Tag 1940s

Invisible Agent (1942)

Invisible Agent (1942)

Today’s most amazing sensation!

Frank Raymond, grandson of the original Invisible Man, still has the invisibility formula but considers it too dangerous to use and has tried to start a new life under an alias name. When German agents try to get it by force, the Allies approach him to work for them but he refuses. However, the bombing of Pearl Harbour compels him to volunteer his own services to spy on the Germans, using the formula to render him invisible.


It’s sad to see that Universal’s The Invisible Man series is nowhere near as fondly remembered as their Frankenstein, Dracula or even The Wolf Man films. 1933’s The Invisible Man is one of science fiction’s greatest ever films and features some of cinema’s most incredible special effects, yet it’s place at the table that built the famous studio is often overlooked. The great thing about the underlying story is that there were so many different possibilities to expand upon the concept of invisibility for sequels – it’s a less rigid formula than that of the Frankenstein or The Mummy films which virtually cycled the same story over and over.

The fourth entry into the series, Invisible Agent was made a few months after the bombing of Pearl Harbour (hence why it’s mentioned in the film) and thus the writers construct a strong propaganda-based narrative designed to perk up the spirits of the contemporary 1940s audience, where Germans are portrayed as bumbling idiots, the Japanese are sneaky and sly, and the bad guys get what’s coming to them at the hands of the square-jawed American hero. There is a little too much propaganda going on here, which does detract a lot from the narrative, but this is a criticism that can be levelled at most films that were made during this period with anti-German and anti-Japanese sentiment. Besides which, the writers do a great job of making the two main villains so hissable and detestable even amidst the war sentiment. But more on them in a bit.

The previous entry, The Invisible Woman, veered far too much into comedy for my liking so it’s good to see the makers of this one reign it in a lot more. There are some silly, slapstick scenes where the Invisible Man torments a German officer having dinner and these are purely played for laughs. It’s in the film’s most serious moments where it really shines – the scene where Sir Cedric Hardwicke’s clever Nazi official traps Raymond in his office and insists he keep swinging in the chair so that he knows where is work well to get across the menace of the enemy along with the main character’s almost superhero-like qualities. It’s all straight-forward dashing hero and smarmy villain nonsense as soon as the Invisible Man arrives in Germany and there are no big twists to be had, just some enjoyable sequences which are handled professionally.

John P. Fulton returns to do the special effects as he had done for the previous Invisible Man films and they’re just as good here – seeing the Invisible Man soap up his legs and arms is a fantastic piece of effects work, even for this day and age. He strips down in mid-air, has numerous slapstick fight scenes with bumbling German officers and even manages to do his usual smoking trick. There are a couple of dodgy-looking wires, particularly during the dinner sequence, but these can be overlooked given the strength of the more impressive moments. Rightly so, the film was nominated for an Oscar for the effects.

The cast are strong here too. Jon Hall has the difficult task of acting without being on screen for most of the film and it can get a little weird seeing the other characters talking to empty chairs or empty spaces. It’s hard to really comment on his performance barring the bookended scenes at the beginning and end with him as normal. Ilona Massey adds some glamour as the female German operative he’s sent to make contact with, and then fall in love with. She does most of the hard work in convincing the audience that there is an Invisible Man, particularly the dinner sequence.

It is the bad guys who have the most fun. Hungarian character actor Peter Lorre would have fared better as a German agent rather than a Japanese one – he looks about as Japanese as I do, even with the penchant for slicking hair back and applying lots of make-up to the face as per many films of this era – “I can’t tell you Japs apart” sniggers the main character here, in a clear dig at how much the American public despised those responsible for the sneak attack in Hawaii. Lorre is particularly good whenever he’s on screen and just has one of those magnetic personalities that draws you to him when he’s on the camera. Between him and Hardwicke, the bad guy quota for the film is more than adequate. Sid Cedric Hardwicke makes for a ruthless Nazi spy, with his cold, calculating voice and stoic mannerisms and between the two of them, they chew the scenery with aplomb.


Invisible Agent is what it is for the time – a propaganda piece masquerading as a sci-fi film – but it still does it with a tongue-in-cheek and with one eye on the quality that made the original such a success. It’s good, escapist entertainment which comes off a lot better than it has any real right to.





Ghost of Frankenstein, The (1942)

The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942)

Stark Terror! Added Thrills! in a Spine-Tingling Experience !

Having survived being shot by Baron Wolf von Frankenstein, Ygor finds the Monster in a sulphuric tomb in the depths of the castle. As villagers head to the castle to finally destroy it and rid themselves of the Frankenstein curse, Ygor and the Monster head off to find Ludvig Frankenstein, the second son of Henry Frankenstein, to help the Monster regain its strength. Ludvig originally wants nothing to do with them but the ghost of his father appears and tells him to cure the Monster’s insanity.


The fourth entry into Universal’s Frankenstein films, The Ghost of Frankenstein is content to rehash the exact same Frankenstein narrative as had gone before it – even the later Hammer Frankenstein films quickly reverted to type, with each sequel simply existing as a slight twist on the same old story. It’s almost like no one knows what to do with the story – maybe not bother churning out another sequel then?

Even at a sleek sixty-eight minutes long, The Ghost of Frankenstein seems to drag its heels and doesn’t really tell an engaging story. Some attempts are made to link the film with the previous one, The Son of Frankenstein, but like many horror sequels if you try to fathom out real continuity, you’ll come away scratching your head. The film goes through the usual motions – reluctant scientist drawn into the shady world of creating life, the Monster coming to life and causing havoc, and then the inevitable finale when the townspeople are sick of the problems caused and storm the castle. You know when a film is struggling to pad out a story when flashbacks are used and footage from the original is included here to waste a few minutes of screen time. It’s just that there’s something lacking here – whether it’s the obvious budget reduction over the previous films or the general lack of attention to detail. The Frankenstein series clearly shifted from ‘A’ quality films to that of the ‘B’ movie variety here. It’s the last time that the Monster played a significant central role in the Universal films, with the creature being reduced to a mere prop alongside the likes of The Wolf Man and Dracula in a number of ‘monster mash’ crossover films such as Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man and House of Dracula.

If there is one big plus about the film, it’s with the casting. Newcomers Sir Cedric Hardwycke and Lionel Atwill are both decent in their roles of Ludvig and his disgraced doctor friend Bohmer respectively – classic moustache-twirling villains of yesteryear (though Ludvig is hardly a villain). Bela Lugosi has some fun in the supporting role as Ygor, the crippled servant who has survived from the previous film – arguably one of Lugosi’s best performances. This marks the first of the Frankenstein films not to feature Boris Karloff as the Monster. Lon Chaney Jr. would be more famously known as The Wolfman in later Universal horror films but he’s behind the Monster make-up here, turning the brute into little more than a walking, lumbering zombie with arms out-stretched and no real sense of the humanity that Karloff managed to imbue. In an interesting twist, it is Ygor’s brain that is put into the monster’s body and the crippled manservant was no slouch when it came to intelligence so it’s nice to see, albeit if briefly, the potential of the Monster with a clever brain, rather than a damaged or criminal one. These scenes allow Chaney Jr. to act more menacingly and with purpose.

And what would a Frankenstein film be without an angry mob of villagers desperate to burn something in the finale? Actually, we’re spoilt rotten here as there are two angry mobs, both of which bookend the film. Even this shows a lack of genuine ideas to breathe new life into the series.


The Ghost of Frankenstein goes through the motions fairly adequately (and it was made during World War 2 so there’s obviously going to some knock-on effects from that with finances, cast and crew) but it’s the worst of the first four Frankenstein films by far and is rather symbolic of how little manoeuvrability the original story has when you’re trying to put it on the big screen.





House of Frankenstein (1944)

House of Frankenstein (1944)


A freak accident allows Dr Niemann, a follower of Dr Frankenstein, to escape from prison along with his hunchback assistant. Killing and then assuming the place of the owner of a chamber of horrors sideshow, Niemann is shocked to realise that the exhibit contains the skeleton remains of Count Dracula. Reviving Dracula to kill those who imprisoned him in the first place, Niemann then discovers the frozen bodies of the Wolfman, Larry Talbot, and the Frankenstein monster. Promising Talbot he would rid him of his curse if he helped him find Frankenstein’s notes and continue his work, it isn’t long before Niemann encounters problems with his old enemies.


House of Frankenstein was the penultimate Universal monster mash (not including the comedy romp with Abbott and Costello in 1948) and it’s clear to see that the studio was running out of steam with their respective franchises. Pitting two of them off against each other in the previous entry Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, the studio beat the Marvel Cinematic Universe bandwagon by decades by acknowledging that two or more of their famous characters inhabited the same universe. The film worked well to combine the two monsters and it was a success so it was inevitable that Universal would continue the trend, adding further monsters to the mix. In doing so, they’ve watered down the formula and, far from being a battle royal of epic proportions featuring the pillars of the horror genre, House of Frankenstein turns into something of an epic mess.

The three classic monsters have all seen far better days and it’s a shame to see how shabby they are treated here. Dracula has become a stereotype of himself, all cape-wearing, wide-eyed, hypnotic and well-mannered rather than a ravenous, hissing sexual monster. The Frankenstein monster, far from the pitiful, pathetic creature of the original Frankenstein, is now just a lumbering brute who walks with his hands stretched out in front of him. The Wolf Man comes out the best but that’s purely because it’s the same actor, Lon Chaney Jr, portraying him and so there’s at least a sense of cohesion between the films. His character hasn’t shown any progression though and is still in the same self-pitying, tormented position as he was in The Wolf Man years earlier. The poor chap just can’t catch a break and desperately falls in with the dangerous Niemann who provides him with false promises.

The main problem with House of Frankenstein isn’t the portrayal of the monsters, it’s that although the film advertises the plot to feature all of the famous monsters going at each other at the same time, the reality is very different and the film is almost split into episodes dealing with the individual monsters. Dracula is first up and his standalone appearance in the first twenty minutes means that he doesn’t interact with either the Wolf Man or Frankenstein monster. The second part of the film focuses on Niemann’s efforts to deal with the Wolf Man and Frankenstein monster. The Wolf Man is the main focus here and then the monster finally comes into play in the final ten minutes or so. It’s all a very disjointed narrative and something which clearly shows the desperation to which the writers tried to crowbar every monster into the film.

At seventy minutes, the film isn’t overly long and so needs every moment that it can to give the monsters enough time to make an impression. But even with this length, the film does feel like gross padding on many occasions and the split narrative really doesn’t help. Thankfully Boris Karloff’s Niemann does anchor the film and he’s the central component to which the monsters rotate around. Karloff, returning to the series after previously portraying the monster, is in malicious form as the well-mannered but clearly insane doctor. He runs away with the film and his performance certainly adds an extra relish to proceedings.


Either of the separate stories could have filled the entire film and it wouldn’t have made much difference. What we do get with House of Frankenstein is a muddled effort where you get a little taster of each of the monsters, not enough to really spoil them too much, and end up wanting more of them. It’s brisk entertainment, not the best or worst of Universal’s horror films, but definitely one of a defining era of team-ups which would set the benchmark for Toho and Godzilla and Marvel and it’s superheroes in years to come.





Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943)

Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943)

A Death Fight . . . Between Two Beasts!

A couple of grave robbers inadvertently awaken the corpse of Lawrence Talbot, the wolf man who many had thought died four years ago. Hospitalised after being found unconscious in the street, Talbot warns Dr Mannering about what happens during a full moon but no one will listen to him. After attacking and killing a policeman, Talbot flees to Europe where he hopes to track down the infamous Dr Frankenstein in the belief that he could free him from the curse. As Frankenstein is dead, Talbot uncovers the frozen monster and enlists its help to track down Frankenstein’s diary which contain the secrets to life and death.


Designed to inject new life into its flagging Frankenstein series, Universal came up with the idea for a monster mash-up – the first of its kind – between two of its iconic monsters. The fourth (and previous) entry into the Frankenstein series, The Ghost of Frankenstein, had played out the standard formula once too often and a new direction was needed for the series. However, The Wolf Man had not received a direct sequel and that material seemed fresh in the minds of Universal who wanted to produce a follow-up. An unholy union of monsters was dreamt up to kill two birds with one stone and the resultant film has become something of a landmark in the horror genre. Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man saw the first time that two heavyweight horror characters came face-to-face with each other, a feat that would be repeated numerous times by Universal in the coming years, throwing Dracula into the mix as well in future films.

Whilst it’s miles away from the serious qualities of both Frankenstein and The Wolf Man, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man is the first Universal horror film which is just a plain fun B-movie. It is more of a follow-up to The Wolf Man than it is to The Ghost of Frankenstein as the bulk of the screen time is devoted to the story of the tragic Lawrence Talbot and his unstoppable ability to turn into a wolf whenever there is a full moon, with the Frankenstein monster thrown in for good measure (shouldn’t it be therefore called Frankenstein’s Monster Meets the Wolf Man?). The story is of less importance than it pretends to be – the lure of seeing these two pair off would have been fine no matter how much or little story there was. As it turns out, the story is reasonably well-thought out which tries to adhere to both series’ continuity as best as it can but ultimately ends up giving neither monster a particular good reason to fight the other.

The best part of the film is the first half which solely focuses on Lawrence Talbot. Fresh from an excellent opening sequence involving grave robbers and crypt, the film then develops Talbot’s character and faithfully sticks to consequences that had arisen from The Wolf Man. Lon Chaney Jr. returns as Talbot, bringing some apathy to the role of the doomed character. Chaney Jr’s performance is rather blunt and simple but works well and it’s arguably his best turn in the make-up. You really feel for him as all he wants to do is die to rid himself of the curse but no one will believe his story. There are a few transformation scenes which still look the part and the werewolf make-up has been much improved since the first film. It is this part of the film which showed why The Wolf Man deserved a stand-alone sequel of its own before it was thrown to Frankenstein and Dracula to save it.

Things take a turn for the worse when the Frankenstein monster is introduced to the mix and the story, which had been moving at a decent pace, eventually becomes too rushed for its own good. The second half of the film virtually repeats the same mistakes as the previous Frankenstein films, with the monster being resurrected, another scientist attempting to solve its mysteries and then the eventual showdown with the local people (in slightly different form though they have the final say on the matter). Talbot becomes less of a focus though he’s still the major player.

Bela Lugosi is the monster here and he’s pretty appalling in the role it has to be said. Apparently Lugosi was told to that the monster was blind and that it would have some dialogue (following on from the previous Frankenstein film). So his performance, all stiff-legged and arms outstretched with some mumbling lines, was meant to portray that idea but for whatever reason (presumably his thick accent) these lines were scrapped during post production and we’re never informed that the monster is blind. During the film you can see his mouth moving but nothing is coming out. The resultant bizarre performance has become the much-parodied definition of the Frankenstein monster which you’ll see people doing at fancy dress parties the world over on Halloween.

Inevitably the film boils down to the showdown between the monster and the Wolf Man. Don’t get your hopes up because the fight isn’t great on the screen but it’s pretty significant from a historical point of view. It’s no holds barred as the two tussle with each other across the laboratory. Just seeing the two together on screen for the first time is exciting enough but the film waits too long to unleash its prized assets on each other. Still, for 1943 I can imagine the anticipation at such a cinematic bout.


Forget the chills and spills of the previous Universal horror films, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man is more of an action and adventure piece which is unashamedly exploitative with both series. But it’s a lot of fun on its own merits, working better as a spiritual successor to The Wolf Man than an amalgamation of two iconic horror characters. 





Invisible Man Returns, The (1940)

The Invisible Man Returns (1940)

They hear him! They feel him! But they can’t stop him!

Framed for the murder of his brother, Geoffrey Radcliffe is to be hanged. But after a visit in prison from his friend Frank Griffin, Radcliffe literally disappears and escapes to the bewilderment of the police. Griffin’s late brother, the original Invisible Man, had discovered an invisibility drug before he went mad and his brother has now given Radcliffe the serum to aid his cause. As Griffin tries to find an antidote to the invisibility, Radcliffe sets out to track down the real killer before he goes mad as well.


Like their successful forays with Frankenstein, Dracula, the Mummy and the Wolf Man, Universal Studios were always quick to capitalise on big hits and after their fantastic version of The Invisible Man, it was only a matter of time before the studio would see fit to sequelise it and get the tills ringing again. During their second wave of horror, with sequels to their major hits being pumped out like The Ghost of Frankenstein and The Mummy’s Hand, Universal created an original story for H.G. Wells’ infamous literary character (having signed a multi-picture deal to secure the rights) and trotted him out in the first of many sequels, two of which were released in the same year. Though the logic behind Radcliffe taking the invisibility serum is a little far-fetched at first, once the film gets down to business this minor inconvenience is quickly forgotten about.

As it turns out, The Invisible Man Returns isn’t a patch on the original but it’s a solid sequel, let down by a sense that anything the film would try and do, the audience would have already seen before  (‘seen’ being an inappropriate phrase!). There’s nothing here to match the first unveiling of Griffin in the original, nor his rampage through the small village. Instead, what was once a story about a madman loose with a startling new weapon has now been turned into a standard old school murder-mystery where a wrongly-convicted man seeks to clear his name – only with the added bonus that he is invisible. In fact being invisible doesn’t really add a whole lot to the narrative as the crime drama is nothing that couldn’t have been handled should the character been visible.

Though camera tricks had advanced in the seven years following the original, there’s nothing in The Invisible Man Returns which is a patch on what came before it. That’s probably being a tad too harsh on John P. Fulton’s special effects which were nominated for an Oscar and are still impressive. But you’ll not be completely blown away by anything you see here. There are some nice scenes involving the police trying to smoke Radcliffe out (showing some good continuity from the previous film in that they’ve learnt how to track an invisible man) and seeing the Invisible Man revealed by rain but they’re not jaw-dropping standout moments. The moment with Radcliffe and a scarecrow is more poignant than astonishing.

Legendary horror Thespian Vincent Price assumes the role of the man in the bandages and sunglasses in what would be his first foray into the horror and sci-fi genre, in fact one of his first major screen roles of any kind. Price’s distinctive vocal tones make for the perfect choice to be the Invisible Man because he can’t rely on body language for a great deal of the running time and needs to emote through his voice. But though Price has a sinister expression, it’s never been an overly menacing one and it lacks the thuggish threat that Claude Rains’ voice projected in the original. Instead of strangling you to death or psychologically tormenting his victims, Price’s Invisible Man is more likely to pretend to be a ghost and shout “boo” at you or invite you around for a cuppa so you can laugh at him when you see the tea draining through his invisible body.

But that’s part of the film’s main problem – the character is not meant to be a psychopath this time around but an innocent man, framed for a crime and desperate to put things right. It gives the character more empathy as one of the problems with Rain’s portrayal was that he was too much of a self-obsessed asshole to really root for. Price makes up for that by playing the role as a tragic, sympathetic hero but the film loses some of the excitement and terror of being hunted by an invisible man as a result. Whilst you know he’s capable of doing some things to clear his name (i.e. becoming invisible in the first place), you never get the sense that he’ll resort to outright murder to put things right. And this is what the film loses by turning him into a good guy. The freedom that invisibility brings lends itself to more darker intentions which are sorely underplayed here.


The Invisible Man Returns lacks the sinister edge that the original had and comes off as a bit of a pointless rehash at times, really harming its overall impact as an effective sci-fi horror. But it’s entertaining in its own right and is definitely a cut above most of the sequels Universal was churning out for its main franchises.





Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)

Jeepers! The creepers are after Bud and Lou!

Two hapless freight handlers, Wilbur and Chick, are asked to dispatch two crates to a local wax museum, allegedly containing the bodies of Dracula and the Frankenstein monster. In the midst of their bumbling behaviour, Dracula is freed and he sets about reviving the Frankenstein monster to act as his servant. In order to make the monster more docile, Dracula decides to implant another brain into it and singles out Wilbur for the host.


After Universal Studios had exhausted their iconic horror monsters by pairing them off against each other in less and lesser films like House of Frankenstein and House of Dracula, they looked for a new hook in which to breathe new life into their flagging fortunes. At the same time, popular comedy duo Abbott and Costello were beginning to run out of ideas and they too needed a new injection of life to keep themselves on the top of their game (being one of the biggest box office draws of their time). Someone came up with the madcap idea of pairing both Abbott and Costello and the Universal monsters off against each other and thus a legacy was born.

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein is quite simply fantastic comedy-horror at its most innocent and delightful. There are no pretences here. No smut. It is not desperate to make you laugh. It’s all natural, light-hearted entertainment. This is mainly down to the leading pair. Like many successful double-acts, their teaming has a simple set-up: Abbott is the straight man, Costello the buffoon. The two react to each other perfectly, retorting with slapstick, physical comedy or some zippy one-liners. One particular routine that they re-use is one in which Costello sees the monster of the piece but it disappears before Abbott comes along. Then Costello desperately tries to convince Abbott that he’s just seen something horrible but Abbott won’t believe him. It’s a good routine and one which they re-used time and time again. Add in a revolving door, Dracula and the Frankenstein monster to this skit and you’ve got one (or two since the routine is worked twice here) of the best examples of comic delivery from this era.

What is great about the film is that the script treats the monsters with respect. They are not the sources of the comedy and the butt of the jokes but are portrayed as serious characters. Rather it is the actions and reactions of Abbott and Costello which provide the laughs. The monsters follow on from their previous cinematic treatment: Dracula is manipulative and charismatic, the Wolf Man a tragic figure and the Frankenstein monster as a lumbering giant with an infant mentality. The monsters are given reasonably equal screen time so that you get a decent dose of each one.

Bela Lugosi is back as Count Dracula and I was shocked to find that this was only the second time he had played the role of the famous vampire, following on from Dracula in 1931. Dracula is the main villain of the piece, getting slightly more to do than the other monsters throughout the film as a whole but suffering a little towards the finale. The Frankenstein monster does the opposite to Dracula, starting off as a bit player but becoming the main focus in the last third. The Wolf Man, played by horror legend Lon Chaney Jr, gets little more to do than run around growling in the background most of the time when the other monsters are around. The script could quite easily have worked just as well without him (and in fact save the Wolf Man for a less-crowded sequel where he could be the main focus) but he does get his own individual moments to shine with a few transformation scenes.

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein was the final Universal film to feature Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster and the Wolf Man for fifty six years until the release of Van Helsing. Oddly enough, despite the monsters being paired off against each other in previous films, it is in this one where the Wolf Man and Dracula physically get involved with each other.


It’s a fitting finale to this classic period of vintage horror and the overall send-off that the monsters receive in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein is the perfect kind-hearted tribute to a golden era. Easily one of the greatest comedy-horrors of all time.





Mummy’s Curse, The (1944)

The Mummy's Curse (1944)

Egypt’s ancient loves live again in evil!

The mummies of Kharis and Princess Ananka are unearthed from a dried swamp in the Louisiana bayou by a team of excavators hoping to prepare the land for building. Dr Halsey plans to put the mummies on exhibition but unknown to him, his assistant is a priest from the cult of Ilkon and he revives the mummy. Princess Ananka is also reincarnated as a beautiful young woman and is found wondering around the swamp with no memory of who she is. When Kharis finds out, he kills everyone in his path in order to be reunited with his love.


If you thought horror sequels got a bad hand nowadays, you should have seen what they like back in the 40s! The Mummy was one of Universal’s more successful monster films and the 1932 film paved the way for a whole slew of sequels, of which The Mummy’s Curse was the final one of the original run. But by this time, the mummy himself had become something of a one-note joke: arising from the dead; being controlled by an Egyptian high priest; going off in search of his love, Princess Ananka; killing people who were too slow to escape; and then meeting his untimely demise before he had chance to be reunited with her. Somehow this flimsy plot managed to stretch itself out over the course of a handful of sequels each with lower budgets. In no other sequel is this stretching more plain to see than The Mummy’s Curse.

Going into production only a few months after the previous sequel, The Mummy’s Ghost, and being released the same year, The Mummy’s Curse is weak rehashing at its finest. Though the change of setting to the Louisiana bayou does make something of a fresh start (though not on story terms as the bodies of the mummies were buried in a swamp in New England in the last one), it soon finds itself repeating the same circle of events as described above. At only an hour running time, the film somehow manages to feel longer. Cue the obligatory flashback scene in which we find out how Kharis came to be mummified – I’m not sure whether anyone wouldn’t have watched the fourth sequel to a series without knowing even the slightest details about its main character. The footage looks familiar and that’s because it’s the same flashback scene we’ve had in each of the sequels.

With the budgets slashed as sequels went on, the mummy costume got progressively worse and it’s the mask which seems to have suffered the worst fate here, sagging around the eyes a little too much. Lon Chaney Jr. dons the costume again and can’t hide his displeasure at portraying the Egyptian menace once more. His performance is dull and effortless, kind of ironic given that’s what the mummy character usually is.

Most of the supporting characters are there to kill time in between scenes with Kharis and Ananka – with Chaney Jr. getting top billing, the rest of the cast is insignificant and the film could really have done with the likes of John Carradine from the previous film to keep the humans at least looking interesting, even if they were flatly written. Once more, these supporting mummy-fodder characters are too dumb or slow to escape from the shuffling man in bandages. It makes a mockery out of common sense at times when no one seems to be able to get away from the world’s slowest walker.


The Mummy’s Curse is a weak end to what was virtually a dead series anyway. It’s more of the same as the last few sequels – there’s no originality, spark or attempt to make it anything but another formulaic carbon copy. Despite a brief reprisal with Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy, Universal wouldn’t touch the undead Egyptian until 1999’s The Mummy.





Mummy’s Hand, The (1940)

The Mummy's Hand (1940)

The tomb of a thousand terrors!

A pair of archaeologists discover a vase which they hope will lead them to find the tomb of Princess Ananka. What they don’t realise is that the tomb is protected by her former high priest, Kharis, who attempted to resurrect her thousands of years ago but was caught and mummified, forced to live forever as her guardian. He will kill anyone who attempts to desecrate her tomb.


Only the second Universal Mummy film made, The Mummy’s Hand shows why the film formula for this cinematic monster has changed so little over time – there is only so much that you can actually do with it! Even in this second mummy film, the story is a basic rehash of the original with a few minor alterations. It’s The Mummy’s Hand where all of the typical mummy clichés come from, not the Karloff original. It is here were we have the mummy in all of its bandaged glory doing the bidding of an evil high priest. He’s not reincarnating himself as a normal-looking human – he’s the walking toilet roll we all know and love.

You can tell that The Mummy’s Hand is a cheap cash-in to milk a bit of money out of one of Universal’s most underappreciated monsters. The mummy has never been given the same A-list treatment as Dracula, Frankenstein or even The Wolfman and the quality of these sequels prove the point well. The whole thing reeks of cheapness, from the running time clocking in at a meagre sixty-seven minutes, right down to the cheap re-cycled sets from another Universal film. A copious amount of stock footage is used from The Mummy and close-up shots of Boris Karloff have simply been replaced by the new actor. I wonder just how much new footage was actually filmed here and rehashing old footage is a pretty shameful thing to do to pad out running time given how short it is. Even the score has been lifted from Son of Frankenstein…..and I moan on about how cheaply some films are made today. They’ve got nothing on these vintage horrors.

Unfortunately The Mummy’s Hand is a mummy film which makes the mistake of focusing on the two lead characters and their ‘comedic’ exploits instead of, you know, the mummy. Dick Foran and Wallace Ford play the Abbott and Costello-lite duo and their bumbling antics replace any sort of mummy action for the first half of the film. Gone is the mood and suspense of the original, replaced by daft and misguided shenanigans. The problem is that Foran and Ford do such a poor job of aping Abbott and Costello, that you wonder why Universal waited another fifteen years to square the duo off against their classic team of monsters.

It’s just too late in the film when the mummy finally gets about doing what it does best and that only leaves around twenty minutes for a few characters to be killed off, the mummy to be defeated and everything wrapped up in a neat package. After the sluggishness of the opening forty minutes, the last twenty flies by too quickly, raising the question of why they couldn’t have spaced everything out a bit more. The mummy costume looks pretty old, tatty and crumbly – exactly the sort of image you’d expect from a decaying corpse so no complaints here. Tom Tyler, the guy behind the make-up, does an excellent job of creeping and slumbering his way around the sets and gives the mummy an intimidating presence.


The Mummy’s Hand is a cheap sequel quickie to a relatively poor film. Hardly classic horror so don’t coming looking for something different to the other mummy films out there because you won’t find it.





Mummy’s Tomb, The (1942)

The Mummy's Tomb (1942)

BURIED FURY!…stalking to life from the depths of doom!

Egyptian high priest Mehemet Bay takes Kharis, the living mummy, to America to kill the survivors of the original expedition which desecrated the tomb of Princess Ananka many years earlier.


It’s pretty impossible to find a mummy film which doesn’t stick to the same rigid plot about desecrating tombs and extracting revenge. After all, it’s like having a Frankenstein film without the scientist creating some form of monster. Back in the late 30s and early 40s, Universal churned out a number of sequels and follow-ups to their classic hit, The Mummy. Each of them was virtually identical in appearance and it’s almost impossible to distinguish one from the other.

The Mummy’s Tomb is no exception to the all-too-familiar story of a mummy taking revenge upon an expedition for desecrating the tomb of a princess. If you think you’re going to see anything different, then you’re in for a shock because the film is by-the-book to the letter. There’s no tension or suspense as the film quickly shifts into a lumbering routine of stalk and kill. There’s no real build-up to anything, it just happens. With a short running time of seventy one minutes you’d think this would get straight into the thick of it and it almost does but we’re given a gratuitous amount of flashback footage from the previous film to explain what is going on. This lasts for about a quarter of an hour and therefore you’re not left with a lot of remaining time for fresh material.

What does make this feel like more of a sequel than most is it’s inclusion of the surviving cast from The Mummy’s Hand. Watching the two films back-to-back adds continuity to the series (and even by adding the two films, you’d still only get a film a little more than two hours long). Here, the survivors are made-up to look thirty years older which is the length of time between the events in this fictional world even though in real life, the gap was only two. The survivors don’t do much except meet their demises (some would say they get what they deserve for their desecration) and then it’s up to the newer characters to carry the film. But they’re all too thinly characterised to warrant any real audience attention.

Horror legend Lon Chaney Jr. puts on the costume of bandages to portray Kharis. Hardly a monster for any actor to really shine through the layers of make-up, Chaney Jr. doesn’t make much of an impression. The mummy has turned into a characterless cliché devoid of personality or traits. It’s now simply a screen monster, not a tragic character full of secret love for his princess. The mummy doesn’t do anything but slowly and aimlessly mill it’s away around the town looking for its next victim. Even when it tracks down the next target, the characters just stand there and wait for this monster to slowly shuffle over to them and then let it strangle them to death. Why not get the hell out there? A man with no legs could out run this fiend. There are a couple of effective shots of the mummy traipsing through the forest but the cinematographer doesn’t do the mummy any justice whatsoever, constantly thrusting it into well-lit sets where all of it’s shabby attire is evident. Funnily enough out of the three mummy films that Chaney Jr. made, the make-up in this one is the most impressive. He’d eventually look like a man in jeans and a white t-shirt by the time the budgets were cut for The Mummy’s Ghost.


The Mummy’s Tomb is one of the weaker mummy films from the Universal stable but when they’re all basically the same film anyway, that’s a good thing or a bad thing depending on your taste for the living mummies. At just over an hour long, it outstays its welcome long before the final credit rolls.





Mummy’s Ghost, The (1944)

The Mummy's Ghost (1944)

Nameless! Fleshless! Deathless!

An Egyptian high priest, Youseff Bay, is sent to America to retrieve the body of Princess Ananka so that she may find peace in her proper resting place. Bay resurrects Kharis the mummy to assist him in the task. When they arrive in America, they find that Ananka’s soul now inhabits the body of a young college student. With her fiancé desperate to protect her from Bay’s advances, the inevitable showdown with the mummy is just around the corner.


Be forgiven if you think that you’ve clicked on the wrong link. This is The Mummy’s Ghost and not one of the other three virtually identical mummy films released by Universal in the 40s. You could easily mistake one entry for another because it’s all practically the same film over and over again: The Egyptian cult wants their stolen Princess back, they send one of their priests along with Kharis to get revenge on those responsible, the priest falls in love with someone and Kharis ends up turning on the priest before meeting his demise. Is there any wonder that the mummy films were soon consigned to the scrap heap of history before Hammer came along in the 50s and 60s to try their luck (with similar repetitive consequences)?

The Mummy’s Ghost doesn’t pick up where the last one left off as Kharis was burnt to a crisp. He’s back with all fresh bandages and a clean, albeit it shoddily cheap, look. In fact this mummy looks to be wearing jeans and t-shirt with some toilet roll wrapped around the top part. The mummy still acts exactly the same as he did from the other films – you’d have thought he’d have learnt his lesson by now not to do certain things like mess around with people with flaming torches. He still walks excruciatingly slowly. He still strangles people to death in very weakly-staged attack scenes where the victims stand waiting for him to slowly lumber over to them and kill them. The only difference this time around is that Kharis wins! Well sort of. He finally gets the girl in the finale which is what he always wanted instead of being torched to death or thrown into swamps on his lonesome. The ending is rather bleak and a change to the norm which instantly gives this entry slightly higher marks than the others. More in line with the continual demises of Frankenstein’s monster, the mummy is met with hostility and violence from the local townspeople.

Horror legends John Carradine and Lon Chaney Jr. both star. Carradine makes an extremely sinister high priest but does little more than stand around and boss Kharis about whilst Chaney slumps his way around the set as Kharis once again. George Zucco returns as well despite having died in the last film. There’s little to comment on overall though because no one really gets much to do. The film is more or less over before you know it but at least the hour-long film is full of newly shot material. Some of the previous sequels were more than a little guilty of recycling footage from earlier films to pad out the running time. Universal may not have pumped much money into the film judging by the state of some of the sets but at least they made an effort by not padding out the film with filler from the earlier sequels. Despite the new footage, you’ll find yourself drifting. The pace is almost as lethargic as Kharis and there’s no sense of urgency during proceedings. For an hour long film, this one seems to go on for twice that length.


The Mummy’s Ghost is really hard to recommend when it’s practically a carbon clone of the previous films. Like the other films it’s pretty lacklustre and doesn’t really do much in its short running time. But it’s innocent horror from a golden era which will no doubt attract fans.