Scared to Death


1h 4m 1947
Scared to Death

Brief Synopsis

A beautiful murder victim recalls how she met her untimely end.

Film Details

Also Known As
Accent on Horror
Genre
Horror
Mystery
Thriller
Release Date
May 3, 1947
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
Golden Gate Pictures, Inc.
Distribution Company
Screen Guild Productions, Inc.
Country
United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 4m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (Cinecolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
6,114ft

Synopsis

In the Central City morgue, two autopsy surgeons examine the unmarked body of a female corpse and contemplate what could have killed her: Laura Van Ee is trapped in a loveless marriage to her husband Ward, who married her one night on a drunken dare. After receiving mysterious, threatening letters from Europe, Laura begins to believe that Ward and his father Joseph, a doctor whose specialty is mental illness, are trying to drive her insane and, as revenge, refuses to grant Ward a divorce. One day, Dr. Van Ee receives a visit from a woman reporter, who is acting on a tip that strange things have been happening at the house.

Later, the doctor's cousin Leonide, a professor of magic, visits after an absence of twenty years, with his companion, a deaf-mute midget named Indigo. Leo was an inmate at the house when it was an institution for the insane, and after constructing countless secret passageways, he escaped and traveled to Europe. Ward now asks Leo's help in solving Laura's dilemma, and shows him a photograph that he found in Laura's room of a pair of Parisian dancers named Rene and Laurette, who are wearing green masks. The next morning, the maid, Lilybeth, delivers a package to Laura that contains a decapitated mannequin head painted to look like her, along with a message to "beware the man in the green mask." Later the doctor is knocked out while trying to call the police, and is discovered laid out on his desk with a sheet over him by a reporter named Terry Lee, his flighty fiancée Jane and house detective Bill Raymond. As Laura pleads for help from Terry, claiming that the Van Ees are holding her under house arrest, Lilybeth enters in a trance and, before collapsing, attempts to place a green blindfold over Laura's eyes. She is assumed dead and her body is placed in the doctor's basement laboratory.

The incident causes Laura to lapse into unconsciousness, and while she is thought to be sedated, gunshots are heard in her room, and the dummy head wearing a green mask is put in her place in bed. Leo, meanwhile, removes Lilybeth's body from the laboratory, and she is seen at the front door by Raymond, who loves her. The doctor explains that she is merely in a hypnotic spell, and Leo later revives her. Jane then reports that Laura shouted to a green face in her room that she "didn't mean to do it," before firing three shots and disappearing. Laura now screams, and is found transfixed in the living room. The voice of Rene, her ex-dance partner, coaxes Laura into admitting that they were once married. He was suspected of being a spy, and she took money from the Nazis to turn him in. She then sent him a green scarf of hers to wear at his execution so that he would know it was she who betrayed him. He was good and kind, she says, but she resented the power he had over her.

A practiced escape artist, Rene avoided execution, and now has returned for revenge. Just then, a figure in a green mask approaches from outside a window, causing Laura to scream before falling dead from fear. Outside, Raymond discovers Mrs. Williams, who is really Rene in disguise. Leo then reveals that Rene was his assistant in his magic act. They later met in a European concentration camp, and Leo returned to the Van Ee house to help him. Back in the present at the morgue, Terry and Raymond ask the autopsy surgeon what killed Laura, and he reports that she was literally "scared to death."

Film Details

Also Known As
Accent on Horror
Genre
Horror
Mystery
Thriller
Release Date
May 3, 1947
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
Golden Gate Pictures, Inc.
Distribution Company
Screen Guild Productions, Inc.
Country
United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 4m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (Cinecolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
6,114ft

Articles

Scared to Death (1947)


"Pardon me, Professor, but didn't I just see you outside baying at the moon?"

Exactly the sort of dialogue you'd expect to hear in a Bela Lugosi film from his later years. By the time Scared to Death (1947) was made, Lugosi was a long way down from the glory days of Dracula (1931) and just starting his final decade, a period marked by morphine addiction, financial ruin, and personal and professional disappointments. A distinguished stage actor, first in his native Hungary, then in Germany (where he fled in 1919 after engaging in the radical effort of organizing an actors union), he played a range of matinee-idol parts before donning the famous vampire cape in the highly successful 1927 Broadway version of Bram Stoker's horror novel. The success of the film version made him a star of the genre but also typecast him forever as the creepy movie villain.

In Scared to Death, Lugosi stars as Professor Leonide, a hypnotist who figures into the mysterious (and incredibly convoluted) story of a beautiful murder victim. The cheaply made thriller is no Sunset Blvd. (1950), but it does prefigure that classic's structural quirk by having the tale narrated by a corpse. From a slab in the morgue, the dead woman weaves a tale of murder involving a midget and a masked figure. And if you're looking for connections to other film classics, the victim thinks she's being driven to insanity by an unloving husband, the basic premise of Gaslight (1944). But once again, the comparison ends there.

Despite Lugosi's descent to Poverty Row employment and eccentric personal behavior (doing press interviews from a coffin, attending premieres with a gorilla on his arm), he treats his role in Scared to Death with great seriousness. And there are interesting performances as well from a few other actors who had seen better days. Nat Pendleton is not a household name today, but he was a dependable and popular character actor in a 25-year career that included roles in Abbott & Costello movies, almost all the Dr. Kildare/Dr. Gillespie series, and several major productions The Thin Man (1934), The Great Ziegfeld (1936), the Marx Brothers' At the Circus (1939). George Zucco's face should certainly be familiar to horror film fans from The Mummy's Hand (1940), The Mad Monster (1942), and the Lugosi movie Voodoo Man (1944) and appearances in A-budget classics like Conquest (1937) with Greta Garbo, The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939) with Charles Laughton, and Captain from Castille (1947) with Tyrone Power, one of eight films the prolific Zucco made that year.

And speaking of prolific, director Christy Cabanne chalked up one of the most prolific resumes of any filmmaker in Hollywood at that time, nearly 150 films in 36 years. His best known was probably The Outcasts of Poker Flat (1937), based on the Bret Harte story. Cabanne chose to film Scared to Death in color, unlike most horror films of the 30s and 40s and the film remains Lugosi's only appearance in color.

Director: Christy Cabanne
Producer: William B. David (uncredited)
Screenplay: Walter Abbott
Cinematography: Marcel Le Picard
Editing: George McGuire
Art Direction: Harry Reif
Original Music: Carl Hoefle
Cast: Bela Lugosi (Professor Leonide), George Zucco (Dr. Joseph Van Ee), Molly Lamont (Laura Van Ee), Nat Pendleton (Bill "Bull" Raymond), Joyce Compton (Jane Cornell).
C-68m.

By Rob Nixon

Scared To Death (1947)

Scared to Death (1947)

"Pardon me, Professor, but didn't I just see you outside baying at the moon?" Exactly the sort of dialogue you'd expect to hear in a Bela Lugosi film from his later years. By the time Scared to Death (1947) was made, Lugosi was a long way down from the glory days of Dracula (1931) and just starting his final decade, a period marked by morphine addiction, financial ruin, and personal and professional disappointments. A distinguished stage actor, first in his native Hungary, then in Germany (where he fled in 1919 after engaging in the radical effort of organizing an actors union), he played a range of matinee-idol parts before donning the famous vampire cape in the highly successful 1927 Broadway version of Bram Stoker's horror novel. The success of the film version made him a star of the genre but also typecast him forever as the creepy movie villain. In Scared to Death, Lugosi stars as Professor Leonide, a hypnotist who figures into the mysterious (and incredibly convoluted) story of a beautiful murder victim. The cheaply made thriller is no Sunset Blvd. (1950), but it does prefigure that classic's structural quirk by having the tale narrated by a corpse. From a slab in the morgue, the dead woman weaves a tale of murder involving a midget and a masked figure. And if you're looking for connections to other film classics, the victim thinks she's being driven to insanity by an unloving husband, the basic premise of Gaslight (1944). But once again, the comparison ends there. Despite Lugosi's descent to Poverty Row employment and eccentric personal behavior (doing press interviews from a coffin, attending premieres with a gorilla on his arm), he treats his role in Scared to Death with great seriousness. And there are interesting performances as well from a few other actors who had seen better days. Nat Pendleton is not a household name today, but he was a dependable and popular character actor in a 25-year career that included roles in Abbott & Costello movies, almost all the Dr. Kildare/Dr. Gillespie series, and several major productions The Thin Man (1934), The Great Ziegfeld (1936), the Marx Brothers' At the Circus (1939). George Zucco's face should certainly be familiar to horror film fans from The Mummy's Hand (1940), The Mad Monster (1942), and the Lugosi movie Voodoo Man (1944) and appearances in A-budget classics like Conquest (1937) with Greta Garbo, The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939) with Charles Laughton, and Captain from Castille (1947) with Tyrone Power, one of eight films the prolific Zucco made that year. And speaking of prolific, director Christy Cabanne chalked up one of the most prolific resumes of any filmmaker in Hollywood at that time, nearly 150 films in 36 years. His best known was probably The Outcasts of Poker Flat (1937), based on the Bret Harte story. Cabanne chose to film Scared to Death in color, unlike most horror films of the 30s and 40s and the film remains Lugosi's only appearance in color. Director: Christy Cabanne Producer: William B. David (uncredited) Screenplay: Walter Abbott Cinematography: Marcel Le Picard Editing: George McGuire Art Direction: Harry Reif Original Music: Carl Hoefle Cast: Bela Lugosi (Professor Leonide), George Zucco (Dr. Joseph Van Ee), Molly Lamont (Laura Van Ee), Nat Pendleton (Bill "Bull" Raymond), Joyce Compton (Jane Cornell). C-68m. By Rob Nixon

Quotes

I'm sorry, sir, but I really must announce you.
- Lili Beth
My dear girl, if I allowed myself to be announced, I doubt I would be received anywhere!
- Leonide
Pardon me, Professor, but didn't I just see you outside baying at the moon?
- Terry Lee

Trivia

The only color film to star 'Bela Lugosi' (he also appeared in a 1930 Technicolor film, Viennese Nights (1930)).

When Indigo the midget steps on Raymond's feet after he insulted him, Prof. Leonid (Bela Lugosi) shouts at the little man in Hungarian language which translation is "What did you do again? Now look at yourself! Sit down and stay there!"

Notes

The film's working title was Accent on Horror. It is narrated throughout by the voice of actress Molly Lamont, who portrays the deceased "Laura Van Ee." After "Laura's" body is seen laid out on a table in the morgue, the character relates events leading to her death.