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.
Universal’s House of Frankenstein sees Boris Karloff as a mad scientist hiring Dracula as a hit man, attempting to cure the Wolf Man and restart the Frankenstein monster. All while J. Carrol Naish’s hunchback is trying to bonk a gypsy girl who’s in love with the werewolf. While the nutty story can be entertaining, this 1944 film’s downfall is its contrived plot and structure. 4/10
Acquanetta the Ape Woman returns in a 1944 sequel to Universal’s Captive Wild Woman. The first 20 minutes go by in flashbacks from the original picture, before the wild woman is resurrected and goes ape, off-screen, in a mental asylum. An ill-conceived and clumsy effort, this is a monster movie without a monster, trying feebly to emulate Val Lewton’s Cat People. 3/10
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
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