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.

7/10

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941)

Directed by Victor Fleming [Other horror films: N/A]

When I revisited the 1931 version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, I was pleasantly surprised with how much I enjoyed it. I didn’t really have the same hopes for this, one, though, and unfortunately I was probably right in that.

Part of the lack of high hopes was that lightning can often only strike once (which obviously isn’t true, but #fuckitbrahs), and given that I enjoyed the 1931 version quite a bit, I thought it unlikely that I’d enjoy another one, especially one so close in time period, quite as much. Even with the cast, Spencer Tracy being the most impressive, I think this feels more drawn-out than necessary, and it just wasn’t near as much fun to watch.

Certainly seeing Spencer Tracy in his only horror role was interesting. He’s not necessarily an actor I’ve seen a lot from, but he was in some movies I really enjoy, such as the fantastically underrated comedy It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and the solid Bad Day at Black Rock, and seeing him playing Dr. Jekyll was fun (though he looked older than I’d really expect his character to look).

No one else in the cast really adds that much, but Ingrid Bergman, Lana Turner, Donald Crisp, Ian Hunter (of one of the best movies of all time, 1938’s The Adventures of Robin Hood), and Peter Godfrey all put in perfectly acceptable performances. In fact, I think the scene where Turner’s character is going to Dr. Jekyll for help against the abuse she faces from Mr. Hyde is one of the strongest in the movie, certainly one of the most emotional, so many kudos to Lana Turner for that.

Also, while speaking of Turner, I think that song will be stuck in my head for at least the next few days. When the band commences playing, my feet begin to go. For a rollicking, romping Polka is the jolliest fun I know!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Despite that fun, though, I wouldn’t call this a fun rollick, partially because it unnecessarily almost clocks in at two hours. I didn’t feel that much dragging in the 1931 version (though that’s not to say the film was without flaws), but boy, I certainly felt some here, and it also felt a bit more melodramatic than it really needed to be.

I won’t say that this was a waste of time to watch, because it wasn’t, and I won’t say it’s a bad movie, but I think I will say that the 1931 version is one that I’m more likely to stick to, Spencer Tracy or not.

6/10

King of the Zombies (1941)

Directed by Jean Yarbrough [Other horror films: The Devil Bat (1940), 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)]

For a low-budget early zombie comedy, I think King of the Zombies has a lot of charm. It’s definitely flawed, it’s definitely cheap, and it’s certainly racist concerning Mantan Moreland’s character, but it still possesses charm, and after seeing it three times at least, that’s consistently accurate, as far as I’m concerned.

When watching the film, you can tell by the rather limited sets and general quality that the film didn’t have the highest budget, but I don’t think it’s as bad as some other films from around the same time period, and at the same time, the somewhat scratchy version we have now feels somewhat more enjoyable because of it.

The plot’s not too dissimilar from other horror films, what with a mystery in a mansion, various different parties sneaking around (though to be fair, we pretty much know from the beginning who the truly bad individual here is), and secret passageways, only they threw in zombies of the voodoo variety, hypnotism, and hit-and-miss comedy.

Personally, I find a fair amount of Moreland’s lines amusing, perhaps the one that tickled me the most being about how his feet ‘done took root.’ The ending line (“If there’s anything I wouldn’t want to be twice, a zombie’s both of them”) always got me also, but it’s obvious that Moreland’s jittery persona is rife with racist undertones (perhaps overtones), so it’s somewhat a challenge to watch from today’s perspective. Still, Moreland’s performance is pretty solid, and while occasionally his antics are a bit over-the-top, he’s more mellow than others around the same time (such as Willie Best’s character from The Monster Walks).

Other actors worth mentioning include Henry Victor, who played a competent, yet somewhat uninspired, antagonist, John Archer, who played a more action-orientated protagonist, and the main character, Dick Purcell (though I’d argue that Archer’s character was more likable). Joan Woodbury (who was previously in The Rogues’ Tavern) was decent, though I didn’t think the story gave her that much to do. Marguerite Whitten was pretty good as a sassy cook, playing well off Moreland, and Leigh Whipper definitely had a pretty imposing presence, though it’s rarely used to great effect.

As it is, King of the Zombies clocks in at just about an hour and eight minutes, so if it’s not your cup of tea, at least you’re not losing that much time. That said, I’ve consistently had a solid amount of fun with it, though I think I’ve somewhat cooled on it with this most recent re-watch, because while I do think it’s above average, I don’t think it’s much more than that. Worth a look if one is into early zombie flicks, if only to see how far they’ve come.

7.5/10