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Thursday, December 17, 2015

HORROR ISLAND (1941)

Slim pickin’s in this none too scary/played-for laughs haunted house pic. It opens well enough, suggestive as a Val Lewton R.K.O. suspenser. A dark & stormy waterfront night (well, dark, anyway); a piratical Leo Carrillo limping along the wharf then stopping at a locked shop. Is it a break in? Suddenly, a man in black cape is chasing Leo. Losing his balance, Leo falls in the water losing his peg leg, too. The wooden leg’s quickly retrieved, but one half of a secret treasure map, hidden inside it’s leather joint, is gone. No doubt, stolen by the mystery man in the cape! Neat. Alas, we’re watching one of those Universal programmers that substitute easy laughs for thrills . . . then misses both targets. Once Carrillo hooks up with bland Dick Foran at the shop he’d stopped at, the focus completely shifts. Foran thinks the map’s a phony, but starts up a touristy treasure cruise on the idea. And once we hit the island with his first group of tourists, it’s all yuk-yuk spooky house gags and wan Ten Little Indians murder mystery tropes.

ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: On the plus side, you do get a rare opportunity to watch a perfectly executed quadruple ‘take’ from the great comic technician Walter Catlett. He wakes up in bed to find he’s been sharing his pillow with a skull. Looks once; looks twice; looks thrice; finally reacts on look #4. Note the little stutter he slips in (like a grace note) on the pay-off look.

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