Spooks Run Wild / Ghosts on the Loose (1941/1943)

The East Side Kids were a bunch of lovable street toughs (now known as a “gang”) who starred in a series of films in the ’40s as a spin-off of the similar (though more serious) Dead End Kids pics (They would later also spin off the Bowery Boys.). Former child star Ernest “Sunshine Sammy” Morrison played Scruno — yes, Scruno — the only black member of the gang, in around 15 films. Spooks Run Wild and Ghosts on the Loose were two of the films in the series that took a horror/comedy angle (along with Boys of the City), so packaging them in a double feature seems like a no-brainer — especially when their plots are so similar.

Both films find the boys in haunted houses that may or may not be haunted by Bela Lugosi, and it’s up to them to play Scooby Doo and solve the mystery. Scruno plays a larger role in Spooks, which means more screen time of him reacting in typical “Spook” fashion to various spooky situations: a spider, a floating skull and Lugosi himself. Of course, all of the gang are scaredy cats, but Scruno’s fidgety, hunched over, wide-eyed/mouthed character seems, well, just a bit more over-the-top. Plus, he’s the butt of several jokes about no one being able to see him in the dark, and when a white guy gets car exhaust blown in his face, one of the “kids” yells, “Hey, it’s Scruno’s uncle!” Cringe-worthy by today’s standards, these were signs of the times, just as ’70s Blaxploitation films had the whole “kill honky” thing, so I guess it kind of evens out*. These two films aren’t as egregiously racist as some of the era — in particular, the noxious Boys of the City. Spooks has a better story, but Ghosts has more (theoretical) laughs. Neither is essential.

*Not really.

A scene from the movie Spooks Run Wild
Spike Lee knew better than to take a candlestick from The Man.
A scene from the movie Spooks Run Wild
Remember kids: Don’t do the hokey-pokey while you’re high on LSD.
A scene from the movie Spooks Run Wild
Do we have to hold hands?”
A scene from the movie Ghosts on the Loose
At long last, Ted found the man in Michael Jackson’s mirror.


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