Invisible Ghost (1941)

Directed by Joseph H. Lewis [Other horror films: The Mad Doctor of Market Street (1942)]

I have a mildly fun story relating to this movie: I’ve seen Invisible Ghost once before (it’s even possible I’ve seen it twice, but I think it was just once), and the only thing I remembered about it was the opening. I mean, I remembered the opening with 100% clarity, but literally anything past that, I didn’t have an inkling.

To this day, I’m not sure why that was the case. Perhaps I fell asleep during my first viewing – it’s happened before, especially in October, when I can consume quite a bit of horror. Whatever the case, Invisible Ghost isn’t near as forgettable as my anecdote might make it sound. It’s not one of the classics, by any means, but it is a nicely serviceable film.

I appreciate how the film takes a somewhat psychological approach to the murders that are plaguing a household. I do wish that they added a little depth and explanation in the ending, as we’re not really told why the murderer is committing these murders, but either way, it is nice to have a different solution than so many other horror films from the same time period.

Bela Lugosi, of course, was a pleasure to see in this. Lugosi (The Devil Bat, Dracula, Night of Terror, and many others) did quite well, especially toward the end, as a somewhat tragic figure. Clarence Muse (White Zombie and Black Moon) is a strong runner-up – despite playing a servant (as so many black men had to do back then), I enjoyed his characterization as one of the thoroughly competent characters here. Polly Ann Young and John McGuire (in a dual role) both did decent, and McGuire had some strong moments, but I don’t know if he’ll end up being memorable.

Really, Invisible Ghost as a whole may not end up being that memorable, but I do think the story is decently strong, and as the film is just around an hour and change, it’s pretty digestible. I do enjoy the more suspenseful sequences, not to mention the answers presented, but I just wish they added a little more in the finale.

For a short and cheap film, Invisible Ghost is okay. It’s far from a classic, but it’s watchable, and though it may not stand out all that well, if you want a Bela Lugosi performance you’ve perhaps not yet bore witness to, you could certainly do worse than this.


La main du diable (1943)

Directed by Maurice Tourneur [Other horror films: While Paris Sleeps (1923)]

This will be a somewhat quick write-up, if for no other reason, I just don’t have too much to really say about this French classic.

Sometimes known as Carnival of Sinners, this movie was another take on the whole deal-with-the-devil idea. As far back as Der Student von Prag, this has sometimes been an element in horror movies, so it’s not the most original content, but it is done quite well here, with a talisman being passed off from one person to another, and the central character here (Pierre Fresnay) tells the whole sordid story to a group at an inn.

To be fair, the movie feels more like a fantasy than it does a horror film for much of it, so it makes since that some of this wouldn’t be quite as interesting to me. To add to that, certainly that’s nothing to hold against the film – while I myself am not much a fantasy guy, plenty of people are, and given the rating this holds on IMDb (7.4/10), it’s fair to say I’m in the minority.

There are some clever things in the film, especially during a scene toward the end when we learn about each of the previous men who at one time possessed the talisman. Their origins are sort of told as though they’re plays, and it looked quite nifty, and the type of thing newer films wouldn’t really be able to replicate.

Pierre Fresnay was good as the lead, and Noël Roquevert (Diabolique) has some good scenes early on, but I think if there’s anyone who stands out, it’d have to be Palau, who played the Little Man (or, in terms more commonplace, the Devil). He had that charming personality that a Devil should have, and I think Palau had a good time playing the part.

With that in mind, La main du diable primarily felt, to me, like an extra long episode of The Twilight Zone. It just has that type of vibe, and while that’s not a bad thing, deal-with-the-devil stories aren’t really my preference, and so, while I appreciated plenty of technical aspect of the film, I can’t say it’s a French film I’d want to spend too much time with in the future.

I did think it was interesting, though, that this was directed by Maurice Tourneur, who is the father of Jacques Tourneur (the individual who directed classics such as Cat People, The Leopard Man, and I Walked with a Zombie), so while this isn’t a movie I was that fond of, I definitely appreciate other contributions his family made.


The Invisible Man Returns (1940)

Directed by Joe May [Other horror films: Hilde Warren und der Tod (1917)]

The Invisible Man is perhaps my favorite of the Universal classics, and so setting out to watch this sequel, it was hard for me to not expect to be let-down. As it is, The Invisible Man Returns is an okay film, probably around average, but I dare say that it pales in comparison to the first movie.

As far as the strong points go, this movie has more than a few. There are some pretty good sequences (the best of which were police in gas masks trying to smoke out the invisible man, as his outline would be noticeable in the smoke), good performances, and a surprisingly decent conclusion. All of this is good, but once everything else is taken into account, the film still feels around average.

The 1933 classic wasted no time – we began with an iconic scene, and every scene thereafter was worth seeing. That doesn’t strike me as being the case here. Sure, this movie is only ten minutes longer than the first one, but some parts don’t feel as engaging, and though the performances work well, not every part of the story does.

Certainly seeing a young Vincent Prince (in his first horror movie role, second if you count 1939’s Tower of London) is great, even if you only see him in the final scene. Just hearing his voice is good enough for me. Cedric Hardwicke’s character was terrible, but Hardwicke (who just filmed The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and did The Ghost of Frankenstein shortly after this) was as fine as he always is. John Sutton (Return of the Fly) and Nan Grey (Dracula’s Daughter) were both solid, Sutton standing out as a nice willing accomplice to Price’s invisible form.

Even so, the film largely feels more of the same. It’s a decent story, what with a background of an innocent man (Price) attempting to prove his innocence, but it’s also not near as charming as the first film, and despite some good scenes here and there, such as Price tormenting another character by pretending to be a ghost, it’s hard to say this is entirely worth seeing.

Still, The Invisible Man Returns is a fine film. It’s not great, and I’d probably say it’s around average, but it’s not shabby. It’s just not near as memorable or iconic, despite Price’s early role, as the classic 1933 movie.


Man-Made Monster (1941)

Directed by George Waggner [Other horror films: Horror Island (1941), The Wolf Man (1941), The Climax (1944), Jack the Ripper (1958), Destination Nightmare (1958), The Veil (1958)]

This is like so many horror films from the 1940’s – a perfectly fun and competent attempt, but ultimately just around average. The story isn’t that shabby, and there are some nifty effects to be sure, but Man-Made Monster isn’t exactly what I’d call memorable.

If those in the horror community hear about this one at all, it may be due to it being the first horror appearance of Lon Chaney Jr. (he of course later starred in The Wolf Man, and went on to appear in such films as The Ghost of Frankenstein, Son of Dracula, and a personal favorite, Indestructible Man), and he does a fantastic job playing a folksy country boy. He is pretty damn sympathetic because he’s such a nice guy, and when he’s used in some experiments by a mad scientist and starts killing people, that can’t be a fun time for his character.

Even without Chaney Jr., though, the cast here is strong. Lionel Atwill (of plenty of films, such as Mystery of the Wax Museum, Murders in the Zoo, Secret of the Blue Room, and Doctor X) was great as a mad scientist who wanted to use those he considers useless as electrical zombies. Others, such as Samuel S. Hinds (The Strange Case of Doctor Rx) and Anne Nagel (Black Friday, The Mad Doctor of Market Street, and The Mad Monster) bring a little bit to the film also.

The story is somewhat similar to The Walking Dead, only Boris Karloff was probably quite a bit more sympathetic there than Lon Chaney Jr. is here. Either way, it’s a tragic tale of an innocent man being misused by science, and in this case, Chaney Jr. is given high doses of electricity, and becomes a glowing danger to all around him. The effects looks pretty awesome – just imagine a flashing outline of electricity surrounding someone – and for being a somewhat cheaper Universal movie, they did a good job.

I have to say, though, I abhor the ending. After everything goes down, Atwill’s complicity is never examined. Oh, a few characters know that he administered the experiments on Chaney Jr., and they have proof in the form of his notes. But instead of clearing Chaney Jr.’s name (as he murdered multiple people while under Atwill’s control), because they’re scared the experiments could be repeated, they chuck the notebook into the fire. I found that abhorrent, and I condemn the both of them, or as much as I can condemn fictional characters from a horror movie from the early 1940’s.

Otherwise, Man-Made Monster is pretty good. I enjoy the different time lapses, and I think Lon Chaney Jr. does a real swell job. For a first-time horror role, you definitely root for his character. The movie may not be great, but it’s a solid watch if you’re into classic horror.


Valley of the Zombies (1946)

Directed by Philip Ford [Other horror films: N/A]

Possessing a somewhat misleading title, Valley of the Zombies is an okay way to spend 56 minutes. It’s a lower budget film, to be sure, but it still has that snappy dialogue that made the time period so fun, and an occasionally interesting (if not original) plot. 

From the title, one might expect some voodoo shenanigans (as that was the cause of zombies pre-1968, the most classic examples being I Walked with a Zombie and White Zombie), but that’s not what this is at all. There is someone who might count as a zombie, and there is in fact a reference to the “valley of the zombies,” but the bigger culprit is occasional hypnotism.

I don’t know the name, but Ian Keith did a pretty solid job as the menacing killer. He just has that face, and despite the cheapness of the film, did have a good presence. Not unexpectedly, Robert Livingston (Riders of the Whistling Skull) was a bit generic, but he still worked well with Lorna Gray, and the pair had some good snappy dialogue, which is always a joy to hear.

Of course, this being an older movie, Gray didn’t have that great of a range. She was great with her quips, no doubt, but she also got scared at the sound of a windowblind crashing down, not to mention fainting when she heard the word ‘zombie.’ Fainting. sigh Sometimes the sexism and racism (as Gray here took the place of someone like Mantan Moreland à la King of the Zombies) in these older films are hard to swallow, and I just wish they didn’t have to throw in “Oh, the woman is scared of everything” trash. It just gets old.

Otherwise, Valley of the Zombies is competent. The finale (taking place on a fog-covered building roof) was pretty solid, and like I said, Ian Keith did really good in his threatening role. It’s also quite digestible, at a solid 56 minutes. To be sure, there’s nothing spectacular here, but there’s also not anything making the film unworthy.

Really, this isn’t a good movie, but it’s definitely not what I’d call a bad movie. Even for the time, it might have been a bit outdated, but it was serviceable, and while below average, when it comes to 40’s horror, you could certainly do a lot worse.


The Door with Seven Locks (1940)

Directed by Norman Lee [Other horror films: The Monkey’s Paw (1948)]

Based on an Edgar Wallace novel by the same name, this is a movie that I’ve been wanting to see for some time now. Sometimes known under the title Chamber of Horrors, The Door with Seven Locks is a quality dark house mystery movie, and while it may not be special in many ways, I do adore much of the film.

Lilli Palmer isn’t a name I actively know, but she did a pretty good job as a strong female lead, and worked well with Romilly Lunge. Of course, Leslie Banks (Zaroff from The Most Dangerous Game) comes hard with a very sinister presence, and his gang of criminals (none of whom were that memorable) was occasionally fun to watch scheming. I could have done without Gina Malo, who was used primarily for comedic effect, but David Horne had some strong moments here.

What really makes this movie work, and work better, in my opinion, than The Dark Eyes of London (which was also based off an Edgar Wallace novel), is the strong and engaging mystery. There are a decent amount of moving parts you have to pay attention to, but I don’t think it even gets too bogged down or convoluted, and I think the answers we get toward the end were, while perhaps not too surprising, perfectly welcomed.

The action sequences, from a fist-fight between a masked man and a police officer to a criminal literally getting a rug pulled out from under him (such a classy move), were all pretty solid. Even toward the end, when the last antagonist standing gets trapped in the oddest iron maiden (“Iron Maiden? Excellent!”), there were some pretty tense moments.

While it’s unlikely to become a favorite unless you’ve some nostalgic connection to it, The Door with Seven Locks still hits many of the right spots, and if you’re a fan of these types of movies, it may be worth checking out.


The Strange Case of Doctor Rx (1942)

Directed by William Nigh [Other horror films: The House of Mystery (1934), The Ape (1940), The Ghost and the Guest (1943)]

This is another one of those movies that I’ve seen the title of quite a bit but never took the time to check out until now. I generally found this little movie enjoyable, but it’s quite typical of the time (or more specifically, of the 1930’s), and I don’t know if it’ll really end up that memorable a film.

Certainly the central plot is interesting, what with a serial killer going around and killing seemingly-guilty men who were found not guilty by the court system. There’s not really a lot of playing around with the vigilante aspect, but I did find the idea itself worth it.

Not that the film doesn’t play around a bit. There’s a fair amount of comedy thrown in (though this is never really an outright horror-comedy unless Moreland’s character is on screen), and despite the short run-time, there is a bit of focus on arguably more unnecessary scenes (such as one toward the end in which a gorilla randomly popped up).

Patric Knowles made for a decent and witty lead. He’s not a name I necessarily know (though he was in one of my favorite classic films, The Adventures of Robin Hood from 1938, along with appearing in The Wolf Man and Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man), but while not spectacular, he did good here. Anne Gwynne (The Black Cat from 1941, House of Frankenstein and Weird Woman) was also fine, but I can’t say that, at times, her character did rather annoy me.

Few others really merit a mention – I enjoyed Lionel Atwill in movies such as Doctor X, Murders in the Zoo, and The Vampire Bat, but here, he doesn’t really do all that much, nor make much an impression. Edmund MacDonald’s character annoyed me more than anything, and Shemp Howard had potential, but was used primarily for failed comedic relief.

And to an extent, the same could be said of Mantan Moreland, a rather well-known African-American actor (and who I personally love in King of the Zombies), but half of Moreland’s dialogue was actually somewhat amusing (“I forgot to remember to get it”) in that horribly antiquated racist way. And of course, his cowardly antics here (which was a must for black actors in this time period, apparently) got old quick, but that’s no fault of Moreland.

I did like portions of the mystery here, and though he was only really in a single sequence, Doctor Rx did look pretty cool (he wore a hood, not too unlike The Town That Dreaded Sundown’s mysterious killer). I just wish he had more to do in terms of action than he did. And while his identity was decent, I just can’t help but feel the mystery was missing something.

Little in The Strange Case of Doctor Rx is that memorable, and that’s the biggest issue. I don’t doubt it’s largely watchable, and maybe even to an extent, enjoyable, but ultimately, I just don’t think it amounts to much.


Horror Island (1941)

Directed by George Waggner [Other horror films: Man-Made Monster (1941), The Wolf Man (1941), The Climax (1944), Jack the Ripper (1958), Destination Nightmare (1958), The Veil (1958)]

This is a film that I’ve wanted to see for some time now, and despite it being nothing special or really unique in any way, I am quite happy that I finally got to this one, as it’s a fun ride throughout.

What with a hidden treasure, half of a treasure map, multiple parties looking for the gold, and a mysterious Phantom, Horror Island has pretty much all of the elements that make those old dark house mysteries of the bygone era so damn fun, and it’s made moderately more unique by setting itself on an island (and the opening on the atmospheric docks was also welcomed).

It does carry a more noticeable light-hearted element (think Sh! The Octopus), much of it coming from Fuzzy Knight’s character Stuff, but that doesn’t hamper the quality feel that the film possesses, especially once the group gets to the titular island and deal more and more with the mysterious phantom, not to mention some other dangerous characters.

Dick Foran made for a solid, if potentially unremarkable, lead. Having also starred in both The Mummy’s Hand and The Mummy’s Tomb, Foran had that typical lead look that radiates ‘good guy.’ Fuzzy Knight was a lot more meh if only because he was the central source of comedy, and his side-kick character just struck me as more silly than anything else. Peggy Moran (who was also in The Mummy’s Hand) was solid as the romantic interest, her wittiness often amusing.

Leo Carrillo (who played a heavily-accented sea captain), much like Knight, was another source of humor, though I could sort of dig his style. The others that make a difference, such as John Eldredge and Lewis Howard, were just fine, if not, as Foran was, unremarkable.

Luckily, despite having a few sources of humor here, Horror Island never gets to the point where it’s too silly, and in it’s favor, the fact it takes place on an old castle on a small island, what with multiple mysterious parties running around, is nice to be witness to.

Overall, Horror Island is a movie that I’d wanted to see for quite some time, and it lived up to my expectations. It’s not an amazing movie, but it’s quick and easily digestible, not to mention fun, so if that’s what you look forward to from classic horror, give this a shot.


The Lodger (1944)

Directed by John Brahm [Other horror films: The Undying Monster (1942), The Mad Magician (1954)]

I’ve been well-aware of this film for years and years – it used to play on AMC what seemed like every week – but it took until now to see it, and I definitely found it an impressive film.

The story of Jack the Ripper is one that I’ve seen in a few other films, from the 1927 The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog and the 1953 Man in the Attic, and this is probably the best one. Man in the Attic was very enjoyable, and went a very similar route as this one, but since this came first, I’ve gotta give this more credit.

We don’t see any over-the-top murders or gore, of course, given this film is from the mid-1940’s, but we do get some very suspenseful scenes and occasionally great moments leading up to what one can imagine are brutal murders. Great use of setting too – I loved those scenes where the police and civilians were enclosed in a small portion of Whitechapel trying to trap Jack the Ripper in the mist, but just unable to do so. Great, great scenes there.

I don’t know if it’s his slightly larger frame, or just his imposing physique, but Laird Cregar reminded me a lot of Victor Buono, so it should go without saying that his performance was top-notch. The sad thing is, as some of you may know, Cregar died in late 1944 at the extraordinarily young age of 30, his final movie Hangover Square being released after his death. With less than twenty roles, I think it’s a damn shame he died that young, especially since he could have had a long-lasting career in horror had he survived into the 1950’s, 1960’s, and into the 1970’s. Cregar was great here, and it’s just a shame.

Cedric Hardwicke (The Ghoul) was solid, and he had one of the more reasonable characters in the film. As his wife, Sara Allgood was fine, though not necessarily stellar (not that really a whole lot would be expected from a character like hers). Merle Oberon does pretty well in her role, and I like her interactions with Cregar’s character, as they always had an undercurrent of growing suspense. Lastly, George Sanders (Village of the Damned and The Picture of Dorian Gray) was a wee bit generic to really stand out, but got more character in the end, so he turned out well.

I was impressed with just how suspenseful this one became at times, and I was also drawn into the whole “is the Lodger actually Jack the Ripper” plot-line as more and more possible coincidences occurred. The Lodger is a strong film, and definitely a highlight of the 1940’s, so I’m glad that I finally took the time to watch this.


The Uninvited (1944)

Directed by Lewis Allen [Other horror films: The Unseen (1945)]

This is a classic that I’ve not seen until now, and it was great to sit down and finally watch it. Quite a solid film with a decent mystery, it’s pretty easy to see how this influenced ghost films in the following decades, into today.

A large house on the English coast was a fine choice for the setting, and I also like that it is just a house (albeit a large one) as opposed to a castle or mansion. It makes it seem a bit more relatable to those of us who have never set foot in a castle or mansion, and shows that even us lowly poor people can be haunted.

The Uninvited also really started off great with a little voice-over talking about ghosts and the like, all set to the beautiful scenery we’d been exploring for the next hour-and-a-half. It reminded me a little of Return to Glennascaul, a 1953 horror short narrated by Orson Welles. The atmosphere started off strong, and never really let up.

Ruth Hussey and Ray Milland made a fine brother and sister (and I have to say that it’s quaint to have siblings buying a house together as opposed to a couple), and Milland (who has been in plenty of horror films, such as Frogs, X, Terror in the Wax Museum, The House in Nightmare Park, and Premature Burial) was pretty witty at times, giving us some pretty amusing lines.

Playing an older gent with a stick up his ass, Donald Crisp (who I actually saw earlier this very month in the 1941 version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) was pretty solid, and playing his granddaughter was Gail Russell (who apparently died at the young age of 36 due to a long bout with alcoholism). Russell got a bit hysterical at times, but she was cute, so I’ll give her a pass (it also helps that it makes sense with the story). Alan Napier was also #beast in this.

I loved the mystery here, as Milland and Hussey are trying to figure out the whole true story behind the murders that took place at their new house. It reminded me of many more modern ghost films in which the protagonists have to solve the old crimes before they can really understand what’s going on (such as The Changeling or Dark Water), and I thought it was done wonderfully here, with a solid sense of atmosphere.

The 1940’s wasn’t the strongest decade for horror, and in fact, I’ve long-thought that it was among the weakest, but The Uninvited belies that and ends up being a sometimes-amusing, sometimes-spooky film that it well worth seeing.