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Scared to Death

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People poked fun of thriller movies way before "Scary Movie" (2000) hit theaters. Take the silly spoof "Scared To Death" (1947), which tosses George Zucco and Bela Lugosi together with a plot about a murdered woman who tells her story through goofy flashbacks from the morgue.

On the day of her death, Laura Van Ee appears to be simply the not-very-nice wife of an American man who wants a divorce. That she has an irrational terror of wearing a blindfold is presented as important (though of course you have to ask how often mandatory blindfold-wearing really comes up in the average person’s day). Little by little, we come to understand that Mrs. Van Ee was in fact half of a stage team who, with her husband, entertained Europe with an act that entailed so much loathsome mask-wearing, she jumped at the opportunity to betray her husband to the Nazis. Evidently, just saying no to the mask business hadn’t occurred to her.

As silly as the movie is, the plot rests on some serious historical forces with which audiences of the time would have been familiar. The film was made only two years after the end of World War II, a conflict in which Allied Forces and Axis Powers clashed on numerous continents. In Europe, the war ravaged nations as the Axis Power’s German army invaded Poland, Austria, France and more in an attempt to expand its Nazi-run territories into an Empire to rival all others. With every invasion, Nazi forces encountered an unpredictable combination of local collaborators and fierce resistance movements.

In 1947, the year "Scared To Death" hit theaters with its campy humor, the United States implemented its European Recovery Plan, also known as The Marshall Plan (for then Secretary of State George Marshall). The purpose of the plan was to support rebuilding Europe in a way that would inhibit the growth of Communism and avoid recreating the same conditions that had led to the rise of Adolf Hitler. Congress approved an expenditure of more than $12 billion, and Marshall won a Nobel Prize for the humanitarian value of the project.

The Science

Rob MacLeod

Dr. Rob MacLeodBioengineer Rob MacLeod of the University of Utah discusses the medical theory behind the film "Scared to Death."


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Related Resources

University of Utah Deparment of Bioengineering

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Planning a Career in Biomedical Engineering


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