Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Bowery at Midnight (1942)

For much of its length, this film seems an odd inclusion in a 'horror' pack.  Not that dubious genre selection is a rarity in such packs, as the presence of gloriously stupid James Bond knock-off Laser Mission in the "Sci Fi Classics" box set demonstrates.

The film begins with a crook ("Fingers" Dolan) escaping from prison.  Bad editing then makes him suddenly teleport to a suburban neighborhood where he mugs someone for their clothes.  We next see Fingers in the Bowery, a seedy part of New York populated by those down on their luck.  Overhearing exposition that there's a mission nearby where he can get a free meal, he goes for a bowl of soup and a place to stay out of sight of the cops.

Imagine his shock then, when the owner of the mission (played by Bela Lugosi) immediately recognises him.  His alarm recedes however when he learns that the mission is the front for a criminal gang, and that the apparent philanthropist is the mastermind behind it.  Fingers is soon a member of the gang.  Perhaps he shouldn't have relaxed so quickly however, as his new boss is pretty quick to rub out anyone who displeases him in even the smallest of ways.  The cellar under the mission has several graves in it already, and Fingers will soon get one of his own.

Meanwhile, there's a subplot about a young woman who works at the mission (and knows nothing of its seedier side), and her sort-of-fiance (he hasn't quite got around to proposing yet, though he hints at it pretty broadly).  The not-fiance is frankly very punchable, though I suspect we're not actually supposed to find him that way.

In any case, by one of those happenstances of narrative fiction, not-fiance's university professor is also the proprietor of the mission, under an assumed name.  Why he's not just openly running the place, I don't know.  The whole point of the mission is to give him an "innocent reason" to be in the Bowery, and using a fake identity seems like a good way to put the cover in jeopardy.  But trust me, that's far from the biggest pot hole in the plot.  Buckle up, it's going to be a bumpy ride.

Anyway, after about 40 minutes of crime thriller: surprise zombies.  The drugged-up doctor who our villain keeps on his team for unclear reasons has secretly been treating the murdered gangsters with a compound that turns them into the undead.  Why?  Hey look, a shiny thing!

Not-fiance discovers that his professor is the man behind the mission, and eats a bullet for his troubles.  This made me happy.  He joins the zombies.  The young woman he was not yet engaged to tries to find out what happened to him.  Fortunately for her, the bad guy's trigger man doesn't kill women.

The bad guy gets eaten by the zombies who've had all of 15 seconds screen time before then, and the movie ends with the not-fiance recuperating in bed, apparently none the worse for the experience of dying and becoming a cannibalistic undead monster.  How?  Yeah, like the movie's going to bother to explain that.

This feels like they had a crime script with no ending, then got Bela Lugosi on the cast and were like "just throw in some vampires or something".

Not good.

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