Film poster for Supernatural
|Directed by||Victor Halperin|
|Produced by||Edward Halperin|
|Written by||Brian Marlow
|Story by||Garnett Weston|
Supernatural is a 1933 American Pre-Code horror film directed by Victor Halperin. The film is about Roma Courtenay (Carole Lombard) who attends a staged seance but finds herself suddenly possessed by the spirit of an executed murderess, Ruth Roge.
Supernatural was the followup to Halperin's White Zombie and uses many members of the crew from that film in its production. Trouble grew on the set between Carole Lombard and the director as Lombard felt she was more suited for comedy films. The film was not as financially successful as White Zombie on its initial release.
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Roma Courtenay (Carole Lombard) is approached by phony psychic Paul Bavian (Alan Dinehart) who claims to have a message from Courtenay's recently deceased brother. After attending a staged seance, Roma suddenly becomes possessed by the malevolent spirit of the executed murderess Ruth Rogen (Vivienne Osborne), who has unfinished business, including killing Bavian, her one-time lover. Fearing that Roma is actually under the charlatan's control, her fiancé (Randolph Scott) tries to rescue her.
H.B. Warner plays a scientist who is a friend of the Courtenay family. At the film's beginning he visits the warden of the penitentiary where Rogen is incarcerated. He tells the warden that violent crime always increases following the execution of a murderer, and he believes this is because some kind of malevolent spiritual influence is released after the killer dies. The warden agrees to give him Rogen's body after the execution so that he can attempt to contain the evil force.
Roma becomes possessed by Ruth Rogen's spirit when she walks into the scientist's laboratory while he is experimenting with her body. Just as she enters the room the corpse receives a jolt of electricity and the eyes flick open and make contact with Roma.
The movie is beautifully shot with atmospheric sets, fogbound streets, and lots of intense moody shadows. The story, however, has an odd, truncated quality, as though possibly there were other scenes intended for inclusion which were never shot. For instance, at the fake seance (during which the ghost of Roma's brother really does visit, but without the crooked medium knowing it), the medium pretends to channel a message from beyond claiming that Roma's brother did not die in an accident but was murdered by the family's attorney. Why the medium chose to make this inflammatory accusation is never explained, and it is a plot line that is not developed further.
Supernatural reunited the Halperin brothers with their crew they had on White Zombie. This included screenwriter Garnett Weston and cinematographer Arthur Martinelli. They also had Oliver Lodge aboard as a technical director. Madge Bellamy wrote in her autobiography that the Halperin Brothers tried to get her from Paramount Studios for the lead role, but the studio insisted on signing Carole Lombard from Fox Studios. According to Bellamy, Lombard resented her role in the film as "her forte was comedy." Lombard's resentment towards the film often led to arguments on the set with Halperin. The 1933 Long Beach earthquake hit while filming which caused the cast and crew to run from the studio set shrieking in fright.
Supernatural premiered at the New York Paramount on April 21, 1933. It's one week at the theater grossed $23,300. The film played at smaller theaters and even as a second film in a double feature. The film was not as strong of a financial success as Halperin's previous film White Zombie. The film premiered in Australia in July 1933 and in the United Kingdom on February 10, 1934.
The New York Herald gave the film a positive review stating that the film "doesn't make a bit of sense, but it does supply a lot of unwitting fun." Newsweek praised the film's script, pacing and direction. The New York Times praised the acting of Lombard and Dinehart as well as that the film "succeeds in awakening no little interest in its spooky doings." The Film Daily noted the script which was "not developed in a manner that makes for good entertainment". Variety referred to it negatively as a film that dies within the first half-hour.
- Rhodes, 2006. p. 168
- Rhodes, 2006. p. 169
- Rhodes, 2006. p. 170
- Rhodes, 2006. p. 171
- Reid, 2007. p. 237
- Reid, John Howard (2007). Science-fiction & Fantasy Cinema: Classic Films of Horror, Sci-fi & the Supernatural. Lulu.com. ISBN 1-4303-0113-9. Retrieved 31 August 2011.
- Rhodes, Gary Don (2001). White Zombie: Anatomy of a Horror Film. McFarland. ISBN 0-7864-0988-6. Retrieved 8 August 2011.