Film

Man Made Monster

A quick Universal cheapo from 1941, this was the first of Lon Chaney Jr.’s monster movies, and one of his best. Lionel Atwill shines as the mad doctor who pumps Chaney full of electricity, until he becomes a mindless, glow-in-the-dark monster who kills with a touch. 6/10

The Devil Commands

The fourth and best of Columbia’s Karloff mad scientist films takes an eerie dip into Lovecraftian cosmic horror. Directed by later Oscar winner Edward Dmytryk, it unfortunately falls back on tired B-movie tropes, but it’s still a minor gem of forties science fiction. 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

Before I Hang

Nick Grinde’s third Karloff film for Columbia is yet a variety on the scientist on death row. This time K isn’t brought back from the dead, but instead invents a youth serum, which he injects himself with, before realising that mixing it with a hanged murderer’s blood wasn’t the best idea. A rushed effort, but it holds together. 4/10

Sky Bandits

This 1940 film is the third version of the same story of a gang of criminals shooting planes out of the sky with a death ray, and arguably the best, thanks to its light tone and comedy. It is also the last entry in a series of juvenile films featuring Sergeant Renfrew of the Royal Mounted. 3/10

A Macabre Legacy

A brilliant plastic surgeon uses his skills to mutilate the faces of his wife and her lover in this 1940 Mexican horror melodrama. The premise is promising, but the film is slow to get going and gets stuck in melodrama mode. 4/10

The Macabre Trunk

This obscure Mexican medical horror from 1936 is a surprisingly well-made and entertaining mad scientist melodrama cut from a Hollywood template. While tame by today’s standards, its scenes with hack-off limbs and gore-filled trunks raised a few eyebrows back in the day. 6/10

The Man with Nine Lives

One of five films that Columbia made with Boris Karloff, more or less from one and the same script, this 1940 cryonics film is competently made and quite enjoyable. At least you’ll get a few chuckles out of the utterly silly science, like doctors reviving patients from cryostasis with pots of hot coffee. 5/10

Dr. Cyclops

Brought to you by the creators of King Kong, this 1940 outing is one of the first “shrunken people” films, set in the Peruvian Jungle and filmed in atmospheric Technicolor. Despite its superb premise and wonderful effects, the script is unfortunately somewhat pedestrian. 7/10

Black Friday

Even if Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi were the marquee names for this 1940 gangster/brain transplant mashup written by Curt Siodmak, it is unheralded actor Stanley Ridges who steals the show in his dual role as fussy professor and cold blooded mobster boss. 5/10

The Invisible Man Returns

Horror icon Vincent Price takes over the empty shirt and trousers of Claude Rains in The Invisible Man Returns (1940). Universal was still making good sequels to their horror films, although this one does clearly fall into B-movie category. But this is a good B-movie, well acted, well filmed and well received, but a harmless Hollywood sequel nonetheless. 7/10

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

The Gladiator

A bullied college student is injected with an insect serum that gives him superhuman powers, but create as much problems as solutions. Inspired by Philip Wylie’s novel, this heartwarming but derivative 1938 slapstick comedy showcases the forgotten talents of one-time box office magnet Joe E. Brown. 6/10

Torture Ship

A scientist performs illegal experiments on murderers aboard a ship, hoping to turn evil people good with the help of invasive hormone therapy. Vaguely suggested by a Jack London story, this 1939 cheapo from PRC fails to do anything interesting with its lurid premise, despite a good cast and White Zombie’s director at the helm. 2/10