So having polished off the ‘mainstream’ movies, I might as well share with you my go-to films when I want to get my creep on…
10 – THE PEARL OF DEATH (1944)
Is this a horror film? Probably not in the conventional sense. But it was for me when I first watched it, aged around seven or eight. It was part of a series of fourteen films made for both Fox and Universal, starring Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes. They were very short, sometimes hovering around the hour mark (as does this one), anachronistic (but for the first two Fox-made films, set in Victorian era, the later films were invariably set during the wartime years and some contain associated plots) but they were gripping and atmospheric.
The Pearl of Death is an adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle’s story The Six Napoleons. At its heart is the ‘evil’ pearl of the Borgias, a “miracle of horror” as Holmes describes it. The pearl is stolen by Giles Conover (Miles Mander) who manages to hide it before he is apprehended. The rest of the film deals with Holmes and his companion Dr Watson (Nigel Bruce) as they attempt to track down the pearl. But someone else is on the trail too: Giles Conover’s henchman, The Hoxton Creeper (“the chest of a buffalo… the arms of a gorilla”), played by Rondo Hatton. The Creeper is a monster who kills his victims by breaking their backs. You only see him in silhouette, or glimpse his shadow, or see his too-tight gloves on too-large hands, but in the final frames he is revealed. And it was sleepless nights for me for quite some time after that.
The ‘Queen of the Screamers’, Evelyn Ankers, appears in this film, having already appeared in 1942’s The Voice of Terror. Perhaps most memorably, she starred alongside Lon Chaney Jnr in The Wolf Man.