Opening with doleful quotes over stormy waters, SUPERNATURAL sure seems poised to kick ass. The warnings recall DEMONS and I prepare myself to watch wood-smashing pimps and devil girls with absurd manicures. But it's 1933 and the best we can reasonably expect is crazed melodrama and lots of early visual effects.
And it happens and it's good...for about the first 10 minutes. Crazy person Ruth Rogen is bound for the electric chair because she choked a few people to death with her Beowulf-like grip.
Easy enough to comprehend, but now the plot starts getting a little busy. The first big red flag is the appearance of our friend, the Comedy Drunk. She's the landlady of the con man medium who sent Ruth away. Through a series of scenes, we learn what a dirty rotten scoundrel this Paul Bavien really is. Shades of NIGHTMARE ALLEY.
Thus far, the most likeable character is an alcoholic who lives in roach-ridden squalor. So, okay, enter more non-repulsives, in the persons of rich heiress Roma Courtney and her love interest. There's also a psychiatrist with all kinds of the off-the-wall theories about soul transference between bodies and such.
The fake medium fakery is pretty transparently abutted against the doctor's crazy theories to make them seem less crazy. These scenes are fairly well-done, given the time. I liked a lot of the camerawork in the film in general.
The acting, story, and pacing, not so much. Carole Lombard has a good reputation from her work in romance and comedy, and she gives the whole possessed lady thing a good try. She bounces a bit between leering and sneering, and then later lying sexily around in a dark fur. This film's success hinges on her performance and her presentation, and neither are really bad, but they're also not good enough to carry the day.
Even though this is just over an hour in running time, it manages to feel first bloated and then rushed. Pacing is a huge issue with SUPERNATURAL, much as it was in the same director's WHITE ZOMBIE. I love charlatan psychics and female possession, so you'd think this would be right up my (nightmare) alley. But it's creaky and then it shifts into annoying overdrive for the conclusion, satisfying nobody. I didn't feel tormented while watching it, but I never felt engaged either.
PS I am using stars/snowflakes now, ok. **1/2