Forgotten Films: Scared to Death (1947)

Scared to Death marks the only time Bela Lugosi appeared in color.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 141st my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

Some of the films I watch here I have never seen prior to their magic appearance on my TV or in my DVD player. This week is one of them. (Actually all of them except one since I restarted my columns here were new to me.) I mean, I want to see things I haven’t seen and then tell you about them.

This week’s movie was part of a double film set that I got quite a while back. The film was included with a Boris Karloff film, The Snake People, but I decided to try the Bela Lugosi one first. As with most people of my generation, I first encountered Mr. Lugosi when he wore the cape and ring of Count Dracula on an afternoon movie show which frequently featured Universal horror films. There he was with that accent, talking about the children of the night.

I saw those films when I lived near Wichita Falls, Texas, and the afternoon films were hosted by some local guy called Pinto Bean. The common variety stale jokes and puns were bearable as I got to see The Bride of Frankenstein, The Wolfman and, of course, Dracula. And, in 1981, when I attended the World Science Fiction Convention in Denver I met Mr. Science Fiction, Forrest J. Ackerman, who owned the Dracula crest ring. And, since he was wearing it, I got to see it. I didn’t get to wear it, but I stared at it up close and contemplated removing his finger and making a run for it. I was wearing a badge around my neck with my name on it in 36 point type, however, so I didn’t think I could get away with it. Saner thoughts prevailed.

Lugosi was not a great selector of roles. He had a few good roles, but nothing ever equaled that initial role. And, as the films Plan 9 From Outer Space and Ed Wood showed us, Lugosi lived much of his life in drug-addicted poverty.

So, on to Scared to Death. Lugosi was entering the final phase of his career when this was made. The film was from 1947 and Lugosi only made one more of any quality (1948’s Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein). He was soon headed to the Ed Wood stable for film internment.

Scared to Death features Molly Lamont as Laura Van Ee/Laurette La Valle. A beautiful young woman, she narrates this tale from a slab at the morgue where she is the subject of an autopsy. Laura is in an unhappy marriage with Ward Van Ee (Roland Varno). The couple lives at the mansion/office of Dr. Joseph Van Ee (horror great George Zucco). Dr. Van Ee is assisted by Lilybeth (Gladys Blake) who serves as a combination nurse/receptionist/maid. Lilybeth is hounded by lovesick moron Bill Raymond (Nat Pendleton), a former homicide detective with the IQ of a lightbulb and the character of one of the Dead End Kids. Dr. Van Ee’s cousin, Professor Leonide (Lugosi), shows up with a deaf mute midget, Indigo (Angelo Rossito).

Leonide is a former vaudeville hypnotist who was a former inmate at the sanitarium that would become Dr. Van Ee’s mansion. Rumor has it there are hidden passages that he was able to create without anyone noticing.

Laura is being threatened by someone who has sent her a mannequin head with her face. And there is a floating blue head (it’s supposed to be green, but it’s actually blue). And there’s a nosy reporter, Terry Lee (Douglas Fowler), with a dumb blonde girl friend, Joyce (Jane Cornell).

The plot is convoluted and not very good. The comic relief is not very funny. The flashbacks from the corpse are muddled and not very well handled. There are two saving graces to the film. At 65 minutes, it is short. And, according to the documentation of the DVD box, this is the only color film with Lugosi. All my memories of Bela are grainy black-and-white. So that excuses some of the issues.

Don’t go out of your way to find this one. The interesting things about it aren’t. I’m hoping the Karloff film is better, but I know it is also from late in Karloff’s career and I have my doubts there also.

But, your mileage may vary. As for me, I’ll watch Dracula or Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.

Series organizer Todd Mason hosts more Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs.

Forgotten Films: The Castle of Fu Manchu (1969)

You know a movie's bad when it makes Christopher Lee boring.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 140th my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

We once again return to Fu Manchu for a Forgotten Film. Previously, I have reviewed The Blood of Fu Manchu (Forgotten Film 10) and the serial adventure Drums of Fu Manchu (Forgotten Film 33), so it has been a while since I returned to the famed mastermind of all evil.

Fu Manchu is, as you all should know, the creation of Arthur Sarsfield Ward writing as Sax Rohmer in 1911. He appeared in 14 books (13 novels and one collection) from Rohmer, then two from Rohmer’s former assistant Cay Van Ash, and three from William Patrick Maynard. I’ve read most of the Rohmer and the two Van Ash novels which I enjoyed. I have not tried the Maynard, though I intend to one day.

There have been 12 movie adaptations and one spoof with Peter Sellers. Two of these films are silent British productions I have never seen. The most famous Fu Manchu film is probably The Mask of Fu Manchu starring Boris Karloff as the sinister doctor and Myra Loy (!!) as his daughter. The film was suppressed for many years as it had many objectionable issues such as Fu inciting a crowd of rabble to ”Kill the white man and take his women!” Also casting a British actor as an Asian character was not well received here nor in the two films where the famous Swedish actor Warner Oland also portrayed Dr. Fu Manchu. Oland also portrayed Charlie Chan in films.

So, let’s get to this one. This is the fifth (and final) time Christopher Lee sat in the role. And this time he had director Jess Franco at the helm. There was a time when Jess Franco did good work. This wasn’t one of them. Fu Manchu has a formula where he can turn large quantities of water into ice. He does this, turning a Caribbean cruise into a rerun of Titanic.

Fu issues an ultimatum to the world. Having shown his mastery of water, he asks the world to give in to his demands (which are not detailed for us in the general public). If not, in two weeks he will wreak havoc again. To do this, he decides to settle into Istanbul and use the Black Sea as his personal ice cube tray. But there is a flaw in the program and he needs some assistance from Dr. Heracles (Gustavo Re). But Heracles has a weak heart so Fu needs the assistance of Dr. Curt Kessler (Gunther Stoll) and his assistant Ingrid (Maria Perschy).

But Scotland Yard is not sitting back waiting for the iceman to come. They have sent out Fu Manchu’s perennial nemesis Sir Dennis Nayland Smith (Richard Greene) and his friend Dr. Petrie (Howard Marion Crawford). While Smith and Petrie are talking to Kessler, Lin Tang, Fu Manchu’s totally evil and attractive daughter (Tsai Chin) kidnaps Kessler and Ingrid and takes them to Istanbul.

Kessler has been taken to replace Heracles’ heart with that of an able-bodied henchman who is willing to die to the cause. At this point, what little plot the film had seems to have been forgotten. There are useless interludes with various Turkish emissaries, including director Jess Franco in the role of Ahmet.

How bad is this film? I got bored while watching it. I GOT BORED WATCHING CHRISTOPHER LEE!!!!! How does that happen?

IMDB gives it a 2.6 out of 10 rating. As a comparison, I can only say Plan 9 From Outer Space has a 4.0 and Robot Monster has a 2.9. Manos: The Hands of Fate does have a 1.9. Make your own decision there.

The Castle of Fu Manchu did get the Mystery Science Theater 3000 treatment in 1992. I have not seen that version. I’m sure it will be better than this. You have been warned.

Series organizer Todd Mason hosts more Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs.