Saturday, May 6, 1972: Return of the Ape Man (1944) / Revenge of the Zombies (1943)


Synopsis: Professors Dexter (Bela Lugosi) and Gilmore (John Carradine) are conducting an experiment in suspended animation.  They bring a drunken vagrant (Ernie Adams) back to their laboratory, inject him with a serum, then freeze him solid for four months.  When they thaw him out, he’s as good as new.  He happily takes the five-dollar bill Professor Gilmore gives him, unaware that any time has passed at all.

Professor Gilmore states that this is a triumph for Dexter’s theories.  A man in this state of preservation, he says, could survive for a thousand years.  But Dexter is more circumspect.  There is only one way to prove that a man frozen for thousands of years could be revived, he says.  And that’s to find someone who’s been frozen for thousands of years and revive him!

Nine months later the two scientists are in the arctic, searching fruitlessly for a human body that’s been preserved in a glacier.  Gilmore urges Dexter to give up: they’ve been searching without success for nearly a year.  Gilmore adds that he is a married man, and that his family needs him. Dexter mocks Gilmore’s lack of resolve.

At that moment, the men see the outer edge of a glacier shear off from the rest.  They find the body of a man frozen in the ice, and they carve out the block and bring it back to their laboratory.

Using the techniques they’ve developed, the two scientists thaw out the caveman and restore it to life.  This, Gilmore says, is truly an amazing achievement!  Not yet, Dexter replies.  It will not be a truly amazing achievement until they are able to fully control the caveman.  And the only way to fully control the caveman is to take part of the brain of a modern man and add it to the caveman’s brain!

Gilmore scoffs, noting that it would be impossible to find a volunteer for such an experiment.  But Dexter seems unconcerned by this.  Later, at a homecoming celebration for the two scientists, Gilmore notices that his brainy brother Steve isn’t around.  Steve, we learn, has left with Dexter.  Gilmore rushes to Dexter’s lab, afraid of what he will find….

Comments: Such is my contempt for this thoroughly idiotic film that I’m breaking my normal rule — I’m refusing to watch it again. That wasn’t an easy decision to make.

I like to imagine this blog as a collaborative effort. You and I, dear reader, are supposed to watch the movies together. We’re a team, like Starsky and Hutch, or Boris and Natasha, or Abercrombie and Fitch. We whoop it up when things go well and we drown our sorrows when they don’t.

But I’m sorry; I have seen this train wreck a couple of times, and I can’t do it again. I am only human, and I have my limits. If it helps, imagine me in the kitchen, messing around with snacks and drinks during the first feature. But I can’t bring myself to watch.

This is Monogram at rock-bottom: the cramped, dingy sets, the lazy scriptwriting, the lackluster direction, the phoned-in performances, the surfeit of stock footage: it all congeals into a dismal mess. Both Lugosi and Carradine, who are used to working with substandard material without the slightest hint of embarrassment, seem oddly flat here.  It might have been the script, but then again both have been better with worse scripts. I suspect the real reason was that from top to bottom, at every step of the production, it was clear that no one cared the least about this movie.

That always makes me a little sad, to think that there are movies like that out there: movies that no one ever cared about.  People like to cite movies like Plan 9 From Outer Space or Robot Monster or Teenagers From Outer Space as the worst movies ever made; but those movies weren’t even close.  Those movies were made by filmmakers who, though inept, were following an inner vision, trying to make something good, and it shines through even the incompetence and lack of money and lack of imagination.

But movies like this are so much worse, because there is no beating heart anywhere inside them. They are written by hacks who had the idea assigned to them and who couldn’t care less, directed by hollowed-out men who long ago should have gotten out of the business; everything feels seedy and cheap, and everyone on the set wishes they were somewhere else. If no one involved in making the film gave it a moment’s thought or care, why should we?

Revenge of the Zombies

Synopsis: Scott Warrington arrives at the Louisiana mansion of his sister Lila and brother-in-law Dr. Max Von Altermann, a man whom Scott has never met.  Lila has recently died under suspicious circumstances, and Scott, thinking there may be trouble afoot, is traveling with Larry Adams, a private detective he’s hired. Wary of Dr. Van Alterman’s intentions, they decide to switch roles: Larry will pretend to be Scott and Scott will pretend to be Larry.

Dr. Altermann has secretly harnessed the power to bring the dead back to life as zombie slaves.  His own manservant Lazarus (James Baskett) and a number of the workers on the plantation are undead, though Scott and Larry as well as their comic-relief driver (Manton Morland) are unaware of it.

Soon Dr. Von Altermann meets with a mysterious representative of the Third Reich. Dr. Von Altermann gives a demonstration of zombie obedience to the visiting Nazi, explaining that an army of the undead could never be defeated, since they will continue to function no matter how much damage they sustain in battle. He reveals that he himself killed Lila to use her in his diabolical experiments; to him, Lila was unimportant compared to the Nazi zombie army he’s preparing.

But Dr. Altermann’s big dreams are threatened by some inconvenient happenings: Lila’s body keeps wandering around, and even Scott and Larry have seen it on the move. And the zombies are unexpectedly starting to disobey his orders….

Comments: I wasn’t looking forward to sitting through another Monogram mad scientist cheapie with John Carradine hamming it up and Manton Morland doing his bulgy-eyed, feets-don’t-fail-me-now schtick. But I have to admit that Revenge of the Zombies is actually kind of fun, partly because it doesn’t take itself too seriously (really, it’s hard to say the words “Nazi zombie army” without smiling), and partly because of its interesting supporting cast.

Carradine’s high-camp mad scientist — jabbering about indestructible zombie soldiers fighting for the Reich — is at least entertaining, and if you’ve seen one Manton Morland performance you’ve literally seen them all.  And the ostensible leads –Robert Lowery, Gale Storm and Mauritz Hugo are dull as dishwater.

But three performances stand out. James Baskett’s Lazarus is eerie and effective due entirely to body language and an electric physical presence; he actually has few lines. His song to summon the zombies is remarkably haunting, more Val Lewton than Monogram. Madame Sul-Te-Wan is great as Beulah, a cackling domestic with a canny knowledge of the occult.  And Sybil Lewis as Rosella is a revelation. Like Baskett she was a star of the black cinema of the time; she is so luminous here that she bursts through her minor role and steals every scene she’s in. She almost steals the movie.



  1. I can't say I ever cared much for RETURN OF THE APE MAN, apart from Lugosi's memorable line: “some people's brains would never be missed!” REVENGE OF THE ZOMBIES hardly makes for a hearty John Carradine double bill, a bit too low key in each. As much as he despised VOODOO MAN, he was far more animated.


  2. Yes, Carradine is rather low-key in REVENGE OF THE ZOMBIES, but somehow his hammy delivery seems perfectly appropriate to the material. One of the few times he dialed it down, and one of the few times that the movie would have been better had he gone full camp.


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