Man-made monsters

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.

Captive Wild Woman

Director Edward Dmytryk cuts and pastes together a surprisingly coherent and enjoyable tale of a gorilla being turned into a woman by a nutty John Carradine in his first mad scientist role. The 1943 film made the mysterious Acquanetta an over-night star, and garnered two sequels, despite the fact that one third of the movie is reused footage from an old lion-taming film. 5/10

Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man

Universal’s first monster mashup, made in 1943, is an audience divider. Some enjoy it as a brainless schlockfest, while others find the denigration of the Frankenstein franchise painful to watch. Arguably miscast from the start as the Frankenstein monster, Bela Lugosi saw all his lines cut in the editing room. 4/10

Dr. Renault’s Secret

A little diamond in the rough, this 1942 ape-man melodrama from 20th Century Fox features Ersatz horror icons J. Carrol Naish and George Zucco. While suffering from scripting and pacing problems, the movie has a smidgen of depth, owing to its literary roots. 6/10

The Mad Monster

Poverty Row studio PRC tried to ride the werewolf wave in 1942 with this Sam Newfield production starring Glenn Strange as a slouch hat-wearing monster and George Zucco as the zany scientist. Not the studio’s worst outing, but at 77 minutes it overstays its welcome. 3/10

The Ghost of Frankenstein

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

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

MGM pulls out all the stops in this high-profile 1941 horror remake. Star director Victor Fleming, however, is out of his element, as is Spencer Tracy in the lead. Still, the movie’s depiction of domestic psychological abuse makes it genuinely unsettling and Ingrid Bergman is sublime. 7/10

The Devil Bat

Poverty Row studio PRC’s 1940 horror comedy is a terrible movie. Bela Lugosi plays a perfume maker who creates a Franken-bat and trains it to murder people wearing the new aftershave he sells them. Lugosi winks at the audience in a wonderful performance, and the madness of it all simply disarms the viewer. 5/10

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

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 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

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

Loss of Sensation

A 1935 communist propaganda film with quite a few enjoyable quirks. Capitalists and communists fight over an army of robots that is controlled by saxophone. Based on a story by “The Jules Verne of Ukraine” and directed with a certain expressionist and avantgarde flair, the film is not without its merits, although the acting is stiff and amateurish and the script and dialogue leave room for improvement. 5/10