This inconspicuous little movie may not seem like much – it’s barely over an hour, came out in the mid-1930’s when few great horror films came out (it’s as if those were cordoned off for the beginning of the decade), but I’ll tell you what, this is an excellent film and definitely a new favorite of the decade.
The plot is one that’s not original nowadays – a man is wrongfully sentenced to death and when brought back, has revenge on his mind. In fact, Lon Chaney Jr. stars in the 1956 film Indestructible Man which has a very similar plot, and that’s one that I’m oddly a big fan of. No doubt, though, that this version is better.
I cannot express just how great Boris Karloff is in this role. Rarely has a character been as sympathetic as his is here, and that scene in which he’s about to be executed, even though we know he’s innocent, and others are trying to get the governor on the line and stay the execution – that was fantastic drama. Karloff’s character here is such a pure soul, and seeing him being screwed over and sentenced to death due to it only makes the revenge that much more satisfying.
The five people he seeks revenge on were all good, in their scummy way. Richardo Cortez was great as the ring-leader (and not only was he in on framing Karloff, he also acted as Karloff’s defense, intentionally doing a poor job so he’d be convicted), though I wish his ending had been a bit more personal. The others, being Barton MacLane (The Mummy’s Ghost), Robert Strange, Paul Harvey, and Joe Sawyer, were all good, and made for a solid gang of dicks. Loved seeing them get dispatched.
Warren Hull and Marguerite Churchill (Dracula’s Daughter) didn’t play as much a role in the film as I thought they would, but what time they had was decent (though I’m not entirely sure their story was really concluded at all). Edmund Gwenn and his obsession with figuring out what comes after death was a bit annoying (especially when, at the end, they’re like ‘screw it, God is a jealous God, and only he gets to know’), but he was fine too, and Henry O’Neill’s character was fantastic, as he really wanted to go after the dirty crooks listed above, so kudos there.
Here’s a somewhat fun fact about this film – I’ve seen The Walking Dead before. I know I have, because I keep a list of every film I consider horror that I’ve seen, and this movie has been in the ‘1936’ line for at least 14 years. The thing is, I didn’t remember anything about this film, and whenever I read the plot to jog my memory, I instantly thought of Indestructible Man instead. So while this is a rewatch, it really feels new, which I guess is a good thing, as I struggle to believe that, when I was a kid, I’d have considered this movie as good as I do now.
And I do consider it good, and in fact, after seeing the beauty of Karloff’s performance, it’s probably great, and certainly a classic that I think more people should at least take the chance to see. Obviously, there’s a well-known zombie show with the same title as this movie, and because of that, this probably gets lost in the sauce (as Howie Hawkins, the 2020 Green Party nominee and the man who I proudly voted for) often says. Definitely a movie of quality, and one well-worth seeing.