The Mummy’s Ghost would be the second of three sequels to Universal’sThe Mummy, following The Mummy’s Tomb and would also see Lon Chaney Jr step into the shuffling bandaged corpse of Kharis.
Unfortunately The Mummy’s Ghost is by far the weakest of the franchise so far, which for me comes down to lazy writing. It feels as though the creative department were happy to rest on their laurels and aim for more of the same in the franchise.
In doing so, it fails to stimulate and to say that it runs through the numbers in the process would be a misjudgement, as there are a lot of numbers that Universal are happy to skip past to deliver the basics in horror for the time of its initial release.
Once again we are greeted with a high priest handing down the duties to a younger member of the fold, Yousef Bey played by a suitably hammy John Carradine (House of Dracula). Kharis is still transfixed by the lure of tana leaves and tramps around for his latest fix while Bey tries to stick to his mission in finding the body of Ananka and return her to her resting place in Egypt.
Ananka however has transformed her soul into the body of another, Amina (Ramsay Ames), which puts a spanner in the works.
Time has not been kind in the passing years, and this feature feels stale as a result and if it weren’t part of a franchise would have been served better entombed in the past.
It’s one saving grace that allows it to stand out happens to be shrouded in its bitter end, with Kharis carrying an unconscious Amina into the swamp, where they can be reunited in the afterlife. This is delightfully offbeat considering its age, and I can only wonder how this came across to the audience of the time. It may have had a more profound impact if more care and dedication were taken into building up a more imaginative narrative to steer away from the now tired formula.
When I came to casting a retrospective of the Universal Inner Sanctum Mystery movies, I decided to watch them all fairly close together. As such, due to the similarity in style and substance, combined with the fact that Lon Chaney Jr. starred in all sic of the, a blurring of the narratives came about.
In the case of The Frozen Ghost, I found that I struggled to bring to mind what actually occurred without looking it back up again. This is surely an indicator that the movie had little or no impact on me, which says a lot about my connection to the movie.
When I did research back into it again, the visuals soon sprang to mind and I was left pondering about why it didn’t resonate so well.
My resolution comes down to that the film was just a bit messy in its delivery.
The tale presents Chaney Jr as mentalist Alex Gregor, who is provoked by an intoxicated non-believer in his audience that he is a fake, so out of anger, hypnotizes the individual spurring a heart attack that leads to the man’s untimely death.
Gregor is now consumed with grief and then turns within himself, ending his relationship with assistant Maura (Evelyn Ankers in a subdued performance, albeit still a strong one) and runs away to work as a lecturer for an old friend, Mme Valerie Monet (Tala Birell).
Trouble creeps up once more however when Valerie also turns up dead and Gregor becomes prime suspect number one.
The continuing theme involved with the Inner Sanctum Mysteries centres around mystery, intrigue and in the case of the movies, a wronged man troubled with murder most foul.
The Frozen Ghost has to shift and change on numerous occasions to accommodate the plight of its lead protagonist, who tries to figure out if he truly is responsible for the death of these individuals through the use of paranormal abilities.
The road isn’t a straight one to the conclusion and the perpetrators are all too obvious, so the attempt at clever deception is lost much to the detriment of the film.
The performances are still strong regardless, but unfortunately the executions is just too weak.
Originally billed as a sequel to The Phantom of the Opera, The Climax changed its course partly due to the unavailability of Claude Rains’ availability to reprise the role of the phantom. Instead some reworking in the script department led to some significant changes and bringing in Boris Karloff for his first feature released in colour. Karloff would play the role of demented physician, Dr. Hohner, driven by jealousy and the need to dominate his fiance, a prima donna at an established Vienna Royal Theatre, and murders her in his obsession. Interestingly, Universal would resurplus some of the magnificent set that was used in their 1925 adaptation of Gaston LeRoux’s gothic novel and Susannah Foster who brought Christina Dubois to the silver screen in TPOTO (1943), would return albeit as a young operatic singer on the rise, Angela Klatt
Klatt bears a striking similarity to Hohner’s fiance, who has been missing some 10 years now, hence why Hohner has been able to avoid justice. With Klatt’s appearance though, it triggers the inner demon and conflict in Hohner’s mind and he seems hellbent on once more, keeping the diva for himself.
The film plays a familiar tune to previous Universal features and as such struggles to offer anything new in the horror scene. It is bolded by the presence of Karloff, Foster and Turhan Bey (The Mad Ghoul) as the romantic lead, Franz Munzer, but it’s Gale Sondergaard (The Cat and the Canary) as the dutiful Luise, poised to make Hohner pay for his past deeds that really shines through.
A solid enough entry to the Universal Horror movies, but not nearly worthy of its predecessors.
Presented with his first top billing for Universal, Turhan Bey (The Mummy’s Tomb) has been slowly rising through the ranks to be given this recognition. Much like his co-star Evelyn Ankers (The Wolf Man) who gets her time to shine in the spotlight.
The Mad Ghoul centres on an Ancient Mayan life-preserving technique that resurrects creatures after they have shuffled off this mortal coil. Attempting to play out this diabolical task is a mad scientist, (naturally) Dr. Alfred Morris (George Zucci – The Mummy’s Hand) who sets about to prove it possible using a human subject. Morris enlists the help of his student, Ted (David Bruce) to carry out his experiments. Ted however is too infatuated with Isabel (Ankers), but his love is not reciprocated, and when Morris too succumbs to Isabel’s charms, he decides to eradicate his opposition by performing his scientific query on Ted, and succeeds in doing so. The catch is that, in order to stay alive, Ted must continually replace his heart with that of the recently deceased. So throughout the film, Morris leads Ted in a ghoulish state to cemeteries in order to dig up the dead and steal their myocardium. There is great humour to be found here as both gentlemen mooch around attaining hearts so that they can eventually win the heart of Isabel.
Isabel, though, has her eyes for only one man, Eric Iverseon (Bey) and as such, Eric becomes the target for destruction.
Morris’ grip on the situation begins to dwindle, trying to keep Ted as his ghoulish puppet, to carry out his dastardly deeds, but his pursuits eventually come untangled as his command loses its strength and Ted develops a will of his own.
For a film that uses some of Universal’s former motifs, The Mad Ghoul does enough to cobble a story together that connects with the audience and whilst it doesn’t stand up to some of the stronger titles that have come before it, entertains nonetheless and proves to be a solid enough encounter.
Celebrating its 75th anniversary this year is Universal’s second Monster mash up, House of Dracula, and being one of the last movies to feature these iconic creatures also indicated that the times were changing and a new shift in horror was about to occur.
Treated as a direct sequel to House of Frankenstein, this feature would once again Count Dracula, The Wolf Man, Frankenstein’s Monster, and a mad scientist together.
This time though, it is the Count (once again played by John Carradine) that seeks a cure for his vampirism. Although there are questions around the legitimacy of his intentions as he seems to still go about his day (or should I say night?) without a care. This in complete contrast to the doomed and tragic figure, Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr reprising his role once more). Dracula approaches Dr. Edelmann (Onslow Stevens) to aid him in his quest for a cure, who believes he can do so using a mysterious plant that can reshape bone. It is Dr. Edelman’s belief that using a series of blood transfusions, he can assist Dracula.
It is at this point that Larry Talbot enters the scene, also hoping that the Doctor can help him. Dr. Edelmann however is too consumed with the Count and so Talbot gets himself incarcerated by the police for fear that he will turn into a wolf and kill again. Whilst imprisoned, Inspector Holtz (Lionel Atwill in one of his last film roles) and Dr. Edelmann witnesses the transformation, with the latter now convinced, and promises he will try to find a cure.
Larry Talbot continues to be one of the most fascinating characters in the Universal Monster franchise, with his inner conflict and turmoil, the characteristics that Chaney Jr played so well. Here Talbot is driven to suicide, throwing himself off the cliff into the waters below, only to survive the ordeal. Dr. Edelmann finds Talbot in the caves beneath the castle and in doing so stumbles across Frankenstein’s monster (Glenn Strange) still clutching the skeletal remains of Dr. Neimann from the previous movie. Edelmann takes the monster back to his castle but swears not to revive him for fear that it will only cause ruin.
Through all these distractions, the Count has been using his charms on the Doctor’s assistant Milizia (Martha O’Driscoll) but is prevented by the good old cross. The Doctor’s other assistant, Nina, (Jane Adams) a hunchback, witnesses the Count’s attempts and notices the absence of his reflection. Time for another blood transfusion, only Dracula turns the tables, hypnotising Nina and Edelman and then reversing the transfusion, so that Edelmann is given the vampiric blood.
This action proves to be the Count’s downfall however as Edelmann exposes Dracula’s coffin to sunlight, killing him. This is just beyond the half an hour mark leaving the question again as to the true danger that Dracula exhibits when he doesn’t last the entire feature.
With the Wolf Man being treated and the Dracula out for the… count (ahem), this leaves a hole for a villain to fill. In steps a transformed Edelmann, struggling with the vampiric blood in his system that sends him crazy and a climax that brings about the rise of Frankenstein’s creature, a horde of angry villagers, and only a cured Talbot to bring down the house.
House of Dracula serves up a much neater storyline compared with its predecessor, House of Frankenstein, and the performances are strong. It still struggles to incorporate all the different aspects, but considering it’s short running time of just over the hour mark, there’s enough packed in to entertain, and ultimately became a commercial success as a result.
Some thirteen years after the release of Dracula back in 1931, Universal now had a decent backlog of Universal Monsters in their midst. After the relative success of Frankenstein vs The Wolf Man, which pitted two of their creatures head to head in its climax, it was a logical step to combine as many as possible into the one film.
In order for this trick to be pulled off successfully however, requires some clever plot devices to wrangle each intricate characteristic into a believable situation. Curt Siodmak was called upon to carry out this difficult task, which seems a logical choice as he had overseen a lot of the Universal horror movies during the time. His decision was to introduce a new character in Dr. Gustav Niemann, a mad scientist played by Boris Karloff in what would be his last role in the Universal horror franchise. Accompanying him from a prison break is hunchback (another trope), Daniel (J. Carrol Naish), who is willing to carry out Niemann’s demands with the promise of a new body.
Niemann though only has revenge in mind for the three people who wronged him and sent him to prison.
This story is really told in two parts; the first part being the revenge on Burgemeister Hussman, which Niemann does by initially killing Professor Lampini and taking on his identity as a travelling showman and his Chamber of Horrors. The show in question just so happens to contain the skeletal remains of Count Dracula with the stake still impaled. Legend has it that if the stake were to be removed, Dracula would once again walk the earth. Naturally this happens, but Niemann convinces the Count (John Carradine) to carry out his task of ridding him of his nemesis with the promise of protection. Once the Count offs Hussman though, the group land in a spot of bother and Niemann quickly reneges on his agreement and ditches Dracula’s coffin, forcing him to submit to the sunlight and ultimately be destroyed. Dracula’s demise seems all too easy and as such renders him slightly useless in the movie and far from menacing.
The latter half of the movie focuses on the resurrection of Frankenstein’s monster (Glenn Strange) and The Wolf Man (Lon Chaney Jr.) who were last seen washed away with the flood that submerged the ruins of Frankenstein’s castle. It turns out that they had been frozen in ice, and Niemann thaws them both, once again hoping to use them to his advantage.
The film is aided by the return of Chaney Jr and the troubled Larry Talbot who continuously serves as the heart of the franchise. Here, a love triangle is formed as he finds himself falling for a gypsy girl Ilonka (Elena Verdugo – who was a descendant of the Verdugo family that founded Los Angeles), rescued by Daniel and Niemann. The former has also fallen for Ilonka’s charms and is then driven by jealousy when his love is not reciprocated, and also by anger from Niemann’s failure not to live up to his promise.
The climax is nicely tied up with a collision of personalities all vying for different means, and when that clash comes it can only lead to the demise of all, be it silver bullet, thrown from the roof, or driven into the swamp quicksand from angry villagers wielding flaming torches.
On face value, Siodmak ticks all the boxes of what can be expected from each of the characters but ultimately, there is nothing new to offer at hand, and because of this the film falls short on satisfaction. It is still a solid production, entertains, but never does enough to lift itself above the standards of its predecessors.
It was great to see Karloff (he definitely owns this movie and deserves to wield the lead antagonist mantle) and Lon Chaney Jr share screen time together, but the chance to have the creatures provide any form of menace are squandered.
Having explored numerous aspects of Gothic Literature for Universal’s cannon of horror features, it was time to turn their attention once more back to Gaston Leroux’s The Phantom of the Opera; a tale of a deformed phantom who haunts the Paris Opera House, murdering people to aid the woman he loves, Christine, to become a star.
It was a bold choice as nearly twenty years prior, the production house had successfully released a version starring “The Man With A Thousand Faces” Lon Chaney as the titular Phantom back in 1925.
It was deemed however, that ample time had passed despite Chaney’s son, Lon Chaney Jr now a contracted player for Universal, which meant that the ‘25 version was still fresh in the minds of some people. Chaney Jr allegedly expected the part to fall to him in order to reprise his father’s role, but the studio elected instead to cast Claude Rains (The Invisible Man). This did not go down well with Chaney Jr. and apparently some bitterness ensued between him and his The Wolf Man co-star.
It has to be said that I have always enjoyed Rains’ performances on screen and this was no exception as he brought a certain level of heart and empathy to his role as Enrique Claudin. Claudin is the doomed romantic, whose heart belongs to Christine Dubois, a soprano that he has been privately funding her singing lessons.
We certainly feel for Claudin, who is a violinist for the Paris Opera House and is let go due to the ailing use of his fingers. Looking to make ends meet, he then ventures to his music publisher in the hopes of getting money from a piano concerto that he has written. Tragedy has struck however, when he learns that the publisher is attempting to steal his work. In a fit of rage Claudin strangles and kills the publisher, only to have the publisher’s assistant throw etching acid in his face, deforming him.
From here on in, Claudin withdraws to the shadows with his new moniker of the phantom, and then goes to extreme measures in order to propel Christine to stardom.
The film plays out well enough and Rains more than holds his own, but it never feels dark or sinister enough to scare or thrill the audience. It doesn’t help that it is peppered with operatics with an upbeat jovial manner, potentially to juxtapose the dark energy that surrounds it. And it is the setting after all, but if that was the aim, then the darker elements needed to be amplified much more.
As it stands, it’s a solid film, but is no match for its predecessor. There were plans for a sequel called The Climax, but a combination of not being able to cast Rains again due to other commitments and problems working through a decent storyline that would work, it failed to materialise and instead would be reworked as a completely different movie starring Boris Karloff.
With Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical aside, the story would not be revisited again until 1962 Hammer Films starring Herbet Lom, then another twenty year abstinence until Robert Englund would don the mask in 1989 for 21st Century Film, and a Dario Argento feature in 1998.
No doubt when Universal were bandying around the idea behind Captive Wild Woman, they thought they potentially had another horror film franchise on their hands in the tale of an Ape Woman with humanistic tendencies. The result however, was received with mixed feelings, in part due to its abomination of religious doctrination that caused one of several changes to the script, which would ultimately take around two years before it was greenlit. By this time the kernel of the story had undergone a transformation not unlike its subject that morphed into a hybrid version of the original concept.
The story gathered together a collection of characters, starting with animal trainer Fred Mason (Milburn Stone) who returns from safari with a series of animals to be used in the Whipple Circus. Chief among these is Cheela, the afore-mentioned gorilla, played by stuntman Ray ‘Crash’ Corrigan.
Accompanying Mason is his fiance Beth (Evelyn Ankers, now establishing herself as a stable actor for the studio following The Wolf Man and The Ghost of Frankenstein) whose sister, Dorothy (Martha MacVicar) is suffering from undisclosed health problems. In steps our antagonist and a dialled down John Carradine (The Invisible Man’s Revenge) as Dr Walters.
Walters is your typical mad scientist villain, a carbon copy of Dr Frankenstein with his malicious pursuit of science at the cost of all those around him. In this instance Walters is hellbent in transforming the gene pull to change a living creature such as the gorilla into human form. He succeeds in doing so but like Frankenstein realises that in order to be truly successful, he must use a human brain and here his bloody pursuit amplifies starting with his assistant, but when this takes a turn for the worse, he sets his sights on Beth.
The human form of Cheela would be played by the exotic Acquanetta, who was a self-proclaimed Native American and would go on to reprise her role in the sequel Jungle Woman. Cheela has a hidden power over creatures which plays well at the circus and she becomes part of the act. She also has a fond connection with Mason and becomes incredibly jealous of his fiance Beth. This puts Beth against two adversaries and the rest of the tale leads to whether or not she will survive.
The film feels a little stale in places as we struggle with the plentiful shots of Mason in the ring taming the wild cats. It does help to have Carradine’s manic performance to keep the audience interested in the outcome, but it does limp along in the process. The surprise is that it generated not only one but two sequels… but more on those at another time.
Yes this movie is reaped in formula and shuffles along a predicable path to its mortal conclusion, and yet it boasts some strong choices for a third instalment. Namely it’s decision to kill off its lead protagonists from the previous film, The Mummy’s Hand.
Bold in that it’s something you may not necessarily identify with a film from the 1940s, and in doing so, Universal Pictures once more indicates how readily it is to move away from the old and make way for the new despite only a two year gap between both movies.
The film like it’s predecessor delivers an exposition in the form of a flashback so that audiences can be brought up to speed with the franchise narrative. This tale is told from the perspective of Steve Banning (Dick Foran), the hero from The Mummy’s Hand, albeit now an elderly Gent who speaks to his sister, his son John (John Hubbard) and his son’s long term girlfriend Isobel (Elysse Knox). Essentially potential victims in the mix. At the same time we see another passing of the baton with Andoheb (George Zucco) guiding his protege Mehemet Bey (Turhan Bey) to reek revenge by restoring Kharis to destroy Banning and his family.
Stepping into the bandaged shoes that were once worn by horror legend Boris Karloff and Tom Tyler comes another legend in horror, Lon Chaney Jr, who had made a name for himself playing the tragic character Larry Talbot in The Wolf Man.
From here on in the film plays with a paint by numbers tale as Kharis is sent to enact revenge and killing off people one by one, starting with the first shock death of Steve Banning. Director Harold Young does a great job of amping up the tension as we the audience can see that Banning’s time is up and fate slowly wields it’s deathly hands around his throat.
In addition the demise of Babe Hanson (Wallace Ford) returns to add to the mythology and serves as a spanner in Bey’s plan and so has to be dispatched in, by the forties standards, gruesome fashion.
The storyline does try to throw in an added element with Bey falling for Isobel and his stunting his trajectory but for the most part it trudges along and delivers an all too predictable ending and underusing Chaney Jr serving as the prototype monster which is a shame.
Based on a short Edgar Allan Poe story and often touted as a sequel to The Murders in the Rue Morgue, Universal would produce this film noir mystery during the early forties. Directed by Phil Rosen, a man who would end up with over 140 films to his credits as a director.
Patric Knowles (The Strange Case of Doctor Rx) returns once again for the production giant cutting a fine figure as an amateur sleuth, Paul Dupin. Dupin is hired for his medical know-how to identify a female corpse that has been found, her face mutilated beyond recognition. There are suspicions that it may be the infamous Marie Roget, a notorious musical comedy star who has been missing for the past 10 days. This all falls south, however, as Marie suddenly reappears, without a thought nor care for those worried about her absence and throwing further mystery around the identity of the corpse.
A lot of this film is convoluted and shrouded in confusion, a mask that it relies upon to hide the obvious killer from the audience, especially as it never clearly labels any other notable suspects into the mix.
There is a subtle sub plot beneath the surface insinuating a possible romantic interest between Dupin and Marie’s sister Camille, but this is often swept aside by the need to amp up the thriller aspect.
It is only when Marie disappears again, quickly followed by another disfigured corpse that things begin to get more sinister and with a modern filmmaker’s gaze could really switch things in an incredibly dark direction, but the forties were a very different era.
Knowles feels more in his comfort zone this time around carrying a weight of confidence in his methods that leaves one thinking at least someone knows where the plot line is going.
The film has a lot of premise, but unfortunately it all gets lost in creating an atmosphere embedded once again between a murder mystery, and screwball comedy that it never quite hits the mark in either of these areas.
It does still have a decent underlining, which feels like it warrants another look today as a remake with the right director attached.