The Superhero Serials

Batman, Superman and Captain America were among the superheroes that made their screen debuts in film serials. The superhero serials borrowed heavily from pulp stories, radio shows and comic magazines, and in turn helped lay many of the foundations for future SF movies. Here we take a look at the origins and history of the most influential superhero serials of the thirties and forties. 

Krakatit

Based on Karel Capek’s novel, this Czech 1948 film is the first to depict a nuclear holocaust. Otakar Vávra’s feverishly Expressionist direction follows the inventor of a new explosive having waking nightmares about the horror he has unleashed upon the world. While simplified and somewhat dumbed down, the story still follows the novel fairly closely. Scifist Rating: 7/10.

Boom in the Moon

My very first zero-star review goes to a 1946 Mexican ”sci-fi comedy” starring a down and out Buster Keaton doing his best not to fall asleep on set. The script has three idiots landing a rocket in the middle of a Mexican city, thinking they are on the moon. That is the full plot. The best moments have Buster Keaton lifelessly repeating old gags from his silent era. The rest is a mess. Scifist rating: 0/10.

House of Dracula

Universal’s third monster mash film from 1945 is a decent, if not necessarily worthy, farewell to the studio’s legendary ghouls. Despite flashes of originality, it feels as if we are re-heating the same TV dinner for the umpteenth time before the SF movies of the US caught up with the new post-war reality. Scifist Rating: 4/10

The Jungle Captive

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

The Jade Mask

Charlie Chan solves yet another murder mystery in this reasonably well made Monogram cheapo, aided by his #4 son and legendary black comedian Mantan Moreland. A whodunnit with a sci-fi MacGuffin in an old dark house with a fairly interesting cast led by Sidney Toler. Light fun, an incredibly convoluted plot, with some casual racism thrown in. 4/10.