The Man They Could Not Hang

Boris Karloff shines as the lone star in his first of five mad scientist films for Columbia Pictures’ B-movie unit in 1939. Made on a shoestring budget, this medical sci-fi turned old dark house revenge thriller is entertaining but predictable. 5/10

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

Skeleton on Horseback

Based on Karel Capek’s play, this 1937 Czechoslovakian dystopia is a thinly veiled allegory on the Nazis. A pacifist doctor finds a cure to a mysterious “white plague” and with it tries to blackmail the ruling class into signing a peace treaty. Future Hollywood director Hugo Haas makes a poignant, but slow-paced dark satire. 6/10

Sky Racket

The actors know how to hit their marks and the DP is capable of setting up a shot in the 1937 remake of the equally bad 1936 film Ghost Patrol. A government agent and a bride on the run are captured by a gang of criminals using a death ray to shoot mail planes from the sky. Oscar winner Hattie McDaniel is criminally underused. 1/10

King Solomon’s Mines

The first sound adaptation of H. Rider Haggards lost world novel benefits from location shooting in Africa, a faithful script and good acting. Paul Robeson shines, even though his out-of-place song numbers strain the picture’s credibility. Despite a somewhat rushed plot and thin characters, this is a fun Sunday afternoon adventure yarn. 6/10

Non-Stop New York

Schizophrenic British comedy/crime drama set on a huge futuristic luxury airliner. Cringe-worthy comedy is mixed with a witness drama that manages to be both improbable and generic. Good acting and steady direction saves the film from bring a complete clunker. 3/10

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

Things to Come

H.G. Wells and  William Cameron Menzies take us on an epic journey through the future in this pompous 1936 social prophesy, the last big SF film before the 1950s. The most expensive film made in Britain at the time, Things to Come boasts incredible sets and effects, but the script is stiff, the acting wooden and the viewer bludgeoned to boredom with the message. 6/10

The Man Who Changed His Mind

This rare British sci-fi horror film from 1936 is a tad formulaic, as it rides on Boris Karloff’s mad scientist fame, but it is certainly better written, acted and directed than most of the abysmal Columbia films he would get stuck in later. Great actors and a very witty dialogue help Karloff do one of his best film appearances. 7/10

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

The Devil-Doll

Dracula and Freaks director Tod Browning’s sci-fi/horror/comedy The Devil-Doll from 1936 is an accomplished special effects reel concerning shrunken people. Despite the feeling that Browning recycles his old themes, this moral play is one of the best sci-fi films out of USA in the late thirties – and Lionel Barrymore in drag is absurdly fun. 7/10

Undersea Kingdom

Inspired by Flash Gordon and The Phantom Empire, the young Republic Studios launched their own sci-fi serial in 1936, and the result was an action-packed, but rather brainless concoction. Occasional good design and an energetic Crash Corrigan can’t save this badly scripted Atlantis-themed hodgepodge. 3/10

Ghost Patrol

Tim McCoy’s really big hat delivers the best performance in this derivative and uninspired sci-fi-tinged modern western. The Poverty Row production sees a G-man in a 10 gallon Stetson infiltrate a gang of criminals using a death ray to shoot down mail planes. Of you like your B movies on the far side of really bad, this is just the thing for you. 1/10