Man-made monsters

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

The Phantom Empire

Not even the worst serial acting in the history of bad serial acting is able to completely sink this brilliantly delirious sci-fi western musical comedy starring western and country legend Gene Autry. The film combines wild west adventure, lost Atlantis-type fantasy, Flash Gordon tropes and country singing in one of he most bizarre train wrecks of film history. 4/10

Master of the World

A mad scientist, an army of killer robots, a grieving widow and a dashing hero. There are the ingredients for the German 1934 film Der Herr der Welt film by action hero Harry Piel. Perhaps his darkest movie, and one of the few where he doesn’t appear on screen. A predictable script and flat filming, but the acting is good and the special effects not bad either. 4/10

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.

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

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

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