The Mummy’s Curse (1944)

It’s bad news on the bayou when a swamp drainage project unearths mummy Kharis and the Princess Ananka.

In a local tavern in Cajun country, workers relax while the proprietress, Tante Berthe, entertains them with a song. Once finished, conversation starts about a missing worker, Antoine, and the story of the mummy who carried a girl into the swamps twenty-five years ago. The workers are spooked, but foreman Cajun Joe shrugs it off as nonsense.

On the job site, presumably the next day, the project manager, Pat Walsh, is trying to allay the workers’ fears about their missing co-worker and unnatural things that may exist in the swamp. Now get to work!

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That’s when Jim Halsey, archeologist, arrives with his associate, fez-wearing Egyptian Ilzor Zandaab. They just blew into town to collect those mummies from the swamp so Zandaab can return them to Egypt. Walsh doesn’t want them interfering with his project, but their plan is to look in the areas after they’ve been excavated. Walsh still doesn’t like it. His secretary (and niece) Betty tries putting in a good word on behalf of the archeology team, but her uncle still isn’t convinced.

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The bad word comes in that the missing Antoine has been found, dead. Everyone rushes to the scene, but Halsey is more intrigued by the mummy shaped depression and piece of bandage found nearby in the mud. Must be the mummy! Later that night, Ilzor rendezvous with one of the workers, Ragheb, who tells him Kharis is in the abandoned monastery on the hill, up yonder. When Ragheb admits to using a few workers to transport Kharis’ carcass, Ilzor bitches, but Ragheb tells him not to worry, they won’t say anything, just like Antoine.

They head to the monastery and it turns out Ilzor is a High Priest of Arkham and Ragheb is a disciple. Ilzor provides a lengthy exposition info dump about Kharis and Ananka, then explains about reviving Kharis with the brew of nine tana leaves. After a taste, Kharis rises and gets in his first kill after the Sacristan barges in, raising holy hell about pagan rituals and the pile of dead bodies he found. He is wholly unfazed by the ancient living mummy standing a few yards away.

On another day, after the workers knock off, Ananka rises from the muck of the swamp. After a dip in the water, she wanders, dazed, but perfectly groomed, until found by Cajun Joe who takes her to Tante Berthe. This is witnessed by Ragheb, who high-tails it to the monastery. Ilzor sends Kharis to go get her, but he fails when the frightened and amnesiac Ananka flees upon seeing him. She’s found by Betty and Dr. Halsey and begins helping the doctor with cataloging mummy related stuff found in the swamp. It isn’t long before Kharis makes another attempt to claim his princess.

This isn’t a great movie, but I like it more than its predecessor, The Mummy’s Ghost. The swampy locale of Louisiana is a nice change, even if it doesn’t wholly jibe with the previous entry’s ending. Ananka’s resurrection scene is creepy and effective nightmare fuel, well done by Virginia Christie, the scene is the highlight of the film. The performances are a mixed bag. Addison Richards is fine as crusty and gruff Pat Walsh, as is Kurt Katsch as the affable Cajun Joe. Kay Harding does well enough as Betty. Dennis Moore as Dr. Halsey isn’t terrible, but he isn’t exactly memorable either. Virginia Christie is somewhat mediocre, too, but she doesn’t have a lot to work with.

As Kharis, Lon Chaney, Jr. lopes along at a snail’s pace and half the time I wondered if it was really him under the bandages. Peter Coe has a rather thankless role as High Priest Ilzor; unlike earlier movies, his priest of Arkham doesn’t fall for the girl, he’s solely focused on his task of retrieving the two mummies. He’s also burdened with having to deliver a lengthy voice-over during a flashback. With a better script, I think he could have done more. The dependably shifty Martin Kosleck is on hand as worksite plant, murderer, and acolyte Ragheb, although even he looks bored during Coe’s long monologue; no wonder he makes an out-of-nowhere play for Betty. It would have helped if there had been a scene or two showing Ragheb and the secretary interacting to indicate his interest in her. The outdoor locations and sets are up to Universal’s usual standards.

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Like so many of Universal’s movies of this time, this entry is short and moves at a decent pace. I give it a 5.5 out of 10; if you ignore the plot holes, like how Halsey and Betty became a romantic couple, how Halsey can follow footprints through a swamp in the dead of night without a light source, and Kharis moving slower than a turtle stuck in molasses, it’s a fun way to spend an hour. Definitely worth a watch for the Ananka rising from the swamp scene and the always reliable Kosleck.

The Mad Doctor (1940)

After the death of his wife, a Bluebeard psychiatrist sets his sites on a wealthy, but psychologically fragile, young woman. His plans begin to go awry when he falls in love with his intended victim, a reporter starts digging into his past, and his partner in crime begins voicing objections.

The Mad Doctor is a crime thriller from Paramount studios starring Basil Rathbone, Ellen Drew, John Howard, and Martin Kosleck. On a stormy night in the town of Midbury, Dr. Downer (Ralph Morgan) is summoned to the home of Dr. George Sebastian (Basil Rathbone), whose ill wife has taken a turn for the worse. Upon arriving, Downer is met on the veranda and told he’s too late, the woman is dead, having succumbed to pneumonia. After the funeral, on an appropriately rainy day, George heads home and discusses his future plans with his live-in companion and friend Maurice Gretz (Martin Kosleck). George’s wife didn’t die of illness, but was murdered, and the two men have a criminal history that goes back some twenty years to Vienna. Once the estate is settled, George declares, it’s on to New York. Dr. Downer, meanwhile, can’t shake the feeling that something nefarious took place, but since he has no proof, he decides not to pursue his hunch.

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Several months later, George has established himself in New York. The ditzy wife of a newspaper publisher, Louise Watkins, calls upon Dr. Sebastian to interpret her dreams. Impressed, she’d like the charming doctor to talk with her sister, Linda, who is apparently neurotic. Louise is hosting a charity bazaar and arranges for the doctor to meet Linda who will be working a booth. At the bazaar, Gil Sawyer (John Howard), a reporter for Lawrence Watkins’ newspaper, is covering his boss’ wife’s event, and stops to chat with mopey Linda (Ellen Drew). It seems they’ve been seeing each other romantically. George arrives, and has a brief conversation with Linda that angers Gil; the reporter rails to Louise that psychiatrists are frauds and quacks and steal people’s souls.

Once George leaves, Gil and Linda step onto the terrace. With crazy eyes, she tells him she’d never be happy married to him.

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When Gil walks off to make a phone call, Linda climbs over the railing intending to jump. He stops her just in time and takes her home, with her sister calling Dr. Sebastian. Gil bitches again about evil headshrinkers, he’s going to write an exposé about them! Watkins refuses to print it, so Gil says he’ll shop it to a competitor. Upon returning home, George informs Maurice he’s going to marry again, only when this one dies, they’ll be rich. That sounds good to Maurice.

For an unspecified amount of time, Linda has been seeing Dr. Sebastian to get her head straight. Leaving his office one day, she happens to meet Gil in the elevator. He’s been writing his anti-psychiatry articles, as promised, and convinces Linda to spend the afternoon with him, all she needs is to have fun! They go to Coney Island and the races. That evening, George shows up at the Watkins’ for a formal dinner engagement. Linda and Gil arrive and Sawyer begins to bitch at George again about his chosen profession. Dr. Sebastian (in one of the best scenes of the movie) then proves he’s not a charlatan by hypnotizing Linda and having her reveal the traumatic childhood experience that’s been plaguing her subconscious. The information she imparts is confirmed by her sister and brother-in-law. Humbled Gil departs.

Sawyer heads down to Midbury to talk to Dr. Downer about George. It seems Dr. Sebastian is a two-time widower. Gil discovered that, prior to living in Midbury, George lived in Savannah, where his wife died of pneumonia. Dr. Downer holds off on revealing any information, he wants to verify Gil is who he says he is first.

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George and Linda have begun seeing each other and eventually become engaged. The only problem is that George has truly fallen in love with her, she’s not just some hapless victim in his eyes anymore. George informs Maurice he’ll be moving to Ecuador with his bride, and he’s not invited to join them. Maurice is less than pleased. In addition, Gil’s journalistic sleuthing is starting to uncover some of George’s past.

I really liked this movie. I forgot how wonderfully silky a villain Rathbone could be, and he always does it with panache. He’s great in this. Unlike some other crime thrillers of the era I recently watched, this movie is neither convoluted nor overpopulated, which works to its advantage. Director Tim Whelan keeps things moving relatively well throughout. The only thing that started to feel trying was an extended game of cat-and-mouse in the third act, although part of my irritation with it may stem from the copy I was watching. This film doesn’t have a proper video release, I was watching a DVD-r made from a print in a personal collection. The picture is a bit soft, night scenes disappear in blackness (only a few, thankfully), it suffers from extremely low volume audio, and the audio went badly out of synch in the third reel, a maddening distraction.

The aforementioned hypnosis scene is a highlight of the film. Setting a metronome in motion, George sits at the piano and begins to play a tune. Linda falls into a trance and the melody being softly played on the piano is the perfect accompaniment for what transpires next. A wonderful scene, as is a later one, again with Rathbone and Drew, talking on the balcony where she had earlier attempted suicide. It’s then that we get some backstory on Dr. George Sebastian.

The greatest mystery of the movie, however, revolves around the relationship between George and Maurice. At the start, one could say Maurice was a servant to George and his wife, he’s the one dispatched to Dr. Downer. Later, however, it’s obvious he’s not a servant, the relationship between the two men is much more. Obviously they’re partners in crime and long-time friends. Lovers? Perhaps. During a contentious argument, Maurice complains that George was always “the brains,” implying George is the dominant personality in their relationship. Dr. Sebastian may be the professional with a degree, but Maurice has pragmatism, street-smarts, and cool grit on his side, which he uses to shift the dynamic, so who’s really the dominant personality?

The acting overall is good, although early on, Ellen Drew’s wide, darting eyes to signal the crazy was a bit over done. Since it’s mainly set in New York City among the well-to-do, we see women in long gowns and men in tails interacting in swanky apartments. And let’s not forget the fascinatingly louche duo of Rathbone and Kosleck casually lounging on couches while discussing their next crime.

In spite of the problems with the copy I watched, I give The Mad Doctor a solid 7.5 out of 10. (The audio file below is a full synopsis with spoilers. Raw notes made immediately after viewing)

The Mad Doctor synopsis/review

The Mummy’s Ghost (1943)

Even higher institutions of learning aren’t safe from the centuries old Kharis, who causes chaos on a college campus.

As the fourth installment of Universal’s mummy franchise begins, the aged and tremor-ridden High Priest of Arkham, Andoheb, gives instructions to his replacement, Yousef Bey, tasking him with finding and returning Kharis and the Princess Ananka to Egypt. He also tells him Kharis is still alive and can be summoned by brewing up some tana leaves during a full moon.

In an unnamed college in Mapleton, Massachusetts, Prof. Norman discusses the mummy and its history with his skeptical class. He insists it’s all true, he saw the mummy in action himself. One of the students, Tom Hervey, is dating another student, Amina Mansouri, a woman of Egyptian descent who comes over a bit flakey whenever Egypt comes up in conversation.

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That night in his study, Prof. Norman has his eureka! moment and starts boiling the nine tana leaves, what with it being a full moon and all. Kharis emerges from wherever the hell he’s been hiding out and heads for the professor’s. As he passes Amina’s, his shadow falls across the sleeping woman through her window. She gets out of bed, then seems to sleepwalk in the same direction. Kharis makes it to Norman’s and kills the professor, pausing to take a swig of the tana leaf brew. Standing across the street, Amina sees him leave and promptly faints, suddenly sporting a streak of white in her dark hair.

The police investigate the murder, and Amina, found nearby, can’t explain why she was in the vicinity. When Tom hears of the event, he rushes over and, though alarmed, says nothing about the hair color change.

That night, Yousef Bey uses the tana leaves to summon Kharis. Despite a murderer in their midst, Tom, with his dog Peanut in tow, parks on a secluded road for a chat with Amina. She comes over strange again when Kharis’ shadow flits past and Peanut starts yapping. Kharis inexplicably heads to a farm and kills the owner when the man goes to check on his own barking canine. The intrepid sheriff is on it, organizing either a posse or neighborhood watch with the town’s menfolk.

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Yousef Bey pays a visit to the Scripps Museum and hides in the Egyptian room housing the wrapped remains of Ananka. Once the museum closes, Kharis joins him for what is presumably a ritual. Unfortunately, when Kharis reaches out to touch Ananka, the bandages collapse; there are no remains. Bey says the princess has been reincarnated, they have to find her, she’ll have the mark. Kharis pitches a fit, trashing the room, which draws the attention of the night watchman. It’s another kill for Kharis.

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The sheriff decides to set a trap for the mummy by reenacting the events leading up to Prof. Norman’s murder. Tom plans on taking Amina to New York, against the sheriff’s orders not to leave town, and leaves his dog with her for the night. Kharis follows the tana leaves, and this time, meets the mesmerized Amina outside. He takes off with her and word spreads of the abduction, with the incessantly yipping Peanut, Tom, and the posse following.

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No mincing words; this movie is terrible and a struggle to sit through. The characters are uninteresting, and there’s quite a few noticeable day for night shots, which detract from the many outdoor scenes. Why the mummy’s lame arm is suddenly usable when he needs to carry Amina is beyond me. Don’t get me started on the college students who look to be about thirty-five, and the less said about the barking Peanut the better. The acting is forgettable; not awful, but not memorable, except for John Carradine as Yousef Bey (try not to think of The Ten Commandments when he starts praying to the gods of Egypt). Lon Chaney Jr. shuffles along as Kharis, something we see a lot of, Kharis walking, walking…and walking (padding out the run-time, no doubt).

I did like the scene of Kharis’ temper tantrum in the museum, not to mention the shot of the security guard reading a Detective magazine while listening to a Suspense or Inner Sanctum type show on the radio in his office. Yousef Bey’s eventual hide-out, an abandoned mill, was visually interesting, especially the steep ramp with rails to the shack up top. The other thing I liked I can’t mention as it serves as a spoiler, but it was well done and added a neat twist to the proceedings. A dog of a movie, I give it a 4 out of 10, most of it going to Carradine.

Level of engagement when writing

While doing a stream of consciousness recording last night, I began talking about my novel-in-hiatus, as well as another project, and some valuable insight emerged. I started talking about the new approach I undertook to rework another old manuscript.

Several weeks ago, I sat down with a notebook to brainstorm ideas to develop an early draft of another book (I plot or plan a story to have a good foundation, the skeleton and muscle, so to speak. Once that exists, the fleshing out and dressing up can occur more spontaneously). I made the decision to be methodical, clinical, and, most importantly, dispassionate as I worked. This approach helped. I’d write something down and was able to coolly and logically say, “that’s good,” “no, that’s not right,” or “this has potential and could possibly work.” At one point, I remember becoming excited about an idea, the old “yes! That’s awesome! I’m really — ” Disengage, my analytical brain said, be more workmanlike, and I listened.

This was an interesting process, not being emotionally invested. It’s because of that investment that I believe I (and other authors) flame out. In my case, I put the characters in my hiatus novel through the wringer; it’s emotionally and psychologically grinding. It’s exhausting for me because I became so invested in their world and their “lives.” I believe I have to be emotionally invested if the story is going to have any semblance of legitimacy or plausibility. That insistence on my part may be detrimental, along with an annoying perfectionist streak that only appears when writing.

I write third person omniscient; that fly on the wall, observing events and characters, but also possessing the ability to jump inside their heads. I see what they do, but at the same time, know their motivations, and what they think and feel (physically and emotionally). It’s a lot of baggage. Not for me, personally, but when writing, I’m carrying theirs all at once. I’m the porter, the bellhop, weighted down with however many characters’ burdens, machinations, doubts, fears, etc. That takes big shoulders, but even so, I have to shake that off and take a break (and none of them tip!).

Still on the hiatus novel, it’s not like when I was doing the earliest draft, when the ideas came fast and furious and I just wrote them down. Now, it’s the hard work, rewriting. A lot of good came out of the rewrite, but it’s become a much more complex story. It’s draining. I was on a writing high when working that early draft, filled with yeah, this is good! enthusiasm,  (for what it was, it was okay). I didn’t have the long-term investment like I do now with this incarnation. I went deeper, into the heart and soul of it, burrowing down into its core. I realize I’ve been working on it for so long, with so many detailed notes, it’s become difficult to approach this novel dispassionately. I may have to detach myself from it in order to complete it, but even that’s a balancing act.

I used to see the advice of “write for yourself.” If I follow that, I can always let the novel lie and die. After all, I know how the story ends.

She-Wolf of London (1946)

A young bride-to-be suspects she’s a lycanthropic killer when a series of mysterious attacks occur near her ancestral home.

Turn-of-the-century London. At Scotland Yard, Detective Latham speaks to the Inspector about a man attacked in the park. The victim survived, and reports it was a woman who did the deed. Latham entertains the idea it could be a werewolf. The Inspector thinks he’s crazy.

Engaged couple Phyllis Allenby and Barry Lanfield are enjoying a horseback ride in the park near the Allenby mansion and discussing their wedding set for the following week.

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They come across the cops investigating the crime scene. Phyllis gets squirrelly. They head for home. At the mansion, Phyllis’ cousin asks housekeeper Hannah, on her way to the market, to deliver a note which will be retrieved by her lover. Sure thing. Unfortunately, Carol’s mother, Martha, witnesses the hand-off and stops Hannah, demanding the note. Mother then ushers her daughter into the house and says she can never marry penniless artist Dwight Severin. She then explains they aren’t related to Phyllis. Martha was in love with George Allenby, but he married Phyllis’ mother and Martha married someone else. When her husband died, Martha became the housekeeper at the mansion, daughter in tow. Phyllis is the sole heir.

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When Barry and Phyllis return, the dogs bought for protection are menacing Phyllis, they don’t like her. That night, the dogs are riled up, putting Phyllis on edge. Aunt Martha stops by and offers to fix the poor girl a glass of warm milk to help her sleep. She heads to the kitchen, then Carol sweeps down intending to meet Dwight. She’s caught by Mama, who sends her up to bed before taking the milk to Phyllis. A little later, a cloaked figure exits the house. In the nearby park, a pair of constables hear the cry of someone in distress.

The following morning, Phyllis wakes to discover blood on her hands and mud on her slippers. When Auntie pops in to ask how she slept, her distraught niece shows her the incriminating evidence and wails it’s the Allenby curse (a vague curse never fully explained). Aunt Martha tells her to play it cool, act natural, especially in front of Carol.

At breakfast, Carol joins the two and reads aloud from the paper the news about a ten-year-old boy who was killed in the park the previous night. Phyllis freaks out. When Barry arrives later, Phyllis refuses to see her affianced. Det. Latham stops by for a brief talk with the lady of the house about the goings-on. That evening, the police are patrolling the park, including Latham, who keeps crying werewolf. Like the Inspector, the constables also think he’s crackers. The mystery woman slips from the house again and Latham is attacked, dropping dead before he can gasp out who assailed him.

 

 

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Carol offers a sympathetic ear to not-cousin cousin Phyllis, who doesn’t care to discuss her troubles. Carol goes out riding with Barry and suggests he disregard her mother and talk to Phyllis, which he does. He convinces his betrothed to go out for a drive, but she quickly gets on the Allenby curse nonsense again, without revealing details of the nocturnal happenings.

Another night, another expedition, but the woman is followed by Barry. They head to the park, which is crawling with cops. A lot of misdirection ensues. A man is seen sitting on a park bench in the foggy night. Two officers run into Barry, who’s some big-wig lawyer. They hear the man shout out and rush to his aid. He explains he was attacked from behind, definitely by a woman, but he didn’t see the face, and remarks she was quite strong. Conveniently, Carol makes the scene, her lover Dwight being the man who was attacked. She explains they had a rendezvous. The police suggest they head to the station to sort things out.

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The following night, Phyllis heads to Carol’s room with a bundle, saying she needs to talk. A short time later, as Carol is heading out of the house, she’s stopped by her mother. Going to meet her lover? How brazen! No, to the police. No, she can’t do that, think of poor Phyllis!

Obviously, there is no werewolf in this, but, rather, a female murderer, making it a mystery instead of a horror flick. Directed by Jean Yarbrough (House of Horrors), the cast is enjoyable; June Lockhart (Lassie, Lost in Space) is the wide-eyed ingenue Phyllis, and Don Porter (Gidget) plays her intended Barry Lanfield. Sara Haden props things up as stern, but concerned, matriarch Aunt Martha. Jan Wiley, as Carol, and Eily Malyon as Hannah round out the cast of Allenby Hall residents. As mentioned, a lot of misdirection is going on, with cagey glances and questionable behavior casting suspicion on the four ladies living in the house. Will Carol make a play for Barry? Is Phyllis a maniacal killer? Is Hannah being devious? Just how much does Aunt Martha know? The nighttime park scenes are appropriately foggy and the interior of the mansion has some nice baroque details. The middle of the movie can seem a bit tedious, but it’s worth sitting through for the conclusion, including a key scene in the finale that makes use of Dutch angles, to great effect. I rate it 4.5 out of 10.

House of Horrors (1946)

The work of starving artist Marcel De Lange is misunderstood by the art community. After being personally and professionally insulted in his own home, De Lange turns critic slayer, utilizing a unique weapon.HoH2

Marcel De Lange (Martin Kosleck) is a sculptor, whose statues of human figures could be classified in the avant-garde Modernism style. By candlelight, he has a discussion with his cat, Pietro, about his pitiful finances and meager dinner of bread and cheese, borrowed from a neighbor. All that’s about to change, however, as a patron is expected that evening to purchase a piece for $1,000. The man arrives, having brought highly esteemed art critic Holmes Harmon (Alan Napier of Batman fame) along for his opinion. Harmon is the epitome of a haughty, elitist snob who, with no sign of compunction, disparages both the artist and his work. “Tripe!” he scornfully sniffs. “A work of lunacy.” Marcel, understandably enraged, drives them out by brandishing a very large knife, then smashes the sculpture with a mallet. HoH1Walking the docks, about to commit suicide, Marcel spies a man pulling himself from the river. He rushes down to help, and upon seeing the man’s unusual visage, declares it magnificent. Marcel takes the man (Rondo Hatton) home and asks him to model for a new piece that’s going to set the art world on fire. Sure, the brutish looking man replies. After a day of work, Marcel turns in for the night, while his muse heads out and murders a streetwalker he saw passing by. The police wonder if it could be the work of the Creeper, a serial killer who strangles his victims, then snaps their spines. He should be dead (per a previous movie), but his body was never found.

Next evening, Marcel reads about the murder in the paper, then bitches about critic Harmon. The Creeper decides to pay him a visit.

Meanwhile, another art critic, Joan Medford (Virginia Grey), stops at Harmon’s office to discuss another artist, her boyfriend, Steve Morrow (Robert Lowery) whom pompous Harmon also disparages (Morrow paints “cheesecake” commercial art). Once Joan leaves, the Creeper creeps and it’s lights out for Harmon. The cops suspect Morrow, since his recent show was panned by the deceased and Harmon was at work on another piece blasting the artist.

Joan pays a visit to Marcel, who won’t allow her to see his work-in-progress. When he leaves the room to get some wine, she sneaks a peek at the bust, which is witnessed by the model, who’s hiding in another part of the room.

On the investigation front, the lead detective, Brooks (Bill Goodwin), decides to set a trap using another art critic, who bashes Morrow and compares him to lunatic, talent-deficient sculptor De Lange. The sting works, luring Morrow to the critic’s apartment, but Marcel has also read the column, and the Creeper does his thing.HoH5When Joan pays another visit to Marcel looking for content for her next column, she swipes his reference sketch, witnessed again by the Creeper. When Marcel learns Joan stole his sketch…well, desperate times call for desperate measures.

This is another brisk, 65 minute effort put out by Universal. It’s not a horror movie, but more of a mystery-crime flick with noir touches (there’s some nice shadow work in a couple of scenes) and some occasional second-tier snappy dialogue. Rondo Hatton (who suffered from acromegaly, causing disfigurement of the face and hands) wasn’t really an actor, but as the Creeper, he’s a man of very few words and it works well in the context of this story. The rest of the cast put in serviceable performances, although Virginia Grey’s Joan is a bit of a poor man’s Rosalind Russell or Eve Arden. Alan Napier, as snooty critic Harmon, is fun to watch, while Martin Kosleck, as the struggling Marcel De Lange is the real draw. The opening scene, Marcel’s monologue to his cat, creates sympathy for the character. You feel for the guy, and see he’s a decent man, taking in a stranger who has given him a new lease on life (Marcel tells the Creeper as much, explaining he was about to suicide and thanking him for saving his life and inspiring his new project).

Marcel is a little guy, literally and figuratively, pushed around by others, even Joan calls him “little man” once or twice. He feels powerless, but with his new, large and strong friend, he feels empowered.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Pietro, Marcel’s cat, the best feline actor I’ve seen on film. He was Marcel’s friend, confidant, and ever-faithful companion (by the end of the movie you’ll know what I mean).

This is by no means a great movie, but it’s competently made and breezes along, although I think it’s a must-see for Kosleck fans. On a scale of 1 – 10, I objectively give it a 6.5, but as a personal favorite, I rate it about an 8.5. Fun stuff.

The Frozen Ghost (1945)

After an audience member dies during a hypnotist’s act, the guilt-ridden mesmerist  moves into a wax museum to “relax.” What could possibly go wrong?

Alex Gregor (aka Gregor the Great) has a mentalist act that he performs with his fiancée partner Maura Daniel. During one of their performances, a drunk heckler interrupts and Alex invites the man onstage to prove Maura’s clairvoyance isn’t a trick; he’ll do the same with him. The man stumbles onstage, remaining obnoxious. Alex mutters that he could kill him, then starts to hypnotize him. Unfortunately, the man inconveniently drops dead.FG1

Later, backstage, Alex and Maura are talking to investigating detective Inspector Brant. Alex’s manager, George, walks in and woe-is-me Gregor insists he killed the audience member with his mind. He did it, he killed him! He wished him dead! The cop gets word that the heckler was a long-time drunk with a bad ticker; he had a heart attack, it wasn’t the mentalist’s fault. Alex isn’t convinced and rushes out to wander the streets all night, moping and blaming himself.

The next morning, Alex returns home and tells George and Maura he’s calling it quits; not just the act, but the engagement, too. George then asks a friend of his for help. Valerie Monet owns and operates a wax museum, can Alex stay there until he gets his head straight? Valerie extends the invitation, which includes a job giving the lectures on the tableaux to the patrons (which we never see). Alex accepts. Once there, she introduces him to her young niece, Nina, and former plastic surgeon, Rudi Polden, the eccentric man who crafts the wax figures (he talks to his creations).

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Well, Rudi is shifty, and stirs up trouble by playing off Valerie’s romantic interest in Alex by telling her Alex has eyes for Nina. Valerie gets into a bitch-fest with Alex about both Maura and making a play for Nina. In his anger, he hypnotizes her (what?) and she faints. He goes into a fugue state and starts walking around town again, clutching Valerie’s scarf.FG4

When Alex returns next morning, Valerie is gone and Nina has called the police. The same cop from earlier is there to take the report. Not long afterwards, Nina goes missing, and Alex enlists the aid of former partner Maura to find out what happened to the two.FG6

This is one of six short, (60 minute) low-budget Inner Sanctum movies Universal churned out in the 1940’s, starring Lon Chaney, Jr. In this one, he plays Alex Gregor and it’s a rather bland performance. The rest of the cast, including Evelyn Ankers and Milburn Stone, put in decent enough performances, given the material they have to work with. The detective, played by Douglass Dumbrille, is also a bit of an eccentric. Martin Kosleck, as Rudi Polden, is always enjoyable to watch and can make a simple line like “Little Nina” sound simultaneously affectionate and sinister.

There are problems with the script. For instance, the mentalist act. It seems Alex is only a hypnotist, but Maura is the psychic. If she’s doing all the heavy lifting, shouldn’t she be the headliner? Also, why is the cop, who identifies himself as being with the homicide squad, later investigating a missing person? Why are three different women swooning over mopey, hang-dog Alex? There’s a key plot point discussed later on that’s questionable, but mentioning it would be a spoiler.

This is far from a great movie, I’d give it a 5 out of 10 (*), but I’m a sucker for a creaky old wax museum flick and Martin Kosleck causing trouble. This is a rainy weekend time-waster if you turn off your brain and just enjoy. (* I’ve raised my rating to 7.5 after a subsequent viewing. Very re-watchable, at least for me. Your viewing mileage may vary.)

Raw Audio Recap The Frozen Ghost

The Flesh Eaters (1964)

Because distraction can be good for the writer’s soul, I recently indulged my latest obsession (veteran character actor Martin Kosleck) and watched the low-budget 1964 horror flick, The Flesh Eaters. I was wary; too many times I had bought a movie, unseen, or wasted two hours watching on tv, a movie with an actor I liked, only to discover they only had a two-minute cameo at either the very beginning or two-thirds of the way through what was otherwise a crap fest. I am pleased to say that wasn’t the case here.

The Flesh Eaters begins with personal assistant Jan Letterman chartering a plane for her employer, actress Laura Winters, from down-on-his-luck pilot Grant Murdoch. Laura needs to make the curtain for the play she’s starring in out-of-state. The real question is whether she’ll sober up in time, because she’s three sheets to the wind with a portable liquor store in an overnight bag. There’s also a little problem of a tropical storm heading their way; Murdoch says it’s too dangerous to fly. Jan offers him triple his fee and since he needs the cash, he takes the risk.

In mid-flight, heading ever closer to the storm, they experience engine trouble and Murdoch makes an emergency landing on a small island off the coast. They quickly discover the island isn’t uninhabited as they meet Dr. Peter Bartell, marine biologist conducting crustacean experiments (his pleasant, German accented voice and steely eyes are no cause for concern. None at all). After finding a human skeleton washed ashore, the doctor brushes it off to a shark attack, then offers the trio safe haven in his tent further inland.

The next morning, glimmering fish skeletons are littering the beach. Something is amiss. A little later, a beatnik named Omar makes it to the island on his shabby raft (how in the hell did that survive a hurricane?). Things go from bad to worse when the stranded travelers realize they’re trapped on the island, the waters infested with some sort of flesh-eating amoeba.

This is considered to be one of the first gore movies, released a year after Blood Feast. Unlike its predecessor, The Flesh Eaters is a pretty decent low-budget B movie. The acting isn’t bad, the B&W cinematography is great, and it has some fairly good practical effects, the flesh-eaters themselves most notably.

I’m happy to say Martin Kosleck has a sizable role in this as Dr. Bartell. He’s the villain, of course, and, as usual, delivers. All the actors do a decent to good job playing their trope roles, even Ray Tudor as Omar, the insufferable proto-hippie (watching him makes you understand why Eric Cartman hates them).

One of my favorite scenes is tied to an earlier one. The set-up: Shortly after the three make it to the island, Dr. Bartell takes a moment to talk to Laura. Noting she has a thing for macho Murdoch, he tells her it’s brains, not brawn, that makes a man attractive. Apparently, although he may be studying hermit crabs, he himself is not one when the opportunity to get it on with a still desirable actress is presented (how she retains her looks despite being a big-time lush is beyond me). Needless to say, she shoots the doctor down. The payoff: Later in the movie, however, she makes a play for him. He suggests they duck behind a secluded dune. I immediately say there is no way he’s getting any, because he’s Martin Kosleck, and his characters never get any! What happens next had me laughing out loud, in a good way.

I was skeptical about this movie, but it ended up being a lot of fun. A shifty scientist with a German accent, a busty blonde who strips to her bra to fashion a bandage for the injured hero, a Maynard G. Krebbs type, and some cool flesh eating creatures. Gather your friends, and in keeping with the spirit of the movie and Dr. Bartell, get some shrimp and crab legs and make a night of it. Just keep an eye on your drink!

(The Flesh Eaters is available to stream on Amazon or can be watched for free on YouTube)

Utilizing audio in your writing

I was going to write a post about my grand plans for adding an external monitor to my work space. It’s a nice one, but it’s not working out the way I wanted or hoped. All that effort comparing models, price, etc. wasted. Perhaps it’s just a period of adjustment.

I was beyond pleased the other night when I discovered some items for the novel written out on a couple of legal pads. I’ll be adding those things today and also wanted to take a look at another chapter that needs notes crafted into actual, readable, prose. I have some recordings about that chapter that I’d like to revisit, I just have to find them.

Perhaps I mentioned this before. I use a digital recorder in my writing process. This started with the episode guides. I’d watch an episode, taking handwritten notes, then I’d dictate those notes into a recorder. The episode was fresh in my mind, and sometimes, I’d recall something that I hadn’t written down, or an inconsistency, plot hole, or call back to an earlier episode. I didn’t plan on keeping any of those recordings, but they were fun to listen to because of the looseness. They were quite raw, occasionally filled with obscenities, rants, and laughing jags. I’ve saved most of them. Alas, very early ones were deleted due to the first recorder I was using not having capability of file transfer. I honestly didn’t think I’d be saving them. I lost well over two hundred entries.

On that first, inferior, recorder, I also began making notes for various works in progress. This novel, surprisingly, wasn’t one of them. I didn’t think I’d dig it out of the trunk and do anything with it. How wrong I was. With the purchase of a better recorder (stereo, Mp3 files, and USB transfer), not only was I making my episode guide recordings, but I started talking through the novel. There were a lot of things that needed to be changed, developed, or sorted out, and using the recorder was a way to do that. It quickly became apparent that I’d need a second, dedicated recorder solely for the novel. Purchase made.

recorders

I usually do those recordings at night, over a drink or cup of tea. Hit record and start talking. For parts of the story that were nebulous, stream of consciousness rambling eventually got me to something substantial and concrete. And since it’s recorded, I can listen back, and it settles in my subconscious, so the next recording is more to the point, more focused (and, sometimes, parts are worded exactly the same). I resolved two major issues using this process. The number of files was high, but eventually I got it. Unfortunately, transcribing all those files can be overwhelming, especially when some run up to forty-five minutes. Some, however, are a concise two or three minutes; a quick note to add something to a scene, or dialogue.

Part of the reason I like using a recorder is because it’s immediate; think it, speak it, and it’s there. Although I’m a fast typist, I would still lose things. Another benefit is emotion or enthusiasm. I find that when I’m immersed in a dictation, emotion, vocal inflection, and tone of voice for the characters in a given situation come through. Angry, confused, delighted, sorrowful, it’s there. And the beauty of it is, I can listen back to those files and hear what I intend to convey in the written word. My stories have plot, of course, but they are also very character driven, and tend to have a lot of layers. This method helps in those areas as well. It’s also useful to read a chapter into one and see if the writing has the right flow and rhythm, and gauge whether the words make sense and are accessible to readers.

For me, reorders are as essential a tool as pen, paper, and computer.

 

Changing course

There’s always so much to do in the self-publishing world, and it’s exhausting. It also pulls you away from what you want to do most, write. Sometimes, I use these other things, these necessary evils, as a way to procrastinate.

The first was in finding the perfect image for the book cover. I became obsessed with it. Once I found it, I toyed with how to use it, slightly modify it, and looked for the perfect font. This was over a year ago, the book still incomplete. But I had a cover.

I distracted myself with re-issuing earlier, unrelated, books using my own ISBNs in order to have a little more control over my work. This involved learning the ins-and-outs of Bowker and IngramSpark. Easy enough, except, IngramSpark has different requirements for cover files. Another distraction, which included upgrading from Photoshop Elements to Photoshop and re-learning how to do certain actions in a more powerful program. And hey, I also switched aggregators to distribute my e-books wide. Fortunately, that’s an easy system to use, except…you know, I really need to add an active, hyperlink table of contents to those books. Let me distract myself with that for a week or so.

Okay, book cover? Check. Reissues reissued? Check. Understand how Bowker and IngramSpark work? Check. Understand enough of Photoshop to do what I need? Sure. E-book hyperlinks? Got ’em.

You know, I should really try and have an online presence. It’s what all the kids are doing nowadays, can’t be a dinosaur, can I? Yes, it’s already tough trying to get a blog post up twice a month, but, go for it. So, I created a Twitter account, which I avoided for years because I didn’t think I was succinct enough. Turns out, I am. Found some great people to follow, too. It’s so entertaining to distract myself and procrastinate reading those tweets.

Hmm, I hear about AMS ads. I should really look into that. Warning: start trying to build a list of keywords for ads and you’ll be at it for days. Or weeks. And, wouldn’t you know it, as I search for relevant words, authors, and book titles, I find books that interest me. I should order this or that book and distract myself from my writing a bit more. True story, last night, I had some books in my cart but wasn’t logged into Amazon. I closed the browser and thought, you know, I don’t really need those books. Besides, I have a stack of titles I haven’t even read yet. Screw it.

Well, after all those diversions, I’ve come to a decision that’s going to require a lot of willpower. I’m not sure I’m up to it, but, damn it, I’m going to try. No more distractions, no more procrastination. I’ve got to focus on the novel. I don’t care how small the progress, as long as it’s progress. To that end, I’ll still try to update the blog twice a month. I’ll still be checking in on Twitter, but not to waste time or procrastinate. The book is far too important.