Sunday, October 31, 2021

Halloween 2021

Happy Halloween, for yet another year! I hope every has had/will have a great time I had a busy month on and off my blog, and was looking forward to the day itself. I had a fun spooky marathon, with a few sugary snacks and drinks (and some healthy vegetables to balance things out), and some pizza for dinner. I carved a pumpkin, and made a papier-mache Voodoo mask.

In the afternoon I went out trick or treating, except I was giving out candy, not receiving it. This mostly went off without a hitch,though it was only when I began that I suddenly realised it might look like I'm a greedy boy, hoarding mass amounts of lollies! This problem was quickly solved when the first people I visited thanked me and promptly emptied my first bowl! I was shocked, but too polite to say anything, and wasn't sure how things would continue. But then the next couple of places didn't need anything! Whaddya know, like a cosmic balancing act. A few other places did need some extra supplies, on the cusp of running out, so I was able to contribute.

All in all it was a bit of a busier Halloween than usual, but still entertaining and enjoyable, and not too bloody hot...

Friday, October 29, 2021

Son of Ingagi (1940)

Spencer Williams was what we call in Australia a top bloke. He started out in the theatre, soon became an actor, and moved on to directing. Despite being known for humourous roles, and despite having no more than two pennies to rub together, he still managed to produce mature content that's still appreciated today. He never let himself be ted down to any one genre, as he went from comedy, to drama, 'juke' musicals, and horror...

Eleanor and Robert Lindsay are a newly married couple, ready to settle down in their new home. They make the acquaintance of Dr. Jackson, who turns out to be a friend of the family. Despite having a spooky reputation among the neighbourhood, Eleanor is warm and inviting, knowing all the good she's done with her studies. What she doesn't know is that in Dr. Jackson's home contains a deadly man ape, that may soon cause havoc...

Son of Ingagi starts off pretty sweetly, showing a wedding between two cute newlyweds, all the while building up a suspicious character and situation. It's only at the half hour mark (also the halfway mark) where spooky stuff starts happening proper. This never feels like it's late, and the set-up is all good.

When I first went into this film, I was expecting a broad comedy, since a lot of African-American genre cinema of the time was deeply humorous (be they westerns, horrors, or crime, you could often expect to have a good laugh with the characters), and the lighthearted opening had me wondering, but for the most part Son of Ingagi is a pretty serious affair. Not too serious, of course. It strikes a good balance. The tense scenes are tense, and there's a good atmosphere built up.

Then there's the comedy. It mainly takes the form of funny dialogue, and succeeds, without ever spoiling the moment. One highlight is "Well his neck was broken, and two ribs caved in, back twisted. I was thinkin' maybe he committed suicide, until I found out both his arms were busted, then I couldn't figure it out!"

I can't really say I have many outright problems with this film, though there were a few little things that annoyed or confused me. First and foremost is a frustrating moment where Doctor Baker gloriously proclaims that she's finally found a formula that can singlehandedly cure all of mans ills!...Before it's immediately drunk by N'Gina, who goes crazy and destroys the lab, killing his mistress. Maybe she spoke too soon, and the fact that N'Gina went crazy at all means she buggered the formula, but it's still a nuisance to watch.

The confusing elements of the film are to do with Doctor Baker, and how she managed to smuggle a ton of gold and a giant man-ape all the way from Africa! On that note, the mentions of her gold seem to almost take Son of Ingagi into comic book territory, when we have scenes such as the doctor's greedy/unscrupulous brother going "Gimme your gold! I want your gold!".

Something I especially admire about Son of Ingagi is how progressive it is! First and foremost it's a race film, but we also have a great portrayal of not only a female doctor, but mad scientist too! The movie never makes anything of this, simply showing it as is, working wonderfully.

Daisy Bufford and Alfred Grant make for good leads. They're sweet, endearing, and you always support them. Multitasking Spencer Williams does a very good job here as the comic relief policeman. He gets some of the funniest scenes, and adds extra life to the proceedings. Laura Bowman is sinister at first as the suspicious Doctor, but soon shows a sensitive side, which fleshes her character out considerably. Then we see her more maternal facet with N'Gina, adding another layer of depth for the actress to work with, which she manages well. The movie loses some talent when her character dies. And lastly, Zack Williams does very well as N'Gina, who gets both sensitive and animalistic moments. I would've liked to see him in more roles like this, and become an African-American Karloff or Chaney.

The effects for the titular monster are pretty well realised. It's not the most expensive of make-up, but it never looks bad, and its design makes for a neat antagonist.

Spencer Williams would continue making movies, before eventually getting a lead role in Amos 'n Andy, becoming cemented as a cultural institution among both races, which I find to be a touching capstone to his storied career. And with Son of Ingagi, he shares a great milestone with all who worked on this film, one of the first black horrors. It may not be the greatest movie out there, but as far as beginnings go, you could do far worse...

The Black Cat (1934) and The Raven (1935)

The Black Cat

Peter and Joan Alison are newlyweds going via train though Hungary, where they meet the mysterious Dr. Vitus Werdegast. A veteran of World War I, Vitus has only recently been released from a brutal prison camp, and is eager to find what's left of his family. They accompany him on a cab ride into the village, and after a near-lethal crash, the party are taken to the home of the sinister Hjalmar Poelzig. Vitus remembers the man very well, the one who betrayed their battalion to the enemy, and cost him his freedom. The two rivals begin a game of death, where the fate of the newlyweds is at stake, and the loser will face untold torture...

Directed by industry great Edward G. Ulmer, The Black Cat is a fairly loose adaption (i.e. it has literally nothing to do with Poe, besides a cat that probably isn't even black). Despite this annoyance, it manages to live up to the author's spirit in tone and content. Made during the pre-code era, this is regarded as one of the most extreme horror films of the era, with themes of insanity, satanism, torture, incest (sort-of), and necrophilia (some say implied, though I didn't pick up on that).

The story is an engaging one. With a short runtime of just over an hour, we are introduced to the cast in quick succession, and all the dominoes fall into place nice and quickly. The young couple soon realise things at this house are off, and this fear grows when their repeated attempts to eave are conveniently thwarted, either by a malfunctioning car, a dead phone line, and other 'misfortunes'.

The best parts of the movie involve Vitus and Poelzig, whose mutual hatred is barely concealed. Vitus makes a few attempts on his enemy's life, all unsuccessful, leading him to plan a long game, and hope the cunning villain doesn't see it coming.

There are a few twists and turns here, not all of which felt necessary. Vitus knows his wife is long dead, but wants to find his daughter. Poelzig says she died too, but we soon see she's not only alive and well, but married to the creep! This could've worked well for the story, but I felt it was a bit pointless. She seems remarkably well-adjusted for someone romanced and married by her step-father, and her end feels random and unsatisfying. I wonder what it would've been like if Joan was actually Vitus's long lost daughter. It would've been cheesy and contrived, yes, but at least it'd be better than the nothing we get instead.

The climax is a great one, with a few contrivances, but it makes up for this in pure enjoyment. We get a great final battle with the two rivals, leading to a chilling final encounter. It's great stuff!

Where the ending disappointed me most was the role of the young couple. Joan is to be sacrificed to the cult, until an unexplained trick helps free her. But her husband is nowhere in sight! He was imprisoned earlier, and is busy taking his sweet time getting free, while the rest of the movie happens without him.

When he does finally show up he only makes things worse. When Joan needs to get free, Werdegast says "Let me help you", very nobly interrupting his torture of Poelzig to aid this lady in distress, and Peter busts in and immediately shoots the poor doctor in cold blood! Murder! If Peter had've come across Werdegast right in the act of flaying Poelzig and shot him then and there out of shock, that would be more understandable, even if he totally owes the man a bouquet at his funeral. But the hero comes across badly here, especially considering he'd done literally nothing else during the climax, leaving Werdegast to do everything.

Bela Lugosi plays the hero for a change here, and does a great job. He's just unhinged enough, but not so much that you can't accept him as the good guy. But since the 1930s era was probably contractually obligated to star someone handsome, David Manners is technically the lead. But we know who the real stars are! Boris Karloff, meanwhile, is at his best. There's a real sinister edge to his performance, and he plays the role with a calm malevolence, his eyes expressing pure hatred. He's also made-up in a very interesting way, looking the opposite of Frankenstein.

When it comes to effects, The Black Cat is pretty light. The violence is all offscreen, so squeamish people might not be too traumatised. But then again, the suggestion of violence can often hold a greater impact than just seeing it right there.

The set design here is standout. Poelzig's house has strange architecture, and it's a creative location for such a movie. Everything down to the windows, and the altars, is designed with an eye for detail. The direction is equally great, with clever uses of shadows and silhouettes, often heightening the tension, and introducing characters strikingly.

The music here is predominately made up of classical pieces, and thankfully they mesh quite well, never feeling like a cheap excuse to not score a real soundtrack (even though it probably was).

The Black Cat is one of the 1930s' most intense horror films, and well worth a watch! If anyone tries to tell you that old horror movies can't hold a candle to newer stuff, just show 'em this and watch them shiver...

The Raven

Dr. Richard Vollin is a brilliant but eccentric surgeon. Though retired from practice, he is convinced to perform a delicate operation to save the life of young Jean Thatcher, daughter of a noted judge. He becomes infatuated with the girl, and conspires to win her for himself. When her father objects, Vollin intends on using his morbid fascination with Edgar Allan Poe, and a desperate convict, to sweep away all his obstacles...

The Raven is another delightfully spooky turn from horror's greatest pair. Despite its title, this isn't an adaption of The Raven, but then again it never really attempts to be, instead telling an original story drawing inspiration from Poe's work in general. This creates an ooky atmosphere full of shadows and poetry, with a highlight being the ballet dance during a recital of the titular poem.

The story is set up well. Vollin is the first character introduced to us, and seems like a nice enough fellow, until obsession gets the better of him, and either twists his mind, or exposes it for what it really is. 

The escaped convict Bateman is also introduced relatively quickly, busting his way into Vollin's study, insisting at gunpoint that the doctor change his face. Vollin is unfazed by the surprise entrance. It's fantastic how he so effortlessly turns the tables, without Bateman or you realising it's happened until it's too late, and suddenly the man who was being forced into a criminal's demands is now the one giving instructions. 

Vollin does indeed change Bateman's face, but instead of hiding his identity, he cruelly disfigures the man, in order to force him to do his bidding, or else he won't reverse the process. One of the film's big scares is the reveal of Bateman's face after the operation. The music slowly builds up as he realises something terrible is the matter, and we gradually zoom out, 

While Vollin is undoubtedly the villain of the piece, the two do share a great game of wits, like when the man doctor is demonstrating one of his torture devices, and arrogantly lies down right where the shackles can spring up, and Bateman sends a sharp pendulum slowly descending, until an increasingly worried Vollin reminds him he's the only one who can restore the convict's old face. This works, but Bateman soon realises he probably should've let the pendulum just do its work, once he comes to the conclusion that Vollin is hardly a man of his word. This all culminates in a great last battle.

With the villains as the true stars of the film, the actual protagonists don't command our attention nearly as much, but they are decent. Jean and her fiancee Jerry are decent enough. Her father is a reasonable authority figure, who can see what's going on and tries his best to ward Vollin away, earning him a spot on a rack. The family also have a few friends, including [an older couple, and a slightly older couple]. They're primarily for comic relief, and do the job well. I'm glad they don't get killed, because they were fun. Most amusing is how the older couple manages to sleep through the entire events of the climax! Lucky bastards.

The last act is mixed. On one hand it's great, full of cool deathtraps and last-minute rescues. On the other hand it only makes up the last 10 minutes of the film! Granted it's only an hour long anyway, but still. The pacing is never off, but I do wish there was a longer climax, and more time spent on the torture devices (not to mention a juicy victim or two!). Though it is good that we don't get too much, and have the lustre worn off.

The overall tone of The Raven is a good one. It manages to be spooky and funny, in equal measure. There's a good balance, so while the movie always could've been more ghoulish, the atmosphere is never spoiled by the humour. The dialogue can get pretty amusing in places, like the blase "See here Vollin, things like this just can't be done". The 1930s was a time when you could give people a politely worded telling-off for putting others in deadly traps. A much more respectful time.

Onto the acting. Bela Lugosi delivers a standout performance here. He plays calm and well-adjusted, and maniacal, cackling like a true madman. He manages to outshine Boris Karloff, whose role is comparatively more mundane, though he still makes the most of it. He, brings a level of humanity and brutality to his role.

The rest of the cast is fine. Irene Ware is always a welcome treat, and Lester Matthews is satisfactory. Inez Courtney and Ian Wolfe are a hoot, and I enjoyed every scene they're in. Spencer Charters and Maidel Turner are fine too, as is Samuel S. Hinds.

The sets in The Raven are great. The house looks fantastic, and its spooky basement would be a treasure trove for enthusiasts of the macabre (raises my hand). The effects are good too. The make-up Boris gets on his face might not be as memorable or intricate as Frankenstein or the Mummy, but it still looks good, and satisfies.

The Raven is an enjoyable example of classic horror, and gives just enough to treat any fans of the genre...

These two icons of horror worked together many times over the years, always to great effect. Interestingly enough, both The Raven and The Black Cat would each receive two new versions over the years, the former starring Karloff once again, and the other...ahem, 'featuring' Bela. And both films are linked in that neither have the slightest connection with Edgar Allan Poe...

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Horror Island (1941)

Bill Martin is a struggling business owner in a small Florida fishing port, always up for a new money-making scheme. When an eccentric Spanish sailor presents him with a map leading to a treasure, on the seemingly useless island Bill owns, he jumps at the idea, despite a mysterious Phantom stealing half the map. Bill organises a commercial treasure hunt on the island, so that even if the treasure isn't real he can at least make a few bucks. But as they arrive, guests begin mysteriously dying, as the unseen Phantom gets closer to the pirate's gold...

Horror Island is an enjoyable spooky little mystery. Despite the title's promises, it's a fairly lighthearted affair, with irreverent characters, funny dialogue, and a laidback tone. Still, you can't deny that it does live up to the title's claims. There is an island, and it does contain horror! It's just not in the least scary.

The plot is decent, and sets things up well, though the movie gets a little sidetracked with the whole horror hotel business, to the point that I forgot there was a real treasure. It also takes its sweet ass time,

There are a few too many characters too, and by the time the movie has finally set up its relatively simple premise, we're already halfway through. This isn't helped by some of the characters looking alike. We have Bill and his comic relief sidekick Stuff, comic relief sailor Tobias Clump, the love interest and her bored cousin, two crooks, an excited professor, a suspicious but amiable sheriff, plus Bill's cousin! And this isn't even counting the Phantom roaming around. That's 10 characters in an hour long film! Could it be done? Sure. But here it's all a bit jumbled, and many of the characters aren't necessary, and could've been easily combined.

Bill is a likeable hero. He's a bit of a wastrel, full of hair brained schemes, always owing money, and afraid that every new person visiting his shop is there to break his legs (which you just know is gonna bit him in the back by the end). He shares decent chemistry with rich girl Wendy, who's spunky, and skeptical within reason. The comic relief characters all do their parts well, and are never annoying.

The crooks have a plan of their own, cut short by the guy Rod's murder. This doesn't upset his girl Arleen too much, as she was itching for a chance to get away from the brute. She is considered a suspect at first by the sheriff, but he soon realises she's ok. He trusts her with a loaded gun too! She thankfully gets a happy ending. Despite only us the audience knowing she's on the level, nobody else would realistically believe her, yet they all do, which is a relief. How Bill even knew her name though let alone her trouble with Rod is anyone's guess, but hey, it's a movie.

The villain's identity is strange, since we can openly see his face. It made me curious who he could be. There does turn out to be a great twist, and the killer puts up a fight despite his deceptive appearance. Although the reveal of the Phantom's identity was a letdown (Panama Pete? Really? You expect a shadowy villain to have a more threatening name than that!). There are some other obvious red herrings, which keep the plot going, and thankfully obvious culprit Cousin George, only character in the film with a motive, did not turn out to be the killer. Imagine that, if the guy who openly wanted the treasure was the killer all along.

The villain's death is hilarious, not only because of his idiocy, but also the violence promised by the movie, only to be dispelled when we see him totally unmarked despite being cleaved by a huge axe.

The dialogue is full of fun quips, from one comment about a ghost with muscles, to the 'funnier and quieter' bit, and other amusing lines.
"I thought so, a man driver!"
"If that wasn't the wind, don't do it again!"
"Is this party goin' on all night? Radio's playing and dames screamin'."
And "What are you all complaining about? This is exciting! It's adventure! Imagine-Lost at sea, on the way to a haunted island, with a ghost castle. Well, one of us might even be murdered! "

Dick Foran is a reliable lead, as is Peggy Moran, the two reuniting after their turn together in The Mummy's Hand. Fuzzy Knight is a decent enough comic relief, and the same can be said of Leo Carrillo. He has a funny accent, but talks a bit too fast sometimes, making me glad my DVD had subtitles. The rest of the cast does well, including the awesomely named Hobart Cavanaugh, and the sarcastic Lewis Howard. One treat was a fun actress playing a supporting character. It looked like she had a smaller face, but I could've sworn it sounded just like Iris Adrian's voice. And sure enough, that's who it is! I'm glad she always got juicy roles.

The direction here is fairly standard, with many neat shots, which give off a nice spooky vibe, akin to being in a haunted house ride. For this reason I think this is a perfect movie to introduce young kids to the horror genre!

Horror Island is a pretty fun movie, and good example of 1940s comedy-horror. It's not the best in the genre or era, but certainly a fun watch...

Man-Made Monster (1941)

Dan McCormick, the so-called Electrical Man, is a simple sideshow performer caught in a bus crash. A surge of electricity kills everyone onboard, save for him, getting the attention of Dr. Lawrence, who believes Dan has a unique talent that could be used for the betterment of mankind. Unfortunately Lawrence's lab assistant is the mad Dr. Rigas, who believes Dan's immunity to electricity can have a different purpose for the world...

Man-Made Monster opens in a similar vein to the much later film Unbreakable, focusing on the special powers of a disaster's only survivor. The first act is pretty light-hearted. The protagonist is a happy-go-lucky fella, who's not too bothered by his narrow escape, and is looking forward to getting back to his carnival act and making some dough. He makes quick friend's with his benefactor's niece June, and nosey reporter Mark

The movie is only an hour long, and much of its runtime is spent setting up the drama to happen. Even when Dan is transformed into a min-controlled monster, the movie spends more time on detective work and courtroom drama,

The big rampage is only the last 12 minutes of the film. The 'execution' scene is disappointingly offscreen. It's supposed to be the big spectacle of the movie-Dan in the electric chair, receiving a fatal dose that instead imbues him with more power than ever before, transforming him into an unstoppable juggernaut...and this is all told to us from the other room! The movie teases us too, like when a reporter rushes out of the chamber and rattles into his phone about Dan just killing two guards and making his escape.

The climax is full of dramatic and somewhat hilarious moments, and characters knowing things they couldn't possibly know, before Dan is somewhat anticlimactically killed by a fence. Not a large fence either, but a tiny one!

The film ends with a strange coda, where June insists Mark burn the mad doctor's notes instead of getting a good scoop out of them...except I wasn't sure if that was actually destroying the evidence of Rigas's wrongdoing! At least there's an adorable shot of Corky pushing the book onto the flames, avenging his fallen friend.

Tone was my biggest issue with Man-Made Monster. It's all so fun at fun that once things get going, it becomes quite a miserable watch. Poor June, her friend's crazy, her father's dead, and all on the night her boyfriend was gonna propose to her!

Another fault is that it's all very by-the-numbers, and you can see how it could have easily become something unique. I don't fault the writers for not doing this, of course, but I can't help but watch and wish it went here instead of there. Oh well, that's what remakes are for!

The characters are the biggest element to the movie. Dan is a good lead. He's so cheery in fact that I didn't want him to become bad. Turn Frank Albertson into a monster instead! I found it hard to buy Dan would just go along with all this. He's already hesitant about Rigas, so why would he keep subjecting himself to uncomfortable experiments from a crazy-eyed manaic? But he doesn't, and before too long he's a walking shell who comes to depend on the next dose of electricity like a drug. Our two heroes make a point of it to try and save Dan, but this comes to naught, which is a bummer.

Dr. Rigas is the villain of the piece, abusing his power in a misguided effort to create a race of supermen. And like all mad scientists, his creation eventually gets the better of him. 

Dr. Lawrence is a total dolt. Aside from hiring a mad scientist (knowing enough of his theories to reprimand him, but never actually being sensible and firing him), he also never looks at Rigas's files until it's too late, meaning his mad assistant has been filling his prized test subject with lethal amounts of electricity every day and this stupid bastard never even noticed!

Reporter Mark is your typical 1930s protagonist. Plucky, dogged, and fancies himself a ladies man, with mixed success. He sensibly mistrusts Dr. Rigas, until such a point when it's inconvenient for the script. Lawrence's niece June knows how to stand her ground, but she also gives Mark a chance and takes him out for dates (all offscreen though, unfortunately). Both characters step up when the action starts. June is clever, knowing instantly that Dan isn't to blame.

The duo get their fair share of amusing dialogue, like an exchange that perfectly encapsulates how newspaper men think. "You ought to be ashamed of yourself. 5 people killed and the best you can do is write bad jokes!" "Look lady, 5 people were killed and we treated it with the proper respect, but that was yesterday!"

Lon Chaney Jr. is an endearing presence during the first act, and does well during his more dramatic and monstrous moments. Lionel Atwill is at his most insane, sometimes to the performance's detriment, but most of the time it's great fun. Samuel S. Hinds plays his benevolent boss, and is ok enough. Anne Nagel and Frank Albertson are likeable leads. Reliable Asian character actor Chester Gan is nice, and the pooch who plays Corky sadly goes uncredited.

From what I hear, Man-Made Monster was originally slated to star Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, but it was deemed too similar to their previous picture The Invisible Ray. Naturally they still went through with the project, just with different actors  The film also seems to have inspired The Indestructible Man 15 years later, also with Lon Chaney Jr.

The effects are a high point. On a relatively low budget, Man-Made Monster was able to show convincing and spooky effects, perfectly capturing Dan's electrical nature.

Man-Made Monster has its faults here and there, but is worth checking out. As Lon Chaney's debut into horror, following in his father's footsteps, this has an important legacy...

Doctor X (1932) and The Return of Doctor X (1939)

A gruesome series of murders has rocked the city, the work of a cannibalistic madman known as the Moon Killer. The police have narrowed down the culprit to Dr. Jerry Xavier, who runs a scientific academy devoted to strange experiments. Xavier realises that if he is to exonerate himself and his colleagues, or to uncover the true killer, he must find out before it's too late...

Doctor X is one of the most well remembered horror classics of the 1930s, and has managed to stand alongside titans such as King Kong, and remain strong. The film was made during the short lived Pre-code era, where anything went and censorship was at a minimum. This resulted in many unique films, especially within horror. There wasn't so much freedom like that of the modern day, where you can curse up a storm and show all kinds of gore, but the tones of many films were noticeable darker or more intense, and they could hint at things that were forbidden only a few years prior or after.

Doctor X is a fairly typical story of mad science, but told and presented in a unique way. Its dark themes give it an offbeat and mature atmosphere, but are never so present that the movie becomes forced or overly grim. There's enough levity to keep things balanced too.

The plot is fairly interesting. It starts off in media res, in a way, and we're able to get our bearings fairly quickly, due to the economical storytelling. All the characters are introduced to us right from the start, from the titular doctor, to the nosy reporter looking for a scoop (and to keep his job), as well as the healthy suspect list.

At first I was dumbfounded when the very first suspect is introduced as an avid researcher of cannibalism. Well obviously he's the killer then, right? But then the next two students both resorted to eating their fellow man when stranded at sea. Apparently the Doctor has a strict 'Cannibals only' hiring policy. Yet he always speaks so glowingly of them-"He couldn't possibly be a killer, he's a beautiful poet!" Even the butler Otto is a cackling madman with a deathly pallour.

The solution to the mystery is a decent one, even though it requires Xavier to be a bit of a naive dope. No complaints here though, as it allows for a creepy monster to menace the cast.

The heroes are a likeable enough pair, and contribute plenty to the action rather than being passive. Dr. Xavier's daughter Joanne is feisty yet sweet, while the reporter is a bit of a knob, but is made fun of by an aware cast, and does make up for it.

Overall, the story here is simpler than I expected, but good writing manages to show how a basic plot can be spun into something that really grabs your attention for an hour. One complaint I do have though is that the title is a bit of a lie. The titular doctor is neither mad or evil, despite being played by Lionel Atwill, and having an art deco themed hideout that could easily be a villain's lair.

The setpieces in Doctor X are well shot, and full of suspense. They're creative to watch as we see Doctor Xavier applying ridiculously elaborate lie detector tests to all the suspects, and embracing his inner comic book character. It's a shame in a way that he wasn't the baddie!

The cast do good jobs here. Lionel Atwill is an ominous authority figure, but gains more trust as the movie goes along. Fay Wray is a lovely presence, getting to scream to her heart's content, but also having some depth, as well as comedy and romance too. Lee Tracy is a decent enough lead, even if his character's a bit of a rascal. The collection of actors playing the kooky scientists are great, including the killer (whose identity I won't spoil).

The effects are quite neat. While the monstrous killer is only onscreen during the climax, he looks great, and we even get a gooey transformation sequence. It felt to me like something David Cronenberg would do decades later.

What really sets Doctor X apart from the competition is its amazing visuals. This is a gorgeous film, with creative direction, awesome visuals, and it's also got a great sense of scale. Rooms and labs that would only be 3 feet wide in a regular b-movie are as big as a court.

Colour is a special thing about the movie too. Just about every scenes is lit or highlighted with a vibrant green. This sounds like it could easily be annoying, but the way it's done gives it a great look. If a modern movie did this, it's probably just look like someone lit a green floodlight in every scene, but the early technicolour process makes the green a part of the environment, if that makes sense. It lends an unearthly atmosphere to the proceedings.

Doctor X shows both the creativity at play in 1930s horror, and also the common tropes of the era, to great effect, making for a very good watch

The Return of Doctor X

Walter Garrett is a news-hound who comes across skulduggery when he discovers the corpse of a famous starlet, a victim of murder, but is soon admonished by police when not only is the body nowhere to be found, but the woman herself comes forward to complain.Walter might know he can be a bit of a dope at times, but he just knows something fishy is afoot, so he enlists the help of a doctor friend, and together they investigate the mystery, leading to a shocking discovery...

The Return of Doctor X, despite its title, is in no way a sequel to Doctor X. The studio just slapped that name on to make more money. There are a couple of minor details thrown in to link the movies together, but these don't really amount to much. Moving past that connection though, how does the movie fare? Pretty well actually. It feels like a Monogram picture, but on a slightly higher budget.

The central mystery is decent, and there's more than enough spookiness to keep everyone happy. It can get a little confusing at times (mainly everything involving the starlet, and her murder, plus sudden personality change), but overall it works well.

The characters are a good bunch. The heroes are all likeable, with Walter being a typical smart-alec reporter, but one with a heart of gold and a nose for justice. His buddy Mike Rhodes is likewise a smart and noble guy, and the two make for a good pair. Love interest nurse Joan is underused, but makes the most of her scenes, and is very pretty. In one scene she's underused in a hilarious way. All the poor girl wants to do is go out dancing, yet they keep forgetting about her as they drive to mystery hotspots, leaving her waiting endlessly in the car.

Who the main villain is is a bit confusing at first, but soon becomes apparent. Dr. Francis Flegg is Mike's friend, and one gets the feeling he has misplaced trust in the guy. Two people are dead, and a deceased murderer is alive and in his employ. He's beyond explaining/excusing! Mike even gives out Joan's full name, details, and address when he asks, resulting in her kidnapping. "You told no-one of your visit to the cemetery?...Then come with me."

The movie makes a somewhat failed attempt to show Flegg as being morally ambiguous, simply a good man caught in a bad situation. This leaves his assistant Marshal Quesne, alias Maurice Xaver as the diabolical mastermind, murdering people and stealing their blood, to prolong his own undead life. He's a creepy villain, looking and acting slimy and unsettling, in an effective way. On a random note, Quesne is a strange name, but what's stranger is that it's pronounced Caine! And not one person pronounces it phonetically either. Suspicious!

Walter's boss and coworkers get some laughs, especially with their various insults and nicknames, including the fabulous 'Wichita Frankenstein'.

Socialite Angela Merrova is a fun addition for the first few minutes, and a nice indication of Walter's character, seeing how much trust this celebrity has in him. But then she'd immediately murdered, which I thought a shame, since she was already shaping up to be the film's most entertaining character. Then she returns, only to suddenly hate Walter, and harbouring no ill will towards her murderers. It's all a bit muddled, really.

Wayne Morris is a good lead, getting a nice mix of goofiness, but without being farcical. He and Dennis Morgan share straight man duties, while Rosemary Lane is good as the love interest. Mercifully there is never attempt at a love triangle. Lya Lys is amusing at times, but less so as the movie progresses. John Litel is a fun presence, getting to play the mad scientist archetype to a tee, with an evil goatee and monocle too!

And last up is the film's most surprising addition-Humphrey Bogart! Playing an undead mad scientist himself! Shocking, right? And now I know you're dying to see this film, just for the novelty! Beyond that, how does he do? Pretty well I thought. His unmistakeable voice lends itself well to the role, and visually he looks the part, with a fun Bride of Frankenstein trail through his hair to boot.

There is one person who didn't like Bogart being in this film, and that's the man himself. He hated it! If you ask me, I honestly find it a bit silly that Bogie was so negative about being a horror film villain. I understand if someone has a bad experience during a production. For example, I had a great time with Paul Naschy's spy caper Operation Mantis, but I can get why he wouldn't have fond memories of it, considering his father died at the time, it almost bankrupted him, and signaled the premature end of his once thriving career. Even if we look at Bogart's own Beat the Devil, which he similarly disliked, it was for understandable reasons. But here it seems his only grievance was it being a horror film, as if he was embarrassed. Cheeky bastard wasn't even a star at this point, and he's being pissy that he has to perform in genres he's not 100% into? Just sit down, shut up, and do yer darn job, mate! Whew, got that out of my system now.

The Return of Doctor isn't really a patch on the first film, but it's still an entertaining enough little horror, and worth checking out...