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.


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.


You’ll Find Out (1940)

Directed by David Butler [Other horror films: N/A]

While generally inconsequential, this rarely-spoken about film is a lot of fun, and it’s cast alone definitely makes it one that any fan of classic horror should set some time aside for, as You’ll Find Out has a damn good cast.

The story isn’t anything overly new – large mansion, stormy night, a young woman (Helen Parrish) facing constant danger from mysterious would-be killers (they don’t stay mysterious long, and truth be told, I was going to reveal their identities later in the review), it’s pretty typical of 30’s and 40’s horror. The musical and comedic additions add a bit more zest, but fundamentally, the plot isn’t worth writing home about.

What they did, though, with the plot, no matter how derivative it is, was pretty fun. The seance sequences were great, and I personally loved the second seance, what with the protagonists attempting to set a trap for the antagonists, not knowing the antagonists are anticipating it. I had a lot of fun with it, and thought it was pretty swell, as they’d say in those days.

So much of this tired plot works due to the inclusion of actors Bela Lugosi, Peter Lorre, and Boris Karloff, all of whom are involved in criminal conspiracy to kill Parrish’s character. None of this is really kept under wraps, so it’s not that much a surprise, and because of that, we got a few scenes of two or three of these masters scheming together, which was a treat.

All three of these people, Lugosi, Lorre, and Karloff, are extraordinarily important to the horror genre. I won’t list the extensive resumes, but Lugosi is perhaps best well-known for his portrayal of Dracula, the Universal classic. Likewise, Karloff portrayed Frankenstein’s monster in Frankenstein, one of my personal favorite Universal movies. Peter Lorre, while many might recognize more from The Beast with Five Fingers (1946) or M (1931) starred in the criminally underrated Mad Love (1935), a movie I absolutely, dare I say, love madly. The three of them starring in this film brought to it far more flair than You’ll Find Out otherwise would have dreamed of attaining.

None of that is to say that the other performances were under par, but none of them have the star power of those three legends. Kay Kyser was a bandleader and radio personality during the 1930’s and 1940’s, and while I’m not familiar with him or his music, I’m not a stranger to big band/swing, as I give Glenn Miller and his orchestra a whirl or two somewhat often. As such, Kyser was often a bit too peppy for me, but he did grow on me as the film went on (and given his almost Woody Allen appearance, made for an interesting protagonist).

The twice aforementioned Helen Parrish was a pretty face for the role, and did a good job with what she had to work with, but ultimately didn’t leave a huge impression on me either way. The same could be said for Dennis O’Keefe, who was the far more typical protagonist of these types of films, and while certainly not a bad actor, it’s not his efforts here that made the film memorable.

What did help with that, though, were the musical pieces. Like I said, I’ve occasionally listened to big band music before, and this stuff was certainly catchy and enjoyable, though I personally prefer more vocals in my music. Luckily, we have some vocal pieces, and the two that stood out most positively were ‘I’d Know You Anywhere’ and ‘I’ve Got a One Track Mind,’ both sung by Ginny Simms. Simms’ isn’t someone I’m familiar with, but I personally got an Ella Fitzgerald feel from her, and really loved her singing. ‘The Bad Humor Man’ was another piece that stood out, because it’s just as much a theater play as a song, and I thought that was pretty cool.

You’ll Find Out isn’t the type of movie that would wow people who go in looking for cheap thrills, as there aren’t a whole lot of them here. Sure, there were some good detective scenes in multiple hidden passages, and the seances were both somewhat spooky (in a very hooky way), but the comedy somewhat emasculates any of the real potential terror to be felt in this flick, and I admit, the music doesn’t do a lot to help either. Still, with the star power in this movie, I thought it was a lot of fun, and definitely a movie that was worth seeing.


The Devil Bat (1940)

Devil Bat

Directed by Jean Yarbrough [Other horror films: King of the Zombies (1941), House of Horrors (1946), She-Wolf of London (1946), The Brute Man (1946), The Creeper (1948), Master Minds (1949), Hillbillys in a Haunted House (1967)]

Having seen this low-level classic around four times now, I have to say that, while definitely hokey, The Devil Bat is a lot of fun, much of it coming from the somewhat ludicrous plot and Bela Lugosi’s great performance.

Of course, Bela Lugosi, even by this point, was an old hand with the genre (before this film, he appeared in at least 15 other horror films), and it’s clear to see why. I utterly love his mad scientist routine here – his facial expressions and exuberance crack me up.

There’s a running gag here, in which after the doctor gives some shaving lotion to an intended victim (the lotion in question, due to it’s properties, will attract an over-grown bat to attack the wearer) in which the to-be victim says “Good night, doctor.”

And Lugosi’s reply, every single time? “Goodbye.” The first time, it was funny. The fourth time, I was laughing my ass off, as his tone was just perfectly somber (and almost no one caught on). So I love Lugosi in this film, and if you’re a Bela fan, I’d recommend seeing this for his presence alone.

Everyone else does pretty admirably also, though. Dave O’Brien (who, on IMDb, racks up an impressive 243 acting credits) did great as the lead protagonist (despite not appearing until around 18 minutes into the movie), and given that he had flaws (such as concocting that stupid fake bat picture), came across as a multi-layered character, which I appreciated. Donald Kerr (who has an even more impressive 511 credits) gave some good comic relief, and Suzanne Kaaren did just as good as you could expect, given actresses’ often-limited roles in these movies.

The revenge plot of Lugosi’s is so absurdly fun that it makes up for the failure of the special effects (close up, there’s a real bat squeaking, but from far-off, it’s one of the fakest-looking animals you’ll ever see), but honestly, when it comes to movies from around this time, I think most of the questionable special effects can be brushed off, especially if you’re getting a kick out of the movie regardless.

Director Jean Yarbrough did fantastic for only his third full-length feature, and actually did a lot for horror, as he later directed, among others, films such as King of the Zombies (1941), House of Horrors (1946), The Brute Man (1946), The Creeper (1948), and Master Minds (1949). I’ve only seen a handful of these (King of the Zombies and House of Horrors), but generally, I know many of these, while not overly well-known, are enjoyed by other fans of the genre.

There’s not necessarily a lot to this movie (though at an hour and eight minutes long, it’s a bit lengthier than some other flicks from this time), but what we do get is pretty good. The Devil Bat has long been a favorite of mine, and while overall, I think the 1940’s is probably one of the worst decades for the horror genre, this will always be one of those classics I go back to.


Son of Ingagi (1940)

Son of Ingagi

Directed by Richard C. Kahn [Other horror films: N/A]

This is an oddity, one of the first all African-American casted horror movies. As such, it’s as Poverty Row as one could imagine. Also, the version widely available seems to be missing a minute or two halfway through the film (which is already short – clocks in at just over an hour). Sound quality, or video quality, for that matter, wasn’t up to par for even my standards of the time period, but it was just about as good as I remembered it.

Really, it’s just a generic movie, with some okay light-hearted comedic portions provided by one of the characters (who was actually played by a writer of the script) and an almost-threatening atmosphere. It falls short, though, of it’s aims, and overall, seems an overly forgettable movie, especially as so many other horror films, some great, came out around the same time. The points I give it are mainly for the setting itself (a house, which, while generic, was used to good effect in the film) and some of the more humorous lines.


(Note: This was one of the reviews I wrote early on, so it’s shorter and far less in-depth than my more recent ones. Should I rewatch the film, I’ll update my review.)