Conquest of Man

Chandu the Magician

This 1932 sci-fi/adventure film has been called the first superhero movie. Bela Lugosi shines as the villain, William Cameron Menzies directs with style and the sets and special effects are very impressive. The inane plot is secondary in the breezy, fun juvenile adventure set in Egypt. 6/10

Doctor X

This early colour film (1932), impeccably directed by Casablanca-maker Michael Curtiz, is a stylish and atmospheric old dark house thriller with a gruesome sci-fi twist. Unfortunately it’s also an attempt at Groucho Marx-style comedy with a Lee Tracy in the lead as a wise-cracking reporter, whose comedy repertoire isn’t up to the task. Fay Wray and Lionel Atwill shine, and the whole thing has the delicious look and feel of a faded pulp magazine. 7/10

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

By many considered as the best version of Stevenson’s classic book, this 1931 film resulted in an Oscar win for actor Fredric March. Beautifully filmed by Rouben Mamoulian and well acted across the board. It also features some stunning visual tricks and strong pre-Code sexual content. 8/10

Frankenstein

Frankenstein (1931) is a masterpiece of camera, light and sound, which proved that sound films didn’t have to be static and clunky. By placing humanity at the film’s core and teasing superb performances out of Boris Karloff and Colin Clive, director James Whale saves it from a creaky script. A seminal piece for SF, horror and films in general. 9/10

Just Imagine

A very early sound film, this 1930 US sci-fi musical comedy tries to combine Metropolis, A Princess from Mars, The Ziegfield Follies and stand-up comedy. With predictable results. Despite being the brainchild of Hollywood’s hottest musical writers, the music is dull, the SF worse and the comedy painfully unfunny. The film looks good, though. 3/10

Alraune

The fourth film about the most prolific female mainstream movie monster of all time — Alraune — was the first one in sound. Movie star Brigitte Helm reprised her role as the artificially created man-eater in this German 1930 production. Director Richard Oswald tried to modernise the tale, but the result is a surprisingly uninspired potboiler. 4/10

The Inhuman Woman

A hallucinatory explosion of art deco and visual experimentation, Marcel L’Herbier’s 1924 film L’Inhumaine has divided critics and audiences for decades. Its bold design and innovative editing inspired a generation of directors, but many find its script thin and its characters one-dimensional and uninspiring.

Alraune

A misogynist but still fairly entertaining sci-fi/fantasy film from Germany about a soulless woman artificially produced from the semen of a hanged murderer and the womb of a prostitute. Worth watching for the ever alluring Brigitte Helm in the lead. (5/10)

Metropolis

The plot may be meandering and the political message naive, but the thematic and visual influence of Austrian director Fritz Lang’s exciting 1927 masterpiece Metropolis is rivalled by few in science fiction and in film in general. A great, entertaining, sprawling epic in a future tower of Babylon. (10/10)

The Monster

Legendary actor Lon Chaney stars in what may be called the blueprint for old dark house films. This 1925 horror comedy is well filmed by Roland West, and introduced many tropes, like the young couple seeking a phone in a dark mansion after a car accident, the eerie, cowled henchman to the mad scientist, etc. (7/10)

Aelita, Queen of Mars

∗∗∗∗∗∗∗∗∗∗ (8/10) Ostensibly Russia’s/USSR’s first sci-fi film, this political 1924 space fantasy lays down a surprisingly intelligent criticism of the communist revolution, once you look past the clunky, propagandistic symbolism […]

The Hands of Orlac

∗∗∗∗∗∗∗∗∗∗ (9/10) The Austrian 1924 film that inspired cult classics like Mad Love, The Beast with Five Fingers and Body Parts is a tour de force of psychological Expressionist terror. […]

Black Oxen

∗∗∗∗∗∗∗∗∗∗  (7/10) This 1923 film about a woman who undergoes medical treatment to become thirty years younger is a steadily paced and calmly directed mystery drama as well as a poignant, […]