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!: 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!: 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!: FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN (Universal 1943)

FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN was Universal’s first Monster Mash-Up, and in my opinion the best of the lot. From here, things got a little crowded, but by spotlighting just two supernatural terrors, we get a spooky, atmospheric ‘B’ film that really works. Lon Chaney Jr. returns to his signature role of Lawrence Talbot, suffering from the curse of lycanthropy, and he’s even better than in the original (which I reviewed in 2015 ). And The Monster is played by 60-year-old Bela Lugosi , in the part he rejected twelve years earlier. Bela’s interpretation is… interesting (but more on that later).

The eerie opening scene features two graverobbers under a full moon, breaking into the Talbot family crypt. Opening the lid of the late Larry Talbot’s coffin, they find the body is covered in wolfbane, and one of them recites that familiar “Even a man who’s pure in heart…” poem. As Talbot’s body is bathed in moonlight, the dormant werewolf revives, and a hand reaches out from beyond the grave, snatching one unfortunate graverobber. This beautifully shot sequence by DP George Robinson sets the mood for the horrors to come.

Talbot is found unconscious in Cardiff and taken to the local hospital, where he’s treated for a skull fracture by Dr. Mannering and questioned by Inspector Owen. A routine call to the police in Llanwelly to verify Talbot’s identity finds Lawrence Talbot “died four years ago”. The full moon beckons once again, and Talbot leaves his room as The Wolf Man, killing a constable, and found in the morning slumped in his bed. Talbot confesses to Mannering and Owen his cursed affliction, but they think he’s insane. The two men then take a trip to Llanwelly, discovering the dead graverobber and an empty coffin inside the crypt. A call to the Cardiff hospital reveals Talbot has escaped.

Talbot now wanders Europe searching for Maleva, the gypsy woman whose son inflicted the curse on him. Finding the elderly Maleva in a gypsy camp, she takes him to see Dr. Ludwig von Frankenstein, healer of “Diseases of the Mind” in Vasaria (who, as we all know from GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN, perished in that film fiery finale). The Wolf Man kills again, and is chased by angry villagers to the ruins of Frankenstein’s estate, where he awakens in a frozen cavern and discovers The Monster encased in ice. Talbot searches unsuccessfully for Frankenstein’s notebook, which contains “the secrets of life and death”, then (under an assumed name) contacts Baroness Elsa von Frankenstein. Elsa (who must’ve dumped fiancé Erick from the previous film) refuses, but the Mayor invites them both to stay for the Festival of the New Wine, celebrated in song by an uncredited Adia Kuznetzoff:

… obviously, Talbot doesn’t dig the song! Just then, Mannering, who’s been tracking Talbot’s path of destruction across Europe, arrives, as does The Monster, terrorizing those villagers again! Talbot and the creature escape, the villagers are in an uproar once again, and Mannering, Elsa, and Maleva return to the Frankenstein homestead to destroy The Monster and cure Talbot of his curse. But like all scientists, Mannering lets his curiosity get the best of him (“I’ve got to see Frankenstein’s creation at its full strength”), resulting in an epic Battle of the Monsters (well, as epic as a three-minute fight can be!).

Curt Siodmak’s  script retains the continuity of both THE WOLF MAN and GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN, unlike some of the other entries before and after. Veteran director Roy William Neill handles the pacing well, and creates a genuinely creepy atmosphere throughout, aided by Robinson and John Fulton’s camera tricks during the transformation scenes of Talbot to The Wolf Man. Chaney his outstanding as “his baby” Lawrence Talbot/The Wolf Man, eliciting sympathy as the man and getting gruesomely physical as the werewolf. Ilona Massey, making her second Universal Horror appearance,  takes over the role of Elsa from Evelyn Ankers. Patric Knowles gets the ‘mad scientist’ role, though he’s not really mad… just curious! Maria Ouspenskaya returns to the part of Maleva, Lionel Atwill is the Mayor of Vasaria, Dennis Hoey the Inspector, and Rex Evans an angry villager. Also appearing as a villager is Dwight Frye , marking his seventh and final Universal Horror role  (Frye died at age 44 nine months after the film’s release).

Then there’s Bela Lugosi as The Monster, who had all his dialog cut out of the film by the studio after test audiences laughed during a pre-screening. If you recall GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN, you’ll remember Ygor’s brain was transplanted in The Monster’s body, and he went blind due to having the wrong blood type. This explains Lugosi’s outstretched arms and lumbering gait through the movie, but filmgoers didn’t have DVD or DVR back in the 40’s, and had short memories (besides, no one back then took these little ‘B’ films seriously). And since the Monster’s blindness isn’t mentioned by any character in this one, Lugosi’s performance  has been a source of ridicule for generations. It wasn’t Bela’s fault… he was playing the part according the original script. Despite this studio meddling undoing Lugosi’s portrayal of The Monster, FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN remains a classic outing in the genre, and that’s more than can be said for subsequent Universal Frankenstein films to come…

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.