Dark and stormy night plus people stranded in an old mansion adds up to a ’30s horror/crime mystery. Funereal piano music doesn’t hurt the atmosphere. The unlucky traveler Prescott Ames (John Miljan) shows up with the playwright Herman Wood and his secretary Homer Erskine at the Shaws’ mansion. There we meet June Collyer (as Gloria), who’s engaged to Ames but has to fight off Terry Shaw (Donald Kinke). A scream pierces the house. Even the grandfather clock sounds spooky.
As lightening crackles outside, Terry’s sister Beatrice (Eve Southern) appears, “that woman gives me goosepimples” says Homer. Dr. Kent (Henry Kolker) explains her as mentally imbalanced–but a medium as well. She speaks of her husband’s murder in the house; he puts in a non-appearance of a sort as a vacant chair moving towards her at the dining table. Suddenly, the power goes off, revealing a very cool floating death-mask. No one reacts to that though.
In a burst of manic comedy, it’s revealed that the playwright staged all that; there’s even a script available, all of the guests are actors. Apparently, the house is just temporarily occupied by the Shaws, maybe just as a suitable setting for the play. But, reality intrudes, Beatrice turns up dead; eyes watch from a portrait, a secret panel opens up. Everybody starts explaining themselves with alibis; it’s more than a little confusing, as someone says “let the play continue”.
But a guard from the local sanitation shows up, looking for an escaped patient “We call him Case 222, but I guess you’d call him a homicidal maniac”. Weirdly, some of the guests don’t want to admit that anything’s really amiss. Another bizarre device comes into play, so to speak, as Homer’s bed frame descends, threatening to crush him. Herman spews some great one-liners at him “you’ve got the brain of an oyster…” Meanwhile, Terry continues to mess with Gloria. At least someone goes for the police, but other speculate that even the guard is an actor (so he is). Beatrice is still dead, though.
More sanitarium guards.. The secret chamber is revealed. The doctor (the actual escapee) has Beatrice on a slab, and Herman, etc. bound up. What a great menacing laugh the doctor’s got! But, yes, even the murder’s a hoax, err, part of the play The Ghost Walks. I guess, with a microscope, the plot adds up. It didn’t help that my DVD had sketchy audio; in a talky movie with a complex plot, that’s a handicap (not the filmmaker’s fault of course).
This is very entertaining, having an unusual premise that is carefully worked out. Other than Beatrice’s late husband’s possible ghost, there’s more mystery than supernatural stuff going on, but that doesn’t hurt much. The comedy is blended in very well, as the situation is fairly absurd; which, thanks to the fleshed-out atmosphere, actually makes it creepier. 7/10.