Column: The Vault of Secrets: The Boogie Man Will Get You (1942)

The Boogie Man Will Get You (1942). Directed by: Lew Landers. Starring: Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre, “Slapsie” Maxie Rosenbloom.

Welcome back to the Vault of Secrets, where we’ll be unearthing another classic (or not-so-classic) vintage horror film for your delectation. The version I watched was one of several screeners sent as part of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment’s manufacture-on-demand service “Sony Pictures Choice Collection” that we’ll be covering here at the Vault. Generally, the Collection features never-before-released-on-DVD titles that are sold through places like Amazon, TCM, and Warner Archive, but this particular one is actually also available as part of a set, along with several other pictures Boris Karloff made while under contract to Columbia.

The Boogie Man Will Get You was the last of Karloff’s contract films with Columbia – a string that included The Man They Could Not Hang and The Devil Commands. It was made to cash in on the success of Karloff’s stage version of Arsenic and Old Lace, and it shows. The film feels like a natural sibling to the Frank Capra cinematic adaptation of the play that would hit theaters only a few years later.

As such, it’s less horror and more comic farce with a body count. (Although maybe not so high as it at first appears, since, as is so often the case in these old movies, not everyone who appears to be dead winds up that way.) Karloff plays a mad scientist (of course) who is experimenting in the basement, “shaking the unshakable laws of nature” in order to create a superman who will single-handedly win the war. Unfortunately, as he laments time and again, “something always goes wrong,” and so, instead, he’s ended up with a makeshift morgue full of bodies in the wine cellar.

Peter Lorre plays the town doctor-cum-mayor-cum-sheriff-cum-loan officer-cum-bogus hair tonic salesmancumevery other job in town. When one of the hapless protagonists asks him if anybody else in the little burg does anything, he replies, “They vote once a year.” As you can imagine from a character played by Lorre, he’s shady and unscrupulous and utterly delightful, and he carries a kitten around in his coat pocket for no reason that I can figure, although apparently, the kitten is unusually deft at locating corpses and other evidence of foul play.

Former boxer-turned-character actor “Slapsie” Maxie Rosenbloom also shows up as one of the traveling salesmen who unwittingly volunteer for Karloff’s experiments, along with a whole host of other odd characters, as is normal for a movie of this type. The Boogie Man Will Get You is directed by the extraordinarily prolific Lew Landers, probably best known to Vault fans for Lugosi’s The Raven and The Return of the Vampire, though he’s done over a hundred movies and TV episodes, in pretty much every genre. It also features lots of goofy sound effects and great opening title music composed by John Leipold that would have been right at home in one of the faux-spooky episodes of Looney Tunes.

The Boogie Man Will Get You is just one of a pile of self-aware dark slapstick comedies released in the 1940s, but, with the exception of the aforementioned Arsenic and Old Lace, not many of them remained in the public spotlight into the present, which is kind of a shame. They’re a lot of fun and Boogie Man here is a prime example, starring two horror legends (who’re just as good at delivering comedy beats) at the top of their careers.

That’s it for tonight, but be sure to join us next time when we pay another, somewhat less (ahem) stately visit to a familiar old, dark house.