Tag Vintage Universal

House of Frankenstein (1944)

House of Frankenstein (1944)

FRANKENSTEIN’S MONSTER! WOLF MAN! DRACULA! HUNCHBACK! MAD DOCTOR!

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.

 

 ★★★★★★★★★☆ 

 

 

Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man (1951)

Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man (1951)

AS PRIVATE EYES…they’re getting an Eyeful!

Boxer Tommy Nelson is accused of killing his manager and injects himself with an experimental invisibility serum in order to hide from the police and find out the real killer. He enlists the help of two bumbling private detectives, Bud and Lou, and with their help, he devises a plan to trap the real killer by having Lou pose as a boxer, aided by his invisible punches.

 

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein was such a popular hit that the much-loved comedy duo were regularly paired off against some of Universal’s classic gallery of monsters. The seeds for Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man had been sown at the end of their first horror outing, as the Invisible Man (voiced by none other than Vincent Price) introduces himself to the duo at the end of the film. Price sadly does not return in this one but maybe he saw what was coming. The result is a film which grossly fails to live up to the potential shenanigans that Abbott and Costello should have been getting up to with an Invisible Man.

I really don’t get the love for this one. Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man is nowhere near as funny as some of their other ‘Meet’ films yet it has received way more critical praise and was financially more successful than their horror outings. This one is hardly played for the horror factor as the character of the Invisible Man was never really meant to be in the same league of monstrousness as Frankenstein, Dracula and the Wolf Man. It’s perhaps this which doesn’t do the film any favours. The character of the Invisible Man, Tommy Nelson in this one, is played seriously and there are attempts to give him some sort of story with the warnings of becoming psychotic after being invisible for too long. But unlike the horror elements of their previous outings, the drama doesn’t really click here. Abbott and Costello don’t really seem out of their element as they did when they were up against Dracula and Frankenstein and everything happens as a matter of fact. The duo go along with Nelson’s plan from the beginning, taking on board the notion of an invisible man with little apprehension.

The highlight set piece of the film is the boxing bout at the end where Lou is to go up against tough boxer Rocky Hanlon, with Tommy providing invisible punches. I’m sure it all sounded a lot funnier on paper and what we get is an overlong sequence of Lou pratting around in the ring in his shorts and pretending to fall over, slip, trip and stumble like the buffoon his character is meant to be. The physical comedy just isn’t funny and I always preferred the verbal sparring that Abbott and Costello did with each other, most notably their variations on the “Who’s On First?” routine. They manage to hit a few decent home runs with a couple of scenes but there’s nowhere near enough material to keep the film consistently funny. Lou Costello was always the stooge and his clowning around can get pretty tiresome as he looks at the camera with that knowing look to break down the fourth wall with the audience. One of the highlights of the other ‘Meet’ films, even the worse ones, was that Costello spent the majority of the film trying to convince Abbott that there were monsters lurking around. This lead to all manner of mishaps with bodies appearing and disappearing, chases around corridors, castles and tombs and Costello trying to hold it all together before he thought he was going crazy. But here, Abbott learns of the existence of the Invisible Man quite early which strips away most of the comedy potential. Seeing the two work hand-in-hand with the monster of the movie isn’t as entertaining as watching Costello fall apart on screen as Abbott reprimands him.

The true star of the show is the invisibility special effects. Truly excellent for 1951, we get to see scenes of Bud and Lou playing cards with the invisible man and taking him out to dinner where he eats spaghetti. The invisibility aspect plays host to a number of sight gags throughout the film as various characters don’t know where Tommy is. In the film’s best effect, the Invisible Man receives a blood transfusion and begins to visualise, with his veins materialising first as the blood is pumped in followed by the rest of his body. The effects were great for their era and still hold up extremely well today. It’s a pity that the comedy doesn’t.

 

Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man is an undignified end to Universal’s Invisible Man series and a run of five previous films featuring H. G. Wells’ classic character was to come to an end. Abbott and Costello would be back to face more Universal monsters but this is not one of their better efforts and doesn’t hold a candle to the classic Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Invisible Man, The (1933)

The Invisible Man (1933)

Catch me if you can!

Jack Griffin is a scientist who has developed a way of making himself invisible but he does not know how to reverse the process. As the drugs he had experimented with slowly make him go insane, he recruits a visible partner in the shape of Arthur Kemp. But the invisibility has granted him unlimited power and he begins a reign of terror unlike anything seen before. As the authorities close in and Kemp becomes an unwilling co-conspirator, Griffin must struggle with his sanity and find a cure before its too late.

 

After scoring a hit with the ultimate landmark horror film, Frankenstein, director James Whale was called upon to helm this adaptation of H.G. Wells’ classic novel and it was highly anticipated after his earlier success. Using a similar template to Frankenstein, with a triangle of main characters and a lead character who suddenly acquires God-like powers which corrupt them, Whale sets out to tell one of literature’s most famous stories in what has now become one of cinema’s most famous films. The Invisible Man is, if you’ll pardon the pun, like nothing you’ve ever seen before.

The film opens with a gripping introduction – the shadowy figure of Griffen, all gauze-bandaged and waterproof-coated up, trudges through the snow towards a guest house before opening the door to the busy bar area and demanding a room in front of the shell-shocked regulars. There is no gradual transformation – we arrive in mid-story as Griffin has already transformed into the Invisible Man. Everything is much more interesting to the audience at first, not knowing who Griffin is, how he came to be and why he wants to be left alone to continue his experiments. The rudeness and aggression in his voice instantly singles him out as unlikeable but there is something utterly compelling about the character. The assuredness that he commands those around him with and the brash confidence that he has in his own abilities is too hard not to like, or at least respect.

As the film progresses and Griffin descends into total insanity, the horror of the chilling events that unfold comes to life. He has no qualms about taking life to prove a point. By the end of the film, Griffin is responsible for the deaths of over one hundred people, with his most heinous act being the derailment of a train. A far cry from the physical monstrosities associated with Frankenstein and Dracula, the Invisible Man is a monster for the new age – human, corrupted with the thoughts of absolute power. But running concurrently alongside the terror, there is a distinct comic tone with supporting characters, particularly the townspeople, playing up the comic relief. From bumbling police constables to a landlady who does nothing but incessantly scream, the comedy aspects shouldn’t work alongside the absolute horror but bizarrely enough, they make them seem worse.

The effects work is nothing short of outstanding, near flawless at times. Even in today’s CGI cinematic world, these practical effects from the 30s look believable, bordering on the ridiculous at times for just how hard it must have been to pull them off back in the day. From footprints appearing in the snow to bicycles riding themselves down the street to the sight of the Invisible Man smoking a cigarette or undressing himself in front of a mirror, they are the stuff of science fiction come to life on the screen. The last shot of the film with the reappearance of Griffen on the hospital bed is still fantastic. Granted some of the effects do look a little gimmicky in today’s world – the stuff that you’d see at a ghost train ride or circus haunted house – but put together they have lost none of their magic. Most importantly, the special effects never detract from the quality of the human drama. As good as they are, it is the characters and their conflicts with each other that are the real stars.

Claude Rains is excellent as Jack Griffin, though at times the script does him few favours and forces him to overdo the melodramatic fervour with some grandiose lines of world domination-like intent. You only get to see his face in one shot throughout the duration of the film. For one half of the film, he’s buried beneath a layer of bandages and for the other half, he’s invisible. So Rains must act with his voice alone and that he does admirably. It’s a strong, commanding voice which demands the attention of the viewer. Through his voice alone, Rains turns Griffin into one of cinema’s most evil characters, following this up with his actions later by callously pushing men over cliffs or causing trains to derail. A couple of throwaway lines in the film by his employer, Dr Cranley, states that Griffen never used to be this way and was a kind, caring man before the drugs started to make him go insane. This takes the edge off the character somewhat, softening him up for audiences and getting us on board to sympathise with the character. But this doesn’t detract from the monstrous nature of Griffin when he’s invisible. No remorse. No pity. If you needed further proof, his maniacal laughing after he’s committed a heinous act will leave you disgusted.

 

It is the mix of H.G. Wells’ unforgettable story with a wonderful voice-only performance from Claude Rains and a bevy of incredible special effects and technical feats which make The Invisible Man one of the all-time classics. To this day, there hasn’t been a single film about invisibility which has managed to top this one for sheer spectacle – the first and the best.

 

 ★★★★★★★★★★ 

 

 

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.

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Abbott and Costello Meet Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1953)

Abbott and Costello Meet Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1953)

All New ! All Wild ! All Fun !

Two Americans cops visiting London to study police tactics find themselves drawn into the hunt for the murderer of a prominent physician. Their search leads them to Dr Jekyll, who can transform himself into the murderous Mr Hyde after injecting himself with a serum he has invented.

 

When Universal had exhausted the rehashing of their classic monsters after pitting them against one another in a series of ever-diminishing horror films, the studio only had the comedy spoof option left and they allowed their popular duo of Abbott and Costello the chance to goof around with them instead. Starting with Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein in 1948, the bumbling pair also crossed paths with the Mummy and the Invisible Man. Abbott and Costello Meet Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is arguably the least of their antics with the Universal monsters but features plenty of their trademark humour.

Like the other Abbott and Costello films, the plot is simply a flimsy excuse for the comedy duo to go through their usual slapstick motions. So if your tolerance for old school shenanigans isn’t high, then maybe it’s best to skip this one. But I’m a sucker for old school and some of the silly, juvenile comedy hits the right notes from a time when you didn’t have to rely on crude humour or gross-out gags to entertain an audience. The duo opt for the more physical slapstick comedy route in this one as opposed to the witty verbal exchanges of the previous films and it’s this lack of sophisticated comedy which hurts the film in the long run. There’s only so many times you can see people tripping up, falling over, bundling themselves around and running around like silly devils before it gets tiresome.

The highlight scene of the film involves ‘Tubby’ (Costello) accidentally injecting himself with the serum which then leads to all manner of mayhem as the main characters get the real Mr Hyde and the fake one mixed up. This leads to a sometimes-funny, sometimes-groan worthy chase through the streets and across the rooftops of London.

There’s also plenty of annoying burlesque dancing which Abbott and Costello films are unfortunately full of. It’s a bit out of place in turn-of-the-century London but when the streets are stereotypically fog-drenched and there are fish and chips shops on every corner, you could be forgiven for a few historical inaccuracies. To be fair, the Gothic sets do a good job of portraying Victorian London and there are moments when the film does strike a chord into the hearts of traditional Universal horror fans. But then the silliness starts up again and the good atmosphere and Gothic vibe is blown away with a series of childishly funny gags and routines.

Horror legend Boris Karloff stars as the sinister Dr Jekyll. Unlike other versions, Jekyll is just as dangerous as Mr Hyde. He’s a schemer who is madly in love with his young ward and is overcome with jealousy when she attracts the attentions of a dashing journalist. Jekyll actually likes turning into Hyde here – it’s not so much of a dangerous side effect to the drugs he’s experimenting with, it’s as if he turns into Hyde simply to get away with his lusts for murder. Karloff is completely wasted in the role and seems very restrained. Thankfully the character doesn’t degenerate into camp but it’s a pity Karloff’s considerable acting talents weren’t put to better use.

The transformation scenes do the convincing job that they need to do on the budget that the film has to offer and Mr Hyde looks more than a little monstrous when he’s decked out in his make-up. But this film is played strictly for laughs and any true horror elements are watered down to insignificant proportions. He might as well have been dressed as a clown for all the good it would do in the long run.

 

You’ll either love Abbott and Costello or hate them so Abbott and Costello Meet Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is going to be a weird one for most. I’d suggest watching the far superior Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein if you want to see the duo in their crossover prime. This one is strictly for fans.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

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.

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Revenge of the Creature (1955)

Revenge of the Creature (1955)

Weird Monster Escapes! Terror Seizes City! …a woman’s beauty the lure for his dangerous desires!

A second expedition up the Amazon manages to capture the Gill Man and transport him to an aquarium in Florida where he is to become the star attraction. However he develops a fixation on one of the female scientists and escapes from his confinement to pursue her.

 

Success breeds sequels in the movie world and inevitably the classic Creature from the Black Lagoon would get a follow-up only a year after its release. Nothing was ever going to top that so the rule of diminishing sequels comes into force. Rather than just rehashing the story of the original, this first sequel at least manages to keep the material slightly more interesting than a sequel has any right to do. Like so many sequels, the makers could easily have had another scientific expedition go down the Amazon and encounter him in his domain for the entire film. Although that’s exactly what happens and the same story is rehashed, only it’s kept to a minimum at the beginning. After all, we’ve already seen the Gill Man in his own environment sowhy not transport him to somewhere alien?

The first fifteen minutes or so are set in the lagoon as the scientists attempt to capture the Gill Man. It’s basically a shortened down version of the original in which there’s some underwater swimming (looking as fabulous as it did before hand) and attempts to capture him alive. I mean we already know what the Gill Man looks like and we’ve already seen enough of his domain so it’s not like the slow burn approach is needed. The inventive method of blowing up the lagoon with dynamite is crude but it puts the Gill Man into a coma. When he awakens, he finds himself in the aquarium in Florida. Seeing the distress he is clearly suffering from is a bit heart-wrenching to be honest. More so than ever before, the film attempts to make the creature sympathetic and boy does it work! The sequences in which the scientists attempt to train the Gill Man underwater are cruel and you’ll be rooting for him to break free of his chains sooner rather than later. Getting constantly jabbed with a cattle prod and forced to play fetch would make anything snap and go crazy. Even more haunting are the images of it standing by the underwater window and watching his ‘love’ as she goes about her business.

The reasoning behind his rampage is clear for all to see. He isn’t just a mindless creature out to kill – he’s scared, confused, distressed and when animals are cornered, they fight back. The Gill Man is such an awesome movie monster. He’s got so much character, so much expression and so many different mannerisms – it’s a pity that the rest of the cast can’t follow suit. There have been a few tweaks to the costume this time around but the underwater swimming of Ricou Browning is still amazing. Unfortunately the film suffers from the fact that the Gill Man just isn’t as intimidating or dangerous when he’s out of his lagoon. Watching him stroll around the aquarium savaging staff isn’t as gripping as seeing him weave to and fro underwater. He just becomes any other land-based monster here and there’s plenty of scenes of him sluggishly stagger as he tries to walk on land.

Besides the cool idea of having the Gill Man loose in public, the film does little with it’s fresh take on the story. Once they get him to Florida, he pretty much does what he did in the original and that’s go after the first female he latches onto. We don’t learn anything new about him – why he exists, why he acts the way he does, etc. There’s little scientific research on him. He doesn’t just run amok or try and head home. He turns into the stalker figure again which is what he did before. The script wants to go off in a new direction but then ‘safety first’ comes into mind and this sequel simply rehashes a few old ideas which were done better in the original.

Clint Eastwood makes his film debut here as a lab technician with a couple of poor lines attempting to be funny. It’s a million miles away from the roles he’d become infamous for later in his career. Sadly, the film has become more well-known for that reason as opposed to it being a half-decent sequel to an all-time classic. Eastwood aside, I’m never a big fan of the casting of these old school shockers in general. They’re almost too prehistoric in their depictions of manly men and helpless women. The cast isn’t as strong here as it was in the original. John Agar and Lori Nelson don’t seem to have a spark between them which is a shame because a lot more of the script is devoted to their romance than it should have right to. Agar seems to have had a charisma by-pass and is way out of his depth. Nelson has been cast for her charms but isn’t a patch on Julie Adams.

 

Revenge of the Creature isn’t a bad sequel, just an unmemorable one. It had a tough act to follow but my golden rule of sequels is if you can’t do it better or add to the original, why do it at all? This proves my rule right. They should have left him alone down the Amazon.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆