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  Scared to Death
Year: 1947
Director: Christy Cabanne
Stars: Bela Lugosi, George Zucco, Molly Lamont, Nat Pendleton, Douglas Fowley, Joyce Compton, Gladys Blake, Roland Varno, Angelo Rossitto
Genre: Horror, ComedyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  4 (from 2 votes)
Review: In some instances, 1940s horror films appear to have evaded quality control when it comes to availability on DVD. At the time of writing, those wonderful Val Lewton films have yet to make an appearance, yet there's an abundance of Poverty Row product from the Monogram and PRC stables. Of course, the passage of time will undoubtedly put matters right but, for many people, the B-movie wave spawned some enjoyable slices of delirium which justify their presence in the digital market place: The Devil Bat, King Of The Zombies, Dead Men Walk and Bluebeard are all examples of better-than-decent movies, although the latter did have advantages with a bigger budget and Edgar G. Ullmer at the helm. Then we have the other side of the coin, represented by the likes of Ghosts On The Loose and Christy Cabanne's Scared To Death, which opens in a city morgue. Here, the corpse of a young woman tells her story from the autopsy table after cause of death has failed to be determined. Laura Van Ee (Lamont) goes on to reveal her cruel treatment at the hands of her husband (Varno) and father-in-law Dr. Van Ee (Zucco); a painful experience which gradually worsens with the introduction of some terminally stupid characters: Bill Raymond (Pendleton), a private patrol officer who was kicked out of homicide (how did he ever get in?); belligrent maid Lillybeth (Blake); smart ass reporter Terry Lee (Fowley) and his intellectually challenged girlfriend (Compton), and good old Bela in the role of hypnotist/magician Leonide, who turns yp with his trusty deaf and mute dwarf, Inigo. What plot there is concerns a long-standing feud between Lugosi and Zucco, and the identities of Rene and Laurette who used to perform 'The Dance Of The Green Mask' in a Parisian nightclub.

Why is Laura terrified of blindfolds? Was she murdered and if so, by whom?

If you're hardy enough to reach the end of a very long 65 minutes, you will find the answers in a genuinely suspenseful finale, though Carbanne even comes close to botching this one (Warning: you will NOT believe the 'unmasking' of the killer). En route to the aforementioned closure, you'll have to negotiate a script containing woefully absurd dialogue, uttered by characters who, with the exception of the excellent Zucco and Lamont, play for laughs and do seem to be having a good time with their lines, even if the audience may not be. While it's hard to see where this film could have gone by dropping its comedic element, there's little doubt that Scared To Death falls betwen two stools on more occasions than one would expect, given the quality of the cast.

Renowned for being Lugosi's only starring role in a colour feature, Scared To Death would surely have been more effective as a black-and-white production, with a potentially chilling old dark house making full use of those secret passages engineered by Leonide during his tenure as asylum inmate. Instead, we get an average dwelling place with garish interior design suggesting that, just like Cabanne, Dr. Van Ee was simply not in tune. Incidentally, the frequently seen floating mask is actually blue(not green), thanks to the two strip Cinecolor process.

Naturally, Lugosi aficianado's will require this disc for their collection, and the 1947 Golden Gate Pictures production can be found on the Alpha label, together with Black Dragons, The Devil Bat and other Lugosi films. While the image quality of Alpha's (largely public domain) Region 1 titles varies wildly, Scared To Death happens to be one of their better efforts and does look quite good in places, if you can ignore the grain and print damage which inevitably comes with the $5 price tag.
Reviewer: Steve Langton

 

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Christy Cabanne  (1888 - 1950)

American director and former actor who began directing in 1912 after working as an assistant to D.W. Griffith. Turned in an astonishing 152 films over the next 30-odd years (he directed 24 films in 1914 alone!) and worked largely as a director-for-hire on low-to-medium budget studio movies. His most notable films were The Mummy's Hand for Universal and Scared to Death, Bela Lugosi’s only colour film.

 
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