Conquest of Man

The Invisible Man Returns

Horror icon Vincent Price takes over the empty shirt and trousers of Claude Rains in The Invisible Man Returns (1940). Universal was still making good sequels to their horror films, although this one does clearly fall into B-movie category. But this is a good B-movie, well acted, well filmed and well received, but a harmless Hollywood sequel nonetheless. 7/10

The Return of Doctor X

The only real reason to watch this clumsily plotted gangster/horror/SF mashup is to witness a reluctant Humphrey Bogart play a ghoul. This 1939 effort from Warner is a mad scientist yarn about medical vampirism and synthetic blood based, on a novella by William Makin. 4/10

The Gladiator

A bullied college student is injected with an insect serum that gives him superhuman powers, but create as much problems as solutions. Inspired by Philip Wylie’s novel, this heartwarming but derivative 1938 slapstick comedy showcases the forgotten talents of one-time box office magnet Joe E. Brown. 6/10

Torture Ship

A scientist performs illegal experiments on murderers aboard a ship, hoping to turn evil people good with the help of invasive hormone therapy. Vaguely suggested by a Jack London story, this 1939 cheapo from PRC fails to do anything interesting with its lurid premise, despite a good cast and White Zombie’s director at the helm. 2/10

The Man They Could Not Hang

Boris Karloff shines as the lone star in his first of five mad scientist films for Columbia Pictures’ B-movie unit in 1939. Made on a shoestring budget, this medical sci-fi turned old dark house revenge thriller is entertaining but predictable. 5/10

Son of Frankenstein

Basil Rathbone is the son of Frankenstein who moves back to his father’s castle, only to find Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi hiding in the basement. The latter gives what is perhaps the performance of his lifetime in this visually stunning movie, which unfortunately treats Karloff’s classic monster with little respect. 7/10

The Walking Dead

No, this has nothing to do with the TV-series. This is a 1936  gangster/sci-fi/horror film mashup by Casablanca director Michael Curtiz, starring Boris Karloff in yet another Frankensteinean role. But despite the derivative and flimsy script, it’a a surprisingly stylish and cosy effort. 6/10

The Man Who Changed His Mind

This rare British sci-fi horror film from 1936 is a tad formulaic, as it rides on Boris Karloff’s mad scientist fame, but it is certainly better written, acted and directed than most of the abysmal Columbia films he would get stuck in later. Great actors and a very witty dialogue help Karloff do one of his best film appearances. 7/10

The Invisible Ray

Universal’s 1936 mad scientist yarn boasts Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi in an uneven but entertaining death ray film. Lugosi is seen in a rare heroic role, and Karloff is typecast as a mad scientist. Oh, and human organisms are only part of astro-chemistry controlled by forces from the sun, you know. 6/10

The Devil-Doll

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

Undersea Kingdom

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

The Dead Speak

Mexico’s first science fiction feature film is an intriguing curio that involves a team of scientists trying to capture the last image recorded in a dead person’s eyes. Highly derivative of US genre films, but competently made and quite entertaining. 5/10

Mad Love

Peter Lorre shines as a mad surgeon who grafts the hands of an executed killer onto the stumps of an injured piano player. Based on Maurice Renard’s novel The Hands of Orlac, the body horror of the book takes a backseat to Lorre’s deranged sexual fantasies about the pianist’s beautiful wife in this 1935 adaptation by horror greats Karl Freund and John L. Balderston. 7/10

She

Based on H. Rider Haggard’s novel, this 1935 production from the creators of King Kong is as old-fashioned an adventure story as they come, as our intrepid heroes seek the secret to immortal life in a lost city ruled by an evil queen. It’s a creaky bag of hokum, but childishly entertaining, and the massive Art Deco sets are deliriously wonderful. 5/10

Bride of Frankenstein

With Bride of Frankenstein James Whale created the greatest of all Universal horror films. Superb acting, great casting, a script that balances between drama, horror and campy humour, all rounded up with fluid, Expressionist filmmaking and Soviet-style montage editing. All this, plus the marvellous Elsa Lanchester as the Bride, Boris Karloff in high form, and a chilly, funny, scary Ernest Thesiger. Greatness abounds, but thematically the film is a bit sloppy. 9/10