By 1942 Lionel Atwill had firmly established himself as a veteran of the silver screen and rightfully deserves top-billing in this horror / thriller from Universal Pictures.
He hits every note of the titular character in his stride with relative ease, both dialling up the mania and subtly downplaying the more reserved moments whilst still coming across as sinister in his mannerisms.
The narrative quickly shifts from science experiment gone awry when Atwill’s Dr. Benson inadvertently kills his subject when trying to resurrect the dead.
Think Flatliners but on a minimum scale.
Now a fugitive on the run, he goes in hiding on a ship to New Zealand. Unfortunately a police detective had also boarded the ship on a hunch that Benson is among its passengers.
This results in Benson resorting to drastic measures and pushing said detective overboard.
The drama doesn’t end there however, as somehow a fire erupts on the ship causing the passengers to abandon ship and our key players (including Benson) washing up on a remote island.
Once on the island the film starts to show its age, depicting the islanders as savages and easily manipulated by Benson’s medical knowledge when he resurrects one of the villagers from a supposed death (in reality, a stroke) with a potion (adrenaline). It’s a she because this depiction does jar when viewed with a modern lens and shifts the gaze away from the terror that is trying to be depicted.
It is then down to the survivors (all of whom are pretty formulaic) to try and outwit and expose Benson his true malicious interests without putting their own lives on jeopardy.
The script does suffer from falling into predictable terrain and it could have amped up Benson’s maniacal moments to make his presence more terrifying, but hats off to director Joseph H Lewis for crafting together a fairly decent effort from a very low budget.
With a running time that’s just over the hour mark, The Mad Doctor of Market Street still amazed to entertain.
- Saul Muerte