December 10th, 2009

STRANGERS OF THE EVENING (1932) * ½

Zasu Pitts stars in this crappy murder mystery about an uncouth undertaker that swaps a corpse out for a different body.  His bumbling assistant foils his plans when he accidentally puts the right corpse in the casket.  Since bodies are disappearing from the morgue, the cops get involved and start nosing around and asking a lot of questions; which makes the manipulative mortician very nervous.

 

It seems like all these old murder mysteries on this 50 Pack of Horror Movies just keep getting worse.  You know when I bought the set from Amazon for $20 bucks; I thought I was getting a good deal.  I mean that works out to be 40 cents a movie.  This one isn’t worth the 40 cents.

 

Strangers of the Evening is a boring tale of murder, body snatching, and mistaken identity.  It could’ve worked but it’s so damn contrived that it’s hard to really give a shit.  You know the plot is convoluted when it takes five minutes just to explain everything in the end.  On top of that, the print is shitty and filled with jumps, pops, and scratches.

 

It’s only 65 minutes long but that’s about the only thing the flick has going for it.  Even though it’s got a scant running time, there are still way too many gratuitous side characters that get in the way of the story.  And the less said about the lame comic relief the better.

 

AKA:  Case of the Missing Corpse.  AKA:  The Hidden Corpse.

MANFISH (1956) **

Director W. Lee Wilder has made some “good” bad movies (Killers from Space) in his time.  He’s also made more than his fair share of “bad” bad movies (The Snow Creature).  Manfish is a case of the latter.

 

A surly captain on a rickety boat makes his living diving for turtles.  One day he finds half of a treasure map and sets out to get his hands on the other half.  It turns out a sleazy English professor with a hot native wife is in possession of the map and the two form an uneasy alliance in order to find the treasure.  Inevitably, it leads to mistrust, deceit, and murder.

 

This movie was a big disappointment to me because despite the title, there are no half man-half fish monsters.  (“Manfish” is just the name of the boat.)  It still can be classified as a horror movie though because it features Lon Chaney Jr. perpetually shirtless.  And let me tell ya something folks, few things are as horrifying as that.

 

Manfish is sluggishly paced and downright boring for the most part but there is a fairly decent plot twist about 2/3 into the flick that is a clever variation on Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart”.  (The film also uses elements from Poe’s “The Gold Bug" too.)  The underwater photography is an asset as well and looks much better than the stuff Wilder shot on dry land.

 

The thing that really sinks Manfish (no pun intended) is that the characters are so unlikable.  The captain is an asshole and the professor is a douche nozzle so it makes it hard to root for either of them.  The flick also contains enough shitty calypso music to make you want to slice your wrists.

 

AKA:  Calypso.

MURDER AT MIDNIGHT (1931) **

A hoity-toity high society party turns scandalous when a game of charades gets out of hand, leaving two of the participants dead.  (No, I’m not making that up.)  The police are called in to investigate and naturally more people end up dead before the night is through.

 

The opening scene really grabs your attention but Murder at Midnight turns into a routine murder mystery pretty quickly.  A few funny gimmicks notwithstanding (the killer telephone gimmick is similar to the one in The Invisible Killer; another mundane thriller on this 50 horror movie pack), there’s nothing out of the ordinary here.  Murder at Midnight is far less creaky than a lot of these old timey murder mysteries I’ve been watching lately; although that’s not exactly a ringing endorsement.

 

Director Frank R. (The Vampire Bat) Strayer throws in some nice touches like a POV shot of the killer (four decades before Halloween made it chic) and a few inventive camera angles to disguise how by-the-numbers the plot is.  I think if he had been handed a semi-decent script, he could’ve done it justice.  Strayer later went on to direct several Blondie comedies.