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The movie poster from 1944

One Body Too Many, is an approved old dark house film from 1944 staring Jack Haley, Jean Parker, Douglas Fowley, Blanch Yurka, and the count himself Bela Lugosi. Directed by Frank McDonald, written by Winston Miller (of A Private’s Affair and other light classics) and Maxwell Shane (of The Invisible Killer fame) both writers with a number of suspense, horror, mystery, and comedy titles under their belts penned this under-loved gem of a flick. Horror and comedy are the strangest of bedfellows for when done right it becomes the thing of legend; think Abbott and Costello, American Werewolf in London, Evil Dead II, Cabin in the Woods and many-many-more…(sorry my late night infomercial alter ego peered his Hyde-ian head out for a moment) but when done poorly it becomes obscure almost after viewing, I’d give you the name of one but that would undermine the point I’m attempting to make.      

History Lesson

I use the word, ‘approved’ when describing this film as it was made before the Jack Valenti ratings system swap of ’68. We’re talking Hays Code days there, kids. When a movie was held for review of approval by a board to determine whether or not it’s morally acceptable or vulgar beyond belief, ‘cus ‘member nuance didn’t exist before the sixties got swingin’. Though you may not be likely to find this on anyone’s top ten or labeled as ground breaking, other than coining the word of being a ‘drip’ as an insult for a needlessly fastidious person, it still exists in the public eye and is easily accessible. You don’t have to go hunting for archived footage in the back of that haunted abandoned video store or visit obscure streaming sites to find while a virus spirits away your bank info. I can’t recall the first time I saw it, or why, perhaps in my pirate days I was backtracking the filmography of Jack Haley or Bela Lugosi, or maybe it was in with those early-to-mid-2000’s collection of 50 horror films that were mainly filled with creature features or forgotten films with no plots, but in those lots-of-fifty did have a notable jewel or two a la William Castel or Ed Wood, but either way this one has always stuck with me.

Set Up

The plot is your classic Old Dark House set up, a stranger finds their way into a manner where they do not belong that may or may not be haunted, some times alone, sometimes with others, and due to the necessity of plot they are unable to leave for whatever reason. The formula is simple, and it can, on occasion, be executed quite well. This I also, personally feel, is the easiest to blend horror and comedy. It’s a two for one; a creepy setting and a fish out of water tale. The vulnerability and personality of the protagonist are the defining features of whether the film is intended to give chills or get laughs. Here’s where we meet Albert L. Tuttle played by Jack ‘The Tinman’ Haley, who is an insurance agent trying to sell a 200K life insurance policy to an eccentric millionaire, Cyrus J. Rutherford. Jack’s had the meeting scheduled for over a month. Well, Cyrus died, at his will reading the lawyer notes a stipulation that states he must be buried in a glass mausoleum where he can be overlooked by the stars for all eternity or else the ratios of who gets the most and who gets the least of his estate would be flipped. No one is supposed to know the distribution amounts until he is entombed to keep things fair, but some people have an inkling. Thus comes in our protagonist who is confused, frightened, and aroused (no not by the body, well… not Cyrus’s). Tuttle is persuaded to stay and guard the body by the deceased niece Carol, played by Jean Parker, and hilarity ensues.

The good

The movie establishes the characters well and quickly. Tuttle, in the first few minutes is shown to be a clever and determined individual by getting the account that no other insurance man in the business could, by appealing (or pandering) to the eccentrics interest in astrology. The family isn’t Knives Out levels of character depth, but you get to meet the rest of the ensemble and find out who Cyrus liked and who he didn’t. Cyrus’s testimonial preamble reads like something I would write, just roasting his family from beyond the grave. The acting is done well, no one goes against the motivation of their characters. The humour isn’t misplaced; it’s a situational comedy just a little macabre with a hint of a, ‘who done it’. Lugosi is not wasted, though I think it takes multiple viewings to see his possible poisoning subplot. The effects for it’s time; the angle and devil shoulder gag, some of the transitions, film distortion to simulate being under water, are all very good. The writing is quick, poking fun at over used tropes in the pulp genre that Tuttle seems to be in, or the showing of hypocrisy in pseudoscientists, an astrologer calling palm reading hokum was funny.

Bela Lugosi holding a tray with coffee

The bad

There’s nothing in this movie I can say I hated or didn’t like. This is far from a perfect movie, but that adds to the charm; the audio has some issues, what do you expect it’s from the 40’s. Though it is a quick watch, less than 80 minutes, the way in which some shots linger disrupt the pace and make it feel longer. I hesitate to call some of the gags cliché since it predates most of the famous movies that reused the jokes. A few scenes are a little too dark. The constant putting down of coffee, I don’t care if it keeps you up or you’re a drip, you take the damn cup and enjoy that delicious dark liquid energy.

The ugly- my opinion

It’s a quick watch, entertaining, with mood and humour. The writing and acting are good and it’s not too scary to put on if you’re a lightweight or have kids. Put it on your watchlist if you want a good lark. See Jack outside of the silver makeup. He’s far more reserved than the likes of his comedic contemporaries but I feel that uniqueness plays in his favour. Throw it in your rotation if you like House on Haunted Hill, Abbot and Costello, And Then There Were None, or just like classic movies it’s worth the view.

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3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Jennifer Weigel

    November 15, 2022 at 7:47 pm

    Love the Classic movies – it’s always good to see the older ones resurrected. 🙂

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Movies n TV

Suburban Screams, Cursed Neighborhood

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Episode five of John Carpenter’s Suburban Screams was one of the best kind of horror stories. It is a dark, eerie tale of a mean house that is determined to destroy anyone who dares reside within it.

The story

Our story begins in 1682. A group of colonists are attempting to take over land that is very much not theirs. When the colonists are killed, they vow to curse the land.

Fast forward to modern times, and the land in question is a little suburban neighborhood. Carlette Norwood moves in with her husband, mother, and daughters. The house seems like a dream come true. Until, of course, their beautiful dream home becomes a nightmare. The curse of the colonists wrapped itself around the neck of each family member, turning them into people that they didn’t recognize. People who don’t exactly like each other.

What worked

While I wouldn’t say that the acting in this episode is flawless, it was several steps above what we’ve seen so far. Every actor seemed to understand their role and reacted in realistic ways. I was especially impressed by the young woman playing Angelique. She had the good sense to not overplay the role, giving each scene exactly the right amount of energy.

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Of course, there was one actress who way overplayed every scene. But rather than being terrible, it was terrific. And that was Chloe Zeitounian, who played the neighbor Stacy. Stacy the neighbor was creepy as shit. After an unnamed neighbor dies by suicide, Stacy shows up at Carlette’s house with a bottle of champagne, sipping coffee with a big old smile. Well, okay it probably wasn’t coffee.

Stacy was a fantastic character, and I hope there was a crazy neighbor just like her. I bet her house was haunted as hell, but she just decided that her ghost was like a stray dog that everyone else thinks is dangerous. She probably put a bejeweled collar on the colonist ghost and renamed him Kori spelled with an I on purpose.

Finally, I want to talk about the theme of ancestral curse and ancestral protections that this episode discussed.

Charles County was cursed by the colonists who took the land that rightfully belonged to the indigenous tribes. They took what their ancestors had given them, and left a curse in their wake.

At the end of the episode, Carlette talks about being protected by her ancestors. Ancestors that survived horrible things most of us can’t imagine. I am sure that their strength blessed Carlette, and helped her to save Angelique.

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What didn’t work

While this episode was certainly better than most of the season, it wasn’t perfect. The thing that most stood out to me as being frankly unneeded was the inclusion of maggots attacking Brian.

Paul A Maynard in Suburban Screams.

In multiple scenes, during which Carlette is narrating, Brian has maggots coming out of open wounds. Never once does Carlette mention a maggot issue.

It feels like there is a clear reason why the creators did this. This story doesn’t have a lot of blood, gore, or jump scares. And a core goal of horror content is to cause a reaction.

Stephen King has a great quote about this goal. “I recognize terror as the finest emotion and so I will try to terrorize the reader. But if I find that I cannot terrify, I will try to horrify, and if I find that I cannot horrify, I’ll go for the gross-out. I’m not proud.”

The inclusion of maggots in this story admits that someone involved didn’t think the story was terrorizing or horrifying enough. But it was. The story was freaky all on its own without the inclusion of our wriggling friends.

Is it true?

This might be an unpopular opinion, but aside from the completely unnecessary maggots infesting Brian, I think this episode is the most honest and accurate one so far.

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The thing about hauntings is that they’re seldom what we see in the movies. Haunted houses don’t have glass vases flying off shelves and wallpaper peeling to reveal 666 painted in blood over arcane symbols. Haunted houses dig into the minds of those who live there, causing bad luck and bad vibes. And that’s exactly what happened here. There are no massive explosions. No spirits throwing people downstairs or demonic dogs chasing children from the attic. This house dug into the hearts and minds of a loving family, ripping them apart.

So yes, I do think this episode is likely true.

The further we get into Suburban Screams, the more I enjoy it. This episode was eerie, upsetting, and riveting. I hope that Carlette and her daughters are healing from this horrific journey. And I’m thankful to them for sharing their story. 4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

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Movies n TV

Happy Father’s Day Herman Munster!

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Herman Munster would be so proud, collage by Jennifer Weigel
Herman Munster would be so proud, collage by Jennifer Weigel

Today for Father’s Day I want to celebrate one the best dads in horror ever: Herman Munster! Herman Munster of television celebrity is a perfect example of a good father in a genre awash in epically horrible parents. He is fun to be around, cares deeply about family, and has a huge heart. He is essentially the naive and loving Frankenstein’s monster despite his horrific appearance, and is aptly employed at a funeral home.

Herman is lovable, hardworking, and always ready with the physical humor dad jokes, even if he is too naive to catch on to his role in the punchlines all the time. He is devoted to his wife Lily Dracula and son Eddie and will do whatever he can to protect them. His generosity extends beyond just his own, with the family taking in his niece Marilyn (who is painfully normal by comparison to the Munsters), and father-in-law Grandpa.

Portrayed by Fred Gwynne, Herman Munster is kind of the epitome of the good father in horror. Sure, he’s a brute, and can be a little dim sometimes, but he’s really just a big teddy bear at heart, and always ready for a good laugh. And apparently Herman Munster was even nominated by his son Eddie for Father of the Year in Season 2, Episode 25, so it all comes around full circle. If the show highlight doesn’t load, you can find it here.

And to celebrate more great Hollywood celebrities, here’s a poem for Ed Wood and an homage to Theda Bara

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Suburban Screams, The Bunny Man

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Someone is stalking the children of Fairfax, Virginia. He comes bearing an axe. He comes from the forest. He comes in the night.

He comes dressed as a bunny.

The story

In the 1970s, the sleepy town of Fairfax Virginia was menaced by a man dressed as a rabbit. He stalked kids and teens with an axe while they were playing in the woods, or ‘parking’. Children were cautioned to not play outside after dark. Parents were terrified. The whole community was rocked by the horrific killer who, well, didn’t kill anybody. And who might have been a whole bunch of people inspired by a truly sad tale?

Still from Suburban Screams The Bunny Man.

The story begins a hundred years earlier. A man whose name is lost to time is accused of stealing a cow. For this crime, he’s sentenced to death because things were a lot tougher back then. The man escaped but swore vengeance on the town. A few days later several children were found hanging from a bridge underpass, butchered and hung as though they were slaughtered rabbits.

What worked

The biggest thing to love about this episode, the one thing that sets it apart from the rest of the season, was the presence of Historian Cindy Burke. Finally, we have an actual professional talking about one of these stories. Yes, there are still first-hand accounts. But that is how these sorts of stories work best. We have the emotional retelling of evocative survivors. But we also have a professional who is emotionally separated from the situation backing up these stories with historical knowledge.

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This wouldn’t have mattered as much in any other setting. But Suburban Screams has been clear from the start that it wants to be seen as a documentary. This is supposed to be real. And if you’re going to claim that your ghost story is real, bring receipts. As many as you can.

If we’d seen more historians, detectives, and police reports through this series, it probably wouldn’t have the bad rating it does on IMDB.

What didn’t work

Well, it might still have had a bad rating. Because the acting in this episode was, for lack of a stronger word, terrible.

I don’t know if it was the directing, the casting, or just a weak talent budget. But not a single person except for the man playing the Bunny Man could act in any of these dramatic reenactment scenes.

The worst offender was probably the child playing Ed’s childhood friend. This character was way overacted. It’s as though the child had seen a parody of how little boys behave, and was told to act like that. As this was a little boy, he was likely a bit embarrassed.

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And I know, I’m trash-talking a child actor. I’m trash-talking all of the children actors in this episode. But children can act. There are lots of examples of kids doing great acting jobs. Stranger Things is an obvious example. Violent Night is another. The kid can act. These kids couldn’t act.

Is it true?

Unlike most of the other episodes in this series, The Bunny Man is a story I’ve heard before. It is a legitimate urban legend that blossomed from a few firsthand accounts of madmen doing scary things dressed as rabbits in Fairfax County, West Virginia. These events probably inspired others to do stupid things like dress up like a rabbit and run around with an ax. Much like the people who decided to dress up like clowns and scare the hell out of people across the country in 2016.

So, yes, the Bunny Man is very much real. He’s real in the hearts and minds of pranksters and West Virginia frat boys. And he is based on some very real, very upsetting, actual events.

I honestly wish the whole season of Suburban Screams had been exactly like this. Filled with facts, first-hand accounts, and proof of scary events. This was everything I wanted in a supernatural/true crime story. So if you’re giving the rest of the season a pass, I would suggest watching this episode.

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4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

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