Valley of the Zombies (1946)

Directed by Philip Ford [Other horror films: N/A]

Possessing a somewhat misleading title, Valley of the Zombies is an okay way to spend 56 minutes. It’s a lower budget film, to be sure, but it still has that snappy dialogue that made the time period so fun, and an occasionally interesting (if not original) plot. 

From the title, one might expect some voodoo shenanigans (as that was the cause of zombies pre-1968, the most classic examples being I Walked with a Zombie and White Zombie), but that’s not what this is at all. There is someone who might count as a zombie, and there is in fact a reference to the “valley of the zombies,” but the bigger culprit is occasional hypnotism.

I don’t know the name, but Ian Keith did a pretty solid job as the menacing killer. He just has that face, and despite the cheapness of the film, did have a good presence. Not unexpectedly, Robert Livingston (Riders of the Whistling Skull) was a bit generic, but he still worked well with Lorna Gray, and the pair had some good snappy dialogue, which is always a joy to hear.

Of course, this being an older movie, Gray didn’t have that great of a range. She was great with her quips, no doubt, but she also got scared at the sound of a windowblind crashing down, not to mention fainting when she heard the word ‘zombie.’ Fainting. sigh Sometimes the sexism and racism (as Gray here took the place of someone like Mantan Moreland à la King of the Zombies) in these older films are hard to swallow, and I just wish they didn’t have to throw in “Oh, the woman is scared of everything” trash. It just gets old.

Otherwise, Valley of the Zombies is competent. The finale (taking place on a fog-covered building roof) was pretty solid, and like I said, Ian Keith did really good in his threatening role. It’s also quite digestible, at a solid 56 minutes. To be sure, there’s nothing spectacular here, but there’s also not anything making the film unworthy.

Really, this isn’t a good movie, but it’s definitely not what I’d call a bad movie. Even for the time, it might have been a bit outdated, but it was serviceable, and while below average, when it comes to 40’s horror, you could certainly do a lot worse.


The Beast with Five Fingers (1946)

Directed by Robert Florey [Other horror films: Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932)]

It’s been some years since I’ve last seen this one, and I have to admit that I didn’t find it as enjoyable this time around as I did the first time I saw it. It’s not that The Beast with Five Fingers is a bad movie, because it certainly has it’s charm, but I do think an argument could be made that it moderately overstays it’s welcome, and that goofy conclusion didn’t help much.

Of course, it’s great to see Peter Lorre focused on so heavily here. He’s not the main character, no, but he does have an important role, and given how fantastic he was in the eleven-year earlier Mad Love, it’s nice to see him being thrown a somewhat similar role. Robert Alda (who later starred in a forgettable horror film ironically titled The Devil’s Hand) was a decent lead, and with J. Carroll Naish (The Monster Maker), they were an interesting pair trying to figure out what was going on.

Even so, as fun as some of the movie was, it definitely felt like it was dragging past the half-way mark, and again, the final few moments throws in some goofy things that aren’t be any means deal-breakers, but at the same time, I wish they had at least kept it down to one goofy ending scene, as opposed to two.

Still, I’ll give this credit for it’s original idea (especially for a decade like the 1940’s) that predates The Hand by 35 years and Idle Hands by 53 years (these are the only three killer hand movies that I can think of, so take that as you will). I just wish it had cut a few things out. The Beast with Five Fingers isn’t a bad movie, but I do think it’s a bit below average, which is definitely not my view on it when I last saw it.


The Cat Creeps (1946)

Directed by Erle C. Kenton [Other horror films: Island of Lost Souls (1932), The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942), House of Frankenstein (1944), House of Dracula (1945)]

I’ve long thought that the 1940’s was one of the weakest decades for the horror genre, and this movie is a good example of why. The Cat Creeps isn’t a poor movie, though – like most dark house mystery movies, it’s enjoyable enough. The problem, though, is that this could have been made ten years earlier, and nothing would have seemed out of place.

Obviously, I enjoy the old dark house movies, giving quite solid ratings in the past to such films as The Monster Walks, The Cat and the Canary, and The Bat Whispers, and I enjoyed this well enough also, but I can’t say that it’s not overly derivative. It most certainly is, and it doesn’t have that much going for it that really sets it apart from the better films that came out years and years previously.

Casting-wise, I don’t really have any complaints. Maybe Frederick Brady was a bit weak as the star, and maybe Lois Collier was far more underused than she could have been, but for a quick murder-mystery (this film comes in at under an hour), I thought most here were fine. Rose Hobart (1931’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) was nice to see, and both Paul Kelly and Douglass Dumbrille were both solid threatening individuals.

For what this movie was, and as little as it was made for, I did enjoy the setting, being a large house on a secluded island. It’s nothing new to this subgenre of horror, but fun nonetheless. Related, while there’s not many outstanding or memorable scenes here whatsoever, I did enjoy the utilization of mysterious shadows baring down on people. It happened a few times, and it looked decently effective.

Also worth mentioning is Vera Lewis’ character, who has a bit of a twist to her. It was pretty easy to see her role in the whole mystery, but I did like the addition, and at times, even led me to wonder if Brady’s character wasn’t somehow involved in the multiple murders.

All-in-all, though, The Cat Creeps is competently made and little more. There’s occasionally some fun dialogue, and of course the mystery is fun, but it’s not a movie that I imagine will really stand out in my memory, and given that I’ve seen this once before but remembered next-to-nothing about it, that may be the most accurate statement about this one. It’s not a bad movie, but it’s not memorable either.


Bedlam (1946)

Directed by Mark Robson [Other horror films: The Seventh Victim (1943), Isle of the Dead (1945)]

What an amazing film on so many levels.

Once a well-to-do lady becomes concerned about the state of a local mental institution, with a little help from a Quaker, and finding that neither Tory nor Whig seemingly care about reforms, she takes it upon herself to fight for what she believes right. Unfortunately, the head of the institute, played by Boris Karloff, has little interest in the welfare of his patients (which seems too generous a term to describe them, truth be told), and instead plots to throw the lady herself into the asylum, so she can no longer speak out.

There’s a lot in Bedlam to really like. What’s easy is the cast. Boris Karloff (who really needs no introduction at this point) is fantastic as the sinister head of the asylum, and has a pretty satisfactory story arc come the conclusion. Anna Lee, too, is fantastic as the lead character, and she definitely has a passion in her throughout the film. At times, her character is unlikable, but for a woman who is starting to see the poor and maligned people as people for the first time, I think that’s understandable. Billy House (who plays an amusing, mostly inoffensive, pompous lord) and Richard Fraser (who plays a straight-laced Quaker wonderfully) both add a lot to Bedlam.

It’s the story that really makes things work. A woman of high standing, Lee’s character slowly becomes moved by the plights of the mentally unsound, but even when in the institute, she can’t get past her deep fear and mistrust of the insanity surrounding her. And when she does make friends in the institution, they’re the higher class of patients (beautifully comparing her previous life of abject apathy with her new life locked up).

There’s a line in the film that really got to me. “Why should we help.” asks one of the upper echelon of patients to Lee’s character, in reference to the cruelty others are facing, “We are the people of the pillar.” I think it’s at that point that the character finally realized exactly the type of person, even locked up, she tended to be, and then set out to change it, by making beds, and tending wounds, of those who couldn’t do it for themselves.

Earlier in the film, there’s a member of the Whig Party who purports to care (as opposed to the Tories, who, much like many modern-day Republicans, revel in the despair of the poor and unfortunate), but later we see him laughing with the rest at a mockery of a play, using the patients themselves as actors. Like many modern-day Democrats, he gives lip service to the issue, but as a man from the upper class, he doesn’t truly have a concern for the welfare of those beneath him.

It takes a Quaker, one opposed to violence of any type, and not prone to lofty ideals, to really bring the idea of equality between all men, poor and rich, peasants and lords, insane and sane, to Lee’s character. At the same time, this Quaker sets too much faith in the laws to really hold a revolutionary view of the best way to help those who need it the most.

Bedlam has a lot of political ideas, and that deeply interests me, but if you can somehow separate the politics from the film, I still think most people would see what a great and clever film this is.

All of my praise aside, I do wish there had been a few more suspenseful and tense scenes. The trial at the finale was fantastic, and the scenes afterward were damn amazing, but it wasn’t enough to make up for the lack of great suspense beforehand. In some ways, Bedlam’s a slow-burn, but I don’t really know, as great as the ending is, if it makes up for what the movie was lacking previously.

The 1940’s is probably, in my opinion, the worst decade for horror films since the creation of the genre, but there are some really great films that came out in this ten-year range, and Bedlam is definitely one of them. I loved this when I first saw it many years back, and the movie still has so much to offer.