It Came From Outer Space. Mischa Auer, Shemp Howard, Marc Lawrence, Milton Parsons, and Thurston Hall all add to the fun. The animated title sequence may (or may not) be by “Woody Woodpecker” creator Walter Lantz (I can’t find any info on this….does anyone out there know?). HOLD THAT GHOST holds its own in the spooky deserted house creepstakes and it’s a funny showcase for stars Abbott & Costello and comedienne Joan Davis. Watch it with the kids this Halloween!!

And now here’s a link to The Andrews Sisters singing their hit song “Aurora”!!

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