Halloweek: Scared to Death (1947)

Welcome back to Halloweek! TMP’s annual celebration of all things spooky in the days leading up to Halloween has been extended from four days to seven! Today’s spookfest may leave you Scared to Death. Stay tuned for more through Tuesday!

Laura Van Ee’s (Molly Lamont) body rests on an autospy table, awaiting examination. How did she end up here? What killed her?

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(Image via Movie Poster Shop)

Though she can’t return to life and speak to the surgeons who are about to examine her, Laura has a story to tell… and tell it, she will, to the audience.

When she was alive, Laura was married to Ward (Roland Varno), but their marriage was loveless. Ward’s father, Joseph (George Zucco), was a doctor specializing in mental illness. Eventually, when Ward decides he wants a divorce, Laura comes to suspect that Ward and his father are trying to drive her to insanity.

Did Ward and Joseph succeed in their attempt to drive Laura insane? Did they kill her when she refused to grant Ward a divorce? Laura’s spirit will reveal all!

Scared to Death was directed by Christy Cabanne for Golden Gate Pictures, photographed “in natural color” (Cinecolor). The story and screenplay were written by W. J. Abbott. Along with the above-credited cast, the talents of Bela Lugosi and Nat Pendleton are also featured! This was Bela Lugosi’s only color film.

I mentioned in yesterday’s Halloweek review that I had a hunch I’d love The Hidden Hand when the opening credits rolled over the shadow of a hand. Similar scenario here. Scared to Death‘s opening credits feature a creepy mask… and the film is then narrated by a corpse, from the autopsy table! Deliciously spooky.

When transitioning to and from its tale-telling corpse, the film makes use of a Theremin-esque humming sound. These transitions aren’t really necessary since they just cut to the same shot of the corpse for a few lines of narration, but they’re a fun, spooky touch, anyway.

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If storytelling from beyond the grave isn’t enough to convince you to tune in, the film also features this mask, which is equal parts hilarious and nightmare fuel! (Image via Grim Gallery)

Molly Lamont does a nice job in the role of Laura, her performance suiting both the film’s touch of corn and its more suspenseful moments. The paranoia and anger Lamont brings to the picture are definitely an asset.

Bela Lugosi is also, of course, an asset to the film. While the script has its cheesy moments, Lugosi takes his role seriously throughout, much to the film’s benefit.

With a plot that involves gaslighting, hypnotism, devious maids, and even Nazis, there’s a whole lot going on here that all adds up to silly fun for Halloween viewing. Scared to Death isn’t quite corny enough to be dubbed a Classic of the Corn, but it’s also not a flop. This is a poverty row cheapie that I found enjoyable to watch, flaws and all.

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2 thoughts on “Halloweek: Scared to Death (1947)

  1. You were frankly kinder to this film than I was in my Letterboxd review. Creaky though it is, I admit that I return to it fairly often, mostly to see Lugosi, Pendleton, and Angelo Rossito.

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