Quintuple horror in a creepy cottage

Dead of Night, a British anthology film, premièred 9 September 1945 at London’s Gaumont Haymarket theatre, and did very well commercially. Many modern critics continue to praise it as a classic horror film, with special praise for the final story about the ventriloquist.

Though horror films had long been common in the U.S., they weren’t so common in Britain in this era; indeed, they’d been banned during WWII. Dead of Night began to change all that.

The film was made at Ealing Studios in West London, which began business in 1902 and is the world’s oldest continually-operating film production studio.

Walter Craig (Mervyn Johns) arrives at a Tudor-style cottage in the country which seems oddly familiar. His sense of déjà vu increases even more when his host, Eliot Foley (Roland Culver), shows him inside. Though Walter has never met any of the guests, he’s dreamt about them all many times.

Dr. van Straaten (Frederick Valk) has a ready scientific answer for everything, including the stories the other guests tell about eerie events from their own lives, but as the night wears on, his skepticism gradually starts waning.

First up is Hugh Grainger (Antony Baird), who tells the story of how he was almost killed in a racecar accident in “The Hearse Driver.” During the end of his hospital stay, he looks out the window and has a horrifying vision of a horse-drawn hearse. His nurse Joyce thinks he imagined it, but he can’t shake his terror.

Upon his discharge, Grainger goes to catch a bus, but he’s filled with foreboding when the driver looks exactly like the hearse driver and says there’s only room for one. Grainger immediately steps back and lets the bus take off without him.

Almost immediately, the bus goes off the road and crashes down a steep hill. Grainger’s premonition saved his life.

Next up is “The Christmas Party,” the story of teenage Sally O’Hara (Sally Ann Howes, now age 90). While playing hide-and-seek, Sally stumbles upon a hallway leading to a staircase leading to secret passageways and a playroom.

In the playroom, she encounters a little boy, Francis, who says his older sister Constance is very mean to him and wants to kill him. Sally treats him very tenderly and tucks him into bed before being found by her friends.

Sally is freaked out when she learns there are no children spending the night and that Francis is the unfortunate boy her buddy Jimmy told her about when they were hiding together earlier, a boy who was killed by his sister in that house a long time ago.

The middle story is “The Haunted Mirror,” the story that creeped me out most. Joan (Googie Withers) buys her fiancé Peter Cortland (Ralph Michael) a mirror from an antiques store to replace the basic one his uncle bought him awhile ago. Peter is happy with the gift at first, but soon lives in terror of it.

Every time he looks in the mirror, he sees a very Gothic-type room that looks like it’s in a mansion, with a burning fireplace, candles, and a fancy four-poster bed with carved grapes on top. He also can’t see Joyce in the mirror when she stands beside him.

Peter wants to push out their wedding date because he fears he’s losing his mind, but he manages to summon the willpower to see his normal room behind him in the mirror again, and Joyce beside him.

Everything seems to be going most swimmingly after they marry and move into a new house, but then the visions return. Joyce learns the supernatural reason for this when she visits the store where she bought the mirror and sees a bed exactly like the one Peter described.

The mirror, the bed, and several other things in the shop belonged to a man who died in 1836, in a house which was sealed until very recently. The storekeeper tells Joyce the tragic, horrific story of the original owner and his wife, a story Peter begins re-enacting when Joyce comes home.

This intense, creepy mood is lifted by the penultimate story, “The Golfer’s Story,” which is comedy-horror.

Buddies George Parratt (Basil Radford) and Larry Potter (Naunton Wayne) are intense rivals on the golf course, but closer than brothers in all other arenas. That all changes, however, when they meet Mary Lee (Peggy Bryan).

Eventually they hit upon the idea of playing a golf game with Mary’s hand in marriage as the prize. George wades into the lake by the green after losing, and his ghost comes back to haunt Larry.

George tries to make Larry give up both Mary and golf forever, but Larry refuses this deal. He can give up Mary, but he’ll have no reason for living if he never golfs again. George accepts the compromise, and says he must always stay within six feet of Larry.

George’s presence quickly becomes impossible to bear, and George himself agrees this is really awkward. However, he’s unable to go back to the other world, since he came back to Earth without knowing that rather important detail of ghosting. The magic formula keeps eluding him.

Finally, we have “The Ventriloquist’s Dummy,” a story within a story within a story. Dr. van Straaten tells a tale of the time he was called in as a psychoanalyst for Maxwell Frere (Michael Redgrave), who was charged with the attempted murder of fellow ventriloquist Sylvester Kee (Hartley Power).

Maxwell’s dummy, Hugo, becomes more and more out of control, acting as if with a mind of his own instead of controlled by his master. This drives Maxwell into madness.

The last reel reminds me very much of all the twists and turns near the end of Dr. Caligari. It’s hard to tell what is and isn’t reality, since the lines are so blurred.

A house of horrors meets a heaping helping of horsefeathers

There’s a lot to be said for knowing when to step away from a series or concept. In the case of Universal’s monster franchise, they kept driving that gravy train into the ground with too many sequels and crossovers, instead of creating awesome new monsters and stories.

1944’s House of Frankenstein at least had a consistent, coherent plot, despite being an obvious B movie. House of Dracula is riddled with plotholes, unbelievable reactions, and shamefully poor use of Frankenstein’s Monster.

I would say Universal redeemed itself with the final group appearance of the Monster, Dracula, and the Wolf Man in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, but then they proceeded to run that concept into the ground as well with a total of seven A&C Meet… films.

Dracula (John Carradine) shows up at Dr. Franz Edelmann (Onslow Stevens)’s castle at five in the morning, introducing himself as Baros Latos and begging for a cure for his Vampyrism. Dr. Edelmann, who’s been sleeping fully-clothed in a chair in his office, is amazingly chill about a stranger entering his home at that hour and saying he’s a Vampyre. Maybe that’s a more common occurrence than I thought!

Dr. Edelmann and his nurses, Milizia (Martha O’Driscoll) and hunchbacked Nina (Jane Adams), begin work on a possible cure. Nina is very disappointed he’s interrupting his work on curing her hunchback, but he assures her he’ll fix her next.

Dracula’s dirt-lined coffin is moved into the cellar while Dr. Edelmann prepares for the blood transfusions which he believes will turn Dracula into a normal human. (Odd how Dracula never sought a cure in any of his previous movies! Also odd how he managed to come back to life after his demise in the previous film.)

Dr. Edelmann is in the middle of these very important experiments when Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney, Jr.) arrives, desperately begging for a cure for his lycanthropism. He insists he can’t wait for Dr. Edelmann to finish what he’s doing, since a full Moon is coming up. Larry then goes to the prison and begs the cops to put him in a cell for his own safety, a request they fulfill.

That same night, Dr. Edelmann goes to see Larry, after learning where he went, and sees him transmogrifying into the Wolf Man as the full Moon rises. Convinced of the seriousness of his condition, Dr. Edelmann takes him to the castle in the morning.

Dr. Edelmann believes Larry’s lycanthropism isn’t caused by the Moon, but cranial pressure which can be cured with spores from clavaria formosa flowers. This mysterious plant’s spores allegedly reshape bones.

Larry doesn’t want to wait for more spores to be harvested, and jumps off a rocky ledge into the ocean.

Dr. Edelmann goes after Larry, finding him in a cave and transformed again into the Wolf Man. Because it’s such a smart idea to look for a werewolf during a full Moon, and to not have backup in case things get ugly.

Larry attacks him, but turns back into his human form when the Moon disappears behind clouds. As they’re making their way out of the cave, they find Frankenstein’s Monster partly buried in quagmire, and are quite nonchalant about it.

Also with the Monster is the skeleton of Dr. Niemann from the previous film, and Larry doesn’t say anything about their close acquaintance.

Dr. Edelmann takes the Monster into his castle via a tunnel leading to the cellar and starts reanimating him, but is prevailed upon by his nurses to stop. The Monster is too dangerous and powerful to risk yet another reign of terror.

Meanwhile, Dracula is trying to seduce Milizia and turn her into a Vampyre, efforts which are interrupted when Dr. Edelmann tells Dracula he needs another blood transfusion. Strange antibodies were found in his blood.

Nina is on to Dracula’s scheme, and when she tells Dr. Edelmann her suspicions, he prepares a different type of transfusion, one which will destroy Dracula.

Dracula hypnotises Dr. Edelmann and Nina so he can reverse the blood transfusion and turn Dr. Edelmann into a Vampyre. As bad as this film is, it’s notable for the only instance of Dracula turning another man into a Vampyre, albeit not in the usual way so as to avoid homoerotic overtones.

Now the stage is set for an increasingly intense parade of horrors.

House of Dracula was released 7 December 1945 and became a commercial success, though it’s not so highly-rated today.

Meddling anew in things best left alone

Inspired by the success of Son of Frankenstein, Universal decided to create a sequel to The Invisible Man. In March 1939, they began searching for the right screenwriters and director. Finally, they settled on Curt Siodmak and Lester K. Cole as writers, and Joe May as director. Mr. May was a pioneer of German film, and escaped to the U.S. in 1933 after the Nazis came to power.

Though there’d been hints of Boris Karloff or Béla Lugosi playing the lead, Universal wanted an unknown actor, a “young, good-looking contender even though he would remain invisible until the last reel.”

Filming began 13 October 1939 and was supposed to last 27 days, with a budget of $243,750 ($4,564,262.59 today). However, they were behind schedule by the second week, and by November, everyone was working till midnight. There was scant expectation of wrapping on schedule.

Production ended 11 November 1939, followed by a projected few days of post-production for special effects. Once again, they went over, and post-production lasted fifteen days. On the final day, the crew worked till 4:15 AM.

On 12 January 1940, the film was released. It earned $815,000 from national and international profits combined ($15,802,714.29 today).

Below stairs at Radcliffe Manor, several servants anxiously await word about a death row reprieve for Sir Geoffrey Radcliffe (Vincent Price), who’s falsely accused of murdering his brother Michael. Also very worried is Helen Manson (Nan Grey), his fiancée.

After more and more time ticks by without any happy news, Dr. Frank Griffin (John Sutton), brother of the first Invisible Man, Jack, goes to see him in prison.

During this tightly-supervised ten-minute visit, Geoffrey mysteriously vanishes into thin air, leaving his clothes behind. With the authorities convinced he’s the real murderer, a manhunt is launched. In the wake of Geoffrey’s disappearing act, Helen also vanishes.

First Richard Cobb (Sir Cedric Hardwicke) and then Inspector Sampson (Cecil Kellaway) come to Frank’s lab, convinced he knows something. Sampson is certain Frank used the invisibility potion on Geoffrey.

Geoffrey meets Helen at the remote home of Ben Jenkins (Forrester Harvey). Helen hopes they can hide out there safely until Frank discovers the antidote, but Geoffrey won’t rest easily till the real killer is found.

Though there’s no one else around for miles, Geoffrey is extremely on-edge from the incessant barking of Ben’s dog. Helen makes Ben chain him up far from the house.

The dog attracts the attention of a cop bicycling through the woods. He’s still barking crazily when the cop arrives at the house. A fight breaks out, with the cop suspecting Ben has visitors and demanding to search the house.

Against Ben’s agitated attempts to block the cop from going upstairs, Geoffrey is discovered. The cop runs back downstairs to phone for help, and is told to not let Geoffrey take off his clothes no matter what.

Geoffrey does just that and escapes out the window before the cop and Ben return.

Geoffrey wastes no time in going to Frank’s lab. Frank has been working busily hard on the antidote, and recently had success with a guinea pig. Now he manages to take a blood sample from Geoffrey, despite his invisibility, to use in the next version.

Geoffrey’s suspicions are triggered when Willie Spears (Alan Napier), the new superintendent of the Radcliffes’ coal mine, visits the lab. Based on what Spears says, Geoffrey has reason to believe Cobb (his cousin) is the real killer. Not wasting a moment, he perches on Spears’s car and stalls it in the woods.

Spears is terrified when Geoffrey makes himself known. First he thinks he drank more than he was aware of, then thinks it’s Satan. Geoffrey chases him through the woods, taunting him and saying there’s no escape.

Fueled by terror, Spears makes a full confession and says Cobb would’ve killed him if he told authorities what really happened. He begs for mercy, and it looks like Geoffrey is satisfied.

Until, that is, Spears is ambushed in his house after packing a suitcase. Geoffrey ties him up and says he’ll be back after settling a score with Cobb.

Now begins a calculated campaign to prove Cobb’s guilt to the authorities and take revenge, all while Frank continues trying to find an antidote before Geoffrey goes mad like Jack.

A new Mummy series begins

Universal knew a good thing when they saw one, which led to all of their classic monsters being made into franchises with many sequels. It didn’t matter if the original actors were absent, though most modern viewers find it hard to picture these iconic horror creatures being played by anyone else.

The Mummy’s Hand, released 20 September 1940, began a rebooted series of four Mummy films. In comparison to the Boris Karloff original, where the titular character spends the majority of the film as a modern Egyptian, this series features a Mummy in full bandaged regalia. He’s also way creepier, particularly with his blacked-out eyes and mouth.

Most reviewers of 1940 weren’t too keen on it, a view which is still shared today. This is an obvious B movie, not timeless, classic cinema. It’s also a widely-held opinion that the Mummy is Universal’s least-loved, most-neglected monster.

Andoheb (George Zucco) goes to the Hill of the Seven Jackals at the behest of the dying High Priest of Karnak. Once he arrives, he hears the tragic story of Kharis, which is quite similar to that of Imhotep in the 1932 original. (In fact, Universal reused footage of Imhotep being mummified alive! Other footage was recycled as well.)

Kharis was in love with the deceased Princess Ananka, so much so he steals tana leaves from her tomb to bring her back to life while he’s guarding her. Predictably, he’s caught in the act. To prevent screaming while he’s mummified alive, his tongue is cut out.

The High Priest tells Andoheb how to keep Kharis semi-living. During a full Moon, Kharis must drink a brew made with three tana leaves. If the tomb is disturbed, a brew of nine leaves will fully reanimate Kharis. You can probably guess why that’s desired!

Brooklyn boys Steve Banning (Dick Foran) and Babe Jenson (Wallace Ford, who’s a dead ringer for Lou Costello) discover a broken vase in the Cairo bazaar in the modern era and pay $75 for it. Steve, an archaeologist, is convinced it’s an authentic Ancient Egyptian relic. Not only that, he believes the hieroglyphics are directions to Ananka’s tomb.

They’re left with almost no money after buying it, so they’re really desperate to get rich by selling it to the Cairo Museum. At first, Dr. Petrie (Charles Trowbridge) claims it’s a phony, but later admits it’s indeed authentic. However, he has reservations about an expedition to the tomb.

Andoheb, who also works for the museum, opposes the mission too.

Presently, Steve and Babe convince travelling magician Tim Sullivan, The Great Solvani (character actor Cecil Kellaway), to help with financing their expedition. Since Solvani is a fellow Brooklynite, he readily agrees.

His daughter and assistant Marta (Peggy Moran) feels much differently, particularly since Andoheb visited and told her Steve and Babe are fakes on a wild goose chase. But since Solvani already sank so much money into this mission, there’s no choice but to follow through.

Though they ultimately find Kharis’s tomb, there’s nothing to indicate Ananka is also in the vicinity.

And then Andoheb reanimates Kharis, who proceeds to go on a rampage through the camp and tomb.

A mad surgeon seeks revenge

Released 8 July 1935, The Raven is, as might be expected from the title, inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s famous poem. But just as with the previous year’s The Black Cat, it has very little to do with the source material. TPTB also once again insulted Béla Lugosi by billing him second to Boris Karloff, despite being the main character. To make it even worse, Lugosi only earned $5,000 for the film vs. Karloff’s $10,000.

At least seven people worked on the script from August 1934–March 1935. To avoid “running the risk of excessive horror,” the Production Code Administration forbade Universal from showing operation scenes, as well as much more horrific makeup for Karloff’s character.

The Netherlands, Ontario, British Columbia, and China were among the places which banned the film. The Raven was the final horror film approved by the British Board of Film Censors.

The Raven was also the last film in Universal’s trilogy of Poe-inspired films, the others being Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932) and The Black Cat.

Young dancer Jean Thatcher (Irene Ware) is injured in a horrible car accident, and all her doctors pronounce her too far gone to save. Her dad, Judge Thatcher (Samuel Hinds), and her fiancé Jerry Halden (Lester Matthews), however, refuse to abandon hope, and beg retired Dr. Richard Vollin (Lugosi) to operate.

Dr. Vollin has many reservations, and doesn’t think they should fear the natural, inevitable process of death, but finally is compelled into operating.

Jean and Dr. Vollin become close friends after the surgery, and Jean sees him as more of a god than a man. In the course of their friendship, Dr. Vollin tells Jean about his love of Edgar Allan Poe and shows her his macabre collection of torture devices. They’ve become so attached to one another, they want to marry.

Judge Thatcher is none too pleased to learn of their plans, particularly since Jean’s already engaged to another man. Dr. Vollin exchanges harsh words with Judge Thatcher before taking his leave in a huff.

Dr. Vollin sees a perfect window of opportunity for twisted revenge when a fugitive, Edmond Bateman (Karloff), comes to him and begs for surgery to disguise his appearance. No one will nab him for murder, bank robbery, and escaping prison if he looks nothing like his old self.

Dr. Vollin says he’s not a plastic surgeon, but asks Bateman for help in getting revenge on the Thatchers. Bateman refuses, saying he believes his anti-social behaviour is the result of being called ugly his entire life. A brand-new face is the perfect chance to turn over a new leaf.

Sorry about the obnoxious watermark on a public domain image!

Bateman is horrified to see the results of his surgery. The left side of his face is normal, but the right side is utterly deformed. Dr. Vollin cackles maniacally, from his observation post just above the operating room, as Bateman shoots at all the mirrors which emerge from behind curtains. Bateman tries to shoot Dr. Vollin next, but is out of ammo.

Having little choice, Bateman agrees to help Dr. Vollin in getting revenge. Dr. Vollin promises to fix his face if he does this.

Jean, Jerry, and Judge Thatcher are among the guests at a dinner party Dr. Vollin presently throws. When Jean goes to her guestroom to fix her hair, she sees Bateman standing behind her and is terrified. She rushes back downstairs, where Dr. Vollin calmly explains Bateman is his servant, and makes up a story about how his face came to be mutilated. Dr. Vollin also claims it’s natural for doctors to love death and torture.

Judge Thatcher has serious reservations about spending the night in Dr. Vollin’s house, but Jean and Jerry laugh off his fears.

With all the guests retired for the night, Dr. Vollin shows Bateman his dungeon, full of torture instruments from Poe’s work. While Dr. Vollin is lying on a torture slab from “The Pit and the Pendulum” to demonstrate how it works, Bateman throws the switch to manacle his hands and feet and start the swinging pendulum.

Dr. Vollin persuades Bateman to release him by saying Bateman’s face will remain disfigured if he dies.

As a thunderstorm rages, Dr. Vollin intensifies his Poeian plan for revenge, which grows more and more deranged by the minute.