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Amusing Cast, But Best Left To Diehard Lugosi Fans
Gary F. Taylor | Biloxi, MS USA | 07/14/2006
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Bela Lugosi had a notable career during the 1930s--but success of his landmark performance in the 1931 DRACULA combined and his exotic appearance and accent left him typecast, and during the 1940s he found work increasingly difficult to obtain. By the mid-1940s he was so greatly pressed that he began to accept work in low-budget independent movies. Among the first of these was the 1947 SCARED TO DEATH, a film often described as the only color movie in which Lugosi appeared. This is not strictly true: although he was not the star, Lugosi also appeared the color 1930 VIENNESE NIGHTS--but given that both films are so little known it's hardly worth arguing about.
The story begins with a clever idea: a woman's body lies on a slab in a morgue and through flashback she relates the way in which she was murdered. Sad to say, though, this clever idea is not only badly executed, it also happens to be the only clever idea in the entire show. The plot, such as it is, concerns a doctor with a questionable background whose son has married a woman with a questionable background (our soon-to-be corpse.) The family is suddenly descended upon by the doctor's brother, a hypnotist (Lugosi, of course) with, yes, a questionable past. Throw in a surly maid, a mean dwarf, a newspaper reporter, a dumb blonde, and a green mask that keeps floating in front of the window and you have SCARED TO DEATH.
The only saving grace in this nonsense is the cast. Although he receives star billing, Lugosi's role might be better described as the second lead; whatever the case, and in spite of a truly ridiculous script, he gives the role more sparkle than you would expect. The film also includes a number of character actors who like Lugosi shone most brightly in the 1930s--George Zucco, Nat Pendleton, and Joyce Compton--and they too deliver more than the silly script actually allows.
Even so, the charms of the cast cannot raise SCARED TO DEATH above the level of slightly-less-than-mediocre, and for the most part watching the movie is an uphill battle. Lugosi would go on to make one or two more films for major studios, most notably the 1948 ABBOT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN, and he would make a few television appearances as well, but for the most part SCARED TO DEATH would mark the beginning of his career's rapid slide into the likes of BELA LUGOSI MEETS A BROOKLYN GORILLA and his wildy dire association with the notorious Ed Wood in such appalling (and accidentally hilarious) films as GLEN OR GLENDA and PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE.
For the sake of Lugosi, Zucco, Pendleton, and Compton I'm giving SCARED TO DEATH three stars, but truth be told it really doesn't deserve more than two, and that's throwing roses at it. Although it does have a few moments--and I do mean a very few--this is one Lugosi film that is best left to diehard fans.
GFT, Amazon Reviewer"
GORGEOUS print -- just amazing!
Stuart Gardner | Interzone, Alphaville | 07/25/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"You don't need to be told about this film, you just want to know if this is the DVD to buy. YES, it is. The quality of this print is astounding. It's beautiful, sharp and clear, and even the TRAILER for the film (included on the disc) is in good shape. Under ordinary circumstances I'd be happy with the quality of this print and trailer (and even with the quality of the transfer), but considering what a cheap little public domain title SCARED TO DEATH is, and the fact that the quality of this DVD label's products varies wildly, I am stunned. I think you will be, too."
Part comedy, part horror, completely ridiculous
Daniel Jolley | Shelby, North Carolina USA | 12/10/2002
(2 out of 5 stars)
"Scared to Death is a bad movie, a really painfully bad movie, yet it is not wholly unwatchable (although I daresay I will never watch it a second time). This film is the only color movie Bela Lugosi made, and that is about the only good thing I can say about it. Lugosi was only slightly past his prime in 1947, but his acceptance of a role in this ludicrous waste of celluloid is a sure sign of the problems that plagued him in his final years. At times, he is almost a caricature of himself, running around in a black cape reminiscent of his Dracula attire. In his role as a hypnotist with an unsavory past, he is rather inexplicably accompanied by the same dwarf featured in The Corpse Vanishes-I have no idea what his diminutive associate has to do with this film, though, because he is basically forgotten by the screenwriters, the cast, and the audience halfway through the action. I will say very little about the plot (such as it is) of this film. The movie starts in an autopsy room, and the corpse of a young lady on the slab serves as the narrator of events; throughout the movie, the music is cut awkwardly cut off and on around return shots of the cadaver, which is most annoying. The whole film suffers from horrible editing. What I found most bothersome about this movie was the fact that the moviemakers apparently couldn't decide if they were making a horror movie or a comedy. There are some horror elements here-a mysterious, unexplained death, the repeated appearance of a figure wearing a green mask outside the windows, a few blows delivered to unsuspecting heads, and the very appearance of Lugosi on the cast list. Then again, the dim-witted family of the deceased, the stereotypical, nosy reporter and his airheaded lady friend, and the shameless antics of the private cop on the premises all come together to make sure the film comes off as utterly foolish. The cop is sort of funny for awhile, but his act gets unbearably tiresome long before the magical and long-awaited words The End appear on the screen. It's almost impossible to explain this movie; it's one of the most ridiculous films I have ever suffered through. I think the only people who might get a single ounce of enjoyment out of Scared to Death are devoted Bela Lugosi fans such as myself. Even we have to grin and bear it for over an hour, though, as this film represents one of the nadirs of Legosi's career. At least I can take some comfort in the knowledge that Legosi was made to look less foolish than all of his fellow cast members."
Bela in Living Color
Scott T. Rivers | Los Angeles, CA USA | 12/04/2008
(2 out of 5 stars)
""Scared to Death" (1947) is a bizarre mixture of horror, mystery and comedy. The low-budget production remains notable for being the only color film to star Bela Lugosi (who wears his Dracula cape in yet another red herring role). Another unique distinction is the jarring flashback structure - with narration provided by a dead woman in the city morgue! The B-movie cast includes George Zucco, Molly Lamont, Angelo Rossitto and the archaic comic relief of Nat Pendleton. Running 67 minutes, "Scared to Death" benefits from Bela's striking Cinecolor presence and its decidedly weird atmosphere. Not a particularly good film, but a watchable curio."
For determined Bela Lugosi fans only.
Robert S. Clay Jr. | St. Louis, MO., USA | 08/14/2001
(2 out of 5 stars)
"Bela Lugosi, the ultimate low-budget grim ghoul, stars in this mild mystery thriller. It is an unusual chance to view Lugosi working with George Zucco. The opportunity is mostly wasted by the script. Zucco, behind over-sized glasses, looks like an owl with indigestion. His interaction with Bela is limited. Lugosi first appears wearing his Dracula cape, complete with crimson lining. Angelo Rossitto, Bela's familiar poverty row homunculus, tags along side. Lugosi grimaces his way through his part. The movie is slightly redeemed by the comic relief of Nat Pendleton as a dim-witted private detective. The plot is a confusing muddle of betrayal, murder, and revenge, told by the dead woman herself! How she manages this astonishing feat of cognitive discourse after death is unknown. The usual low-budget trappings of secret panels, mysterious faces at windows, and secret crimes of the past are present. Other people who comment on this film usually note that it is Lugosi's only appearance in a color movie. More than that, it sadly illustrates Bela's downward career path that eventually led him into the clutches of the infamous Ed Wood. See it, if you must, but tread carefully. ;-)"