Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5.
USA, 1945. RKO Radio Pictures. Screenplay by Ardel Wray. Cinematography by Jack MacKenzie. Produced by Val Lewton. Music by Leigh Harline. Production Design by Albert S. D’Agostino, Walter E. Keller. Costume Design by Edward Stevenson. Film Editing by Lyle Boyer.
Worn down by the Balkan wars, a hard-edged Greek General (Boris Karloff) is entertaining a visiting American reporter (Marc Cramer) who has come to write about the situation on the battlefield. While troops bury the dead, Karloff offers to take Cramer to a nearby remote island where his late wife is buried, but when they arrive they find that her grave has been desecrated, as have a number of others. They are even more surprised to find that the island, which was thought to be solely a cemetery, is inhabited by a Swiss archaeologist who regrets that his research has inspired the grave robbery that has resulted in the disturbed tombs. His superstitious Greek housekeeper believes otherwise, telling them that it is a vorvolaka (an incorrect version of the Greek vrykolakas, the word for vampire) and that they are all vulnerable to being turned into the walking dead. There is a plague going around that is causing delirium before death, which could be the cause except that as members of the archaeologist’s household mysteriously die, Karloff’s paranoid anxiety has him begin to suspect that the beautiful young Thea (Ellen Drew) is bringing the evil spirits among them, which then inspires Cramer, who has fallen in love with her, to try and help her escape. A wonderful cast and gorgeous production design and photography make this an atmospheric thriller, not in any way horrific but moody and elegant, as if And Then There Were None was combined with The Uninvited, and the climactic final scenes ratchet up the marvelous tension with great style.