Oh, the things that Big Gay Horror Fan wishes he never knew: Love in a rectory with the bulbous priests of destruction – The wraith of the Dragon Lady as she paraded, shoeless, through the offices of hell – The call of the self hating id as it wakes him early in the morning and hounds his every waking second! All are things that I wish I could forget! But the discovery that Golden Age screen goddess Carole Lombard appeared in a Universal horror film? That’s a fact that I want to treasure forever!
Best known as the snappy comedienne in such treasured flicks as Twentieth Century, My Man Godfrey and Nothing Sacred, 1933’s Supernatural was Lombard’s only attempt at an occult flavored offering. Directed by Victor Halperin, coming off the grand delights provided by 1932’s White Zombie, Supernatural has all the components of being a runaway success – including a powerful feminist stance provided by Vivienne Osborne’s sadistic murderess, Ruth Rogan. Yet, despite it moments of intense enjoyability, this Supernatural is a bit of a structural mess.
Quite simply, there is too much going on for a solid aura of creepiness to establish itself. 1941’s The Wolf Man had its quaint, gypsy laden countryside with gothic overtones while 1931’s Frankenstein mixed a bit of laboratory madness into that mix. But, Supernatural features a friendly ghost, a mad scientist type, a female serial killer, a murderous charlatan psychic and a possession subplot, and bops from set piece to set piece, ultimately producing a movie that never quite gels.
Still Lombard, whom apparently felt ill-at-ease away from her more comic playing grounds, delights with grisly glee once Roma, her heiress character, is taken over by the recently executed murderess, played in the film’s opening moments, with chilling ease by character actress Osborne.
More enjoyable, though, are the subtle Pre Code touches, including roaches scattering about a cackling landlady’s sink and Lombard’s breast being groped AND one grand, glass enclosed set piece that is introduced in the latter part of the film.
Determined to stop Rogan’s ghostly influence after her death, Carl Houston, a concerned doctor played by H.B. Warner, is experimenting on her corpse in a window coated laboratory, located in a penthouse suite in the heart of the city. Halperin brings all the glorious mood that would have made this movie truly memorable to this sequence. As Lombard and the handsome Randolph Scott discover what Houston is up to, Rogan’s influence is truly felt and one wishes that screenwriter Garnett Weston would have found a way to focus more of the story here.
Still, true fans of women in horror are sure to delight in sassy Lombard’s appearance in a dusty horror flick and the movie (available only on VHS) is definitely worth tracking down if only to gander at all of its (too) plentiful elements of spook.
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Until the next time – SWEET love and pink GRUE, Big Gay Horror Fan!