Thursday, 13 June 2013

Fog Island (1945)

By the mid-1940s the general opinion in Hollywood seemed to be that monster movies were out of favour with the public. As a consequence we got movies that seem like they want to be horror movies but they’re not quite sure if they dare. We got horror combined with comedy, mostly with lamentable results. And we got crime movies spiced up with a few of the trappings of horror. Fog Island belongs to the latter category.

This is a low-budget offering from the most low-budget of all Hollywood studios, PRC. In spite of the very tight shooting schedules and monetary restrictions PRC did manage to turn out a few decent movies, and this is one of them.

George Zucco is Leo Grainger, a businessman who has spent the last five years in gaol. He now lives on an island, Fog Island, with his daughter Gail (Sharon Douglas). Leo has decided to host a little party. The guests will be his former business associates. Leo believes they were responsible for his prison sentence. They believe that he owes them money. Whether they or Leo were the real crooks is not clear although we can assume that none of these people is over-scrupulous when it comes to money.

Leo also believes that one of these people was responsible for the death of his beloved wife.

While Leo’s quondam business partners suspect that he is seeking revenge they also sense that there may be money to be had. Their greed overrules their fears.

Alec Ritchfield (Lionel Atwill), Kavanaugh (Jerome Cowan)and Sylvia (Veda Ann Borg) duly arrive at the island. One of Leo’s former associates is now dead so his place is taken by his son Jeff (John Whitney). The party also includes astrologer and all-purpose mystic Emiline Bronson (Jacqueline deWit). Also present on the island is Doc Lake (Ian Keith), Leo’s former accountant who had also been sent to prison when Leo’s financial empire collapsed about his ears. The butler, Allerton (George Lloyd), will also bear watching. He is not what he seems.

So what does such a group of people, stuck on an island with a host who probably hates their guts, do to pass the time? Why they hold a séance, of course. And wander off down secret passageways and generally tear the place apart in their frenzied lust for loot, all the while doing their best to double-cross each other. It comes as no great surprise when the first corpse turns up. Every member of the cast is a potential murderer or a potential victim.

The big attraction here is provided by the two stars, George Zucco and Lionel Atwill. Both were wonderfully entertaining actors in this sort of B-movie. The more outrageous the role the better they liked it. Jacqueline deWit is a delight as the crooked astrologer, complete with turban!

There are secret passages, skulls, machines of death and all the usual horror paraphernalia. The island even boasts an organ, a sure sign that we’re going to be dealing with some sort of fiendish madman.

Terry O. Morse had a long career as an editor, and a somewhat more spotty career as a director. He certainly does a solid enough job here. Despite the shoestring budget this movie doesn’t really look particularly cheap or shoddy. The sets are quite adequate. Given that the copy I saw was a bargain-bin public domain print (which as far as I’m aware are the only copies available) it’s difficult to judge Ira H. Morgan’s cinematography. It’s impossible to be sure whether the darkness and murkiness were intended or are the results of a cheapjack transfer, but either way this is a movie that is enhanced by those very qualities of darkness and murkiness.

The worst flaws of American horror and crime B-movies of this era are poor pacing and painfully unfunny comic relief. Happily neither of these flaws are present here. This movie motors along quite nicely throughout its modest 72-minute running time.

My copy of this movie comes from a Mill Creek boxed set. For a public domain release the DVD is of reasonable quality. The image is not too murky and the sound is good.

Even without any supernatural elements this is a bona fide horror movie. Fog Island is a terrific little B-movie. Highly recommended.

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