Conquest of Man

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

Life Returns

If you’re into canine snuff films, then look no further. For everyone else, the final scene of this strange low-budget 1935 production will prove painful watching, as it involves actual documentary footage of a scientist trying to bring a dead terrier back to life (and succeeding!). The surrounding fictional plot is of little importance. Even Universal thought this was too macabre stuff and sat on the prints until they were quietly sold off later. Onslow Stevens and Valerie Hobson are wasted on a terrible script. 2/10

The Invisible Man

The most distinctly science fictional of Universal’s classic horror franchise, this 1933 movie directed by James Whale took the world by storm thanks to the terrific acting of Claude Rains, astounding special effects and a witty script laced with dark comedy. By many considered the best H.G. Wells adaptation ever made. 8/10.

An Invisible Man Walks the City

Rushed into German theatres two months before James Whale’s The Invisible Man in 1933, this film is directed by and stars Germany’s biggest action star Harry Piel. Aided by functioning but crude special effects, a cash-strapped taxi driver stumbles upon an invisibility helmet. Forced comedy and a predictable script are remedied by great action sequences and a breezy pace. 5/10

The Vampire Bat

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

Island of Lost Souls

Paramount’s 1932 adaptation of H.G. Wells’ novella The Island of Dr. Moreau is the best of all the legendary 1930s sci-fi/horror movies. The daring script touches upon highly controversial subjects, Karl Struss’ fantastic cinematography and lighting create a feverish tropical nightmare, Charles Laughton and Bela Lugosi are mesmerising in their roles and Charles Gemora’s makeup is some of the best ever created. 10/10

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