The Boogie Man Will Get You (1942)

I am a little amused to note that by 1942, Boris Karloff’s run of mad scientist films was already ripe for a bit of mockery.  Self mockery, at that.

His character in The Boogie Man Will Get You could easily be seen as a distillation of all those mad scientists he’d played: the kindly, genial and very absent minded eccentric mildly obsessed with his great experiment, and somewhat unconcerned about the pile of dead bodies building up in his basement.  Such a nuisance, really.  Or, as he notes in his records, “results negligible.”

It is also interesting to see Peter Lorre playing a nicely goofy character which shows the knack for comedy that he rarely got a chance to use.  It always seems strange to me when I see those late career appearances he made on TV and movies as a horror icon where they would talk about how scary he was.  The truth is that Peter was a great character actor who played an impressive number of roles over his career, mostly in crime and mystery film, and really didn’t star in that many horror films.  He ended up in a few of AIP’s more comic ensemble Horror films, like The Raven and Comedy of Terrors in the Sixties, but I suspect that had more to do with his recognizable name, that silky accent, and his comic abilities than any idea he was a superstar of horror cinema.

He seems to be enjoying himself in a very eccentric role as the local bigwig who has most of the important jobs in town — Doctor, Lawyer, Mayor, Sheriff, Coroner, Health Inspector — as well as a thriving hair restorer business — who goes around with a cat in his pocket (watching him stuff it in his pocket face first, I ended wondering whether you could get the Humane Society to sign off on this one these days).  I’ll confess it might be easier to picture Kenny Delmar in the role instead, doing his Senator Claghorn character (the one Mel Blanc insists was not, I say, was not, the inspiration for Foghorn Leghorn), but the character does so many unpredictable things that it takes all of Peter’s skill to make it work.

The Boogie Man Will Get You is fairly typical of many of the horror comedies of the time:  we have a recognizable horror star, a lot of absurd slapstick, a few interruptions of murder or weirdness in an attempt to justify the horror label, and a fairly scattershot approach, as if they hoped that throwing enough funny stuff into the mix would at least keep the audience laughing hard enough that they wouldn’t expect much more.  It’s classic screwball comedy, really, with only a few nods to horror and just about anything else they could squeeze in, from the screaming ghost of Uncas to an elderly woman clucking like a chicken and ex-boxer “Slapsie” Maxie Rosenbloom as a shy powder-puff salesman.  It isn’t one of the truly great screwball comedies, but it is short enough that it really doesn’t matter.

It is also worth noting that the War makes a brief appearance as well, as a pair of state cops are taken prisoner by an over-zealous sentry, and an escaped Italian agent arrives near the end with a backpack full of dynamite and a fuse he is far too ready to light.

And, of course, Boris’ plan involves trying to create the ultimate super-soldier who can wade right in and win this war almost on his own.  If he can only get his process to work this time…

Oh, well, we can’t all be Dr. Abraham Erskine, right?

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