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Scared To Death

Scared to DeathAnother piece of cinema history
  comes to DVD with Bela Lugosi starring
  in his only major colour film as a
  sinister hypnotist in the 1947 chiller
  Scared To Death
...”

THE EARLY COLOUR FILM STARRING BELA LUGOSI, Scared To Death is a neat film that, at the time of its release, was considered a tense frightener. Although tame by today's standards (the DVD carries a U Certificate), the unusual angle of the film, the acting and the tension all hang together well to make Scared To Death a fine and fascinating film for anybody, but particularly those interested in cinema history.

Murder victim Laura Van Ee (Molly Lamont) tells her terrifying story from a slab at the City Central Mortuary in an ingeniously different way of showing flashbacks.

This bizarre tale sees a number of sinister characters that include a menacing white-masked figure (Lee Bennett) who appears at the window, an evil hypnotist called Leonide (the legendary Bela Lugosi), who seems to have known Laura years before and a strange dwarf, Indigo (Angelo Rossitto: Todd Bronings's Freaks), who are apparently conspiring to hound Laura to death through sheer terror. And a Mrs Williams seems to have some unsavoury information about one of the characters.

Even the doctor who is treating Laura appears somewhat threatening to her. Dr Josef Van Ee (George Zucco: The Hunchback Of Notre Dame) is her father-in-law and is treating her for paranoia. She cannot bear a bandage over her face and, he tells her, she is "a sick girl in a highly nervous condition." He continually demands that she gives his son the divorce he is asking for and then warns her of her "high state of nervous terror."

Her husband, Ward (Roland Varno), orders her to leave his father alone and reveals that her paranoia began with a series of letters she was receiving from abroad.

She believes somebody is trying to frighten her and even a tapping branch at the window sends her into hysteria. Her fear is further heightened by a private detective and former disgraced policeman, Bill 'Bull' Raymond (Nat Pendleton) who is eagerly seeking a murder case to solve and is intent on wooing the doctor's maid Lilly Beth (Gladys Blake).

All this takes place in the doctor's house, which used to be an institution for the insane. Leonide was once confined here and had built a series of secret passageways.

With the arrival of newspaper reporter Terry Lee (Douglas Fowley), accompanied by Jane Cornell (Joyce Compton), further hints of Leonide's past emerge. Throwaway lines abound, such as when Terry says to Jane: "Baby I'm going to miss you an awful lot when I get tired of you". And from Leonide: "It's my peculiar misfortune that I am always in a position where I may eavesdrop".

Laura has been living in mortal terror and the clue seems to be in her past. It is a secret that goes back to the days of the Nazis in France and concerns an act of betrayal. Laura now complains to Terry Lee that she is being kept a prisoner in the house and that "they" are trying to destroy her mind. Her subsequent suspicious death demands to be investigated — is everybody guilty or are there sinister reasons behind her torment?

This Christy Cabanne-directed chiller features memorable performances by Angelo Rossitto and George Zucco and presents a unique opportunity to see Bela Lugosi in his only major colour film appearance. Bela Lugosi also stars in another soon-to-be released film from Network, The Corpse Vanished.

Scared To Death is Produced by William B David; the Original Story and Screenplay is by W J Abbott; the Cinematographer is Marcel LePicard; Art Director is Harry Reif; and the dramatic Musical Score is by Carl Hoefle.

Scared To Death is available now at all good retailers (released on 19 January, 2009). RRP: 2.99 | Discs: 1 | Running Time: 65 minutes approx | Screen ratio: 1.33:1.

"Although tame by today's standards, the unusual angle of this 1947 film, the acting and the tension all hang together well enough to make Scared To Death a fine and fascinating chiller" — Maggie Woods, MotorBar

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