SCARED TO DEATH (1947) Reviews and overview

 

‘A thrilling mystery of a supernatural killer!’

Scared to Death is a 1947 American thriller film directed by Christy Cabanne from a screenplay written by Walter Abbott (as W.J. Abbott). The Golden Gate Productions movie stars Bela Lugosi, George Zucco, Nat Pendleton and Molly Lamont. It was filmed in Cinecolor.

Plot:

Morgue examiners reveal that the beautiful dead woman on the slab has literally died of fright…

Previously, the woman was married to the son of a doctor, the proprietor of a private sanatorium, where she is under unwilling treatment. Both the son and the doctor indicate they want the marriage dissolved. Arriving at the scene is a mysterious personage identified as the doctor’s brother who formerly was a stage magician in Europe. He is accompanied by a threatening dwarf (Angelo Rossitto).

After it is apparent that the wife is terrified of the foreigners, it is disclosed that she is the former wife and partner of a Paris dancer known as René, who had been shot by the Nazis. Attempts to draw a confession that she had betrayed her dancer husband and had collaborated with the Nazis led to the use of a device employing a death mask of the dead patriot, which literally frightens her to death.

Although the young newspaperman hero and his sweetheart guess the answer to the story, they allow the diagnosis “scared to death” to stand.

Reviews [click links to read more]:

” …director Christy Cabanne seems to have tried very hard to convince audiences that this was nothing so passé as a horror movie, but what else are we to think we’re watching when a green-faced villain eavesdrops through the windows after dark, when George Zucco plays a doctor with an apparently unsavory secret, or when Bela Lugosi strides onto the set with Angelo Rossitto at his side, clad in his unmistakable scarlet-lined Dracula cape? More seriously, Scared to Death lacks the conviction necessary for the defiant stupidity of the most entertaining of the 1940’s poverty-row spookshows.” 1000 Misspent Hours and Counting

“There’s a lot of red herrings and some hypnosis, but the film meanders; the director does well with the visuals (he was a director of silent films decades earlier), but doesn’t do well with anything else.” Down Among the “Z” Movies

“This wouldn’t be so bad if the movie made even a stab at telling the main story with as much clarity; however, you never really get a good idea of what’s going on, and when you’re not trying to get through the comic relief scenes, you’re treated to a dizzying array of suspicious characters coming out of nowhere and acting like they’re up to something. In the end, there doesn’t seem to be anybody at the wheel and steering the story.” Fantastic Movie Musings and Ramblings

Scared to Death is a wannabe Old Dark House thriller, a la The Cat and the Canary (1927). However, the film has been too cheaply made to afford a dark, gloomy mansion and only takes place in a drearily ordinary house. Indeed, the colour robs it of any potential atmosphere it might have had had it been shot in black-and-white, something that proved a blessing to many other such cheapies.” Moria

George Zucco is pretty good as the amoral and mysterious doctor, though vanishes quite frequently in the second half. Despite his equally intermittent screentime, Bela Lugosi is an off-putting presence, who you’re never sure of. Does he mean well, or is he a more sinister figure? Angelo Rossitto is severely underused.” Not This Time, Nayland Smith

” …you’ll have to negotiate a script containing woefully absurd dialogue, uttered by characters who, with the exception of the excellent Zucco and Lamont, play for laughs and do seem to be having a good time with their lines, even if the audience may not be. While it’s hard to see where this film could have gone by dropping its comedic element, there’s little doubt that Scared to Death falls between two stools…” The Spinning Image

“Claustrophobic, eccentric, and at times downright incoherent, this film is oddly compelling in a warped sort of way, with the crude orange/green two-strip Cinecolor making the whole thing look like it’s taking place in another dimension.” TV Guide

scared to death 1947 bela lugosi UK VHS sleeve

Cast and characters:

Bela Lugosi … Professor Leonide
George Zucco … Doctor Joseph Van Ee
Nat Pendleton … Bill Raymond
Molly Lamont … Laura Van Ee / Laurette La Valle
Joyce Compton … Jane Cornell
Gladys Blake … Lilybeth
Roland Varno … Ward Van Ee
Douglas Fowley … Terry Lee
Stanley Andrews … Pathologist
Angelo Rossitto … Indigo
Lee Bennett … Rene the Killer
Stanley Price … Autopsy Surgeon
Dorothy Christy … Mrs Williams (uncredited)

Filming locations:

Yorke-Metro Studios, 1329 Gordon Street, Hollywood, Los Angeles, California

68 minutes
Cinecolor
Aspect Ratio: 1.37: 1
Audio: Mono

Fun fact:

Probably the first film to be narrated by a corpse. This gimmick was subsequently used in Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard and Danny Boyle thriller Shallow Grave (1994) with Ewan McGregor.

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