Night of Terror (1933)

Directed by Benjamin Stoloff [Other horror films: The Hidden Hand (1942), The Mysterious Doctor (1943)]

Through not quite the horror classic you might think of when considering 30’s horror, Night of Terror is a fun little movie that’s entirely a product of it’s time, and like many of the films around this time period, I enjoy it quite a bit.

With secret passages, suspicious servants, and wills, this film has a lot of what you’d expect from dark house murder mysteries, the best of which include The Cat and the Canary, The Bat Whispers, and The Monster Walks. This one is obviously not as good as those attempts, but there’s still fun to be had if you’re a fan of this type of horror.

Amusingly, Bela Lugosi has a largish role as a servant named Degar, and of course I enjoyed his overly serious demeanor. Most of the main cast was just as fine, including Wallace Ford (The Rogues’ Tavern and The Mummy’s Hand), Sally Blane, George Meeker, Tully Marshall, and Edwin Maxwell (Mystery of the Wax Museum and The Ninth Guest). For comedic relief, we had Oscar Smith, who portrayed a cowardly chauffeur – unfortunately, not an uncommon role for black actors back in those days.

The story isn’t special in any way, but it was decently fun, what with people holed up in a house while a killer with quite a large body count (prior to the story proper, he’s apparently killed 12 people) prowls around, and what’s even better, maybe there are multiple killers, and some of the deaths have to do with a recently-read will.

This is all typical stuff for the time period, including the amusing conclusion, in which a character rises from the dead to warn the audience against spoiling the finale. In fact, I was so moved, I’ll quote the fella himself verbatim:

“Take heed, I am talking to you, and you, and you. If you dare tell anyone how this picture ends, if you dare reveal who the murderer really is, I’ll climb into your bedroom window tonight and tear you limb from limb.”

These were always charming whenever they popped up (most immediate example that comes to mind is The Bat Whispers), and this is no different.

I don’t think many people would call Night of Terror a terrific film, but it does check many of the boxes I look for from these types of films. It’s a very competent movie, and does have a nice little twist (which I think most modern-day audiences would see coming, but even so), and having seen it twice, it holds up nicely.

7.5/10

Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933)

Directed by Michael Curtiz [Other horror films: Alraune (1919), The Mad Genius (1931), Doctor X (1932), The Walking Dead (1936)]

I can’t say for sure how long it’s been since I’ve last seen this one, but I definitely know it’s at least been six years. I think I’ve seen it twice before, making this my third time watching this classic, but from my faulty memory, you wouldn’t know it.

Part of this may come from the fact that House of Wax, a 1953 remake of this movie, is just naturally fresher in my mind. Not only have I seen it moderately recently, but the story itself is a bit more striking (in that film, Price’s character has a wax house of horrors – here, it’s more beautiful wax figures without the horrific charm).

All that said, I was deeply interested in revisiting this one, and while it didn’t quite hold up as much as I was hoping it would, I had a decent time. I think the story is a little bit more streamlined in the 1953 movie, and of course, they had Vincent Price, so that’s going to be hard to beat anyway.

What Mystery of the Wax Museum did have, though, was beautiful color. To be sure, we’ve seen color before (in fact, the director of this film, Michael Curtiz, also directed Doctor X, another early horror film in color), but it looked a lot fresher here, and I imagine that’s partly due to the restoration the print has had done to it.

Though not all of the elements of the story come together (I’d have liked more background on the revenge Lionel Atwill’s character got on Edwin Maxwell’s), the little mystery here is pretty solid, and having a reporter running around and trying to figure things out does keep things decently engaging. Of course, the main problem then becomes that the woman running around, being Glenda Farrell, wasn’t playing the most likable character.

Which isn’t to say that Farrell didn’t do a great job. As a snappy, witty reporter, she did quite well, but her character irked me far more than she endeared me. Somewhat amusingly, though, Fay Wray bothered me more – she was no doubt a beautiful woman, but honestly, 90% of what she did in this movie was scream. It wasn’t her choice, I imagine, but the point remains. Lionel Atwilln (Murders in the Zoo, Doctor X, The Vampire Bat, etc.) did great as the tragic character that was Ivan Igor, and I definitely felt for him.

It’s hard for me to quantify the nature of my issue with this one. I don’t dislike it – Mystery of the Wax Museum possesses a good, quick story, and things move along at a nice pace with occasionally great scenes (not to mention beautiful color) – but I didn’t love it either. I think it stood out to me more positively the first time I saw it than it did this time around.

As rough as the Technicolor looked in Doctor X, I think that story was perhaps just a bit more fun. And while I ultimately might enjoy House of Wax more than this original story, Mystery of the Wax Museum is still worth seeing, but personally, at least with this viewing, I wasn’t overwhelmed with glory.

7/10

Murders in the Zoo (1933)

Directed by A. Edward Sutherland [Other horror films: The Invisible Woman (1940)]

This is one of those classics that I’ve been wanting to see for quite some time, and I’m decently happy with how this one ended up, especially given that it came not from Universal, whose dominance in horror at the time was unparalleled, but Paramount (Island of Lost Souls, from the previous year, being a big hit for them). Murders in the Zoo isn’t amazing, but it was a pretty good film.

What helps is the somewhat more violent scenes we got occasionally, such as a man getting his lips sewn shut in the opening (a very strong opening, I thought, and I can imagine audiences back in the day finding that distasteful) and a man pushing a woman into water teeming with crocodiles (alas, we don’t see the scaly bois feast, but I liked the idea).

I don’t think that Charles Ruggles made for a great lead (he was generally a comedy lead, and in fact, this was his sole horror film), because that whole scared-of-every-single-animal trait got a bit old. I don’t hold that against him – he had to follow the script as to his character – but I don’t think he was the best lead possible. Luckily, the other lead, Lionel Atwill, is a horse of a different color.

Atwill, who has been in quite a few horror films (such as Doctor X, Mystery of the Wax Museum, The Vampire Bat, The Gorilla, Mark of the Vampire, Secret of the Blue Room, among others) was pretty great here, and really had a menacing and occasionally mad aura. He made for a strong antagonist, and I enjoyed his creative ways at getting revenge.

In other news, Randolph Scott (this and Supernatural, from the same year, made up the sum of his horror appearances) made for one of those characters you wish you’d see more of, the same which could be said of both Gail Patrick and John Lodge. Kathleen Burke (most famous for the aforementioned Island of Lost Souls) was pretty good also, and while a woman in a time where strong women weren’t common in horror, she did well for herself (although I would have advised against telling Atwill’s character that she’d tell everything she knows – that never works out well).

Given that this film is just over an hour, there’s not necessarily a whole lot to digest here, and you never really have time to feel bored, or that the film’s dragging. High-lights for me include the quality opening of the film, along with the dinner held at the zoo and the woman being thrown to the crocodiles. I must admit the ending too was of good stock – saving himself from the lions and tigers only to meet a slithery boi – so no complaints there.

Murders in the Zoo is a pretty strong movie, and one of those horror classics I think has largely been overlooked, which is a shame given the somewhat darker tone of the film along with Atwill’s performance. If you’re into black-and-white horror, and this is at your disposal, go for it.

8/10

The Ghoul (1933)

Directed by T. Hayes Hunter [Other horror films: The Crimson Stain Mystery (1916)]

This creaky British film isn’t one that really stuck with me the first time I saw it, and after revisiting it, while The Ghoul is a decent movie in the vein of many of the horror films back there, with a solid mystery and a large amount of suspects, I don’t think it’s necessarily memorable.

It was occasionally a bit dark at spots throughout the film, which did help with the atmosphere along with prolonging the mystery, so that wasn’t a huge issue. The setting itself wasn’t really original, but you don’t always expect originality during this period of horror.

Boris Karloff didn’t really have that much screen-time, so though he was nice to see, he didn’t really amount to that much here. Cedric Hardwicke and Ernest Thesiger (Bride of Frankenstein) were both good as men with somewhat mysterious goals, which can also be said for Harold Huth and Ralph Richardson. Kathleen Harrison was good comic relief, and Dorothy Hyson and Anthony Bushell made for fine, though unmemorable, leads.

To be honest, while the movie can certainly be fun, and there are plenty of amusing lines of dialogue, a lot of this doesn’t seem like the type of stuff that’ll last, even if the mystery and the characters make it an occasionally-enjoyable movie to watch.

I have a decent time watching The Ghoul in the moment, but it’s not really any more than that, which is sort of disappointing, but there you go.

6/10

The Vampire Bat (1933)

Vampire Bat

Directed by Frank R. Strayer [Other horror films: The Monster Walks (1932), The Ghost Walks (1934), Condemned to Live (1935)]

I saw this once before, and this black-and-white flick, while not really classic, still holds up pretty well.

Just a few years since Dracula came out, I found it interesting how one of the main conflicts of the film is whether the deaths in a small village can be attributed to supernatural means (a vampire) or more pedestrian means (a serial killer). Of course, folklore runs rampant, and most villagers are terrified of the possibility of vampire attacks. Throw in a town misfit who has a thing for bats, and you have a potentially dangerous situation.

Really, the film is pretty fun, what with these elements coming together with both a solid cast and some occasionally interesting cinematography, creating a somewhat moody and mostly enjoyable film. The biggest problem are the dollops of comedy thrown in, mostly coming from Maude Eburne (who was also one of the actresses who brought down my enjoyment of The Bat Whispers, on a side-note).

The rest of the cast are extraordinarily good, though. Melvyn Douglas (who appeared a year earlier in The Old Dark House, and much later in 1981’s Ghost Story) made for a pretty good protagonist, and his conflicts against the superstitious villagers as to the cause of these deaths were a rather nice touch. Fay Wray (from Doctor X, The Most Dangerous Game, Mystery of the Wax Museum, King Kong, and Black Moon) didn’t really do all that much, but was a very fair piece of eye candy. Dwight Frye was fun to see here, as he played both Fritz from Frankenstein, and more memorably, Renfield from Dracula. He did good in this film, playing the mentally-handicapped village weirdo.

Lionel Atwill, of course, had a fantastic presence, and his various roles in other horror movies only help – his impressive horror resume includes Doctor X, Mystery of the Wax Museum, Murders in the Zoo, Secret of the Blue Room, Mark of the Vampire, Son of Frankenstein, The Gorilla, Man-Made Monster, The Mad Doctor of Market Street, The Ghost of Frankenstein, The Strange Case of Doctor Rx, Night Monster, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, House of Frankenstein, Fog Island, and House of Dracula. Certainly not as prolific as Bela Lugosi, but still, he added a lot to both this movie and early genre pieces, as demonstrated by his impressive resume.

Frank Strayer, the director, who did a few other horror films from the time, didn’t really add a lot to the genre, despite how much I enjoy both this one and The Monster Walks. Still, he did well with the limited budget he had, and made a little moody piece, so that’s commendable.

The unnecessary comedic elements aside, The Vampire Bat is a rather solid black-and-white flick, and while it’s nowhere near the classic nature of Frankenstein, Dracula, or any of the Universal films, it’s still a good way to spend an hour, and if a fan of this classic period of horror, I’d recommend giving it a go.

8/10

Secret of the Blue Room (1933)

Secret of the Blue Room

Directed by Kurt Neumann [Other horror films: She Devil (1957), Kronos (1957), The Fly (1958)]

This is a pretty fun flick, solid 30’s horror movie.

The story here is pretty fun, what with a room that, if one sleeps in it, they end up dead. A good plot idea to play with, which leads to a rather satisfying conclusion. At the same time, they could have added a little more meat to the movie, and as it’s only an hour and six minutes, they certainly had some time, should they had wanted to use it. Good video and audio quality, too, of a movie from this time period.

The cast is pretty solid throughout. Lionel Atwill (who appeared in plenty of other horror films, such as The Vampire Bat, Doctor X, Mystery of the Wax Museum, Murders in the Zoo, Mark of the Vampire, and about six or so others) has a good presence here, and really shows why he’s often cast in these types of films. Gloria Stuart did pretty okay here, though she was overwhelmed with the hysterics often placed on female characters back in these films. The fact that she later played the elderly Rose in Titanic is really the most interesting thing about her appearance here. Paul Lukas, who played a rather straight-laced character, gave a great performance also.

Edward Arnold (who did very little for the genre, but has a solid resume overall) had a really fun character with snappy dialogue, and virtually every time he was on-screen, I had a fun time. Onslow Stevens, William Janney, and Robert Barrat all stood out also, and as they make up a large amount of the main characters, that’s only a positive thing.

Kurt Neumann, the director, didn’t do a lot of the genre (aside from directing The Fly, he only did a handful of other horror movies), but this was a pretty good movie. Digestible, enjoyable, and while they could have added a little more to the film, still a good time.

I liked a lot of things about this film – the mystery, the conclusion, the overall story. I certainly feel that this one is overlooked, and I recommend it highly if you’re a fan of those early mystery-horror films that made the 1920’s and 1930’s a special time.

8/10