TODAY WE TAKE A TRIP TO HORROR ISLAND! 1941's Universal spook show "HORROR ISLAND" has just been released to DVD in the new Universal Horror box set. In fact, "Horror Island" has never been on home video at all. So I decided to watch this movie, which I'd never previously seen, for my Halloween movie of the day. It's apparently been a favourite with Universal horror fans and I can see why.
This is one of the patented "old dark house" horror comedies which by 1941 had been around for decades already. Therefore, the genre was getting RATHER tired by this point. Thankfully (unlike the similar but MUCH inferior "Black Cat" also included in the new box set) "Horror Island" seems fresh and very enjoyable thanks to the very likeable cast, an script which is actually funny AND spooky and the able, snappy direction of George Waggner. Waggner was also the director of such horror faves as "The Wolf Man" and "Man Made Monster"; both with Lon Chaney Jr. of course. And like those films, Waggner keeps "Horror Island" moving along at a fast paced clip. The lead players are Dick Foran, Peggy Moran (both from "The Mummy's Hand) and Leo Carillo; the rest of the cast are pretty much unknowns but still manage to keep us interested.
The movie is full of all the fun old horror cliches like bodies in suits of armour, secret passages, a heroine grabbed by a clutching hand from behind a sliding bookcase. . .but since they are all treated with good humour as well as a lot of spooky atmosphere, they're great fun! Dick Foran is something of a con artist one step ahead of the bill collectors. Peg-legged old sea dog Leo Carillo comes offering one half of a treasure map which leads to Sir Henry Morgan's island -- which Foran just happens to have inherited. The other half of the map was stolen from Carillo by "The Phantom" (played by Foy Van Dolsen who looks more like a young John Carradine than John Carradine did -- check him out in the big hat on the DVD cover above). Foran doesn't really believe the treasure story but sees a good way to make some money by offering a "getaway weekend" treasure hunt/ghost hunt at the spooky old castle on the island. Peggy Moran and the rest of the cast pay the $50 for the trip and sail off to the island on Foran's boat "Skiddoo". Unfortunately, a package from The Phantom almost blows up the boat before they leave the harbour.
On the island, Foran and his sidekick "Stuff" have rigged a lot of spooky apparatus and a PA system from which to produce ghostly laughter etc. throughout the joint. Unfortunately, the Phantom is also on the island and after the treasure. Several guests bite the dust and some plot twists enter into the proceedings as well.
"Horror Island" is one of the better "old dark house" comedies which also benefits from the "pirate ghost" angle and the remote island setting (as in the similar "Fog Island" from 1945). Even though the film doesn't have any "big" stars, it never suffers since the actors are so watchable. The old castle set is superb as only Universal could produce and the whole film comes off as something like an episode of Scooby-Doo -- only without the Scooby snacks. This is a thoroughly enjoyable horror romp for the Halloween goblin in all of us.