Larger than life in every aspect, the original King Kong was a juggernaut, as loud, daring and unstoppable as its titular monster, it crashed into cinemas in 1933 and has refused to leave ever since. Willis O’Brien’s revolutionary stop-motion work, a multitude of amazing visual tricks and Fay Wray’s legendary screams help cover up a weak script, terrible dialogue, non-existent character arcs and woeful acting. 8/10
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
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
The earliest available feature film based on a modern sci-fi novel, this German 1932 melodrama concerns the then outlandish idea of a floating gas station for transatlantic flights. Filmed in three different languages with different casts, it’s not exactly a neglected masterpiece, but with talent like Curt Siodmak, Hans Albers, Charles Boyer, Peter Lorre, Conrad Veidt and Sybille Schmitz, it’s certainly a forgotten sci-fi gem. 6/10
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
We were reached by the sad news today that one of the elder stateswomen of science fiction films, Julie Adams, has passed away at 92 years old. Adams, of course, is fondly remembered by fans of creature features as the female lead in Universal’s 1954 horror/sci-fi film Creature from the Black Lagoon.
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
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 (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
This 1931 apocalypse film from French mastermind of the silent era, Abel Gance, is a turkey of epic proportions. The heavy-handed religious moral tale fails to cope with the restrictions of sound films, and the all too obvious script that fails to surprise or engage the viewer. 3/10
A very early sound film, this 1930 US sci-fi musical comedy tries to combine Metropolis, A Princess from Mars, The Ziegfield Follies and stand-up comedy. With predictable results. Despite being the brainchild of Hollywood’s hottest musical writers, the music is dull, the SF worse and the comedy painfully unfunny. The film looks good, though. 3/10
The fourth film about the most prolific female mainstream movie monster of all time — Alraune — was the first one in sound. Movie star Brigitte Helm reprised her role as the artificially created man-eater in this German 1930 production. Director Richard Oswald tried to modernise the tale, but the result is a surprisingly uninspired potboiler. 4/10
This 1929 movie is the grandfather of the modern space rocket movie. Fritz Lang’s German silent film has a reputation for being over-long and sluggish during its first half. But if you like Lang’s spy yarns, the build-up is pure cinematic delight — and when the actual space voyage gets underway, it is as riveting today as it was 90 years ago. Thanks to the help of the world’s leading rocket scientists, the scientific accuracy is eerily prophetic. 9/10
A hallucinatory explosion of art deco and visual experimentation, Marcel L’Herbier’s 1924 film L’Inhumaine has divided critics and audiences for decades. Its bold design and innovative editing inspired a generation of directors, but many find its script thin and its characters one-dimensional and uninspiring.
This 1929 film was Britain’s attempt to create its own Metropolis. The stunning art deco visuals are counteracted by a clumsy and overtly naive script. Maurice Elvey’s direction is fluid and competent, but the actors are stuck with paper-thin characters who lack motivation. Modern viewers of this pacifist yarn set in 1940 will marvel at the accurate predictions of things like TV and Skype. (5/10)