Directed by Frank R. Strayer [Other horror films: The Vampire Bat (1933), The Ghost Walks (1934), Condemned to Live (1935)]
Maybe I’m an easy guy to please. This film is entirely pedestrian, even for the time period. A dark and stormy night. A reading of a will. An old, creaky house with secret passages, moving picture frames, and a gorilla. A hand reaching out to an unsuspecting victim’s neck. And more than a few red herrings.
I’ve seen this film three or four times, though, and I still absolutely love it.
The movie was made cheaply – it’s pretty obvious. But the creaky atmosphere, mixed with the constant storm and clues and someone trying to figure out what’s going on, it’s all so fun. I don’t know if I can explain it any more than that – I’ve always had a very fun time with this movie.
There’s not a performance here that isn’t decent. It is extraordinarily unfortunate that black actor Willie Best (who, I kid you not, is credited in this movie as Sleep ‘n Eat) was given the role of a cowardly black chauffeur, who is used purely for comedic purposes (as was so common in those racially disgusting days). He does a good job despite the racist role he was given. Martha Mattox (who was also in 1927’s The Cat and the Canary, Murder by the Clock, and a horror-western with John Wayne called Haunted Gold from 1932) was pretty fun here, though her role wasn’t really too far removed from her previous works.
Mischa Auer (who was also in the serial King of the Wild, along with 1931’s The Drums of Jeopardy) was quite threatening in this one, and had a very solid presence. Playing an invalid man, Sheldon Lewis (who was not only in the less popular Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde from 1920, but also Seven Footprints to Satan, a favorite silent horror film of mine) had a decent role, though I sort of wish a bit more was done with him. Rex Lease, our main protagonist, was pretty cookie-cutter, but did a fine enough job as to not warrant any complaints.
In total, this movie clocks in at an hour long, which doesn’t give it much time to play around with. I think, for the budget, they do a good job here making an entertaining and enjoyable movie. I’ve seen this film quite a few times, and I still find myself enjoying it. Maybe that means I’m an easy guy to please, but whatever the cause, I find this a movie that, despite it’s pedestrian nature, fans of 30’s horror would enjoy.
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