Sunday, October 01, 2006


Today I begin my annual month of horror movie reviews with the last of my Kay Kyser films. Some critics lambaste this movie, which features Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, and Peter Lorre, as a missed opportunity, and it's true that none of the three are used to their full spooky potential. But once you accept that, and quit wishing the movie was something other than what it is, I think you'll find it a fine comedy-thriller, atmospheric enough for Halloween viewing. Kyser and his band are playing a 21st birthday party gig for an heiress (Helen Parrish) who is also the girlfriend of Kyser's manager (Dennis O'Keefe). The site of the party is a mansion which just happens to be on a small island connected to the mainland only by a small bridge, and once the band and guests arrive, the bridge collapses in the middle of a nasty storm, leaving all stranded for the night. Parrish's slightly loony aunt (Alma Kruger) has arranged to hold a seance with her favorite medium (a turbaned Lugosi) in order to contact her dead husband, and Parrish has arranged to have famed skeptic Lorre there to expose Lugosi's trickery. Also present is Karloff, a respected judge and the family's legal advisor. The seance is played well for both creepiness and hilarity, and it soon becomes clear that someone is trying to kill Parrish, probably for her inheritance. Lugosi is the obvious villain, but are there others in cahoots with him? Kyser, O'Keefe, and Kyser's resident funny man Ish Kabibble trip over themselves trying to solve the mystery. There are secret panels, a falling chandelier, electric shock machines, and a dog whose tail glows in the dark, among other "old dark house" hijinks. One odd but effective gimmick is an electronic voice-distortion device called the Sonovox which produces an unearthly effect and is used both in the climax and the closing musical number. Speaking of music, the songs this time around are all fairly catchy, especially "Like the Fella Once Said," which is made up of bad puns, and "The Bad Humor Man." My favorite Kyser movie; I hope Warner puts out a DVD set of his, though I won't be holding my breath. [TCM]

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