Halloween Havoc!: HOUSE OF HORRORS (Universal 1946)


Rondo Hatton (1894-1946) was dubbed by “The Ugliest Man in Hollywood” by Universal for his repulsive visage. Originally a Tampa-based sportswriter, Hatton began developing the disease acromegaly as a young adult, a form of gigantism which distorts the facial features and bone structure (wrestler Andre the Giant suffered from this). Rondo moved to Hollywood and got work as a film extra and some bit parts (he can be spotted in SAFE IN HELL , IN OLD CHICAGO, THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME (’39 version), and THE OX BOW INCIDENT, among others).

1944’s “The Pearl of Death”

Hatton played “The Hoxton Creeper” in the 1944 Sherlock Holmes entry THE PEARL OF DEATH (with Universal Scream Queen Evelyn Ankers as a villainess, for a change), then proceeded to scare the daylights out of audiences in JUNGLE CAPTIVE and THE SPIDER WOMAN STRIKES BACK. While not a trained actor, his unique looks made him a perfect fit for horror. Hatton died in January 1946 before the release of his last two films, and today let’s take a look at the better of the pair, HOUSE OF HORRORS.

Martin Kosleck  plays Marcel De Longe, a sculptor of (shall we say) limited talent whose work is excoriated by an acerbic art critic (Alan Napier ). The already unstable artist goes off the deep end, and decides to end it all. Instead, he winds up saving another lost soul from drowning – the notorious serial killer The Creeper! The two oddballs bond, and Marcel creates his masterpiece, a bust of Creeper’s hideous head! Creeper returns the favor by snapping the critic’s spine, and commercial artist Steve Morrow (Robert Lowery ), who recently fought with the pompous jerk, becomes the prime suspect, while Creeper continues to kill Marcel’s enemies.

While homicide detective Lt. Brooks (Bill Goodwin) is busy trying to put the moves on Steve’s sexy model (Joan Shawlee ), Steve’s girl, art critic Joan Medford (Virginia Grey) visits Marcel, looking for filler for her Sunday column. Sneaking a peek at Marcel’s latest piece, she lifts his drawing of Creeper to run in the paper. The engraving boys notice a resemblance to the mad killer, while Marcel notices the sketch is missing, and he sends The Creeper out to kill again….

Kosleck is a lot of fun as the deranged De Longe, whether having conversations with his cat or bugging out in all his crazy-eyed glory. Grey is also good as a snappy newshound, but Robert Lowery’s as wooden as ever. Joan Shawlee (credited as Joan Fulton) stands out in more ways than one as the model; fans know her best as ‘Sweet Sue’ in SOME LIKE IT HOT. Napier, always remembered as Alfred the Butler on TV’s BATMAN, is good too, as the George Sanders-like pompous jerk. Familiar Faces include Virginia Christine as one of Creeper’s early victims, Byron Foulger, Howard Freeman, Syd Saylor, and Charles Wagenheim.

But it’s Rondo Hatton who’s the star attraction, and the reason fans still remember this minor but effect little chiller directed by Jean “DEVIL BAT ” Yarbrough. In 2002, The Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards were established by horror fandom, given to the best in film, television, books, art, and websites every year. The award was created by comic artist Kerry Gammill, and is based on Marcel’s bust of The Creeper in HOUSE OF HORRORS:

RONDO LIVES!

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!

Familiar Faces #2: Need a Nasty Nazi? Better Call Kosleck!

Martin Kosleck, that is! The German-born actor was the go-to villain for 40’s casting directors looking for a slimy sieg heiler (and later other foreign menaces). Kosleck was born in 1904, and as a young man studied acting under the legendary Max Reinhardt. He made his mark on the European stage, but his virulent anti-Nazi stance caused him, like many of his artistic compatriots, to flee the oppressive regime, landing in America in 1932.

Kosleck (in white suit) as Joseph Goebbels in 1939’s Confessions of a Nazi Spy

Kosleck made his stateside film debut as an uncredited dance instructor in FASHIONS OF 1934. Hollywood didn’t exactly break his door down with offers, so he headed east and began appearing on Broadway. Director Anatole Litvak caught Kosleck onstage in Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice”, and offered him a part in his new picture. CONFESSIONS OF A NAZI SPY (1939) was Tinseltown’s first feature to tackle the Nazi threat head-on, with Edward G. Robinson playing an FBI agent investigating German Bundt activity in America. Kosleck was given the role of propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, a role he’d return to again in THE HITLER GANG (1944), HITLER (1962), and 1954’s TV production “The Last Days of Hitler” on MOTOROLA TELEVISION THEATER.

Martin menaces Dana Andrews in Berlin Correspondent

Unlike many German ex-pats of the era, Kosleck took delight in portraying evil Nazis, exposing their heinous ways onscreen as a sort of catharsis, and spitting in the face of their totalitarian authority.  He depicted both generals and henchmen in films like ALL THROUGH THE  NIGHT, BERLIN CORRESPONDENT, NAZI AGENT, and BOMBER’S MOON. In Hitchcock’s FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT, he plays a crucial role as the tramp in the windmill whose presence flummoxes hero Joel McCrea. Koselck also menaced movie detectives Nick Carter (NICK CARTER, MASTER DETECTIVE), Philo Vance (CALLING PHILO VANCE), and even Sherlock Holmes himself in PURSUIT TO ALGIERS, playing the knife-throwing circus performer Mirko, in reality a Russian agent.

With “Creeper” Rondo Hatton in House of Horrors

Kosleck is also remembered for his classic horror roles. 1944’s THE MUMMY’S CURSE finds him as Ragheb, slimy henchman of Dr. Ilor Zandaab (Peter Coe), the latest high priest in charge of undead Kharis (Lon Chaney Jr). His most famous horror movie is by far 1944’s HOUSE OF HORRORS, where Kosleck stars as mad sculpter Marcel DeLarge, a real looney-tune who uses newfound friend “The Creeper” (Rondo Hatton!) to dispatch of his critics. He plays a mad scientist who creates a race of ravenous monsters in the 1964 cult classic THE FLESH EATERS. Other horror-related Kosleck films include THE MAD DOCTOR, SHE-WOLF OF LONDON, THE FROZEN GHOST, and MST3K favorite AGENT FOR H.A.R.M.

Kosleck vs Maxwell Smart and Agent 99 on an episode of Get Smart

Television proved a meaty medium for Kosleck’s talents as well. He starred in a 1953 adaptation of Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” for MONODRAMA THEATER. In the 1962 THRILLER episode “Waxworks”, based on Robert Bloch’s short story, he’s on the side of goodness(!) as an inspector on the trail of a murderous wax museum owner (Oscar Homolka). 1965’s OUTER LIMTS entry “The Brain of Col. Barham” casts him as a surgeon in a riff on DONOVAN’S BRAIN. 1965 also found Kosleck as an ersatz bloodsucker in the GET SMART episode “Weekend Vampire”. NIGHT GALLERY’s 1971 “The Devil is Not Mocked” has him returning to Nazi Germany against a fearsome foe… Dracula (Francis Lederer)! Of course, you’ll also spot Kosleck on all the 60’s WWII shows (JERICHO, 12 O’CLOCK HIGH, GARRISON’S GORILLAS), and on BATMAN, THE WILD WILD WEST, THE MAN FROM UNCLE, and even an episode of SANFORD & SON!

A portrait of Marlene Dietrich by Martin Kosleck

Kosleck was also a painter of no small talent whose works appeared at galleries and were purchased by notables like Bette Davis and Marlene Dietrich. He made his last film in 1980, THE MAN WITH BOGART’S FACE before retiring from acting. Martin Kosleck passed away in 1992 at the age of 89, leaving behind a film legacy of performances as one of those actors we just love to hate. His contributions to film and television are still fondly remembered by fans, yet he doesn’t have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Let’s rectify that oversight; Kosleck deserves it!

Kosleck (2nd from left) with the Boys in the Bundt (The Hitler Gang, 1944)