Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Vamp or Not? Spooks Run Wild

It seems some people make the assumption that the presence of Bela Lugosi maketh the film a vampire film – the curse, one could say, of making Dracula – and some DVD sets that purport to be vampire sets have Bela movies on them that are not vampire themed. Actually he made relatively few vampire movies and would only actually reprise Dracula once in Bud Abbott and Lou Costello meet Frankenstein.

That had not occurred when he made this movie in 1941, in which Monogram brought together Bela and the East Side Kids. In fact I had never seen the film, and never even considered there might be a vampire element to it, until a friend, Leila, e-mailed me and said that she had just watched it and I might be as well checking it out – she had dismissed this one as well, up to that point.

The kids, at the beginning of the film, are being rounded up by the cops and delivered to Jeff Dixon (Dave O’Brien) and Linda (Dorothy Short). They are taking the kids, whether they like it or not, to camp. Actually, one questions why Jeff was involved in this project; he seemed awfully reluctant throughout the film.

going to camp
Anyway, they get to the town of Hillside and stop off for a moment. Muggs (Leo Gorcey), Glimpy (Huntz Hall) and Danny (Bobby Jordan) wander down to a sweet store and, having spotted clerk Margie (Rosemary Portia), they go in. Inside they hear a radio report suggesting that the ‘Monster Murderer’ is in the Hillside area – he has already committed 3 gruesome murders. They almost miss the bus to camp.

Bela Lugosi as Nardo
Later, at the Hillside gas station, the clerk is reading a book and we hear a description of someone “thirsting for the flow of bright red blood…” there is a knock and he sees a diminutive man, Luigi (Angelo Rossitto, Dracula vs Frankenstein). He is at a truck, with coffins and another man (fully caped and dressed roughly like Dracula) called Nardo (Bela Lugosi) asks him they way to the Billings Estate. The man points it out and Nardo breezes off. Another car pulls up and the man recognises the driver as Dr Von Grosch (Dennis Moore), from his book, and realises that he must be hunting the Monster. He tells Von Grosch that the Monster Murderer has gone to the Billings Estate and the Doctor swears him to secrecy regarding his presence.

vanishing in the graveyard
When we next see Nardo it is at the cemetery, which he calls the City of the Dead, where he visits the grave of Marianne Billings. As often occurs in these sorts of movies, the caretaker is out digging graves at night and sees the strangers. Rather than ask who Nardo and Luigi might be, he raises a gun and takes a shot but the two men have faded and vanished before his eyes.

the Billings Estate
Meanwhile Muggs had been intent on sneaking into town and seeing Margie, but Glimpy and Danny followed. Soon after Scruno (Sunshine Sammy Morrison), Peewee (David Gorcey) and Skinny (Donald Haines) follow as well. When the first three are on their own the Monster Murderer is mentioned and he is called a ghoul who “sucks the blood outa you.” But soon all 6 ‘kids’ (the actors were aged between 18 and 29) are together and in the cemetery. The caretaker shoots at them and peppers Peewee with buckshot, so they go to the nearby Billings House for help.

Soon Nardo has patched Peewee up and given him a sedative to help him rest, but he starts sleepwalking – leading Scruno to declare that Peewee is a zombie. The others become more and more convinced that the house is haunted and Nardo is the Monster Murderer. They even find a book that suggests he prowls at night seeking new victims and sleeps in a coffin by day. Also that he can only be stopped by silver bullets or blessed iron.

the filmmakers played on Lugosi's typecast
So we have a “Monster Murderer”, who sucks blood and sleeps in a coffin. The silver bullets might be vampire lore (as much as they are werewolf lore) but the blessed iron sounds more like the lore surrounding faeryfolk. That said they seem to be describing a vampire and the filmmakers are playing on Lugosi’s main typecast. The fact that the murderer is nothing more than a psycho really doesn’t matter – he is thought to be something supernatural and the description is vampire. I say this deserves its place on the filmographies.

Ernest “Sunshine Sammy” Morrison probably the most experienced actor in the film
The film is a little odd to watch now. Much of the humour is dated (or at least the aspects that were meant to be humorous). The humour regarding Scruno is down right offensive nowadays. Ernest “Sunshine Sammy” Morrison was actually probably the most experienced actor in the film and he does make a fine job of his character – unfortunately the script was a product of its time.

The film itself is public domain and so you can see a variety of different quality DVDs of it. There is a re-mastered version. However I downloaded the film from the archive for this article and you can find it here.

The imdb page is here.

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