Sunday, October 31, 2021

Halloween 2021

Happy Halloween, for yet another year! I hope every has had/will have a great time I had a busy month on and off my blog, and was looking forward to the day itself. I had a fun spooky marathon, with a few sugary snacks and drinks (and some healthy vegetables to balance things out), and some pizza for dinner. I carved a pumpkin, and made a papier-mache Voodoo mask.

In the afternoon I went out trick or treating, except I was giving out candy, not receiving it. This mostly went off without a hitch,though it was only when I began that I suddenly realised it might look like I'm a greedy boy, hoarding mass amounts of lollies! This problem was quickly solved when the first people I visited thanked me and promptly emptied my first bowl! I was shocked, but too polite to say anything, and wasn't sure how things would continue. But then the next couple of places didn't need anything! Whaddya know, like a cosmic balancing act. A few other places did need some extra supplies, on the cusp of running out, so I was able to contribute.

All in all it was a bit of a busier Halloween than usual, but still entertaining and enjoyable, and not too bloody hot...

Friday, October 29, 2021

Son of Ingagi (1940)

Spencer Williams was what we call in Australia a top bloke. He started out in the theatre, soon became an actor, and moved on to directing. Despite being known for humourous roles, and despite having no more than two pennies to rub together, he still managed to produce mature content that's still appreciated today. He never let himself be ted down to any one genre, as he went from comedy, to drama, 'juke' musicals, and horror...

Eleanor and Robert Lindsay are a newly married couple, ready to settle down in their new home. They make the acquaintance of Dr. Jackson, who turns out to be a friend of the family. Despite having a spooky reputation among the neighbourhood, Eleanor is warm and inviting, knowing all the good she's done with her studies. What she doesn't know is that in Dr. Jackson's home contains a deadly man ape, that may soon cause havoc...

Son of Ingagi starts off pretty sweetly, showing a wedding between two cute newlyweds, all the while building up a suspicious character and situation. It's only at the half hour mark (also the halfway mark) where spooky stuff starts happening proper. This never feels like it's late, and the set-up is all good.

When I first went into this film, I was expecting a broad comedy, since a lot of African-American genre cinema of the time was deeply humorous (be they westerns, horrors, or crime, you could often expect to have a good laugh with the characters), and the lighthearted opening had me wondering, but for the most part Son of Ingagi is a pretty serious affair. Not too serious, of course. It strikes a good balance. The tense scenes are tense, and there's a good atmosphere built up.

Then there's the comedy. It mainly takes the form of funny dialogue, and succeeds, without ever spoiling the moment. One highlight is "Well his neck was broken, and two ribs caved in, back twisted. I was thinkin' maybe he committed suicide, until I found out both his arms were busted, then I couldn't figure it out!"

I can't really say I have many outright problems with this film, though there were a few little things that annoyed or confused me. First and foremost is a frustrating moment where Doctor Baker gloriously proclaims that she's finally found a formula that can singlehandedly cure all of mans ills!...Before it's immediately drunk by N'Gina, who goes crazy and destroys the lab, killing his mistress. Maybe she spoke too soon, and the fact that N'Gina went crazy at all means she buggered the formula, but it's still a nuisance to watch.

The confusing elements of the film are to do with Doctor Baker, and how she managed to smuggle a ton of gold and a giant man-ape all the way from Africa! On that note, the mentions of her gold seem to almost take Son of Ingagi into comic book territory, when we have scenes such as the doctor's greedy/unscrupulous brother going "Gimme your gold! I want your gold!".

Something I especially admire about Son of Ingagi is how progressive it is! First and foremost it's a race film, but we also have a great portrayal of not only a female doctor, but mad scientist too! The movie never makes anything of this, simply showing it as is, working wonderfully.

Daisy Bufford and Alfred Grant make for good leads. They're sweet, endearing, and you always support them. Multitasking Spencer Williams does a very good job here as the comic relief policeman. He gets some of the funniest scenes, and adds extra life to the proceedings. Laura Bowman is sinister at first as the suspicious Doctor, but soon shows a sensitive side, which fleshes her character out considerably. Then we see her more maternal facet with N'Gina, adding another layer of depth for the actress to work with, which she manages well. The movie loses some talent when her character dies. And lastly, Zack Williams does very well as N'Gina, who gets both sensitive and animalistic moments. I would've liked to see him in more roles like this, and become an African-American Karloff or Chaney.

The effects for the titular monster are pretty well realised. It's not the most expensive of make-up, but it never looks bad, and its design makes for a neat antagonist.

Spencer Williams would continue making movies, before eventually getting a lead role in Amos 'n Andy, becoming cemented as a cultural institution among both races, which I find to be a touching capstone to his storied career. And with Son of Ingagi, he shares a great milestone with all who worked on this film, one of the first black horrors. It may not be the greatest movie out there, but as far as beginnings go, you could do far worse...

The Black Cat (1934) and The Raven (1935)

The Black Cat

Peter and Joan Alison are newlyweds going via train though Hungary, where they meet the mysterious Dr. Vitus Werdegast. A veteran of World War I, Vitus has only recently been released from a brutal prison camp, and is eager to find what's left of his family. They accompany him on a cab ride into the village, and after a near-lethal crash, the party are taken to the home of the sinister Hjalmar Poelzig. Vitus remembers the man very well, the one who betrayed their battalion to the enemy, and cost him his freedom. The two rivals begin a game of death, where the fate of the newlyweds is at stake, and the loser will face untold torture...

Directed by industry great Edward G. Ulmer, The Black Cat is a fairly loose adaption (i.e. it has literally nothing to do with Poe, besides a cat that probably isn't even black). Despite this annoyance, it manages to live up to the author's spirit in tone and content. Made during the pre-code era, this is regarded as one of the most extreme horror films of the era, with themes of insanity, satanism, torture, incest (sort-of), and necrophilia (some say implied, though I didn't pick up on that).

The story is an engaging one. With a short runtime of just over an hour, we are introduced to the cast in quick succession, and all the dominoes fall into place nice and quickly. The young couple soon realise things at this house are off, and this fear grows when their repeated attempts to eave are conveniently thwarted, either by a malfunctioning car, a dead phone line, and other 'misfortunes'.

The best parts of the movie involve Vitus and Poelzig, whose mutual hatred is barely concealed. Vitus makes a few attempts on his enemy's life, all unsuccessful, leading him to plan a long game, and hope the cunning villain doesn't see it coming.

There are a few twists and turns here, not all of which felt necessary. Vitus knows his wife is long dead, but wants to find his daughter. Poelzig says she died too, but we soon see she's not only alive and well, but married to the creep! This could've worked well for the story, but I felt it was a bit pointless. She seems remarkably well-adjusted for someone romanced and married by her step-father, and her end feels random and unsatisfying. I wonder what it would've been like if Joan was actually Vitus's long lost daughter. It would've been cheesy and contrived, yes, but at least it'd be better than the nothing we get instead.

The climax is a great one, with a few contrivances, but it makes up for this in pure enjoyment. We get a great final battle with the two rivals, leading to a chilling final encounter. It's great stuff!

Where the ending disappointed me most was the role of the young couple. Joan is to be sacrificed to the cult, until an unexplained trick helps free her. But her husband is nowhere in sight! He was imprisoned earlier, and is busy taking his sweet time getting free, while the rest of the movie happens without him.

When he does finally show up he only makes things worse. When Joan needs to get free, Werdegast says "Let me help you", very nobly interrupting his torture of Poelzig to aid this lady in distress, and Peter busts in and immediately shoots the poor doctor in cold blood! Murder! If Peter had've come across Werdegast right in the act of flaying Poelzig and shot him then and there out of shock, that would be more understandable, even if he totally owes the man a bouquet at his funeral. But the hero comes across badly here, especially considering he'd done literally nothing else during the climax, leaving Werdegast to do everything.

Bela Lugosi plays the hero for a change here, and does a great job. He's just unhinged enough, but not so much that you can't accept him as the good guy. But since the 1930s era was probably contractually obligated to star someone handsome, David Manners is technically the lead. But we know who the real stars are! Boris Karloff, meanwhile, is at his best. There's a real sinister edge to his performance, and he plays the role with a calm malevolence, his eyes expressing pure hatred. He's also made-up in a very interesting way, looking the opposite of Frankenstein.

When it comes to effects, The Black Cat is pretty light. The violence is all offscreen, so squeamish people might not be too traumatised. But then again, the suggestion of violence can often hold a greater impact than just seeing it right there.

The set design here is standout. Poelzig's house has strange architecture, and it's a creative location for such a movie. Everything down to the windows, and the altars, is designed with an eye for detail. The direction is equally great, with clever uses of shadows and silhouettes, often heightening the tension, and introducing characters strikingly.

The music here is predominately made up of classical pieces, and thankfully they mesh quite well, never feeling like a cheap excuse to not score a real soundtrack (even though it probably was).

The Black Cat is one of the 1930s' most intense horror films, and well worth a watch! If anyone tries to tell you that old horror movies can't hold a candle to newer stuff, just show 'em this and watch them shiver...

The Raven

Dr. Richard Vollin is a brilliant but eccentric surgeon. Though retired from practice, he is convinced to perform a delicate operation to save the life of young Jean Thatcher, daughter of a noted judge. He becomes infatuated with the girl, and conspires to win her for himself. When her father objects, Vollin intends on using his morbid fascination with Edgar Allan Poe, and a desperate convict, to sweep away all his obstacles...

The Raven is another delightfully spooky turn from horror's greatest pair. Despite its title, this isn't an adaption of The Raven, but then again it never really attempts to be, instead telling an original story drawing inspiration from Poe's work in general. This creates an ooky atmosphere full of shadows and poetry, with a highlight being the ballet dance during a recital of the titular poem.

The story is set up well. Vollin is the first character introduced to us, and seems like a nice enough fellow, until obsession gets the better of him, and either twists his mind, or exposes it for what it really is. 

The escaped convict Bateman is also introduced relatively quickly, busting his way into Vollin's study, insisting at gunpoint that the doctor change his face. Vollin is unfazed by the surprise entrance. It's fantastic how he so effortlessly turns the tables, without Bateman or you realising it's happened until it's too late, and suddenly the man who was being forced into a criminal's demands is now the one giving instructions. 

Vollin does indeed change Bateman's face, but instead of hiding his identity, he cruelly disfigures the man, in order to force him to do his bidding, or else he won't reverse the process. One of the film's big scares is the reveal of Bateman's face after the operation. The music slowly builds up as he realises something terrible is the matter, and we gradually zoom out, 

While Vollin is undoubtedly the villain of the piece, the two do share a great game of wits, like when the man doctor is demonstrating one of his torture devices, and arrogantly lies down right where the shackles can spring up, and Bateman sends a sharp pendulum slowly descending, until an increasingly worried Vollin reminds him he's the only one who can restore the convict's old face. This works, but Bateman soon realises he probably should've let the pendulum just do its work, once he comes to the conclusion that Vollin is hardly a man of his word. This all culminates in a great last battle.

With the villains as the true stars of the film, the actual protagonists don't command our attention nearly as much, but they are decent. Jean and her fiancee Jerry are decent enough. Her father is a reasonable authority figure, who can see what's going on and tries his best to ward Vollin away, earning him a spot on a rack. The family also have a few friends, including [an older couple, and a slightly older couple]. They're primarily for comic relief, and do the job well. I'm glad they don't get killed, because they were fun. Most amusing is how the older couple manages to sleep through the entire events of the climax! Lucky bastards.

The last act is mixed. On one hand it's great, full of cool deathtraps and last-minute rescues. On the other hand it only makes up the last 10 minutes of the film! Granted it's only an hour long anyway, but still. The pacing is never off, but I do wish there was a longer climax, and more time spent on the torture devices (not to mention a juicy victim or two!). Though it is good that we don't get too much, and have the lustre worn off.

The overall tone of The Raven is a good one. It manages to be spooky and funny, in equal measure. There's a good balance, so while the movie always could've been more ghoulish, the atmosphere is never spoiled by the humour. The dialogue can get pretty amusing in places, like the blase "See here Vollin, things like this just can't be done". The 1930s was a time when you could give people a politely worded telling-off for putting others in deadly traps. A much more respectful time.

Onto the acting. Bela Lugosi delivers a standout performance here. He plays calm and well-adjusted, and maniacal, cackling like a true madman. He manages to outshine Boris Karloff, whose role is comparatively more mundane, though he still makes the most of it. He, brings a level of humanity and brutality to his role.

The rest of the cast is fine. Irene Ware is always a welcome treat, and Lester Matthews is satisfactory. Inez Courtney and Ian Wolfe are a hoot, and I enjoyed every scene they're in. Spencer Charters and Maidel Turner are fine too, as is Samuel S. Hinds.

The sets in The Raven are great. The house looks fantastic, and its spooky basement would be a treasure trove for enthusiasts of the macabre (raises my hand). The effects are good too. The make-up Boris gets on his face might not be as memorable or intricate as Frankenstein or the Mummy, but it still looks good, and satisfies.

The Raven is an enjoyable example of classic horror, and gives just enough to treat any fans of the genre...

These two icons of horror worked together many times over the years, always to great effect. Interestingly enough, both The Raven and The Black Cat would each receive two new versions over the years, the former starring Karloff once again, and the other...ahem, 'featuring' Bela. And both films are linked in that neither have the slightest connection with Edgar Allan Poe...

Cat People (1942) and Curse of the Cat People (1944)

Architect Oliver Reed meets immigrant Irena Dubrovna at the zoo, and there is an instant attraction. After a whirlwind courtship, the pair are married, but she has a dark secret. In the valley where she lived, there was a history of satanism and blasphemy, which is punished by cursing their descendants. Irena believes if she accepts the touch of a man, she will turn into a man eating panther. Oliver tries to shake this belief, but becomes frustrated, and falls into the arms of another. An enraged Irena tries to handle the situation, but may succumb to her animal instincts...

Cat People was released to mixed reviews, but has since gone down as one of classic horror's most evocative movies. It has inspired many, not only from its chills, and pioneering use of scares, but also its psychological angle.

The film is a more modern horror than many of the gothic contemporaries, making good use of its more urban setting. While a Dracula or Frankenstein movie might be set in ancient European castles, Cat People focuses on more mundane places, like swimming pools, and bus stops. This environment goes a long way to make it feel closer to home.

Our protagonist has an ambiguous mental state. For all we know, the whole cat story could genuinely be a delusion on her part. But the danger is still very real, as it might drive Irena to act on homicidal urges, justifying it in her mind by believing a cat inside her did it. It's only at the end that we see the truth. With this subtle take on the concept, Cat People isn't a film with big effects and transformations from human to feline. Instead it leaves much to our imagination.

Cat People is known for its rich sexual subtext. Being from the 1940s, the movie never comes right out and says "If Irena has sex, she becomes a cat!", but it's gotten across easily enough, and the subtlety is a great help. There are a few things one could read from the film, from themes of sexual repression, and the powers or dangers of sexual liberation.

Cat People isn't the most intense of movies in terms of violence. Not a surprise, given the period. As for the tone, it's full of atmosphere, although this can take a hit during some of the more mundane sections. If anyone goes into Cat People expecting a full-on horror film where people are torn to shreds left right and centre, they're gonna be disappointed. In a way it's more of a supernatural drama.

This leads into my biggest issue with the film. As good as Cat People is, it's just not a fun movie, at all. Everyone is miserable all the time, and the mood is sombre. This isn't a bad thing, or a criticism, but just note that if you're in the mood for a horror film to entertain you, you're better off with a Vincent Price movie.

Cat People is a character driven piece for sure. Irena is a great protagonist. Burdened with a negative psychology, we see how it affects her, and while we're never sure if her fear is real, we at least believe she thinks so, which is important for our connection with her to work.

Oliver meanwhile starts off likeable enough, and the fact that he sees no problem dating a foreign girl is points in his favour! Where he dips though is where the movie was at its least enjoyable for me though. It's understandably frustrating to fall in love and get married to a girl, then she refuses to have sex, for what sounds like a crazy reason. But Oliver's response is to basically give up on her and begin hooking up with another woman! No sooner than the ink has dried on their marriage certificate and he's already looking at divorce papers. He also comes off as hypocritical, and whenever he does something wrong, he insists Irena should forgive him.

His new girlfriend Alice is a nice enough girl, but again, her part in this relationship takes her down a few pegs. As Oliver says to her in one scene, "All this trouble has made me think I don't know what love really is". How convenient that you only say this when you fancy another woman. Both clearly want to bang each-other, but are trying to soothe their guilty consciences by acting like theirs is true love, and Irena was just a passing fancy, so there should be no hard feelings for her.

Perhaps their worst moment is when Oliver takes both Irena and Alice to a museum, where he says: "I'm afraid this is dull for Irena"-"Look darling, there are some beautiful models upstairs. Why don't you take a look at them?"-"But I like these little boats. I want to be with you. Don't send me away." -"Oh, we're not sending you away, we just don't want you to be bored. We'll meet you in the main lobby in an hour." These two are assholes!

The last major character is Dr. Judd, who is fascinated by his new patient's case. He also proves himself a cad when he accuses Irena of lying, and tries putting the moves on her (someone didn't attend doctor-patient relationship courses!). It's his actions that really set the climactic events in motion.

Cat People was directed by Jacques Tourneur, which I always forget! Val Lewton had such a big hand in his movies you often forget he was just a producer. Tourneur was an accomplished director, and this shows some of his best work, with well-framed sequences, and a great use of shadow.

Simone Simon delivers a melancholic and understated performance, capturing the character's personality well. Kent Smith and Jane Randolph both do good jobs, even when I hoped they'd get eaten. Tom Conway is effective as the seemingly affable doctor. Elizabeth Russell has a fantastic cameo, and one of the most remembered scenes in the film. She gives off a unique and almost ethereal look, which stays in the mind.

One last thing to mention is the film's use of Serbia! It's a nice touch, especially since most Americans of the time (or indeed now) couldn't place Serbia on the map. To have a lead character from there must have been a delight for any Serbs watching! Yugoslav filmakers such as Dušan Makavejev have since commented on the film, and its themes, and how they relate to the Balkan countries.

Cat People remains one of horror's beloved classics, and a capstone in Val Lewton's career. Definitely a must watch for all horror fans...

Curse of the Cat People

Amy is the 7 year old daughter of Oliver and Alice Reed, and is a lonely child. Ignored or bullied by other kids, she finds solace in imaginary friends and fairy tales, until one day she meets the friendly spirit Irena. Her parents are concerned about their daughter's behaviour, and scared when they discover her new friend's name. They try to discourage her, but Amy is determined to hold on ...

When Val Lewton was contracted to make a sequel to Cat People, he didn't want to just repeat himself, even in genre. His follow-up Curse of the Cat People is notable in that it's more of a childhood fantasy than horror. It continues the story in an interesting way, with a different focus. It's a perfect antidote to the glum feeling the first movie leaves. That ended on an effective but sombre note, while this provides a sense of closure and happiness for Irena, that she really deserves after all the crap she went through.

Lewton wanted to call the film Amy and Her Friend, but the studio wanted to capitalise on the original. This has lead to some feeling tricked into expecting a horror film. It is true, there is no curse, nor are there any cat people. But it is still a sequel, so it's not that inappropriate a title. I feel people would be more confused if they went in with no prior context at all, thinking it might just be a random kids' film. Amy and Her Friend is a decent title, albeit a little obvious, and doesn't give off any supernatural vibes.

Set in New England, Curse of the Cat People explores the local mythology, such as the tale of the Headless Horseman. These give the film character, and really flesh out the setting. They also aid in giving the film a slight dark side. This is a good introduction to the horror genre for children, giving them enough spooky chills without going overboard.

Amy is a great protagonist. Fanciful and introverted, she's not good at making new friends, and this is somewhat seen as a flaw, but it doesn't help that many of her fellow kids are little shits! They delight in teasing Amy, yet get offended at not receiving invitations to her birthday. As if you would have come anyway! The friendships Amy does make over the course of the film, real and 'imaginary' are very sweet.

Curse of the Cat People was quite an autobiographical film for Val Lewton, who put some of his own childhood experiences into Amy's story, such as her mailing letters inside a tree hollow. This is a nice bit of trivia, that really heightens the movie, and makes you feel the genuine emotions poured into it.

Oliver is once again the wet blanket of the story. Despite realising at the end of the last movie that Irena told the truth about everything (which also meant that him ditching her and her eventual death was entirely his fault, instead of only partially, as he first thought), Oliver is back to being a hardened skeptic. He is never happy with his daughter's actions, and punishes her unless she gives the answers he wants. And when he realises who her new friend is, he decides tough love is needed, and he burns Irena's photos! Isn't it bad enough you've completely regressed, without burning your deceased wife's mementos? His attitude towards Irena is back to disbelief, acting like bad things happened because she lied. Funny, considering the last film ends with the words "She never lied"!

Alice's role is fairly small, and it's eyebrow-raising when Oliver is spanking Amy off screen, and when a teacher is concerned, Alice says how she can't interfere. You're her mother, of course it's your place! Go up there and smack the bastard one, he's the one who needs some discipline!

Oliver also gets some amusing bad parenting moments, like when he shouts to Amy "I'm not shouting at you!", or accusing his wife of spoiling Amy when she's right there! And there's one of those awkward moments when adults are caught in a lie. They tell children to blindly accept this magic here, but not that there.

As annoying as he can be, Oliver's part in the ending is good, and is a sweet way to wrap things up.

Irena is a benevolent presence. Having moved beyond any worries about cat people, she is more than happy to be Amy's new friend, and help guide her through life. After the way Oliver treated her last film, befriending his daughter from another woman is the best revenge! It proves you're a much better person than him as a parent.

Other characters include the family butler Edward, who provides a nice caring contrast with Oliver. He's accepting while also not being naive. He genuinely looks out for his little miss. Then there's a friendly teacher, who is likewise interesting in Amy's development, and in a much nicer way than her father, even challenging his behaviour in some scenes. She shows more backbone than his wife!

An interesting new pair to the film is elderly Julia Farren, and her daughter Barbara. Julia is a forgotten stage actress, once the belle of the ball, and rejoices in sharing her stories with new friend Amy. Barbara is not only jealous of the attention this stranger is getting, but at how she is ignored. Julia is convinced her real daughter died years ago, and that this woman is an imposter. It's left ambiguous whether she's right or not. She's otherwise a lucid and friendly dame, with all her wits about her, yet she doesn't budge on this. Barbara certainly does seem a bit unstable, but is that because she really is a fraud, or is it because of this mistreatment? It's left up for us decide.

Despite being a low budget production, you'd never know it. Curse of the Cat People is perfect in capturing a small town Americana feel, as well as showing the wonders of Christmas, all on a studio set. Making me jealous! Apparently some of the sets were recycled from The Magnificent Amberson's, and they all feel perfectly appropriate, and never cheap or ill-fitting.

The acting is very good. Kent Smith and Jane Randolph return from the previous entry, doing well, while Simone Simon has a smaller role, but still effective, and gets across a sense of peace and friendliness. Julia Dean is a fun old lady, and Elizabeth Russel returns in a larger role, capturing the unease and hurt in her character. And Sir Lancelot is great as the family butler, especially for the time. Lastly, there is the most important player, little Amy herself, Ann Carter. She does a fantastic job, and is not only sweet, but I'm impressed with how well she carries the movie!

Curse of the Cat People is a different but more than worthy follow-up to the original, and for many (myself included) is the superior film. Both have their positives, and both are different, showing the creativity of enterprising low-budget filmmakers of the time...

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Horror Island (1941)

Bill Martin is a struggling business owner in a small Florida fishing port, always up for a new money-making scheme. When an eccentric Spanish sailor presents him with a map leading to a treasure, on the seemingly useless island Bill owns, he jumps at the idea, despite a mysterious Phantom stealing half the map. Bill organises a commercial treasure hunt on the island, so that even if the treasure isn't real he can at least make a few bucks. But as they arrive, guests begin mysteriously dying, as the unseen Phantom gets closer to the pirate's gold...

Horror Island is an enjoyable spooky little mystery. Despite the title's promises, it's a fairly lighthearted affair, with irreverent characters, funny dialogue, and a laidback tone. Still, you can't deny that it does live up to the title's claims. There is an island, and it does contain horror! It's just not in the least scary.

The plot is decent, and sets things up well, though the movie gets a little sidetracked with the whole horror hotel business, to the point that I forgot there was a real treasure. It also takes its sweet ass time,

There are a few too many characters too, and by the time the movie has finally set up its relatively simple premise, we're already halfway through. This isn't helped by some of the characters looking alike. We have Bill and his comic relief sidekick Stuff, comic relief sailor Tobias Clump, the love interest and her bored cousin, two crooks, an excited professor, a suspicious but amiable sheriff, plus Bill's cousin! And this isn't even counting the Phantom roaming around. That's 10 characters in an hour long film! Could it be done? Sure. But here it's all a bit jumbled, and many of the characters aren't necessary, and could've been easily combined.

Bill is a likeable hero. He's a bit of a wastrel, full of hair brained schemes, always owing money, and afraid that every new person visiting his shop is there to break his legs (which you just know is gonna bit him in the back by the end). He shares decent chemistry with rich girl Wendy, who's spunky, and skeptical within reason. The comic relief characters all do their parts well, and are never annoying.

The crooks have a plan of their own, cut short by the guy Rod's murder. This doesn't upset his girl Arleen too much, as she was itching for a chance to get away from the brute. She is considered a suspect at first by the sheriff, but he soon realises she's ok. He trusts her with a loaded gun too! She thankfully gets a happy ending. Despite only us the audience knowing she's on the level, nobody else would realistically believe her, yet they all do, which is a relief. How Bill even knew her name though let alone her trouble with Rod is anyone's guess, but hey, it's a movie.

The villain's identity is strange, since we can openly see his face. It made me curious who he could be. There does turn out to be a great twist, and the killer puts up a fight despite his deceptive appearance. Although the reveal of the Phantom's identity was a letdown (Panama Pete? Really? You expect a shadowy villain to have a more threatening name than that!). There are some other obvious red herrings, which keep the plot going, and thankfully obvious culprit Cousin George, only character in the film with a motive, did not turn out to be the killer. Imagine that, if the guy who openly wanted the treasure was the killer all along.

The villain's death is hilarious, not only because of his idiocy, but also the violence promised by the movie, only to be dispelled when we see him totally unmarked despite being cleaved by a huge axe.

The dialogue is full of fun quips, from one comment about a ghost with muscles, to the 'funnier and quieter' bit, and other amusing lines.
"I thought so, a man driver!"
"If that wasn't the wind, don't do it again!"
"Is this party goin' on all night? Radio's playing and dames screamin'."
And "What are you all complaining about? This is exciting! It's adventure! Imagine-Lost at sea, on the way to a haunted island, with a ghost castle. Well, one of us might even be murdered! "

Dick Foran is a reliable lead, as is Peggy Moran, the two reuniting after their turn together in The Mummy's Hand. Fuzzy Knight is a decent enough comic relief, and the same can be said of Leo Carrillo. He has a funny accent, but talks a bit too fast sometimes, making me glad my DVD had subtitles. The rest of the cast does well, including the awesomely named Hobart Cavanaugh, and the sarcastic Lewis Howard. One treat was a fun actress playing a supporting character. It looked like she had a smaller face, but I could've sworn it sounded just like Iris Adrian's voice. And sure enough, that's who it is! I'm glad she always got juicy roles.

The direction here is fairly standard, with many neat shots, which give off a nice spooky vibe, akin to being in a haunted house ride. For this reason I think this is a perfect movie to introduce young kids to the horror genre!

Horror Island is a pretty fun movie, and good example of 1940s comedy-horror. It's not the best in the genre or era, but certainly a fun watch...