September 16, 2020: Gin and Boris 2020

Halloween Die-ary #8

It’s September 16 again. That time when I honor the memory of a mother who liked neither booze nor horror movies by drinking gin and watching a Boris Karloff flick on the anniversary of her death. The concept is far more sincere than that sounds.

I won’t go into the history of this little tradition. You can read it here, but it’s unnecessary for reading this post. It’s a boozy Boris Karloff movie review. I just do this now.

This year, on this day, we found ourselves at a cottage on a beach in Cape Cod. Which is not a strange place to find oneself generally, but for us and at this time of year it is. The place was small, with a TV in proportion. But it was connected to YouTube, and YouTube offers a solid selection of Boris Karloff movies.

I flirted with the idea of finding a nautical themed Boris Karloff movie to match our surroundings, but before I got deep into that search, I found a movie called The Boogie Man Will Get You. I couldn’t turn down that title. And it took place in Massachusetts. I couldn’t turn down that state. Then I saw Boris was starring in it alongside Peter Lorre. I couldn’t turn down that actor.

Turns out, it’s a comedy. Like every Karloff-Lorre joint. And outrightly so, despite the posters I saw, one of which had a hooded faceless ghoul with glowing eyes and the other ghosts in the O’s of the word Boogie.

Lindsey and I made martinis and settled in, only to be interrupted not long after the title card when our six-year-old (the middle child) came in asking to watch with us. It was late, and she was supposed to be in bed, but she’s always trying to find a reason not to go to bed. I figured this was a good reason. So all three of us settled in (I didn’t give her the backstory either; she was two when mom died) and watched the movie.  

It’s from 1942, and Boris Karloff plays…a mad scientist. Like again. Like that was all he ever got to play half the time. Put all of his mad scientists together and he’d be his own Legion of Doom. But this time, he’s not the intense, maniacal, obsessive delver into the most esoteric secrets of science. He’s the bumbling, upbeat, polite scientist who treats the dead bodies from his failed experiments like slightly burned casseroles.

The story sounds awesome. A woman tries to start a hotel in an old house while a mad scientist kills people in the basement. Fantastic. I wish they’d have played the concept straight. But even as a comedy it should work.

Karloff is basically trying to turn door-to-door salesmen into flying humans. That’s it. That’s what he wants. Human beings who can soar through the air. And not just door-to-door salesmen. They’re just easy pickings (buy their whole briefcase of goods, and they’ll more than willingly sit in a box while you throw switches). Lorre plays the town sheriff and landlord and coroner and notary public and other civic roles. Your basic rich guy in a small town with his hand in everything. In this case, he partners up with Karloff to fund his experiments.

Meanwhile, Karloff needs to get out of his mortgage (which Lorre holds), so he sells the old house to a woman who wants to turn it into a hotel. Then there’s her ex-husband trying to stop that plan. Then there’s the choreographer with a secret. Then there’s the revolutionary with a bomb strapped to his chest. It’s like every time the door to the house opened, somebody from the wrong set walked in.

And although the comedy doesn’t age well the way most comedies don’t age well, the movie’s biggest flaw was that it lacked the edge it was pretending to have with that title and those posters. Laughs where the teeth don’t bite.

Many point out the similarity of the movie to Arsenic and Old Lace (although the movie version of Arsenic wouldn’t come out for two years after The Boogie Man Will Get You, the play was popular, and starred old Boris himself). Both are madcap buffoonery with corpses and villains. But Boogie lacks the strong straight man role that Arsenic had and, worse, it defangs the entire concept at the end of the movie with a twist I won’t reveal here.

It’s…maybe worth seeing. I don’t know. I’ll watch Boris and Lorre stand on a street corner together and talk bus schedules. But both Lindsey and my daughter fell asleep about halfway through the meager 67-minute runtime. Granted, the day was full beach visits and oddity hunts. My vacations are often more exhausting than my regular days.

But you tell me. I’ve embedded the movie below. Get your mellowcreme pumpkins and gin-and-whatevers and let me know what you think. And pour a little out in remembrance of Mom, would you?

I will say that the next day the six year-old told us without any prompting, “I liked watching that old movie last night. The black and gray one. I want to do that again.” And she wasn’t even drinking martinis. Not that night.

But it’s true, settling into the dark with an old “black and gray” is always a cozy time, especially the ones with Boris.