Supernatural (1933)

Quietly impressive.

20 March 2004 | by Jake (jemstream@hotmail.com) (Melbourne Australia) – See all my reviews

Unlike a lot of reviewers here, I was quite impressed by this film. Sure it’s not scary – I didn’t expect it to be – but it effectively builds an unsettling atmosphere without resorting to the usual mood enhancers such as haunted houses, gloomy mansions, isolated islands, etc. Prosaic things such as a spark generated from a railway wheel, the taking of a key, have an edge to them. There are also some very nice touches along the way, eg, the dog bringing the slippers to Carole Lombard’s brother.

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It is also interesting to see Carole Lombard this early in her career – from my point of view she acquits herself quite well in the part. And H. B Warner is also well suited to his role of Dr Houston. Randolph Scott however is wooden, and the role of Bavian could have done with a more charismatic player than Alan Dinehart. The real scene stealer in this movie however is Beryl Mercer – much better in this than anything else I have seen her in.

I also find this film interesting plot-wise, as I have on occasion come across texts which refer to “The Uninvited” as the first significant Hollywood film to deal with spirit possession when clearly this is not the case. I suppose it depends on what you mean by significant.

Anyway, it is certainly interesting to see what the makers of “White Zombie” came up with when they had the backing of a major studio.

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Gives me the creeps, even after 3 viewings

Author: DeborahPainter855 from Norfolk, Virginia
9 August 2002

I’ve seen this film 3 times over the past 16 years and I have to say that it still has its moments. Real pros were in charge of seeing to it that the movie evokes the right mood. No, it’s not made in the same vein as “The Blair Witch Project” or any of a number of modern scarefests. Older movies often have a distinct style which is different than that used by directors, cinematographers and set designers today. This should not detract from the appreciation of old scary movies. Black and white cinematography can only enhance them. See the scene with the dead murderess in the scientist’s laboratory for an example of what I mean. Brr.

Vivienne Osborne is Just Splendid!!!

8/10
Author: kidboots from Australia
22 March 2011
*** This review may contain spoilers ***

“Supernatural” broke new ground, being one of the first films to deal with possession by otherworldly influences. Before the Golden age of Horror, film chillers were usually adaptations of stories by Poe or Stevenson and ghost stories usually had “down to earth” explanations, explained at the movie’s end. After the popularity of “Dracula” there came a greater acceptance among the public of things of a super- natural bent. The reasons may also have been that during the early talkies, when sound recording was often limited to one or two sets – movies about faith healers, mentalists and seances became extremely popular. Between “White Zombie” (1932) and it’s supposed sequel “Revolt of the Zombies” (1936) the Halperin Brothers made only 2 films – one was the forgettable “I Conquer the Sea”, the other was the unusual and innovative “Supernatural” starring the luminous Carole Lombard.

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With several scriptural quotations, as well as a montage of newspaper headlines and courtroom shots, the scene is set and we are introduced to Ruth Rogan (the always excellent Vivienne Osborne) who is to die in the electric chair for murdering three lovers. Not only is Ruth not sorry, she is eager to kill again – if only she can get a reprieve – No Chance!!

Meanwhile, Roma Courtney (Carole Lombard), who is grieving over the death of her brother, John, receives a note from spiritualist Paul Bavian (the always excellent Alan Dinehart), who tell her he has been visited by a “distressed John” and wants to arrange a seance. There is always a naysayer in these movies and in this one it happens to be Randolph Scott, who plays Roma’s shoulder to cry on (and hoping to be more) Grant. At the seance “John” appears and accuses Hammond (William Farnum) an old family friend of killing him to eventually take control of his fortune. Afterwards Roma and Grant visit Dr. Houston (H.B. Warner) and find him in the middle of a ghastly experiment. Before Ruth Rogan’s execution she had given permission for Houston to experiment with her remains – to see what makes her tick!!! When Roma bursts in, Ruth (looking no worse for her electrifying death) is sitting there and after a flutter of curtains, the harassed doctor demands that Grant “get Roma out of the room” – too late she is already possessed!

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Bavian has a few secrets, not the least that he is a phoney spiritualist. He is the man who supposedly put Ruth on her murderous path and the man she wants to return to life for, in order to kill him. He has also, just before the seance, murdered his landlady, who was getting a bit nosy. Beryl Mercer, usually the epitome of sweet, simpering mothers (“The Public Enemy”, “All Quiet on the Western Front”) is anything but here. If any actress can be forgiven for rebelling against typecasting, it was Beryl Mercer – maybe she was just taking one last stand, because in this movie her role was that of a sly, drink dependent hag who lived in a roach infested room.

Roma, now possessed by Ruth’s evil spirit organises another seance and when Hammond is murdered she and Paul take off – he, envisioning a night of lust, she with murder on her mind. Lombard’s transformation to the possessed Roma is more than just acting. Makeup creates a harsh look but at the film’s end the lipstick, eyeshadow and general darkness of her face disappears and she is the old Roma once again. Again Vivienne Osborne, as the psychotic murderess really steals the show. She excelled at highly emotional parts – it was just such a pity that those roles were few and far between. She retired in the late 40s but even one of her last roles, as the sick querulous first wife of Vincent Price in “Dragonwyck”, she was completely memorable.

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