May 19, 2020  (Web Review)

Supernatural

Kino Lorber, 64 min., not rated, Blu-ray: $21.99, Apr. 7

Reviewer rating: 3.0/4

Before Carole Lombard hit her stride in screwball comedy with Twentieth Century and My Man Godfrey, she made movies, most fairly forgettable, in various genres, among them this peculiar 1933 thriller. In director Victor Halperin’s follow-up to his surprise 1932 hit White Zombie, Lombard plays the wealthy Roma Courtney, a woman conned by phony psychic Paul Bavian (Alan Dinahart) into hosting a séance to contact her dead brother. Meanwhile, her friend Dr. Houston (H.B. Warner), who believes that the spirits of deceased murderers can possess living persons to commit more crimes, is experimenting with the corpse of recently executed serial killer Ruth Rogen (Vivienne Osborne). In the process Rogen takes over Roma’s body with the intent of killing Bavian, a former lover she suspects of having betrayed her to the police. Lombard gets to exhibit her range as the possessed woman, and the supporting performances by Dinahart, Warner, Osborne and Beryl Mercer (as Bavian’s meddlesome landlady, who unwisely tries to blackmail him) are good. Randolph Scott, on the other hand, is miscast and stiff as Roma’s fiancé. The film makes interesting use of double exposure in sequences involving Rogen’s takeover of Roma’s body, and the ending—in which the spirit of Courtney’s dead brother also enters the action—is weirdly compelling. Supernatural is a piece of hokum, creaky like most horror films of its time, but an intriguing curio that will be especially interesting for Lombard fans. An audio commentary by film historian Tim Lucas is included as a bonus, along with nine trailers of KL Studios releases, including a vintage one for Supernatural. Recommended. (F. Swietek)