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  Sh! The Octopus Lighthouse LunacyBuy this film here.
Year: 1937
Director: William C. McGann
Stars: Hugh Herbert, Allen Jenkins, Marcia Ralston, John Eldredge, George Rosener, Brandon Tynan, Eric Stanley, Margaret Irving, Elspeth Dudgeon
Genre: Horror, Comedy, Thriller, Weirdo
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: It is a dark and stormy night, and at this remote and abandoned lighthouse two men have just entered after negotiating the rough seas. One of them is Captain Cobb (Brandon Tynan) who knows all about the place, the other is Paul Morgan (John Eldredge), an artist who specialises in marine paintings and wants to spend some time there for work, but there may be something more sinister going on in the area. Two detectives, Kelly (Hugh Herbert) and Dempsey (Allen Jenkins) are back on land driving through the rain when they get a call on their police radio: The Octopus has struck again.

If ever there was a film remembered for its title, Sh! The Octopus would be it. Down the decades since its release, the unwary browser has noted its strange name and filed it away as perhaps a movie they should investigate, but probably never will. There are those who have braved it to discover the production itself was no less weird than its title, an adaptation of one of the then-popular Old Dark House mysteries, in this case two plays, one of them being that old warhorse The Gorilla, most famously made into a vehicle for the Ritz Brothers a couple of years after this. That was a typical comedy chiller of the day, but this...

What was this? It was as if the writers had thrown whatever they wanted into the story no matter if it made any sense or not, all for the sake of a thrill or a laugh, well aware this was a supporting feature and nobody would be expressly seeking it out in the late nineteen-thirties when there were bigger cinematic fish to fry down at the local theatre. This anything goes mood has turned off plenty of those who actually tracked it down subsequently, but there were just as many who didn't feel like they'd wasted their time, because it was so giddy with absurdities that the whole experience became highly amusing, even if the plot kept pulling the rug out from under you seemingly for the hell of it.

Hugh Herbert may not be a very recognisable name today, but he did make a mark thanks to his "Woo-hoo!" delivery, a kind of catchphrase that may make you realise you'd seen him (or heard him) before if you watched a few vintage Hollywood movies as a matter of course. Paired with Allen Jenkins, now also best known for his voice - he was Officer Dibble in Top Cat - they make a fair comic double act, one silly, the other more abrasive, with a habit of pointing out to all and sundry that they're detectives, as if they were trying to convince themselves. As with everyone in this, they wind up at the lighthouse, which on this evidence is busier than the average high street, and try to fathom what on earth is going on.

Easier said than done, but lots of fun to find out if you were attuned to this, what with its body hanging from the rafters and dripping blood on people, secret passages where glowing eyes peer out, and of course those ever-present octopus tentacles which carry off unwary cast members. Apparently not only is The Octopus a criminal mastermind, but is an actual sea creature as well, except as you discover that's not really true either. The combination of silly jokes and some genuinely freaky material - the big reveal of one character as a villain is of genuine nightmare quality - was not one exclusive to this, but it was far more out there than many of its contemporaries, that in spite of largely being confined to one location, the lighthouse, though it does have a basement including a pool where Herbert can don a diving suit and investigate the submarine reported in the area. The ending could have been a cop-out in other hands, but here just adds to the oddity, with a surprisingly saucy punchline. The whole thing's nuts.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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