Recently I gave it another shot. And again, I kept getting the 20-minute itch. The first time, I got up to slice a grapefruit. Twenty minutes later, I prepared a salad. So I suppose the second time 'round was something of a success in that I stayed awake and ate healthy foods.
Scared to Death has a certain cachet among Bela Lugosi aficionados, being his only lead role in a color production. Hardcore fans hold it in high regard for its allegedly surreal atmosphere -- surreal apparently meaning "sounds like they're making it up as go along." (Best line in the movie: the coroner looks at the corpse on the gurney and asks, "Is this the body?" Please let this not be the guy who has to cut me open.)
|Molly Lamont's most realistic|
moment in the movie.
Laura believes Roland and Joseph are trying to drive her crazy, while Lilybeth spends most of her waking hours fending off Bill's amorous advances. It never occurs to anybody that they could leave at any time; instead, they all stick around to drive each other crazy. Psychiatrists have a word for this: Family.
|"Hands up! Or the little guy bites you on the|
For no other reason that the running time is approaching its end, Laura is hypnotized by a voice from God knows where. During her trance, we learn that a few years earlier Laura sold out her husband Rene to the Nazis when they were living in Paris. Rene, thought to have been executed, has instead returned to successfully (drum-roll, please) scare her to death. That he does it while disguised a woman is scary in itself.
|The floating mask comes free|
of charge with the house.
Then there's the look of the movie. The sets (both of them) are like something out of a dream. Not that this was necessarily a deliberate choice on the part of the art director. No, it's the movie having been shot in glorious Cinecolor (Cinecolor being to Technicolor what Blue Bonnet Margarine is to French farmhouse butter). The not-quite true to life flesh tones make the cast look like a Madame Tussaud's exhibit come to life, while the mysterious floating green mask looks blue. Blue and brown, in fact, are Scared to Death's primary color scheme. I'm sure one of the Cahiers du Cinema snobs could read something into that, but don't believe him. Anything that interesting in Scared to Death is strictly accidental.
|"Aren't we supposed to be the stars|
in this thing?"
Usually a welcome presence in B-movies, Pendleton here is merely aggravating, whether making a play for Lilybeth or trying to figure out basic grammar. That his character is an ex-cop trying to work his way back into his old job in the homicide division is a prospect more frightening than anything else in the movie.
|"You can trust me. I enunciate clearly."|
|"My co-pay is how much, doctor?!"|
|This isn't even the strangest part of the movie.|
|If this prop ever turns up at an auction,|
let me know.
Dracula/Wolfman era and the radioactive insects of the 1950s, perhaps its creators were trying to go down a slightly different path. The genuinely startling appearance of the head in a package certainly provides a hint of what was to come in later years. Yet the very presence of Bela Lugosi and George Zucco provides an anchor to a time that had already vanished. Scared to Death might be considered both a curtain call of one genre and a peek into the future of "shock" movies like Psycho and its brethren. If only it didn't drive me out of my chair or consciousness every 20 minutes.