The Walking Dead (1936)

Directed by Michael Curtiz [Other horror films: Alraune (1919), The Mad Genius (1931), Doctor X (1932), Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933)]

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.

9/10

The Devil-Doll (1936)

Directed by Tod Browning [Other horror films: The Unknown (1927), London After Midnight (1927), Dracula (1931), Freaks (1932), Mark of the Vampire (1935)]

While occasionally more fanciful than I’d have preferred, The Devil-Doll is a great film with an intriguing story, solid cast, and overall a lot of fun.

As the lead, Lionel Barrymore is great as a man who would go any lengths to clear his name of a crime he was framed and locked up for. At first, Barrymore seems simply vengeful, but as the movie carries on, you can still see he cares deeply for the well-being of his family, so much so he does all he can to see his daughter taken care of, despite the fact he can’t be there for her. His performance here is not only fantastic, but also casts a very sympathetic light onto a man who much wrong was done to.

Others who stand out include Rafaela Ottiano, who does great as a rather unbalanced, mad woman, Maureen O’Sullivan, Frank Lawton (especially his scene at the end), and Henry B. Walthall, who doesn’t necessarily have a lot of screen-time (this was his second-to-last film, and he died the same year this was released), it’s worth noting he starred in one of the first full-length American horror films, The Avenging Conscience: Or, ‘Thou Shalt Not Kill’ back in 1914, so it’s great to see that he could be in another solid film for the genre before his early death at 58.

The story here is really solid, and like I said, you really feel a lot of sympathy for the main character, despite his somewhat murderous actions against those who framed him. Miniaturization was done very well here, and though sometimes the special effects don’t look great, I think a very good attempt for the time period was pulled off. Also, I really enjoyed the investigation side of the story, and the fact that few characters really cooperated with the police warmed my heart. Nothing warmed my heart more, though, than the ending, which was surprisingly rather emotional for a movie like this. O’Sullivan and Barrymore did great in that scene, and Lawton’s presence didn’t at all hurt.

I liked the creative murders and attacks in the film. Many of them had a creepy vibe, and some of them were even somewhat disturbing for the age that this film came out. Obviously, if you can’t get over what seems to be the ludicrous idea of shrinking people and using them as assassins, then many of the attacks may not do much for you, but I thought it was done in a rather solid manner.

The Devil-Doll is a great movie, and not just due to the rather terrific horror sequences (I loved the suspense during the final banker’s seemingly last minutes), but due to the emotion this film can, at times, illicit. It’s not quite my favorite film of the 1930’s, but it is a very strong film that is well-worth seeing at least once, especially for fans of classic horror.

8/10

The Rogues’ Tavern (1936)

Rogues

Directed by Robert F. Hill [Other horror films: Shadow of Chinatown (1936, serial), Shadow of Chinatown (1936)]

Another dark-and-rainy night mystery movie? Yes, please. This B-picture, maybe even C-picture, lacks much of the artistic nature of some previous films in the genre (The Cat and the Canary, The Bat Whispers, etc.), but it still ends up a fun movie, though not as fun as others.

The story is pretty much what you’d expect, which I don’t mean as a negative. Generally, I like a lot of where this flick goes, what with the various red herrings and false leads, and the ending is pretty good with a rather surprisingly solid reveal.

Acting’s a bit of a mixed bag, but many of the most important characters (Wallace Ford, Clara Kimball Young, John Elliott, and Arthur Loft) did a pretty fine job. Barbara Pepper’s performance here could have been better, but I think it’s mostly the script, and not her, that was the problem. Joan Woodbury (who co-starred later in King of the Zombies) was a bit over-dramatic at times, but given she played a tarot card reader, that may make sense.

What hurts The Rogues’ Tavern the most, though, isn’t the sometimes less-than-stellar acting, it’s the third act, which seems to run a bit too long (despite the movie already being of shorter length). What may be worth mentioning also is that the print of this film most-commonly available has some glitches in the audio, and conversations sometimes can’t be heard. It didn’t happen that often, and I don’t know if it took away from the story, but there you go.

When all’s said and done, The Rogues’ Tavern is a fine example of this antiqued style of horror, but even as far as lower budget movies go, there are others I prefer, such as The Monster Walks and Midnight Faces. And while it’s not quite the same style, some of the witty banter here (much of which was actually pretty funny) reminded me a bit of A Shriek in the Night from 1933. This movie itself is a good way to pass the time, but it wouldn’t be my first choice. Still, an above-average flick.

7.5/10