Movie: Horror Island (1941)

1941’s Horror Island is the fourth and final film on the third volume of Scream Factor’s Universal Horror series.  All four films in this installment suggest the name of this series is becoming increasingly inaccurate.  The first, Tower of London, was a straight-up historical drama, though it did have a fair amount of suspense and intrigue.  The other three features on the set are comedy-horror, with the emphasis distinctly on the former.

Horror Island is not to be confused with Whore Island, a failed reality competition show on Fox that I just made up.  Like two of the other pictures on this set, it is set in an old, dark mansion on a dark and stormy night.  It is a good setting for a gothic horror film, but even better for a parody of one. 

Among the characters assembled there are the endless scheming sea captain (Dick Foran), his right-hand man and comedic foil (the improbably named Fuzzy Knight, playing an even less likely character named Stuff), Foran’s cousin who is trying to buy the island Foran inherited from their grandfather, an actual peg-legged sea-faring ne’er-do-well (Leo Carrillo) who has half of a treasure map showing $20 million in gold is hidden somewhere in the mansion on that island, and a cape-clad villain who has the other half of that map (Foy Van Dolsen—“Foy”?  Where the hell did people get their names from back then?).  Then there’s all the characters who paid for the scam “ghost hunt” Foran is working: Peggy Moran, some guy who scans to me as “gay friend” of hers (Lewis Howard), a fussy professor (Hobart Cavanaugh) and a mysterious couple who positively radiate “bad intentions” (Ralf Harolde and Iris Adrian). 

That’s an overstuffed cast, especially for a film that is only an hour long.  Fortunately, their numbers start dwindling almost from the minute they set foot in the mansion on the island Foran inherited from his grandfather.  It plays out like a gently black comedy version of And Then There Were None.  There’s all manner of duplicity, and a whole lot of discovering secret passages.

Everybody here is having a good time, and that is infectious.  Foran has a casual, smartass demeanor.  If this movie had been remade in the 1980’s, I could see Bill Murray or Chevy Chase in his role.  Foran also has a good rapport with Knight, who is funnier than I expected from somebody with such a weird, vaudevillian handle.  Consider this exchange between Foran and Knight: “I thought I told you to get bats.” “Where was I gonna get bats? Besides, these pigeons haven’t worked in six months.”  Carillo thoroughly milks his part for the potential to ham it up, and this is the kind of picture that calls for it.  Even Howard, who is underused to the extent one wonders why he is even here, gets in a good line when finding a fake skull in his bed: “Hello, Yorrick.  Find your own bed.”

Horror Island is a trifle, but a mildly enjoyable one.  It’s the kind of movie where I didn’t laugh much while watching it, though I did smile a lot.  I would definitely regard this as a comedy and not as a mystery, especially since it doesn’t play fair.  In one scene, we are shown a character who is alone at the time, acting in a manner there is no reason for except to deceive the viewers.  That said, there is an interesting twist roughly halfway through the runtime where a character is killed who I thought would be there at the conclusion.  This was an unusual film, to be sure.

Dir: George Waggner

Starring Dick Foran, Peggy Moran, Fuzzy Knight

Watched as part of Shout Factory’s blu-ray boxed set Universal Horror Volume 3