Universal Movie Monsters Sequel Mini Reviews: The Creature from the Black Lagoon
by Steve Habrat
We have arrived at our final classic Universal Movie Monster and we end this series with a true legend. The Creature from the Black Lagoon moves away from the supernatural flavor that was favored by Universal Studios and embraced a scientific fear that was popular after World War II. He may not emerge from a coffin at night and he may not be a walking corpse but Gill-man is certainly a monster that will continue to haunt our dreams for years. Without further ado, here is the final installment in Anti-Film School’s Universal Movie Monster series. Read on if you dare…
The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)
Of all the classic monsters in the Universal horror line, one of the most iconic is Gill-man, the underwater terror from Jack Arnold’s classic horror adventure The Creature from the Black Lagoon. Made in 1954 and originally released in 3D, The Creature from the Black Lagoon was Universal’s attempt at trying to remain in the horror loop. After World War II, the genre had moved away from the supernatural beasts like Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, the Wolf-Man, and the Mummy and embraced more of a fear of science, atomic age mutants, and extraterrestrials. Born out of the movement, The Creature from the Black Lagoon is one of the finest creature features from the golden age of drive-in spectacle, an A-list horror movie that steps out of B-movie assembly line. With a timeless creature that refuses to show his age and a rollicking adventure with plenty of brains to spare, The Creature from the Black Lagoon is a film that you just can’t pull yourself away from. And then there is Gill-man himself, a sympathetic specimen who was simply minding his own business when the men in the safari hats dropped in on his beloved lagoon and began desecrating it. In my humble opinion, he remains one of the most sympathetic of all the classic monsters that made their way out of Universal Studios.
After a geology expedition in the Amazon uncovers the skeletal remains of a link between land and sea creatures, a team of scientists is quickly put together and sent into the thick jungle to examine the remains. The team consists of leader Dr. Carl Maia (Played by Antonio Moreno), ichthyologist Dr. David Reed (Played by Richard Carlson), financial backer Dr. Mark Williams (Played by Richard Denning), Kay Lawrence (Played by Julia Adams), and grizzled captain Lucas (Played by Nestor Paiva). Once they arrive in the jungle, the team that originally made the discovery is discovered dead near the remains. As the new team tries to figure out the cause of the death, they come face to face with Gill-man (Played by Ricou Browning and Ben Chapman), an amphibious creature that is extremely territorial. Having made the discovery of a lifetime, the group grapples with how to capture the Gill-man but the creature plans on putting up a hell of a fight. But after Gill-man lays eyes on Kay and falls in love with her, he begins plotting a way to abduct her from the group.
Featuring a number of jaw-dropping underwater sequences, The Creature from the Black Lagoon becomes a must see for these scenes, which I’m sure just astonish in 3D. The most beautiful of the scenes is when Kay decides to take a dip in the lagoon, only to be stalked by Gill-man, who swims just underneath her. When your eyes aren’t glued to Kay’s iconic bathing suit, you will marvel at the precise choreography of the scene, especially how Gill-man manages to mirror all of Kay’s movements. While the scene may make you swoon, there are plenty of suspenseful moments in that murky water that will have you holding your breath. David and Mark relentlessly hunt the poor Gill-man, who hides among the rocks and seaweed that cakes the bottom of the eerie lagoon. These scenes are given a shock from a hair-raising blast of horns that announce the Gill-man when we catch a brief glimpse of him. Arnold also allows his camera to take a plunge when the scientists use various methods to try to drug Gill-man. The camera lingers underwater as an array of chemicals trail down to the bottom of the lagoon, our monster hidden among the rocks and staring up in horror. It is scenes like this that make us feel for the slimy guy.
Then there are the colorful performances from the cast, who all do a bang up job with the characters they are given. Carlson’s David is the typical all-American hero who questions whether they are doing the right thing by capturing the Gill-man. His confliction makes him easily the most likable character next to Kay. While she is mostly asked to scream when she sees the Gill-man, Kay still is a stunner in that white one piece. In a way, it is tragic the way she fears the creature as he just has misunderstood feelings for Kay and no way to confess those feelings. The most monstrous of the human characters is Denning’s Williams, who is so desperate to capture the creature that it borders on obsessive. He is constantly at odds with David and he usually is the one who resorts to violence to solve their differences. Then there is Gill-man himself, who remains largely unseen for part of the movie. Still packing a mean visual punch, the Gill-man’s desperation to stay in his swamp and rid it of these human terrors is what ultimately tugs at your heartstrings. For a while, he just stays submerged and watches, reading the actions of these intruders. The creature does pop more underwater (when underwater, he is played by Browning and when on land, he is played by Chapman) as he glides around David and Mark. On land, he shuffles like the Frankenstein Monster, emitting guttural growls that sound vaguely like demonic pigs. He can truly be a frightening force, especially to those who have never been exposed to him.
There are points in The Creature from the Black Lagoon where the film ceases to be a great horror movie and becomes a great adventure into the unknown with plenty of action that will be enjoyed for many more years to come. It introduces us to a creature that will continue to grab our imagination and haunt our dreams. Over the years, many audiences and even critics (!) have been calling for a remake of the movie and there have even been rumors that Universal has been considering giving Gill-man a face lift. I sincerely hope that doesn’t happen and that the studio leaves the film alone. I fear that they will resort to senseless bloodletting, a CGI makeover for the green guy, and a slew of disposable pretty faces that can barely act their way out of a paper bag let alone the Black Lagoon. No, Jack Arnold’s film is perfect as is, one that still can pack a mean spook and white knuckle action scene with the best of them.
Revenge of the Creature (1955)
Apparently having survived the events of The Creature from the Black Lagoon, the Gill-man (Played by Ricou Browning and Tom Hennesy) is once again preyed upon by nosy scientists eager to study him. This time, animal psychologist Clete Ferguson (Played by John Agar) and ichthyology student Helen Dobson (Played by Lori Nelson) capture him and have him transported to the Ocean Harbor Oceanarium in Florida. Soon, the Gill-man falls in love with Helen and he begins trying to escape from his tank. Naturally, he manages to free himself and he sets out to find his true love, killing anyone who gets in his way.
Lazily made and devoid of any suspense or atmosphere, Revenge of the Creature is a massive step down from the original Creature from the Black Lagoon, which happened to be one of the finest films in the Universal library. Originally released in 3D, it is fun to see the Gill-man terrorizing swarming masses of innocent civilians but yanking him out of his legendary lagoon may not have been the smartest idea out there. I found myself longing for the confrontations in the Black Lagoon and almost bored with the tedious scenes of Clete and Helen trying to communicate with the angry creature. Gill-man certainly does win our sympathy, maybe even more here than he did in the original film. The first time around, we saw his beautiful swamp desecrated by careless humans but this time, he is chained and forced to sit still as curious citizens swarm to his tank to point and gasp. Poor guy! No wonder he is angry when he breaks out of those chains.
The acting of Revenge of the Creature is certainly nothing to write home about, although do make sure you keep your eyes peeled for a cameo from a young Clint Eastwood. As the story plays out before us, it is easy to assume that the film is going nowhere fast. We are subjected to one bloated conversation after another as the Gill-man bobs around in the background. Director Jack Arnold seems to realize this and he frantically tries to make up for it in the final twenty minutes of the film with an extended chase. Basically, all he does is hit the lights and let the Gill-man wander the dark as police try desperately to prevent him from escaping with Helen in his slimy arms. Trust me, you’ve seen this sequence before in countless other Universal monster films. Overall, there was plenty of potential here but the lack of enthusiasm with the material hurts the final product. It’s obvious this was made simply to make money for the studio and it is a shame because Gill-man deserves better than what he gets. This film drowns right before our very eyes. Someone grab the life preserver! Grade: C
The Creature Walks Among Us (1956)
Somehow surviving the hail of gunfire at the end of Revenge of the Creature, the Gill-man (Played by Ricou Browning and Don Megowan) is once again hunted down by a team of scientists led by the deranged Dr. William Barton (Played by Jeff Marrow). After a lengthy search, the Gill-man is discovered and captured in the Everglades. During the capture, the Gill-man is seriously wounded, which forces the scientists to race to save his life. He undergoes a procedure that radically alters his appearance and has him using his lungs to breathe rather than his gills.
An even bigger dud than Revenge of the Creature, The Creature Walks Among Us finds the franchise sinking fast under a bizarre premise that has Gill-man evolving into a towering human being with vaguely human features. The beginning of the film finds some of that effective atmosphere from the first film creeping in but things go south quick when the film sails out of the swamp and arrives at a sprawling mansion compound where the Gill-man is forced to live behind an electric fence. Riddled with plot holes, The Creature Walks Among Us finds the human beings acting more monstrous than the Gill-man, who once again nabs our sympathy in his electric prison. Tour guide Jed Grant (Played by Gregg Palmer) lusts after William’s wife, Marcia (Played by Leigh Snowden), and he makes a very half-assed attempt to hide it. William relentlessly accuses poor Marcia of seducing every man she comes across, something completely untrue. The savage bickering and arguing finally ends with one of the men killing the other and then trying to blame it on the Gill-man.
Clunky and bogged down by a slew of rotten humans doing terrible things to each other, The Creature Walks Among Us is a messy and overwhelmingly bleak conclusion to the Creature franchise. What hurts the worst is seeing Gill-man edged off the A-list of horror icons and relegated to B-squad of atomic age abominations with very little intellectual purpose. Halfway through the film, Gill-man is stripped of his original trim appearance and morphed into a hulking brute in a Halloween mask that just stands around and stares at everyone. While it can be argued that there are minor traces of what once was here and there, the film wouldn’t scare even the jumpiest horror fan. Overall, I wish I could say it wraps everything up in a satisfying manner, but there is no muggy or buggy inspiration or creativity on the filmmaker’s part. I’m afraid that the Black Lagoon is all dried up. Grade: D+
The Creature from the Black Lagoon is available on Blu-ray and DVD. Revenge of the Creature, and The Creature Walks Among Us are available on DVD.
Universal Movie Monsters Sequel Mini Reviews: The Wolf-Man
by Steve Habrat
Of all the classic Universal monsters, the most tragic and touching is the Wolf-Man, a lycanthrope who by moonlight is transformed into a beast from Hell. One of the most famous classic monsters next to Dracula and Frankenstein’s Monster, The Wolf-Man is one of the most atmospheric films that Universal unleashed upon audiences. Played with a wounded scowl by Lon Chaney, Jr, The Wolf-Man is an essential horror film for fans of the genre, one that will scare you to your core. If you wish to read Corinne Rizzo’s review of The Wolf-Man, click here. Without further ado, here are Anti-Film School’s mini reviews of The Wolf-Man sequels and the first mainstream werewolf film. Anti-Film School is not responsible for the howling at the moon and spontaneous hair growth that may occur after reading…
Werewolf of London (1935)
Renowned British botanist Wilfred Glendon (Played by Henry Hull) takes a trip to Tibet to find the rare mariphasa plant and while searching the countryside; a strange, wolf-like creature suddenly attacks him. Despite the attack, Wilfred manages to make it back to London with a small sample of the mariphasa but he soon suffers a horrific transformation when the moon is full. As Wilfred races to understand the bizarre transformation, a mysterious man named Dr. Yogami (Played by Warner Oland) approaches him and claims they have met before.
Technically the first mainstream werewolf horror film, Werewolf of London certainly does set the bar high for the supernatural subgenre. The film is rich with plot and character development, two traits that actually cause the film to lag in places. The film lacks the hazy gothic atmosphere that the Lon Chaney, Jr. Wolf-Man had but the film still manages to be quite unsettling. The make-up effects in Werewolf of London are not as heavy on the wolf features and actually retain a more demonic quality with flashes of humanity, something that actually makes them creepier than Chaney’s famous wolf-mug. Hull himself isn’t nearly as tragic as Chaney’s Talbot and frankly, I didn’t really care for his snippy demeanor when he hovered over his precious plants in his lab. As the werewolf, he certainly is memorable, leaping out windows and even preparing himself for the nippy London weather with a scarf and coat.
As far as the secondary players go, Warner Oland is appropriately suspicious as Dr. Yogami. I absolutely loved how he played into the movie and I especially liked the reveal at the end, even if it is fairly easy to see the twist a mile away. Valerie Hobson is also present as Lisa Glendon, Wilfred’s wife who desperately wishes he would step away from his work and into her loving arms. The film embraces a smidgeon of comedy in the middle of the film with the werewolf crossing paths with two old lushes, who hoot and holler when they catch a glimpse of his protruding fangs. Overall, it is a shame that Werewolf of London has been left forgotten in the shadow of The Wolf-Man, but the cold hard truth is the film just isn’t as entertaining and heartbreaking as the Chaney classic. It does, however, deliver the spooks and that is the most important part of the film. It also happens to be a very dapper affair. Grade: B
Frankenstein Meets the Wolf-Man (1943)
Several years after the events of The Wolf-Man, Larry Talbot (Played by Lon Chaney, Jr.) is awakened by a duo of grave robbers on an evening when the moon is full. As moonlight falls on his skin, Talbot quickly morphs into the Wolf-Man and murders the two men. The next day, the dazed Talbot is discovered by the police and taken to Dr. Mannering (Played by Patric Knowles), a local doctor who believes that Talbot may be insane. Talbot begins warning Dr. Mannering of his curse and that he desperately needs to be cured before the next full moon. Frustrated no one will listen to him, Talbot escapes the hospital and seeks out Dr. Frankenstein, who may be able to end his terrible curse. As his search continues, Talbot accidentally discovers Frankenstein’s Monster (Played by Béla Lugosi), which has been buried in ice for many years.
The first forty minutes of Frankenstein Meets the Wolf-Man has all the makings for a horror classic. It’s atmospheric, loaded with eerie images, and surprisingly gruesome attacks for an early Universal horror flick. The film quickly looses some of that uneasy terror when it skips off to Frankenstein’s castle and unleashes Lugosi’s Monster. You can’t help but get the feeling that Lugosi is almost mocking Karloff in the way he waves his stiff arms around and moans like a family friendly ghoul. Hell, Herman Munster is more terrifying than Lugosi’s Monster. Then there is the middle section of the film, which is equally troubling. The story seems to run out near the center and the film just plods along killing time until these two titans of terror duke it out for a broad. It fills itself out with a head-scratching musical number that completely yanks the gothic atmosphere right out of the picture. Luckily, the film gets back on track with the final showdown that pits the angry Monster against the Wolf-Man. It’s a pretty satisfying fight even if it does find the two ghouls wrestling around on the ground for five minutes as things blow up around them. Still, it is pretty neat that they actually clash for a decent amount of time.
Frankenstein Meets the Wolf-Man is technically the first sequel to the original 1941 Wolf-Man and the first half of the film pushes the story along in a pretty fascinating way. Chaney is still top-notch as Larry Talbot/The Wolf-Man and his anguish is pretty chilling. Sadly, there is only so much I could take of his whining and by the end, I just wished he’d turn back into the Wolf-Man so I wouldn’t have to listen to him whine anymore. Patric Knowles steps in to play the mad doctor who isn’t as mad as some of the previous Universal kooks. Ilona Massey steps in as Elsa Frankenstein, who begins to fall for sad sack Larry. She basically acts as the boxing ring bell that has the two monsters swinging their claws at one another. Overall, if Frankenstein Meets the Wolf-Man had continued on the path it started on at the beginning, the film would have been a horror knockout. Instead, the film is KO’d after forty minutes by Lugosi’s bizarre turn as the Monster, Chaney’s relentless sobbing, and an absolutely pointless musical number. Luckily, the first forty minutes are a keeper and that showdown has some sparks. Grade: B
She-Wolf of London (1946)
After a string of brutal murders in a local London park, Scotland Yard detectives begin to fear that the murderer is actually a werewolf. As the news of the murders spreads, the young Phyllis Allenby (Played by June Lockhart) begins to fear that she may be the killer after she discovers that there are werewolves in her family tree. As fear spreads across London, Phyllis’s fiancé Barry (Played by Don Porter) and her aunt Martha (Played by Sara Haden) try desperately to convince her that her fear is all in her head.
Fueled more by suspense than all out terror, She-Wolf of London leaves a good majority of the supernatural spooks on the cutting room floor and opts for psychological fear. What remains firmly in tact is the foggy gothic atmosphere that The Wolf-Man was very fond of and for the most part, the atmosphere adds a few chills. Much like Lon Chaney, Jr, Lockhart plays Phyllis as a sad and tragic figure desperately pleading for help for her curse. At only an hour, we are able to give Lockhart a hefty serving of our sympathy and she never wears on us. Porter is solid as the concerned fiancé and Haden is wonderfully suspicious as Martha. Also on board is Jan Wiley as Carol, Phyllis’s clueless cousin who is consistently upsetting the sad sack.
At only sixty-one minutes, She-Wolf of London is brief and right to the point. The scenes that find a hooded she-wolf creeping out of the park’s tangled brush are indeed spooky, the hooded figure almost resembling a bloodthirsty apparition on the prowl. The middle twenty minutes of the film are sort of dry and you will find yourself rushing the film into the big reveal at the end. Much like Frankenstein Meets the Wolf-Man, She-Wolf of London also features some hair-raising attacks that have a particularly bloody outcome. Overall, director Jean Yarbrough puts a unique twist on the werewolf feature that is quite fitting for a post WWII horror film dealing with the supernatural. I dare you to get those foggy attacks out of your head. Grade: B-
Werewolf of London, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf-Man, and She-Wolf of London are all available on DVD.
Universal Movie Monsters Sequel Mini Reviews: The Invisible Man
by Steve Habrat
While he may not be as popular as Dracula, Frankenstein, or the Mummy, the Invisible Man is still a pretty scary guy. I mean, you can’t see him and he could attack you at anytime! THAT, boys and ghouls, is pretty scary if you ask me. Rooted more in science fiction than straight horror, The Invisible Man is actually one of the best films in the Universal Monster collection. While the sequels didn’t stick as closely to the science fiction/horror mash-up as the original film did, they still managed to remain above average and impressive with their special effects. If you wish to read Corinne Rizzo’s review of the original The Invisible Man, click here. So, without further ado, here are Anti-Film School’s mini reviews for the sequels to The Invisible Man. Read on if you dare…
The Invisible Man Returns (1940)
Sir Geoffrey Radcliffe (Played by Vincent Price) has just been sentenced to death for the murder of his brother, a crime that he did not commit. While on death row, Radcliffe is visited by Dr. Frank Griffith (Played by John Sutton), the original Invisible Man’s brother, who injects Radcliffe with the infamous invisibility formula. Radcliffe proceeds to escape from prison and sets out to prove his innocence but along the way, he begins to slip into insanity, a horrific side effect of the invisibility formula.
Never as mischievous as the original 1933 The Invisible Man, The Invisible Man Returns doesn’t shy away from causing plenty of mayhem. Not nearly as heavy on the horror and leaning more towards a mixture of science fiction and murder mystery, The Invisible Man Returns is still given an aura of menace with the presence of Vincent Price, a legend that is mostly heard and only briefly seen. With his gentlemanly coos aimed at his fiancé, Helen Manson (Played by Nan Grey), and his sinister guffaws, Price’s Radcliffe is one unpredictable madman who will prove his innocence at any cost, even if that means killing a few people in the process. As the whodunit slowly unravels for the big reveal, we can’t help but wonder if Radcliffe is really any better than the individuals that he is trying to track down. Price has some great chemistry with Grey, but she isn’t really given much to do other than look worried about Radcliffe’s safety. Cecil Kellaway, another familiar Universal face, also shows up as Inspector Sampson, who pieces together Radcliffe’s disappearance.
Much like the original film, The Invisible Man Returns has some jaw dropping special effects, especially incredible for the time in which the film was made. The effects ended up nabbing an Oscar nomination but it sadly didn’t take the award home. Yet director Joe May doesn’t lean on the impressive special effects even though he very well could and no one would blame him. The film, which is based once again on the story by H.G. Wells, doesn’t find the original invisible man, Jack Griffith (Played brilliantly by Claude Rains), rising from the dead to continue his rampage. The film wisely elaborates and continues the story in a clever and respectable fashion. The Invisible Man Returns also runs a full eighty-one minutes, which allows the storyline to fully develop. Overall, it could have been scarier but there are still plenty of extraordinary shocks and thrills throughout The Invisible Man Returns to keep the story engrossing. Plus, it has Vincent Price and how can you argue with that?! Grade: B+
The Invisible Woman (1940)
Feisty model Kitty Caroll (Played by Virginia Bruce) is tired of being pushed around at her job by her insufferable boss. On a whim, she answers a newspaper add posted by the eccentric Professor Gibbs (Played by John Barrymore), an ad that asks for human guinea pigs for his invisibility machine. Professor Gibbs is on the verge of loosing funding from the wealthy playboy Dick Russell (Played by John Howard) but when the invisibility machine works successfully, he launches a campaign to convince Dick that the machine is fully operational. However, the real challenge comes from trying to contain the mischievous Kitty and fighting off local thugs who want to steal the machine.
What little traces of horror you could find in The Invisible Man Returns disappears completely in The Invisible Woman, which was released the same year as the Vincent Price thriller. A cheeky screwball comedy that is more of a wild party, The Invisible Woman is quite a bit of fun if you are in the market for a whole bunch of laughs, but if it is horror you are after, it is best you look elsewhere. It is a bit odd that this film gets lumped in with the Universal Movie Monsters but the film is still a pretty solid watch on its own terms. It is very difficult not to like Bruce as the playful Kitty, who enjoys getting some hilarious revenge on her snippy boss Growley (Played by Charles Lane). The second half of the film morphs into more of a romantic comedy, with Howard’s playboy Dick falling for the leggy Kitty. The budding romance is sweetly written and delivered by the actors, making it an easy pill to swallow. There is also plenty of silliness thrown in from Barrymore’s Professor Gibbs, who acts as a strict father figure for both Dick and Kitty. There is also plenty of physical comedy from Dick’s butler, George (Played by Charles Ruggles), who is constantly mortified or taking a nasty tumble.
The Invisible Woman’s overall quality is done in by the unnecessary addition of the gangster side plot, which finds sinister thug Blackie (Played by Oskar Homolka), trying to steal the invisibility machine. The only good thing that can be said about this side plot is that it gives Ruggles a break from the physical comedy and places it on the shoulders of a slew of extras. Many of the delivered jokes fall flat, mostly because Homolka just isn’t that funny as the jumpy gangster. Even if it technically isn’t a horror film, The Invisible Woman still applies the invisibility aspect smartly and there are plenty of sly remarks made over the fact that Kitty is nude the entire time. There was quite a bit of controversy surrounding this aspect but by today’s standards, it is rather tame. Overall, The Invisible Woman is a sweet little romantic romp that fits nicely in the romantic comedy genre but trips over a pointless gangster subplot that should have been left out completely. Grade: B
Invisible Agent (1942)
The Invisible Man’s grandson, Frank Raymond (Played by Jon Hall), has been trying to live a quiet and normal life in Manhattan. It turns out that Frank still possesses a small amount of the invisibility formula that drove his grandfather insane. Frank soon finds himself approach by secret agents from the Axis powers, who are determined to get their hands on the formula. Frank refuses and makes a narrow escape with the formula in hand. America is soon dragged into World War II and Frank decides to make a deal with the Army—use the invisibility formula to spy on Nazi Germany. The army agrees and Frank is sent behind enemy lines where he does battle with a slew of S.S. buffoons and falls in love with Maria Sorenson (Played by Ilona Massey), a British secret agent.
Stripping away the romantic comedy and acting as part of a war time propaganda movement to boost American morale, Invisible Agent is much more a thriller with some chuckle worthy aspects. Just as it was in The Invisible Woman, the invisibility is often times played for laughs rather than scares. The comedy really takes flight during a scene in which Frank terrorizes a pudgy S.S. officer who lusts after Maria. When Frank isn’t invisible, he is a fairly forgettable character and he even remains a bit dry when he has injected the formula into his bloodstream (shockingly). Massey is certainly the life of the party but her character often times seems too eager to fall in love rather than do anything constructive. Cedric Hardwicke shows up as Conrad Stauffer, an S.S. officer doing anything he can do get his hands on the invisibility formula. Peter Lorre is handed the job of playing Baron Ikito, a Japanese officer with a thing for amputation (just wait for THAT scene). There is no question that Lorre is the most colorful one in Invisible Agent but his character is so obviously American that it is almost hard to take.
Invisible Agent does have plenty of action to thrill us throughout its eighty-one minute run time. The film has lots of impressive aerial battles that find Frank trying to sneak out of Germany with Hitler’s plot to attack New York City. There are plenty of fiery explosions and narrow escapes to have you on the edge of your seat. The downside is that Frank is such a bland hero that it is hard to really care if he makes it out alive. Invisible Agent also boasts some of the most impressive special effects of the series yet, some of them mind-boggling for the time. Overall, as an action thriller, Invisible Agent executes the mission with ease but you will find yourself starting to long for the science fiction chills of the Claude Rains original. Grade: B-
The Invisible Man’s Revenge (1944)
Robert Griffith (Played by Jon Hall) escapes from prison and makes his way to London to find Jasper and Irene Herrick (Played by Lester Matthews and Gale Sonergaard), a wealthy couple that Robert believes cheated him out of a small fortune years earlier. When the Herricks turn him away, Robert seeks out Dr. Peter Drury (Played by John Carradine), who has created a formula that can turn a man invisible. After demanding that Dr. Drury test the formula on him, the newly invisible Robert sets out to get revenge on the Herricks.
The Invisible Man’s Revenge finds the Invisible Man series moving away from the comedy that The Invisible Woman and Invisible Agent were so fond of and returning to the horror that kicked the franchise off. Not nearly as absorbing as The Invisible Man or The Invisible Man Returns, The Invisible Man’s Revenge does wrap up the series in a fairly respectable manner even if the story is starting to fade right before our eyes. The real downside to the film is the fact that there is no sympathetic monster at the heart of the terror. The Universal horror films were notorious for including monsters that we actually felt bad for. The Invisible Man’s Revenge serves up a psychotic villain right from the start and refuses to make him a multifarious character. Claude Rains earned our sympathy through the fact that he was desperately trying to outrun madness but in the end he slipped into it. In The Invisible Man Returns, Vincent Price was a man framed for a crime he didn’t commit and his quest for the truth was causing his sanity to deteriorate.
Then we have Jon Hall, who picks up where Rains and Price left off. Hall, who also appeared in Invisible Agent, does a passable job with the role of Robert but he lacks the unruly insanity of Rains or the creeping terror of Price. Still, Hall manages to outshine everyone else in the film, as the rest of the characters seem to disappear from memory when the credits roll. Universal regular Carradine steps in as the gentle doctor who comes face to face with pure evil. Carradine is forced to take a stale role, one that completely takes away from his always-welcome presence. The effects here are just as solid as they were in the other films but near the end, it seems like some of the effects were getting sloppy. Overall, The Invisible Man’s Revenge is running on empty but director Ford Beebe still manages to send the character off on a dark and ominous note. Grade: B-
The Invisible Man Returns, The Invisible Woman, Invisible Agent, and The Invisible Man’s Revenge are all available on DVD.
Universal Movie Monsters Sequel Mini Reviews: The Mummy
by Steve Habrat
As dark and ominous as they come, the exotic Boris Karloff film is certainly a spine-tingling adventure. While the original Karloff film is a stand alone film, Universal refused to let the Mummy franchise shuffle back into the tomb and in 1940, they rebooted the series with more action, more suspense, more terror, and more mummy. If you wish to read Corinne Rizzo’s review of the Boris Karloff classic, click here. Without further ado, here are Anti-Film School’s mini reviews of The Mummy reboots. Read on if you dare…
The Mummy’s Hand (1940)
After unemployed archeologist Steve Banning (Played by Dick Foran) and his assistant, Babe Jenson (Played by Wallace Ford), stumble upon the whereabouts of the hidden tomb of Egyptian Princess Ananka, the duo sets out to find funding for their new expedition. The duo finds funding from jolly American magician Slovani (Played by Cecil Kellaway), who tags along on their quest with his beautiful daughter Marta (Played by Peggy Moran). The group believes that this new discovery will make them wealthy beyond their wildest dreams but they accidentally awaken an ancient curse that stirs Kharis (Played by Tom Tyler), a mummy that guards the tomb of Princess Ananka. As Kharis slowly rips his way through the members of Banning’s expedition, the sinister high priest Professor Andoheb (Played by George Zucco) is revealed to be controlling the mummy and he has his eyes on a bigger prize—Marta.
While more of a remake of the 1932 Boris Karloff original The Mummy, The Mummy’s Hand actually manages to be a bit more entertaining than the Karloff classic. Heavy on the serial style action and lighter on the creepy-crawly horror, the film certainly flirts with a B-movie aura but that only adds to the fun to be had. Where the original film only allowed us to see the mummy for a total of five minutes at most, director Christy Cabanne doesn’t shy away from showing us this undead fiend. He never takes on a human form in this Mummy installment and I must say that I enjoyed the film even more because of it. While Karloff was certainly creepy in the role, Tyler’s mummy is a hellish sight to behold, especially when we get a revolting close-up that reveals black holes for eyes and a twisted gimp arm. The mummy ends up being an indestructible puppet for a less interesting puppet master but he still manages to make your skin crawl when he shuffles in for the attack.
The Mummy’s Hand certainly has its fair share of comic relief to break up this roller coaster ride. Ford’s Babe Jenson is a mouthy sidekick that delivers one sly remark after another. Foran’s Banning is the typical tall, dark, and handsome hero who is constantly throwing himself in between the attacking mummy and Marta, who is usually tied up and screaming. There is also the buffoonish magician Slovani, who seems like he is only in front of the camera to perform some mildly impressive magic tricks but you won’t hear me complaining about him. At just barely over an hour, the film’s evil plot suffers a bit but the characters are all so animated that we barely even notice the moldy story. The film also hilariously borrows footage from the original Mummy movie and shamelessly steals the score from Son of Frankenstein, a cheap approach but never very distracting. Overall, The Mummy’s Hand may not send you fleeing in terror from it but as a rollicking serial-esque romp with a few tense spots, I don’t think you can really go wrong with it. Grade: B+
The Mummy’s Tomb (1942)
Thirty years after Steve Banning (Played by Dick Foran) sent the mummy Kharis to a fiery grave, an Egyptian high priest named Mehemet Bey (Played by Turhan Bey) travels to America with Kharis (Played by Lon Chaney, Jr.) to eliminate the surviving members of the Banning expedition and any descendents they may have. As the body count rises, the local citizens believe that they have a flesh and blood killer on their hands, but all hell breaks loose when they discover that the killer may be supernatural.
About as rickety as they come, The Mummy’s Tomb barely clocks in at an hour. Ten minutes of that hour are dedicated to giving us a quick refresher over the events of The Mummy’s Hand. This refresher comes in the form of lifting key scenes from The Mummy’s Hand and interlacing the scenes into a story told by the much older Banning. The other fifty minutes of The Mummy’s Tomb speeds by with plenty of nonstop suspense that is surprisingly effective even if it was made on the cheap. The overall appearance of the mummy, this time portrayed by Universal’s favorite son, Lon Chaney, Jr, is especially ghastly. Here, the mummy is missing an eye and has a charred mug that makes him even more repulsive than he already is. Chaney isn’t really given room to do anything creative with the roll and he basically resorts to mimicking the movements of Tom Tyler. Honestly, you wouldn’t even know it was Chaney in the make-up unless you were told.
The Mummy’s Tomb has a difficult time settling on one hero, bouncing in between the aging Banning and his valiant son John (Played by John Hubbard), who is forced to once again destroy the shuffling ghoul with fire. Wallace Ford pops in for a cameo as Babe, a cameo that doesn’t ask him to do anything except run down a dark alley and make a half-assed attempt to get away from the mummy. Surprisingly, Bey gives a fairly measured performance as the mummy’s puppet master. He is basically after the same thing that Andoheb was after but he is a bit creepier about it. Over before you even realize it, The Mummy’s Tomb is creaky B-movie horror that has an impressive monster, a unique setting, and plenty of atmospheric shadows to make this a quick fix that satisfies a monster movie craving. Grade: B-
The Mummy’s Ghost (1944)
Taking place many years after the events of The Mummy’s Tomb, the year is now 1970 and yet another new High Priest, Yousef Bey (Played by John Carradine), has traveled from Egypt to Mapleton, Massachusetts, to find the body of the mummy Kharis (Played by Lon Chaney, Jr.) and his dead lover, Ananka. Yet before Yousef can make it to Mapleton, Kharis is accidentally awoken from his slumber and begins attacking innocent civilians. When Yousef arrives, he discovers that Ananka’s soul has been reincarnated in the body of a beautiful young Egyptian woman named Amina Mansori (Played by Ramsay Ames). Meanwhile, the local detectives race to destroy the mummy before he can kill again.
Doing virtually nothing to set itself apart from The Mummy’s Tomb, The Mummy’s Ghost shuffles by on basically the same plot as its predecessor. I will admit that, in a way, it is sort of funny the way the script continues to rehash the mummy’s origin and recycle the same plotline. Yet you will find yourself unable to dislike The Mummy’s Ghost because it finds Chaney giving the moldy monster a small amount of personality and the film packs a pretty bleak climax. Here, Kharis is sent into uncontrollable rages as his lover is yanked just out of his deathly reach and the way that director Reginald Le Borg allows Kharis to stalk the shadows of suburbia are very effective even if it is a bit obvious that Chaney is limping around a set. The film also gets a boost from the presence of Carradine, who seems more comfortable in an Egyptian fez than Dracula’s cape.
As the film goes on, the rest of the cast slowly fades into the background. Robert Lowery plays the same hero that we have seen in the previous Mummy films. Here he is Amina’s brainy boyfriend, Tom Hervey, who may not be able to quite save the day. A clever and surprising touch for a film that is so formulaic. Ames is the eye candy as she prances around and faints at the mere mention of Egypt or the sight of Kharis. Rounding out the main players is Frank Reicher as Professor Norman, who examined some of the mummy murders when Kharis stocked Mapleton the first time. Here he makes the careless mistake of waking him up with the brew of nine tana leaves. You’d think he’d know better! The film’s climax ends with the typical chase as the hero stumbles after the mummy, who slowly shuffles through the woods with Amina in his arms. You’d think that Tom would be able to catch him but that Kharis must have one hell of a lead. Overall, The Mummy’s Ghost is a shameless rehash that contains a few interesting plot advancements and a chilling final sequence but really nothing more. You’ll be convinced that you are re-watching The Mummy’s Tomb. Grade: C+
The Mummy’s Curse (1944)
Twenty-five years after Kharis disappeared into a watery grave, an irrigation project in Cajun Country has unearthed the body of the mummy Kharis (Played by Lon Chaney, Jr.). The body falls into the hands of Dr. Ilzor Zandaab (Played by Peter Coe), a secret High Priest who awakens the mummy with his partner, Ragheb (Played by Martin Kosleck). Kharis begins wandering the swamps looking for the remains of his lover, Ananka (Played by Virginia Christine), who has also risen from the muddy grave and is under the supervision of the protective Dr. James Halsey (Played by Dennis Moore).
Released the same year as The Mummy’s Ghost, The Mummy’s Curse is the last installment of Universal’s slowly decaying Mummy franchise. Avoiding the rehash trap that The Mummy’s Ghost fell
into, The Mummy’s Curse is slightly rejuvenated through a fresh setting and a creepy sequence in which Ananka’s body rises out of the muddy swamp. The setting, which also happens to be the film’s biggest plot hole, has inexplicably moved from a swamp in Mapleton, Massachusetts to superstitious Cajun Country. Once again, Chaney is hidden behind the rotten bandages and the blistery burns but this time, they feel cheaply done and Chaney himself seems to have checked out of the role of Kharis. Christine is gorgeous as the undead swamp queen who knows quite a bit about ancient Egypt. Sadly, no one else is memorable or makes a ripple in this muddy puddle.
The highlight moment of The Mummy’s Curse is the scene in which Ananka slithers out of her muddy resting place and begins wandering the swamp like a ghostly specter. It is easily the only creepy moment in The Mummy’s Curse and the only scene that suggests that director Leslie Goodwins was attempting to make anything artistically worthwhile. At just an hour long, this could be the driest of the Mummy movies, the one that seems to be moving just as slow as Kharis. It lacks an arching evil plot and the only spooks outside of Ananka’s emergence come when the workers draining the swamps trade jittery stories about ghosts. Overall, The Mummy’s Curse could have ended much worse but there are small aspects to admire. Sadly, this supernatural adventure gets stuck in the swampy mud and just barely gets loose. Grade: C-
The Mummy’s Hand, The Mummy’s Tomb, The Mummy’s Ghost, and The Mummy’s Curse are all available on DVD.
Universal Movie Monsters Sequel Mini Reviews: Frankenstein
by Steve Habrat
Nothing says Halloween like Frankenstein, the iconic horror story penned by Mary Shelley. The legendary tale has it all: walking corpses, gothic castles, mad scientists, hunchbacks, and misty graveyards. If that doesn’t scream Halloween then I don’t know what does. Shortly after the success of Dracula, Universal unleashed Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein, two horror classics that are still celebrated today and beloved by every single horror fan on the planet. If you wish to read Corinne Rizzo’s reviews of Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein, click here for Frankenstein or click here for Bride of Frankenstein. So, without further ado, here are Anti-Film School’s mini reviews of the Frankenstein sequels.
Son of Frankenstein (1939)
Picking up several years after the events of Bride of Frankenstein, Henry Frankenstein’s son, Baron Wolf von Frankenstein (Played by Basil Rathbone), returns to his father’s castle with his wife, Elsa (Played by Josephine Hutchinson), and his young son, Peter (Played by Donnie Dunagan). Eager to repair his father’s reputation, Wolf quickly discovers that local villagers are not so eager to forgive for the abomination that his father created. Wolf soon finds himself approached by the demented Ygor (Played by Béla Lugosi), who wants Wolf to bring the Monster (Played by Boris Karloff) back from the dead. Wolf reluctantly agrees with the hopes of restoring his father’s legacy but with the reanimation of the Monster, death and destruction once again tear through the countryside.
If Universal would have ended its Frankenstein series with Son of Frankenstein, then it could have ranked as one of the greatest trilogies to ever come out of Hollywood. Wrapping things up quite horrifically, director Rowland V. Lee tells one of the heartiest tales Frankenstein’s Monster ever received and it is all the better for it. Immensely satisfying and surprisingly eerie, Karloff once again shines as everyone’s favorite grunting brute corpse as he shuffles about the twisted landscape. It would become the last time Karloff would ever don that famous make-up and boy does he go out with a bang. While he lacks much of the understanding and humanity that he did in Bride of Frankenstein (my personal favorite Universal Monster movie), he still gives the Monster heaping amounts of personality. Karloff does end up playing second fiddle to Lugosi, who gives one hell of a performance as Ygor, a raspy grave robber who somehow survived a hanging and now has a deformed neck.
As far as the supporting players go, Rathbone is adequate as a man who refuses to own up to what he has created. Rathbone consistently plays off of Lionel Atwill’s one-armed Inspector Krogh, who is being forced into reprimanding Wolf even though he believes that he isn’t the criminal the rambling villagers think he is. The film applies a nightmarish German Expressionist vision to the terror, making everything seem slightly surreal as Karloff and Lugosi lurch about the rocky landscape. The film really takes hold when Wolf’s son Peter begins explaining that a giant has paid him a visit, a confession that will give you the creeps. Overall, Son of Frankenstein stands as the last great Universal Frankenstein film, one that still manages to terrify to this very day. An unsung winner from Universal’s glory days. Grade: A-
The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942)
Taking place shortly after the events of Son of Frankenstein, the horrific devastation that took place at Frankenstein’s castle still looms over the nearby village. Many villagers believe that Ygor (Played by Béla Lugosi) is still alive and is desperately trying to find the body of Frankenstein’s Monster (Played by Lon Chaney, Jr.). It turns out that Ygor has indeed found the body of the Monster caught and preserved in the sulfur that he was pushed into by Wolf von Frankenstein. The villagers soon storm the ruins of the castle and run Ygor and the Monster, who has been weakened due to the sulfur exposure, out of town. Ygor decides to travel to the nearby village of Vasaria to find Ludwig Frankenstein (Played by Cedric Hardwicke), the second son of Henry Frankenstein, with the hopes that he can restore the Monster to his full strength. Ludwig begins studying the Monster with the hopes of destroying it once and for all, but a visit from his father’s apparition pleads with him to perfect the creation.
At a brief sixty-seven minutes, The Ghost of Frankenstein seems like lukewarm scraps that should have been thrown out rather than reheated. Despite a tepid script and a nonsensical storyline that is slightly convoluted, The Ghost of Frankenstein still has a few surprises that keep things just barely shuffling along. Chaney does a surprisingly decent job as the Monster, who once again doesn’t show the degree of humanity that Karloff did in Frankenstein or Bride of Frankenstein. Chaney is much better as this monster than he was as Dracula but he will always be the best at the Wolf-Man, a role he should have stuck to but I guess someone had to step in and fill Karloff’s shoes. Meanwhile, Lugosi once again steals the show as the unhinged freak Ygor, who wants to use the Monster to cause as much destruction as he possibly can. Despite a lot of silliness, Lugosi plays for keeps. Thankfully, he comes out unscathed. Then there is Hardwicke, who seems rather disinterested as Ludwig, a man who has been blackmailed into reviving the Monster. He certainly doesn’t live up to the other two Frankenstein boys.
A step down in the production department, The Ghost of Frankenstein feels frustratingly stale and downright meaningless. It is obviously a quick cash grab on the Frankenstein name and it is hard to forgive Universal for that, especially after that trio of treasures that they delivered before this. The film has very few creepy moments to speak of but the atmosphere of the original three films is long gone. Still, Chaney works hard to keep things on the ghoulish track and the ever-colorful Lugosi aids him along. I will admit that I did enjoy the morbid twist at the end of film, a twist that involves a quick brain swap with fiery results. Overall, it is far from my favorite Universal horror film but I believe you can do much, much worse. It just hurts to see the high quality Frankenstein series deteriorate into such an unimaginative mess. Grade: C
The House of Frankenstein (1944)
After the vengeful Dr. Gustav Niemann (Played by Boris Karloff) escapes from prison with the help of his hunchback assistant Daniel (Played by J. Carrol Naish), he sets out to find the three men responsible for his imprisonment. After murdering a traveling showman and taking over his roaming horror show, Dr. Niemann unleashes Dracula (Played by John Carradine), the Wolf-Man (Played by Lon Chaney, Jr.), and Frankenstein’s Monster (Played by Glenn Strange) to get revenge on those who have wronged him. As their rampage tears through multiple villages, Dr. Niemann and Daniel begin to fear that they may also fall victim to the horrors that they have unleashed.
Released a year before the weary House of Dracula, The House of Frankenstein marked the first time that all of Universal’s headlining monsters were together in one smash horror show. A bit smoother than House of Dracula, The House of Frankenstein is carried by the mere presence of Karloff, who here is portraying the mad doctor rather than the big green Monster. While Karloff seems to be enjoying the fact that he isn’t caked with make-up, the real star here is Naish’s hunchback Daniel, a tragic soul who lusts after a beautiful gypsy Ilonka (Played by Elena Verdugo). Daniel longs for a better body, which he believes would allow him to win over Ilonka’s affection. It is even more tragic to see Daniel pitted against Larry Tolbot/the Wolf-Man, who seems to be the apple of Ilonka’s eye. The House of Frankenstein also finds Glenn Strange stepping in as the Frankenstein Monster, once again played as a grunting brute with very little emotion. Carradine also makes an appearance as Dracula, who flies off with the film’s most thrilling sequence.
Much like House of Dracula, The House of Frankenstein is really straining to keep itself together for its seventy-one minute run. The film really works due to the surprisingly strong conflict between the Daniel and Larry; a feud that we know will not have a positive outcome. Still, the plot finding Dr. Niemann using these creatures to exact revenge is a much sharper idea than all of them wanting to be cured of their curses. While it doesn’t mark the last appearance of all these ghouls in one film, it really should have acted as their last appearance on the big screen. Overall, The House of Frankenstein is a mildly enjoyable undead soirée that should have closed the coffin lid on these decomposing beasts from Hell. Grade: C+
Son of Frankenstein, Ghost of Frankenstein, and The House of Frankenstein are all available on DVD.
Universal Movie Monsters Sequel Mini Reviews: Dracula
by Steve Habrat
The first legendary monster from Universal Studios, Dracula is one of the most iconic movie monsters ever put on the big screen. Played brilliantly by Béla Lugosi, the original film recieved three sequels and a chilling Spanish language version. Without further ado, here are Anti-Film School’s mini reviews of the Dracula sequels. Just make sure you hold your crucifix close and have Van Helsing speed dial. If you wish to read Corinne Rizzo’s review of Dracula (1931), click here .
Drácula (Spanish Version) (1931)
Young solicitor Renfield (Played by Pablo Álvarez Rubio) travels to Transylvania to meet the mysterious Count Dracula (Played by Carlos Villarías) about the Count’s recent purchase of a home in London. Upon Renfield’s arrival, he finds himself drugged and bitten by the Count’s trio of undead wives. With Renfield under his control, Dracula travels to London where he brings with him a plague of death and destruction. Shortly after his arrival, Dracula finds himself pitted against the cunning Professor Van Helsing (Played by Eduardo Arozamena), who is hell-bent on sending the undead terror back to his grave.
Shot at night on the same sets that Tod Browning and Béla Lugosi haunted, Drácula is a much more alive artistically than the rather comatose American version. Browning’s version was composed of multiple long shots that looked like the actors were performing on a giant stage rather than acting in a Hollywood motion picture. George Melford is much more sure of himself as he dares to move his camera around with the actors and in the process, wakes the film up from its dusty, cobwebbed slumber. Melford’s film also ends up being quite a bit longer than Browning’s, with a slower build up and a lengthier pay off than the sudden climax of the American version (this film is a whopping half-hour longer than Browning’s). It is blatantly apparent that this was made for an audience with a much longer attention span and a genuine love for character development. In addition to these touches, the film is much creepier than Browning’s, which ultimately gives it the upper hand. Your spine will tingle when Dracula’s brides emerge from their shadows and begin feeding upon the doomed Renfield and you’ll shiver when Dracula emerges from the dark depths of a ship braving stormy waters as Renfield roars with delight. The boat sequence was my personal favorite scene in the film. This one will give you nightmares, folks!
Then there is Villarías as Dracula and I must say, he comes dangerously close to toppling Lugosi but he just misses by a hair. The two have largely the same physical appearance but Villarías lacks the otherworldly gaze and the spidery fingers that Lugosi was so blessed with. However, Villarías has a curling lip and jagged sneer that makes him look like an unhinged madman who is seconds away from ripping out your jugular. He does have bulging eyes and a psychotic stare, which Melford likes to focus in on in extreme close-ups, but his gaze never really made my heart skip a beat. The rest of the actors and actresses do a fine job and match the American cast the entire way. Another standout is Rubio as Renfield, a man with a laugh that could wake the dead and a quiver that looks like the set temperature was below zero. It would have been perfect if Melford had included an equally hair-raising score but unfortunately, we don’t get one here. Still, Drácula is fully capable of giving you a few sleepless nights, that is, if you are one of the patient viewers. A stunning alternative that ranks as one of the best vampire films ever put on celluloid. Grade: A
Dracula’s Daughter (1936)
Picking up shortly after the events of 1931’s Dracula, the Hungarian countess Marya Zaleska (Played by Gloria Holden) emerges on the streets of London searching for the corpse of her father, Count Dracula. She is also searching for a way to rid herself of a mysterious curse that causes her to drink the blood of the living. With the help of her sinister manservant, Sandor (Played by Irving Pichel), Marya seeks out psychiatrist Jeffrey Garth (Played by Otto Kruger) in the hopes that he can cure her through scientific methods. Meanwhile, Professor Van Helsing (Played by Edward Van Sloan) is trying to convince Scotland Yard that there are vampires walking among the citizens of foggy London.
Exhibiting a much more artistic approach than Tod Browning’s original film, Lambert Hillyer’s Dracula’s Daughter is a creeping tale that draws you deep into its gothic atmosphere and slow building crescendo of tension. Rather than just a collection of stationary long shots of cobwebbed castles and misty gardens, Dracula’s Daughter is all damp, ominous streets and shadowy dens where Holden’s Marya grapples tragically with the curse that plagues her. The creepiest scenes come when Marya and Sandor slip around in the shadows and discuss ways to quench Marya’s unquenchable thirst. The film can also be relatively humorous, which does undercut some of the scares that generate, making Dracula’s Daughter a bit kid friendly, even more so than Dracula. Lengthy dry spots where thinly written background characters step into the frame and babble on, forcing us to drift out of the action until Holden reappears also trip up moments of Dracula’s Daughter.
Dracula’s Daughter is probably best remembered for the lesbian subtext that runs heavy through the second half of the film. This subtext is crystal clear in a sequence between Marya and a young girl named Lili (Played by Nan Grey), who is supposed to acting as a model for Marya. One thing is for sure, you have to see the scene to believe it. It is surprising that the scene made it past the production code authority but it actually makes Dracula’s Daughter all the more fascinating and thought provoking. It may not rank as one of the best Universal Movie Monsters sequels out there, but Dracula’s Daughter manages to be a smidgeon better than its predecessor, at least in construction. It would have also been nice to get a cameo from the legendary vampire himself but sadly, this film is Dracula-less. Overall, this gothic follow up will stick with you due to its dreary ambiance and nightmarish imagery that will have you switching the nightlight on before bed. Grade: B
Son of Dracula (1943)
After taking a trip to Hungry, the beautiful Kay Caldwell (Played by Louise Allbritton) returns to United States with a morbid curiosity with the supernatural. She returns to her family’s southern plantation with a gypsy fortuneteller named Madame Zimba (Played by Adeline DeWalt Reynolds) and the mysterious Count Alucard (Played by Lon Chaney, Jr.), who only makes select appearances after the sun has gone down. After Madame Zimba warns Kay that death looms over the plantation, several individuals close to Kay are discovered dead. To make matters worse, Kay informs her fiancé Frank (Played by Robert Paige) that she does not intend to marry him anymore. She instead plans on marrying Count Alucard, with the hopes of obtaining immortality.
Don’t be fooled by the title, there is no son of Dracula in Son of Dracula. I guess it was just a catchy title that everyone could agree on. The third installment in Universal’s Dracula franchise does find the legendary bloodsucker (thankfully) returning after his absence in Dracula’s Daughter but this time he is portrayed by Lon Chaney, Jr. Unlike Béla Lugosi, Chaney is never really able to own the fangs and it shows. Chaney lacks Lugosi’s horrific grin that just spelled pure evil and his piercing eyes, but he does an adequate job with the role. You are left wishing that Lugosi would show up and relieve Chaney of his duties here and sometimes, I got the feeling that Chaney was secretly hoping the same thing. His casting here has been widely considered one of the worst casting choices in the history of cinema and he does seem a bit awkward at times but he is aided by the stellar direction from Robert Siodmak, who ratchets up the eeriness with a relentlessly gloomy landscape.
More of a film noir with vibrations of terror, Son of Dracula has some superb moments of paranormal horror. Alucard drifts silently over the murky waters of a desolate swamp while another character chats with a ghost in a dingy jail cell as police officers murmur amongst themselves that the prisoner must be crazy. Dropping the comic relief that Dracula’s Daughter was fond of, Son of Dracula is done in by a thinly spread plot that ultimately got a bit monotonous for me. I did enjoy the somber tone and I have to say I really liked the scenes in which Alucard would transform from a bat into his human form. I also was quite fond of Allbritton’s distant femme fatale who has big plans for Chaney’s bloodsucker. I was thrown off by the idea that Dracu… I mean Alucard was looking to settle down and take a wife, especially after Dracula shows three of his wives slithering out of their graves. Overall, Son of Dracula plays things gravely serious and more power to it for that, but a bone-dry script and a dull monster cause the film to be a bit stiff. Grade: C+
House of Dracula (1945)
Count Dracula (Played by John Carradine) arrives in Visaria at the castle of Dr. Franz Edelmann (Played by Onslow Stevens) and asks the doctor to cure him of his vampirism. The good doctor agrees and just as he begins work on a cure, Larry Talbot (Played by Lon Chaney, Jr) comes knocking on his door seeking a cure him of his lycanthropy. As the doctor races to find cures for both monsters, he stumbles upon the ultimate discovery— Frankenstein’s Monster (Played by Glenn Strange). With all the ghouls together, Dr. Edelmann races the clock to protect his two assistants, hunchbacked Nina (Played by Jane Adams) and beautiful Milizia (Played by Martha O’Driscoll), from certain death, but Count Dracula has other plans for Dr. Edelmann, a plot that could unleash pure evil on the local villagers.
The lash hurrah for three of the most iconic movie monsters in Universal’s arsenal, House of Dracula does end with a big bang, lots of flames, and even a few fireworks. You’d think with three of the studio’s main monsters in the same picture, there would be plenty of murder and mayhem to go around but sadly, that is not necessarily the case. There is quite a bit of down time in House of Dracula and only some of it works. A scene where Count Dracula attempts to seduce Milizia is effectively frightening and a horrific vision by Dr. Edelmann is a hair-raiser but things are forced here. Screenwriter Edward T. Lowe, Jr really hopes for smooth sailing but some of these chance encounters are strained, especially the way Frankenstein’s Monster is discovered. Furthermore, the film lacks the unshakable gothic mood of some of the better Universal horror offerings, which further throws the film off. Luckily, this monster mash only goes on for a measly sixty-seven minutes.
As far as acting is concerned, Chaney is the only one reprising a role that he perfected. Béla Lugosi is replaced by John Carradine, who does more with the role than Chaney did in Son of Dracula but still lacks the allure of Lugosi. Glenn Strange steps in for Boris Karloff and has little to do as the Monster. He mostly just stays rooted to an operating table and flails his arms around in the film’s final minutes. It is Chaney’s Talbot/Wolf-Man who really steals the picture with his sympathetic performance of a man terrified of himself. Stevens also does an above average job with Dr. Edelmann and gets to really have some nasty fun in the home stretch when he descends into madness. The other memorable aspect of House of Dracula is the inclusion of female hunchback Nina, an unusual touch for a horror film at this time. As the last gothic gasp before the explosion of atomic terror and Cold War fears, House of Dracula attempts to send the terrifying trio back to the grave in grandiose style but ends up ushering them out with a big yawn and a faint snore. Grade: C
Drácula (The Spanish Version), Dracula’s Daughter, Son of Dracula, and House of Dracula are all available on DVD.
This Island Earth (1955)
by Steve Habrat
I really wish that more people out there were familiar with Universal Studio’s atomic age science-fiction film This Island Earth. It may not be the best science-fiction film from the 50’s but it sure is a cool and minor drive-in classic. Served with a heaping glob of cheese, This Island Earth overcomes its unintentionally hilarious moments with some seriously crisp color, icky monsters, and an egghead script that science-fiction fanatics will happily gobble up. A cult classic in its own right, you may be familiar with the grotesque aliens that inhabit this picture, as you will often see them included in collages of the other more famous Universal Studios monsters (Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, The Bride of Frankenstein, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, and The Wolf-Man). This Island Earth also found itself released on June 1st, 1955, proving that even before the rise of the summer blockbuster in the late 70’s, there were still spectacles released to entertain kids who were on summer vacation. This Island Earth, however, does prove to be a smart spectacle.
This Island Earth introduces us to Dr. Cal Meacham (Played by Rex Reason), a well-known scientist who receives instructions and parts to build a mysterious device called an interocitor. Along with his colleague, Joe Wilson (Played by Robert Nichols), the duo puts the interocitor together and suddenly receives a video transmission from a man who calls himself Exeter (Played by Jeff Morrow). Exeter tells Cal that building the interocitor was all a test and that he wants Cal to join him in special research project. Cal reluctantly accepts and is soon ushered off to a secluded research facility in a remote area of Georgia. Cal is reunited with an old love interest, Ruth Adams (Played by Faith Domergue), and together they begin to snoop around the facility, suspicious that they are not being told truth. After trying to escape, Cal and Ruth are abducted by a UFO and taken off to the war-torn planet of Metaluna. It is on Metaluna that Cal and Ruth learn why Exeter recruited them to work for him and after meeting the sinister head of the planet, they have to quickly devise a way to get back to earth.
This Island Earth is one of the rare science fiction films that doesn’t have the human race portrayed as the inferior beings. The alien race within the film wants to work directly with us and is in need of uranium deposits to aid Metaluna in their fight against the relentless Zagons, who attack with planetoids that are guided by spaceships. Heavy with nuclear willies and brimming with mentions of UFO sightings up in the clouds, This Island Earth is certainly and shamelessly a product of the Cold War. The film applies paranoia at its core, our protagonists convinced that they are not being told everything they need to know, suspiciously peaking around every corner they come to. When Cal boards an unmanned airplane, Joe begins pleading with Cal to not make the journey to Georgia, exclaiming that something stinks about the entire operation. With its use of color, the film is able to slip into pulp territory, resembling something that would have been printed on the pages of an EC Comic. The color also alleviates some of the heavier subtexts, allowing moments of This Island Earth to feel more like hot-weather escapism rather than chilling mushroom cloud reflection.
This Island Earth ends up being a slower moving film, one that takes its good old time getting to the staggering world of Metaluna. Director Joseph M. Newman uses the slower moments to allow us to get to know our protagonists and also send us into confusion over the character of Exeter. Cal quickly is established as the All-American guy, a brainy and thoughtful hero right up to the last frame. At first, Ruth sidesteps being the usual damsel in distress and she dashes right alongside Cal as they flee from destructive lasers being shot at them. Sadly, once Cal and Ruth are abducted and whisked off to Metaluna, she crumbles into a hysterical heap, one that cries out at incoming planetoids and shrieks in horror as one of the monstrous Mutants stalks her around a spaceship. Exeter is a guy who we can’t fully classify up until the very end of the film. At times, he seems villainous but he will the quickly say that his alien race is a peaceful group. My one complaint is that Cal and Ruth at first overlook Exeter’s bizarre physical appearance. His forehead is quite unlike a regular forehead—something that you would assume would jump out at the two scientists.
There are moments of This Island Earth where the atmosphere is so tense, it could be cut with a laser beam. Just check out the scene where Cal, Ruth, and Exeter arrive on Metaluna, an eerie place with explosions that look suspiciously like nuclear blasts in the background. It becomes mushroom cloud after mushroom cloud as our heroes dodge attacks by the lumbering Mutants, who swipe their claws after the terrified humans. It’s a shame that This Island Earth has been waved off by many science-fiction/horror gurus (The film was featured in Mystery Science Theater 3000, forever ruing its reputation.), as there is plenty to appreciate in this science fiction extravaganza, both visually and intellectually. The films trippy final half-hour more than makes up for the droning and uneventful first half. Yet director Newman keeps the humanity that is shrewdly established in tact and it never becomes a cynical vision of nuclear destruction. It never looses faith in the human race and it proudly stands by the fact that we are capable of making the right decisions when it comes down to it. Overall, if you have the patience and you enjoy this sort of thing, open your windows, allow the summer evening air to creep in, fix yourself a big buttery bowl of popcorn, grab an extra large soda, find a date, and loose yourself in the world of This Island Earth. There are plenty of thrills, chills, and sights to behold in this slightly flawed Cold War drive-in classic. Make it a double feature with another Cold War science fiction classic!
This Island Earth is available on DVD.