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 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!: THE MUMMY’S HAND (Universal 1940)

Universal revived The Mummy in 1940’s THE MUMMY’S HAND, but except for the backstory (and judicious use of stock footage), there’s no relation to the 1932 Karloff classic . Instead of Imhotep we’re introduced to Kharis, the undead killing machine, as the High Priest of Karnak (Eduardo Cianelli in old age makeup) relates the tale of Princess Ananka, whose tomb is broken into by Kharis, who steals the sacred tanna leaves to try and bring her back to life. Kharis gets busted, and is condemned to be buried alive! For he “who shall defile the temple of the gods, a cruel and violent death shall be his fate, and never shall his soul find rest for all eternity. Such is the curse of Amon-Ra, king of all the gods”. So there!

The High Priest croaks, making Andoheb (George Zucco ) the new High Priest. Meanwhile in Cairo, Americans Steve Banning (Dick Foran ) and his Brooklyn buddy Babe Jensen (Wallace Ford ) are stranded and trying to get home. Banning, an unemployed archeologist, buys an unusual cracked piece of pottery at the bazaar, and brings it to his friend Professor Petrie (Charles Trowbridge) at the Cairo Museum. Steve knows the hieroglyphic markings point the way to the Hill of the Seven Jackals, where lies Ananka’s tomb, and wants funding for an expedition that’ll bring fame and fortune, and return him to the good graces of New York’s Scripps Museum.

But wait, who’s that? Why, it’s ‘Professor’ Andoheb, who scoffs at Steve’s find, calling it a forgery and refusing funding, so Steve and Babe seek alternative backing. A chance meeting with a magician from Brooklyn named Solvani the Great (Cecil Kellaway in an amusing performance) leads to the boys talking the adventurous prestidigitator into a partnership, much to the chagrin of his beautiful daughter Marta (Peggy Moran), who’s been told by Andoheb the Americans are a couple of swindlers out to fleece dear old dad and leave him for dead! Marta is won over by Steve’s manly charm (as you knew she would be), and the expedition gets underway.

Steve, Babe, Marta, Solvani, and Petrie (who’s along for verification) find an opening and break the cursed seal, causing the native diggers to run off in fear, except for brave Ali (Leon Belasco). Inside, they find the sarcophagus of Kharis and a vat full of tanna leaves (“they smell like clover”, according to Steve, in case you were wondering). While Petrie examines Kharis’s body alone, guess who pops up? Yep, it’s Andoheb, vowing vengeance, and ordering Kharis to kill the poor prof. Now the mad Andoheb sets Kharis loose to dish out that “cruel and violent death” curse, while setting his own sights on the lovely Marta…

The script by Griffin Jay and Maxwell Shane has some gaps in logic and character continuity, but not enough to distract anyone from enjoying this fantastic and fun film. Christy Cabanne’s direction is workmanlike, but he keeps things moving along at a brisk pace. Cowboy star Tom Tyler resembled Karloff enough to match the footage used from the ’32 film, and he makes a demented monster (Tyler would later portray Fawcett Comics’ superstar CAPTAIN MARVEL in the 1941 serial). Foran makes a burly hero, and Moran a fine Scream Queen. Wallace Ford (Babe) is the comic relief; he was a top character actor in films from the early thirties to 1965’s A PATCH OF BLUE. Ford’s horror credits include the classic FREAKS , a pair of Bela Lugosi shockers (MYSTERIOUS MR. WONG and THE APE MAN), and a reprisal of his role here in the sequel THE MUMMY’S TOMB.

Bug-eyed George Zucco has what I think is his best horror part as Andoheb, the mad priest of Karnak in charge of Kharis. Zucco was a respected character actor during the 30’s, and made a fine Professor Moriarty in THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES. But during the 40’s, the actor seemed to take any role available, and starred in some real dreck at Monogram and PRC. In THE MUMMY’S HAND, Zucco is restrained, and his Andoheb is a creepy character indeed, especially when he’s lusting after Peggy Moran (but then, who can blame him?).

THE MUMMY’S HAND was popular enough to merit a series of Kharis pictures and we’ll discuss each of them this Halloween season, but it won’t be Tom Tyler behind the bandages. Instead, it’s Universal’s newest horror star… Lon Chaney Jr!

 

Cleaning Out the DVR #19: Things To Watch When You Have Flumonia!

So I’ve been laid up with the flu/early stage pneumonia/whateverthehellitis for the past few days, which seemed like a  good excuse to clean out the DVR by watching a bunch of random movies:

Bette Davis & Jimmy Cagney in “Jimmy the Gent”

JIMMY THE GENT (Warner Brothers 1934; D: Michael Curtiz ) –  Fast paced James Cagney vehicle has Jimmy as the head of a shady “missing heir” racket, with Bette Davis as his ex-girl, now working for his classy (but grabby!) rival Alan Dinehart. Allen Jenkins returns once again as Cagney’s sidekick, and Alice White is a riot as Jenkins’s ditzy dame. Some funny dialog by Bertram Milhauser in this one, coming in at the tail-end of the Pre-Code era. Cagney’s always worth watching, even in minor fare like this one. Fun Fact: Cagney’s battles with boss Jack Warner over better roles were legendary, and the actor went out and got a Teutonic-style haircut right before shooting began, just to piss the boss off!  

Dwight Frye & George Zucco in “Dead Men Walk”

DEAD MEN WALK (PRC 1943; D: Sam Newfield) – Perennial second stringer George Zucco starred in a series of shockers as PRC’s answer to Monogram’s Bela Lugosi series . Here he plays twins, one a good doctor, the other a vampire risen from the grave to enact his gruesome revenge. Despite the ultra-low budget (PRC made Monogram look like MGM!), it’s a surprisingly effective chiller due to some ingenious camerawork from Newfield. Much of the film’s plot elements are borrowed (some would say stolen) from Universal’s DRACULA , including casting Dwight Frye as the vampire’s loyal servant. Fun Fact: Romantic lead Nedrick Young later won a Best Story Oscar for Stanley Kramer’s 1958 THE DEFIANT ONES, which featured another horror icon, Lon Chaney Jr.

LADIES DAY (RKO 1943; D: Leslie Goodwins) – Broad baseball comedy (no pun intended) about star pitcher Eddie Albert , who is easily distracted by pretty women, falling for movie star Lupe Velez . They get hitched, and the other player’s wives band together to kidnap her and keep them apart so Eddie can concentrate on winning the World Series! Silly but enjoyable farce elevated by a cast of comic pros: Patsy Kelly, Iris Adrian , Joan Barclay, Max Baer Sr, Jerome Cowan , Cliff Clark, and Tom Kennedy (Nedrick Young’s in this one, too… a banner year for the actor!). Maybe not a classic, but a whole lot of fun, especially for baseball buffs like me. Fun Fact: Director Goodwins has a cameo as (what else?) a movie director.

MYSTERY STREET (MGM 1950; D: John Sturges ) – Tight little ‘B’ noir as a Boston bar girl’s (Jan Sterling) skeletal remains are discovered on Cape Cod, and police Lt. Ricardo Montalban tries to piece together the murder puzzle with the help of a Harvard forensics professor (Bruce Bennett) and some good old-fashioned detective work. Early effort from Sturges benefits from excellent John Alton photography and a script co-written by Richard Brooks . Elsa Lanchester is a standout as a blackmailing landlady among a strong cast (Betsy Blair, Walter Burke, Sally Forrest, Marshall Thompson, Willard Waterman). Fun Fact: Filmed in Boston, and many of the neighborhood sights are still recognizable almost 70 years later to those familiar with the Olde Towne.

Victor Buono as “The Strangler”

THE STRANGLER (Allied Artists 1964; D: Burt Topper) – Lurid psychological thriller stars Victor Buono in his best screen performance as a sexually repressed, schizoid psycho-killer with a creepy doll fetish. Ellen Corby plays his domineering, invalid mother. Cheap, tawdry, sensationalistic, and definitely worth watching! Fun Fact: Lots of old horror hands worked behind the scenes on this one: DP Jacques Marquette (ATTACK OF THE 50 FOOT WOMAN ), Art Director Eugene Lourie (director of THE GIANT BEHEMOTH and GORGO), Editor Robert Eisen (INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS ), and makeup man Wally Westmore (WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE, WAR OF THE WORLDS).

HYSTERIA (MGM/Hammer 1965; D: Freddie Francis ) – This Hitchcockian homage gives character actor Robert Webber a rare starring role as an amnesia victim embroiled in a GASLIGHT-like murder plot. Director Francis’s keen eye for composition hide the budget restraints, and producer/writer Jimmy Sangster’s script pulls out all the stops, but I couldn’t help but wonder while watching what The Master of Suspense himself could have done with the material. As it is, a fine but minor piece of British noir with horror undertones. Fun Fact: Australian composer Don Banks’s jazzy score aids in setting the overall mood.

BEN (Cinerama 1972; D: Phil Karlson ) – Sequel to the previous year’s horror hit WILLARD is okay, but nowhere near the original. Crazy Bruce Davison is replaced by lonely little Lee Hartcourt Montgomery, an annoying kid (no wonder he’s lonely!) who befriends Ben and his creepy rat posse. The rodents cause havoc at the grocery (“Rats! Millions of ’em! At the supermarket!”) and a health spa in some too-brief scenes, but on the whole this looks and feels like a TV movie, right down to it’s small screen cast (Meredith Baxter, Joseph Campanella, Kaz Garas, Rosemary Murphy, Arthur O’Connell, Norman Alden). We do get genre vet Kenneth Tobey (THE THING ) in a bit as a city engineer, and the climax will remind you of THEM! , but like most sequels, this one fails to satisfy. Stick with the original. Fun Fact: Montgomery would grow out of his annoying stage and become an 80’s heartthrob in GIRLS JUST WANT TO HAVE FUN.

And now, here’s Michael Jackson singing the cloying love theme from BEN at the film’s conclusion. Rats – yuchh!:

Halloween Havoc!: HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (Universal 1944)

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Frankenstein’s Monster! The Wolf Man! Dracula! The Mad Doctor! The Hunchback! And just about every classic horror film trope you can think of! They’re all here in Universal’s “Monster Rally” HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN! Throwing everything scary they could think of at you but a kitchen sink full of spiders, Universal decided if one monster was good, five is better. Boris Karloff as mad Dr.Neimann leads the parade of horror all-stars that includes Lon Chaney Jr (The Wolf Man), John Carradine (Dracula), Lionel Atwill (Inspector Arnz), and George Zucco  (Professor Lampini).

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The movie is laid out like a serial, with the chapters kept moving swiftly along by director Erle C. Kenton. Neimann and his hunchbacked assistant Daniel escape from prison and come across Professor Lampini’s traveling Chamber of Horrors. Lampini claims to have the skeletal remains of the original Count Dracula, and he and Neimann discuss vampire lore. When Lampini refuses to take the pair to Reigleburg, Daniel kills him and his driver. Neimann’s on two missions: one to find the secret diary of Dr. Frankenstein, and the other to exact revenge on the men who imprisoned him. Hussman is the burgomeister of Reigleburg, and when Neimann sees him, he inadvertently pulls the stake from Dracula’s remains. The Count returns to life, and strikes a bargain with Neimann. Dracula (using the alias Baron Latos) offer a ride in his coach to Hussman, grandson Karl, and Karl’s wife Rita. After killing the old burgomeister, Dracula kidnaps Rita. Karl calls Inspector Arnz and his men, and they hunt the vampire down. Dracula is destroyed when he can’t make it to his coffin before sunrise, but Neimann and Daniel escape and move on to the town of Frankenstein.

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They stop at a gypsy camp where Daniel is enamored by the beautiful dancing gypsy Ilonka. She’s beaten by her man, and Daniel nearly kills him. Neimann reluctantly lets her go with them as they search the grounds of Castle Frankenstein. Discovering a “glacial ice cavern”, they find both Frankenstein’s notebook and the frozen remains of The Monster and The Wolf Man. Thawing them out, the group head for Vasaria and Neimann’s old lab.

Neimann and Daniel abduct Strauss and Ullman, the last two men responsible for Neimann’s sentence. The doctor announces his plan to put The Wolf Man’s brain in Strauss’s body and Ullman’s in the Monster. Things get hectic as Larry Talbot keeps changing back and forth into the Wolf Man, Ilonka falls in love with Larry, Daniel gets jealous, and the Monster is revived. The final striggle finds the Monster dragging Neimann to his doom in the quicksand laden marshes.

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J. Carrol Naish steals the acting honors from the horror vets as Daniel. Naish was a superb character actor who was nominated for Oscars twice (SAHARA, A MEDAL FOR BENNY). He played ethnic parts well: Italian, Arab, even Chinese, but was an Irishman from New York himself. Naish’s last film was also with Chaney, DRACULA VS FRANKENSTEIN (1971). Elena Verdugo, Anne Gwynne, Glenn Strange, Peter Coe, Sig Ruman, and Phillip Van Zandt also appear in HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN. Hans J. Salter’s music score is one of the best in horror pics, and George Robinson’s moody camerawork sets the spooky tone. Two more sequels were made, HOUSE OF DRACULA and ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN,then the Universal Monsters were seen no more. Giant bugs and outer space aliens took their place, until Universal released their monstrous backlog of movies to television in the late 50s, where they found a new audience of mostly kids eager to be scared by the old boogeymen. The Monster Boom was back on, and soon there was “Famous Monsters” magazine and TV horror hosts from coast to coast and Bobby ‘Boris’ Pickett singing The Monster Mash. The Universal Horrors are still going strong today, thanks to DVDs and TCM and readers like you, still interested in watching them and reading about them. Thus ends a month-long series of “Halloween Havoc!” Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go watch some horror films!

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!