The earliest preserved “adaptation” of H.G. Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau from 1921 disappoints Wells fans. While sporting impressive actors, the German comedy is marred by a haphazard script and lazy direction. 3/10
Much of the heritage in SF movies comes from non-English language films from the first half of the 20th century, many of which are largely unknown to an English-speaking audience today. Here we list the 25 greatest non-English language science fiction movies made prior to 1950. How many have you seen?
Percy Stow was one of the pioneers of British trick films, and often took on science fiction subjects in his short films made between 1901 and 1915. In these he showcased high technical quality and a touch of originality.
Cult director Edward L. Cahn directs SF staple Richard Denning with a Curt Siodmak script in this 1955 consumable about gangster zombies with radioactive brains. An entertaining but forgettable atom age potboiler from Columbia. 4/10
In 1945 the world still had time for one decent old-school mad scientist film before the genre imploded on itself. Swedish heart-throb Nils Asther shines in a Dorian Gray-inspired major studio production by Paramount about a 120 year old genius searching for the secret of everlasting life, while telling everyone around him that he is only 35. 6/10
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
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
The magic is all but gone from the fourth Universal Frankenstein picture, made in 1942. Although well-paced and entertaining, the film stumbles on a ridiculous, self-contradictory script, a low budget and a Lon Chaney Jr. who isn’t up to the task of replacing Boris Karloff as the monster. 5/10
Even if Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi were the marquee names for this 1940 gangster/brain transplant mashup written by Curt Siodmak, it is unheralded actor Stanley Ridges who steals the show in his dual role as fussy professor and cold blooded mobster boss. 5/10
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
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
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
∗∗∗∗∗∗∗∗∗∗ (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. […]