SPOOKS RUN WILD
The Old Dark House thriller was popular in the 1920s and 30s, centring around plots involving creaky old mansions and hooded killers stalking young heiresses where elements of the supernatural would be raised but always dismissed with a mundane explanation. The Bob Hope remake of The Cat and the Canary (1939) revived the Old Dark House thriller with a specifically comedic spin and enjoyed a good deal of popularity. This was quickly imitated by a number of other comics of the era who churned out their own Old Dark House comedies, including The Ritz Brothers in a remake of The Gorilla (1939), Bob Hope in The Ghost Breakers (1940), big band leader Kay Kyser in Youll Find Out (1940), Abbott and Costello in Hold That Ghost (1941), Laurel and Hardy in A-Haunting We Will Go (1942) and Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin in Scared Stiff (1953). The East Side Kids jumped aboard the bandwagon with Spooks Run Wild here. They subsequently reteamed with Bela Lugosi for Ghosts on the Loose (1943) and without him for several other almost identically-titled minings of the vein in Spook Busters (1946), Ghost Chasers (1951) and Spook Chasers (1957).
Though they were given different character names in each of the films, the East Side Kids/Bowery Boys essentially played themselves each time. The same could be said of Bela Lugosi. He had made a name for himself with his classic interpretation of the title role in Dracula (1931) and then become typecast in menacing villainy and/or mad scientists roles for the next two decades. By the 1940s, he was making ends meet at the poverty row studios Monogram were one of his major bread-and-butter employers during this decade. By this point, he had become a caricature of himself. The role he plays is unimportant, it is simply Lugosi playing the part of Bela Lugosi. He is outfitted in black hat, tuxedo and white cape and is accompanied by Angelo Rossitto as a dwarf retainer and a trailer filled with coffins, while there are constant suggestions throughout that he is a vampire (even if the word itself is never used) and has turned David Gorcey into a zombie.
The East Side Kid are not particularly good actors but at least have a certain moronic energy in their knockabout antics. The shows were almost always dominated by Leo Gorcey, the most charismatic of the troupe with his woodchipper Noo Yoik accent and hard-headed imperturbability. There is the odd line that raises a mild smile How can you read in the dark? I went to night school. The less palatable aspect of the East Side Kids films was their frequent racial humour in the person of Black troupe member Sunshine Sammy Morrison. Morrisons only acting mode is to either acted stupefied with his bottom lip hanging open or knee-knocking scared. He is the frequent butt of racial lines like: Next time you come out of the dark, put a whitewash on or Im so scared Im turning white now. This unfortunately is something you just have to shrug and take as what was considered acceptable for the era the film was made.
All of the East Side Kids films were cheaply made. Spooks Run Wild emerges somewhat better than the others. The main problem with Spooks Run Wild is that nothing much happens. Well thats not strictly correct quite a few things happen but the plot is shapeless and aimless, mostly based around a series of comic routines. Certainly, in terms of an Old Dark House thriller, it shuffles around various creaky tropes the suspicion that Bela Lugosi is a vampire, wall panels that cause people to vanish, ambulatory suits of armour, David Gorcey seemingly being turned into a zombie after Lugosi offers medical treatment, dangling spiders, Leo Gorcey seeing a skeleton after he opens a jar, Sunshine Sammy Morrison being spooked by a cigarette case moving around on a table. Director Phil Rosen fails to generate atmosphere out of any of the material. It all eventually arrives at a mundane twist ending that reveals that there were no ghosts and that [PLOT SPOILERS] Bela Lugosi is not a villain but a stage magician.
Phil Rosen was a director since the silent era and is best known for several of the Charlie Chan films. In genre material, Rosen also made the resurrection film The Man with Two Lives (1942), the Edgar Allen Poe adaptation The Mystery of Marie Roget (1942), Black Magic (1944) featuring Charlie Chan against spiritualists, the Bela Lugosi mad scientist film Return of the Ape Man (1944) and The Shadow Returns (1946), one of the films based on the mystical radio superhero The Shadow.
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