Supernatural (1933)


USA. 1933.


Director – Victor Halperin, Screenplay – Brian Marlow & Harvey Thew, Story/Adaptation – Garett Weston, Dialogue Director – Sidney Salkow, Producer – Edward Halperin, Photography (b&w) – Arthur Martinelli. Production Company – Paramount


Carole Lombard (Roma Courtney), Allan Dinehart (Paul Bavian), H.B. Warner (Dr Carl Houston), Vivienne Osbourne (Ruth Rogen), Randolph Scott (Grant Wilson), Beryl Mercer (Landlady), William Farnum (Nicky Hammond)


Ruth Rogen is about to be executed for having strangled three of her lovers. Dr Carl Houston is worried that her spirit may cause a series of copycat killings and has a plan to use rays that will contain her soul after she dies. Meanwhile, heiress Roma Courtney is distraught at the death of her brother John. She is approached by medium Paul Bavian, an associate of Ruth’s, who offers to contact John for her. However, Bavian is a conman and fakes the communications. When Roma collapses during one of the sessions, she becomes possessed by the spirit of Ruth who then uses Roma’s body to continue her killing spree.

Brothers Victor and Edward Halperin had great success with their independently made horror film White Zombie (1932). It was a work that held a spookily unworldly atmosphere and featured Bela Lugosi at his most intense. Alas, it was a success that the Halperins never managed to replicate in their subsequent ventures into horror – this and Revolt of the Zombies (1936). In fact, both Supernatural and Revolt of the Zombies are such dreary and unatmospheric films that they leave you wondering by what chance it was that the Halperins managed to make such a classic as White Zombie and then suddenly lose it all.

Supernatural is slow and dull. It seems for the greater part to take place as a series of dreary drawing room conversations. The film features a young Carole Lombard who was just on the verge of breaking through and being recognised in Twentieth Century (1934). Lombard vamps it up a good deal once possessed and there are some occasionally effective moments toward the end with glowing eyes (a sinister effect the Halperins first used in White Zombie) and Lombard strangling people. However, these scenes are surrounded by thorough dullness.

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