Combustible Celluloid
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With: Carole Lombard, Alan Dinehart, Vivienne Osborne, Randolph Scott, H.B. Warner, Beryl Mercer, William Farnum, Willard Robertson, George Burr Macannan, Lyman Williams
Written by: Garnett Weston, Harvey F. Thew, Brian Marlow
Directed by: Victor Halperin
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 65
Date: 04/30/2020

Supernatural (1933)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Scheme Spirit

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This incredible pre-code thriller was made at Paramount by the Halperin brothers, director Victor Halperin and producer Edward Halperin, after the success of their Bela Lugosi horror film White Zombie (1932). Carole Lombard, before finding her footing as a great screen comedienne, stars in the serious role of Roma Courtney, who mourns the death of her twin brother. Randolph Scott plays her kind, no-nonsense fiance, Grant. She's contacted by a phony medium, Paul Bavian (Alan Dinehart), claiming that her brother has a message for her. Grant thinks something's fishy, but Roma feels she must try. Meanwhile, a female serial killer (before the term "serial killer" was invented), Ruth Rogen (Vivienne Osborne) is about to go to the electric chair for her crimes. Dr. Carl Houston (H.B. Warner) believes that, after death, Rogen's evil spirit could enter the body of another person and continue her killing spree. So he gets permission to do an experiment on her body. Coincidentally, Rogen wants revenge on none other than Bavian, bringing all of our characters together, with Roma becoming the killer's new host body. It's up to Grant to save the day, as the possessed Roma inexplicably manages to seduce Bavian and lure him onto her yacht. Director Halperin brings all kinds of kooky stuff to Supernatural, including a weird process shot of a prison yard, an array of tricks for the fake séance, a mad scientist laboratory at the back of a penthouse, and a quote from Confucius. The entire thing, running only 65 minutes, is berserk, and makes very little sense, but it's brisk and jaw-dropping enough to be worth seeing. Beryl Mercer steals a few scenes as Bavian's low-class landlady, brazenly spying on him through the transom. Kino Lorber released it on Blu-ray in 2020, with a batch of trailers, and a great commentary track by Tim Lucas.

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