Monsters

The Lady and the Monster

Braaaaaiiiins! The first adaptation of Curt Siodmak’s cult novel Donovan’s Brain turns up the mad scientist factor to eleven. The 1944 film sees Erich von Stroheim as the resident Frankenstein, as a disembodied brain takes control over his assistant’s mind. Atmospheric cinematography and an overall strong cast compensates for ice skater Vera Hruba Ralston’s lack of acting experience in the female lead. 5/10

The Monster Maker

J. Carroll Naish is the mad scientist in this 1944 low budget effort from Poverty Row outfit PRC, a man trying to win the affections of a woman by infecting her father with the deforming syndrome acromegaly. If you can get past the gruesome premise, it’s a pretty decent horror SF programmer with unusually good performances. 4/10

Voodoo Man

Horror icons George Zucco and John Carradine join Bela Lugosi in his last film at Poverty Row studio Monogram, for one of the most bizarrely funny so-bad-it’s-good sci-fi horror films of the forties. Unfortunately giggles aren’t enough to lift this film out of the ruts, although it is a must-watch for the wonderful Voodoo seances with Carradine and Zucco immensely enjoying the insanity of it all. 2/10

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

The Ape

In 1940 Monogram wanted a gorilla horror film. Screenwriter Curt Siodmak wanted a film where Boris Karloff tries to cure polio by murdering people for spinal fluid. Somehow these to wishes met in the final product. The result is not pretty, but The Ape nonetheless has an enduring charm. 3/10

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 Invisible Woman

The third ”invisible man” instalment from 1940 is a solid screwball comedy with a great female heroine, but hardly brings anything new to the table. Universal brings in an impressive roster of character actors, but the special effects are somewhat shoddy. 6/10

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