Halloween Havoc!: HORROR ISLAND (Universal 1941)

Universal Pictures kept cranking out the horrors, but HORROR ISLAND isn’t one of them. It’s as misleading a title as Hollywood ever produced, more of a comedy/mystery with some “old dark house” elements thrown in for good measure. This little ‘B’ was released as a double feature with MAN MADE MONSTER, and while its good for what it is, it ain’t horror!

Atmospherically directed by George Waggner and shot by Universal workhorse Woody Bredell , HORROR ISLAND  begins spookily enough with a peg-legged sailor trodding the docks attacked by the mysterious Phantom. Rescued from the briny water by hard-pressed for cash entrepreneur Bill Martin and his pal Stuff Oliver, we learn the sailor is Tobias Clump, a Spaniard who claims he has half a map of Sir Henry Morgan’s buried treasure – and The Phantom just stole the other half! Bill happens to have inherited Morgan’s Island, where twenty million dollars worth of pirate gold and jewels are hidden. They take the map piece to an expert, who claims it’s a fake, so Bill gets an idea to exploit the legend by starting a new business promoting excursions to Morgan’s Island and setting up suckers on a bogus treasure hunt.

After “meeting cute” with rich Wendy Creighton (and her jaded boyfriend with the preposterous name of Thurman Coldwater), Bill, Stuff, and Tobias set sail with their first guests: Wendy and Thurman, Bill’s cousin George (who wants to buy the island for himself), nosy cop Sgt. McGoon, meek Professor Quinley, and shady couple Rod and Arleen Grady. Bill and Stuff have tricked out the island’s castle (yes, there’s a castle) to frighten the customers, but there’s more unexplainable doings than they planned, and the customers get more than they bargained for as they get picked off one by one by The Phantom…

The cast is stocked with Universal contract players, all of whom are good at what they do. Dick Foran and Peggy Moran (stars of THE MUMMY’S HAND ) make likeable leads and carry the picture along with comic actors Leo Carrillo (Tobias), Fuzzy Knight (Stuff), Walter Catlett (McGoon), and Iris Adrian (Arleen). Everything is wrapped up neatly in just over an hour, and if you like movies with secret passageways, mysterious phantoms, and things that go “boo” in the night, you’ll enjoy HORROR ISLAND… but it ain’t horror!

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!