Conquest of Man

Superman

History was made in 1948 when the first live-action Superman graced the screen. The 15-part serial from Columbia is obviously made on a tight budget, somewhat hurting credibility, but it’s respectful to the source material and Kirk Alyn is a believable man of steel. The real star of the serial is Noel Neill as Lois Lane, though. 5/10.

The Superhero Serials

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. 

House of Dracula

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

The Jungle Captive

The third and final instalment of Universal’s Ape Woman series was released in 1945 to an indifferent audience. The film piles one mad scientist trope on another as a nutty egghead conspires to raise the ape woman from the dead, using the leading lady’s vital fluids to do so. Nevertheless, it’s high camp and fairly entertaining if you’re in the right mood. 3/10

House of Frankenstein

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

Return of the Ape Man

This 1944 faux-sequel to Monogram’s The Ape Man marked the end of Bela Lugosi’s stint at the Poverty Row studio. Here he is joined by a good cast and a seasoned director who nonetheless fail to bring life to this illogical “thawed-out-cave-man” yarn. It is better than its predecessor, though.  3/10

The Invisible Man’s Revenge

The fifth and final instalment in Universal’s Invisible Man Franchise was released in 1944 and treads familiar ground as an escapee turns invisible in order to exact revenge on his wrong-doers. John Carradine is delicious as the nutty scientist, scream queen Evelyn Ankers is underused and Jon Hall returns as the invisible menace for a second time. A messy script is saved by quality filmmaking. 5/10

Una luz en la ventana

Arguably Argentina’s first horror movie proper, A Light in the Window from 1942 feels like an amalgamation of every old dark house film made in Hollywood in the twenties. Horror icon Narciso Ibáñez Menta stars as the acromegalic mad doctor kidnapping trespassers in order to perfect a cure for his condition. Cheap and derivative, but not terrible. 4/10

El hombre bestia

A magnificent train wreck. That’s perhaps the most fitting description of Argentina’s first horror, SF and monster film, The Beast Man from 1934. This no-budget monstrosity throws every conceivable Hollywood genre cliché in the mix, following the exploits of a beast man created by a mad scienist, who’s kidnapping women in a small town. 2/10

Jungle Woman

Acquanetta the Ape Woman returns in a 1944 sequel to Universal’s Captive Wild Woman. The first 20 minutes go by in flashbacks from the original picture, before the wild woman is resurrected and goes ape, off-screen, in a mental asylum. An ill-conceived and clumsy effort, this is a monster movie without a monster, trying feebly to emulate Val Lewton’s Cat People. 3/10

The Lady and the Monster

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

The Monster Maker

J. Carroll Naish is the mad scientist in this 1944 low budget effort from Poverty Row outfit PRC, a man trying to win the affections of a woman by infecting her father with the deforming syndrome acromegaly. If you can get past the gruesome premise, it’s a pretty decent horror SF programmer with unusually good performances. 4/10

Voodoo Man

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

The Mad Ghoul

Universal horrors in the forties were not only Wolf Men and Frankensteins. This 1943 low budget entry is a standalone feature, and it’s not bad. It’s subject matter is rather gruesome, but it cleverly bypasses the Hays Code. An early zombie movie, it does suffer from a thin script and too much operetta. 5/10

Revenge of the Zombies

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.