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Scared to death is a fun movie. I really liked the character of Bill
Raymond (played by Nat Pendleton), who was a detective sitting around a
house waiting for someone to be murdered so that he could impress his
superiors on the police force.
There were a great deal of fun turns in the movie. The bad guy was really a good guy and the person who was "murdered" really deserved it. As I mentioned before, the cop was there for no reason but to wait for a murder and the reporter was also there waiting for something to report. There was also a dwarf who seemed to just be hanging around to make the movie strange, a man who wanted a divorce and couldn't figure out how to get one, a doctor who never saw a single patient and a maid who sometimes seemed like she might be a nurse.
The plot was so silly and contrived that you couldn't take it seriously- so you have to just sit back and have some fun with it. It's not an expensive movie, I bought it on a DVD that also has 2 other Bela Lugosi movies on it- White Zombie and The Corpse Vanishes. It's not the best plot in the world, but it is a nice distraction for an hour of your time.
This is Bela Lugosi's only starring feature in color. That's about all
it has going for it, really; the schtick of having a corpse narrate the
movie (Which would be done quite a bit better a few years later by
Sunset Blvd.) isn't well executed, anyway.
Laura Van Ee (Mary Lamont) is a nervous, tension-ridden ex-dancer who thinks she's imprisoned in her room by her husband Ward and her father in law Dr. Josef (George Zucco). She's mad, mad I tell you! Since it's her corpse that narrates, I think we can assume we know what happens to Mrs. Van Ee right from the get-go.
Why is she so anxious? She's not sure - no one is - but everyone suspects it all has something to do with her past, and something to do with a handkerchief. Enter Bela Lugosi and a midget - no, wait, Professor Leonide and his faithful companion, Indigo. And a wisecracking, tough-guy reporter (Douglas Fowley) and his dim-bulb dame (Joyce Compton). Add in a bumbling ex-cop who overtly desires a murder so he can solve it and get back to "real" policework (Nat Pendelton), and you have all the ingredients for One Crappy Low Budget Movie.
Every now and then the director remembers this is supposed to be a horror film, not a crime caper, so you hear this loopy pseudospooky music that's probably supposed to portend doom, or something. Which makes some sort of sense, but there's nothing creepy going on at the time, so it's hardly effective.
I've heard tell that Lamont, as the haunted Mrs. Ee (love the surname) is the only actor with any kind of spirit (ha, ha) in the movie - but please, hammy isn't the same as being spirited. Lugosi plays Lugosi, the midget disappears halfway through the picture, there's a supposedly disembodied head, and that's about it. It's all over in an hour or so.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Most of the reviews on IMDb for Scared to Death give it a good
trashing. And, while I understand it has many flaws, I didn't find it
to be as bad as some of the reviews would lead one to believe. Maybe I
was just in the right frame of mind or something.
The basic story: A women is slowing being driven mad. So mad in fact, that by the end of the movie she is literally scared to death (I'm not giving anything away as the fact she is dead is presented in the first minute of the movie). She is presented with numerous images and circumstances that become too much for her to bear. There are several suspects - her husband, her father-in-law, the maid, her husband's mysterious uncle, the uncle's dwarf companion, or could it be someone else? But which one of the suspects is behind it? You'll have to watch to find out.
Scared to Death stars Bela Lugosi and George Zucco. Lugosi is obviously having fun. He seems to understand just how silly some of the situations are, yet he handles each as if it were life and death. Zucco, on the other hand, acts most of the film as if he would rather be someplace else. Very aloof. The rest of the cast does a decent job with the material they are given.
This is the only time I've ever seen Lugosi in color. The film is marketed as being his only color picture, although I'm not sure that's true. The color is very nicely used throughout the movie. Very vivid.
Some of the flaws in the movie: a little stagey at times, goofy dialogue, and it may prove slow to some. The biggest annoyance, however, is the way the story is told. It's presented in a series of flashbacks from the dead woman at the morgue. It gets old real quick. But for the most part, I was able to look past these weaknesses and have a good time.
One final note. I picked up the DVD for $5 from Alpha. This is one of the better Alpha DVDs I've seen. While there are a few spots and other picture flaws here and there, overall the picture quality is good. The sound (so often bad on older films) is above average. All in all, for $5, Scared to Death is a wonderful addition to my DVD library.
Bela Lugosi's only color feature film. VERY strange movie about
unhappily married Laura (Molly Lamont) convinced that her husband and
his father are trying to scare her to death. (Why they are supposedly
doing it is kind of vague) In strolls the mysterious Prof. Leonide
(Bela Lugosi) and his mute, deaf midget friend (Angelo Rossitto) for no
real reason. Then there's private cop Bill Raymond (Nat Pendleton)
casually walking around the house looking for a murder!
Not a good movie--badly directed with some of the worst color designs I've ever seen in a movie. The acting ranges from unbelievably hammy (Lugosi) to bad (everyone else). The plot is full of holes and unexplained people and circumstances--I'm still not sure what Rossitto is doing in this. Also someone in a blue mask keeps looking in windows--but everyone says it's a GREEN mask! Love the part when George Zucco listens to the heartbeat of a woman who fainted and immediately declares she's under hypnosis!
None of it makes much sense but--in a way--this is lots of fun. Just silly enough to enjoy and keep you interested. The "explanation" at the end is just ridiculous. The color is actually pretty strong in the print I saw and it's all narrated by a dead woman! It's bad (that's why I give it a 3) but oddly compelling. A must for bad film fans.
This film is notable because it's the only color film Lugosi
The entire plot is very confusing (in the vein of "the Gorilla") and a lot of the "thrills" are done for their "creepy effect", without any real explanation for some of them.
Even so, the floating green mask at the window, secret panels, disembodied heads and other things provide an "undercurrent" of an eerie mystery.
It's also interesting that Zucco & Lugosi are in this film; to my knowledge, they never made another film together.
It's a difficult film to find, but see it if you have the chance!
Bela Lugosi had a notable career during the 1930s--but success of his
landmark performance in the 1931 Dracula combined and his exotic
appearance and accent left him typecast, and during the 1940s he found
work increasingly difficult to obtain. By the mid-1940s he was so
greatly pressed that he began to accept work in low-budget independent
movies. Among the first of these was the 1947 SCARED TO DEATH, a film
often described as the only color movie in which Lugosi appeared. This
is not strictly true: although he was not the star, Lugosi also
appeared the color 1930 VIENNESE NIGHTS--but given that both films are
so little known it's hardly worth arguing about.
The story begins with a clever idea: a woman's body lies on a slab in a morgue and through flashback she relates the way in which she was murdered. Sad to say, though, this clever idea is not only badly executed, it also happens to be the only clever idea in the entire show. The plot, such as it is, concerns a doctor with a questionable background whose son has married a woman with a questionable background (our soon-to-be corpse.) The family is suddenly descended upon by the doctor's brother, a hypnotist (Lugosi, of course) with, yes, a questionable past. Throw in a surly maid, a mean dwarf, a newspaper reporter, a dumb blonde, and a green mask that keeps floating in front of the window and you have SCARED TO DEATH.
The only saving grace in this nonsense is the cast. Although he receives star billing, Lugosi's role might be better described as the second lead; whatever the case, and in spite of a truly ridiculous script, he gives the role more sparkle than you would expect. The film also includes a number of character actors who like Lugosi shone most brightly in the 1930s--George Zucco, Nat Pendleton, and Joyce Compton--and they too deliver more than the silly script actually allows.
Even so, the charms of the cast cannot raise SCARED TO DEATH above the level of slightly-less-than-mediocre, and for the most part watching the movie is an uphill battle. Lugosi would go on to make one or two more films for major studios, most notably the 1948 ABBOT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN, and he would make a few television appearances as well, but for the most part SCARED TO DEATH would mark the beginning of his career's rapid slide into the likes of BELA LUGOSI MEETS A BROOKLYN GORILLA and his wildly dire association with the notorious Ed Wood in such appalling (and accidentally hilarious) films as GLEN OR GLENDA and PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE.
For the sake of Lugosi, Zucco, Pendleton, and Compton I'm giving SCARED TO DEATH three stars, but truth be told it really doesn't deserve more than two, and that's throwing roses at it. Although it does have a few moments--and I do mean a very few--this is one Lugosi film that is best left to die-hard fans.
GFT, Amazon Reviewer
Scared To Death is the only colour movie Bela Lougosi made and I found
this quite enjoyable. You wouldn't expect such a movie on this low
budget to be made in colour.
A woman tells how she was scared by a hypnotist and mad doctor. She tells us about murder and how people were hypnotised. One morning, she receives a strange parcel which turns out to be a woman's head and we also keep seeing a strange guy wearing a weird green mask, which is also meant to scare her.
As well as the hypnotist and mad scientist, we have a dwarf who is the hypnotist's mute assistant, hidden doorways and secret rooms. Just what you want in this sort of movie.
Bela plays the hypnotist and George Zucco (The Flying Serpent, House of Frankenstein) is the mad doctor. I've never heard of anyone else in the cast.
Scared To Death is a must for all Bela Lugosi fans. Great fun.
Rating: 3 stars out of 5.
This film falls into the "so stinkingly badly bad it's good" category
and, if it isn't already, should be included in every Film School's
curriculum as a shining example of how NOT to direct a movie - or even
an episode of Scooby-do.
The sets and setups are very stagy and nobody moves around a lot but still there are horrendously clumsy cuts as the editor tries to make something coherent out what he was given. Characters jump from side to side on the screen and to disguise the lack of coverage there are frequent cutaways to Zucco and / or Lugosi acting their socks off "listening" meaningfully. The whole thing looks like it was done in single takes with little or no time for rehearsal. I love the way, in the opening scene, that George Zucco has to squeeze past the chair in his office when going to the window - a quick walk through before the take would have shown how stupid it looked and the chair would have been pushed a bit further in under the desk.
The script is risible - so much of it is of the "As I told you before when I was..." and "are you trying to tell me...?", and "I was just outside listening to your conversation..." lines that looks like a lot of it was made up on the spot (the whole thing smacks of actors trying to help each other out by feeding each other's lines) and is full of so many holes: who DID bean Zucco and why? Why did "Mrs. Williams" visit him in the first place? How did the dummy head get out of the locked anatomy cupboard in the cellar? Why did the 'tec have cobwebs on his shoes? What were the mysterious reasons Doctor Zucco have for saying the maid was dead when she wasn't? Why did the mysterious, PseudoScooby-Doo villain wave the mask at EVERYONE when he was only trying to scare one person? Why did the detective run out into the garden to arrest the murderer, when he had just been told the guy was in one of the secret passages in the the house's walls? How did the dwarf manage to lip read Nat Pendleton's "monkey" remark from that angle? Etc. Etc. The film just gets stupider and stupider the more you think about it.
The much discussed dead lady flashback technique looks like a desperate idea made up in the cutting room to get themselves out of holes. "Hell, what do we do now? - I know, I'll cut to the dead lady again!" Hillariously Bizarre. Definitely a film to watch with the thumb over the rewind button to get the full flavour of those "What did he just say!!!?" moments. It's the funniest thing I have seen for weeks.
Best line: "Ah, there you are Professor - I thought I just saw you out in the garden baying at the moon".
Norm thinks more of this turkey than I do. I found it inept in plotting, dialog, direction---well, everything. Lugosi tries, but the deck's stacked against him. Watch as Zucco takes the dead girl's pulse, lets go of her hand, and it hangs there for a second before dropping to the floor. Lines get flubbed but they go on anyway. Hear the corpse stick her two cents in periodically, while the same spooky chord plays every time. Okay, I've seen it, but the next time I watch it I'll have some liquored up friends over for some solid laughs.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Well, yes, Shakespeare it ain't, and yet... Anyone who has read reviews on this film will have a pretty good idea that it isn't a world beater. Aside from that though, there's something gorgeously, exuberantly sweet about it. The dialogue when it isn't odd, is quite funny, and delivered by all with a straight conviction that subverts the silliness of it. This gives the film a kind of odd charm."If I were announced, I doubt I would be received anywhere" and "In short sir, I think you're a cop", or "Lorette, Lorette, I'll make a bet, the man in green, will get you yet..." Somehow Bela Lugosi gives these incongruous lines a life that is at once humorous, gentlemanly,comically sinister and well, intriguing. It's the incongruity of suggested supernatural drama, the vaudeville cop, charmingly played by Nat Pendleton, and the simultaneously wild and wacky Joyce Compton, in short, the odd mixture of affability, nuttiness and mysteriousness that makes this movie fascinating. It's one of the few films whose quality of oddness alone really made me enjoy and watch it a few times. I've often wondered how this film ever got made, who approved the budget after reading the script? for which audience demographic was it intended? and so on. However it got through, I'm glad it did, the world's a better place for the inclusion of odd, good natured films like this. It's like the hairless cat breed, it's not a crowd pleaser, but it makes the cat family more interesting by its very existence. Anyone with a broad sense of humour will love this film. It simply exists, defying all logic and explanation. That's it's charm.
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