The first SF anthology TV show aired live in the US from 1951 to 1953. With material by some of the greatest SF authors of all time, its adult-oriented, intelligent scripts are often unsettling to watch even today. The cast boasts Leslie Nielsen, Rod Steiger, Paul Newman, Eva Gabor, James Dean, Joanne Woodward and many more. 6/10
Director Edgar G. Ulmer turns this 1951 low-budget movie about an alien visitor to a small village into a visually atmospheric, intelligent Expressionist moral tale, as Hollywood brings the first alien invasion film to the big screen. Unfortunately the low budget, pacing problems and a mediocre script hamper this minor classic. 6/10
The first anthology TV show to feature science fiction, Lights Out was adapted from a popular horror radio show in the US in 1949. Lights Out sports an impressive roster of actors and writers, but it struggles somewhat to transfer what was so great about the radio program to the screen. 5/10
Batman, Superman and Captain America were among the superheroes that made their screen debuts in film serials. The superhero serials borrowed heavily from pulp stories, radio shows and comic magazines, and in turn helped lay many of the foundations for future SF movies. Here we take a look at the origins and history of the most influential superhero serials of the thirties and forties.
Universal’s third monster mash film from 1945 is a decent, if not necessarily worthy, farewell to the studio’s legendary ghouls. Despite flashes of originality, it feels as if we are re-heating the same TV dinner for the umpteenth time before the SF movies of the US caught up with the new post-war reality. Scifist Rating: 4/10
Universal’s House of Frankenstein sees Boris Karloff as a mad scientist hiring Dracula as a hit man, attempting to cure the Wolf Man and restart the Frankenstein monster. All while J. Carrol Naish’s hunchback is trying to bonk a gypsy girl who’s in love with the werewolf. While the nutty story can be entertaining, this 1944 film’s downfall is its contrived plot and structure. 4/10
Braaaaaiiiins! The first adaptation of Curt Siodmak’s cult novel Donovan’s Brain turns up the mad scientist factor to eleven. The 1944 film sees Erich von Stroheim as the resident Frankenstein, as a disembodied brain takes control over his assistant’s mind. Atmospheric cinematography and an overall strong cast compensates for ice skater Vera Hruba Ralston’s lack of acting experience in the female lead. 5/10
Horror icons George Zucco and John Carradine join Bela Lugosi in his last film at Poverty Row studio Monogram, for one of the most bizarrely funny so-bad-it’s-good sci-fi horror films of the forties. Unfortunately giggles aren’t enough to lift this film out of the ruts, although it is a must-watch for the wonderful Voodoo seances with Carradine and Zucco immensely enjoying the insanity of it all. 2/10
A good black supporting cast led by comedian Mantan Moreland saves this 1943 film, directed by The Day of the Triffids director Steve Sekely. John Carradine sleepwalks through his second outing as a mad scientist, this time creating zombies out of his staff and even his own wife. The white heroes of the movie are really just killing time between Moreland’s comedy skits. 4/10.
Director Edward Dmytryk cuts and pastes together a surprisingly coherent and enjoyable tale of a gorilla being turned into a woman by a nutty John Carradine in his first mad scientist role. The 1943 film made the mysterious Acquanetta an over-night star, and garnered two sequels, despite the fact that one third of the movie is reused footage from an old lion-taming film. 5/10
A quick Universal cheapo from 1941, this was the first of Lon Chaney Jr.’s monster movies, and one of his best. Lionel Atwill shines as the mad doctor who pumps Chaney full of electricity, until he becomes a mindless, glow-in-the-dark monster who kills with a touch. 6/10
The fourth and best of Columbia’s Karloff mad scientist films takes an eerie dip into Lovecraftian cosmic horror. Directed by later Oscar winner Edward Dmytryk, it unfortunately falls back on tired B-movie tropes, but it’s still a minor gem of forties science fiction. 7/10
Dracula and Freaks director Tod Browning’s sci-fi/horror/comedy The Devil-Doll from 1936 is an accomplished special effects reel concerning shrunken people. Despite the feeling that Browning recycles his old themes, this moral play is one of the best sci-fi films out of USA in the late thirties – and Lionel Barrymore in drag is absurdly fun. 7/10
Inspired by Flash Gordon and The Phantom Empire, the young Republic Studios launched their own sci-fi serial in 1936, and the result was an action-packed, but rather brainless concoction. Occasional good design and an energetic Crash Corrigan can’t save this badly scripted Atlantis-themed hodgepodge. 3/10
Dwight Frye, Fay Wray, Lionel Atwill and Melvyn Douglas star in this 1933 Poverty Row schlockfest, which is a lot better than its Majestic Pictures origin would imply. Filmed on the sets of Universal’s horror movies, it looks and feels like a prestige film, but sadly still has the script of a slapdash chashgrabber. 6/10