Saturday January 13, 1973: Revenge of the Zombies (1943) / Cry of the Werewolf (1944)

 

Synopsis: Scott Warrington (Mauritz Hugo) arrives at the Louisiana mansion of his sister Lila and brother-in-law Dr. Max Von Altermann (John Carradine), 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 (Robert Lowery), 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: In preparing to write about this John Carradine programmer, I went back and watched I Walked With a Zombie, the groundbreaking Val Lewton voodoo film that predated this one by six months. I wondered, is there any indication that this is Monogram’s attempt to cash in on that intelligent and well-regarded picture?

After watching both films back-to-back, my first impulse is to say no. Even though the two films were released in the same year, and are both ostensibly about zombies, there’s almost no resemblance between the two. Revenge of the Zombies, like its Monogram progenitor King of the Zombies, is as overtly dumb and lurid as I Walked With a Zombie is literate and lyrical. It’s like trying to compare it It Comes at Night with Dead Snow.

And yet.

I’m guessing that somebody involved in the production saw I Walked With a Zombie because Revenge of the Zombies makes a number of clumsy, half-hearted attempts to evoke the spooky, gossamer-like atmosphere of a Lewton film, most notably when Lazarus goes out to summon the zombies to him with an unnerving “Aaaaaaaaa-wooooooooo!”. We also have Lila wandering around aimlessly, much as Jessica Holland does in I Walked With a Zombie. But like the (many) other Lewton imitators, no one at Monogram was equipped to do what Lewton did. So the efforts end up looking silly, like children dressing up as adults.

Fortunately, the movie doesn’t spend much time trying to sing above its range, and in short order gets down to what the audience paid for: John Carradine chewing the scenery with grandiose speeches about his “Nazi zombie army”, a phrase I can’t even type — much less say — without smiling.

Cry of the Werewolf

76d0d-cry_01

Synopsis: Dr. Charles Morris (Fritz Leiber) operates a museum of the occult, located in the former mansion of a famous Gypsy queen named Marie LaTour.  Dr. Morris tells assistant Elsa Chauvet (Osa Massen) that he is about to publish a ground-breaking work on Marie LaTour, which will reveal important new information about her life.  

Elsa leaves to pick up Dr. Morris’ son Bob (Stephen Crane) at the train station, but when the two of them return to the LaTour mansion they find Dr. Morris has been killed by an animal – apparently a wolf.  Moreover, the notes he has compiled for his manuscript have been tossed into the fireplace and are mostly burned, and a tour guide who was present at the museum (John Abbott) is now babbling incoherently, his mind apparently broken by what he witnessed. 

Bob and Elsa devise a way to reconstruct some of the information from the burned notes, and this leads them to investigate the mythology and practices of the Gypsies.  Marie LaTour had purportedly been a werewolf, and as the Gypsies are a matriarchal society, her daughter — also named Marie LaTour  (Nina Foch)– has inherited her lycanthropy. 

Meanwhile, Lt. Barry Lane (Barton McLane) doggedly tries to solve the murder without resorting to occult explanations.  This is surprisingly difficult, since Elsa, his first prime suspect, is cleared because her fingerprints don’t match those found at the scene of the crime, and museum janitor Jan Spavero, his second prime suspect, ends up getting mauled by a wolf. …

Comments: Speaking of Val Lewton knockoffs, a lot of critics put Cry of the Werewolf in that category, but personally I don’t think it’s correct. Cry of the Werewolf was a followup to Columbia’s successful Return of the Vampire starring Bela Lugosi, and that film aped the Universal horror classics, not Val Lewton.
Aside from Osa Massen’s hair, there’s really nothing Val Lewton-esque about this film at all; it contains no real psychological elements, does little to build suspense, and the reality of werewolves is never in doubt. The movie seems to want to stake out some new territory in monster lore, as it did with some success in Return of the Vampire, but it doesn’t really work here. Perhaps people lump this one in the with Val Lewton wannabees because we rarely see the “monster” onscreen. That’s true, but I chalk it up to a meager budget rather than any attempt at subtlety.
Every time I start getting drawn into this movie I get pushed out again for the same reason: Stephen Crane’s performance as Bob, who is inexplicably the object of every woman’s affection. Is this some alternate Earth where men are in short supply? Was this dullard the sort of galoot women went for in the 1940s? It’s a mystery.
But Nina Foch steals the show as Marie LaTour, and it’s fun to see Barton McLane playing (no surprise here) a police detective.
Advertisements

One comment

  1. REVENGE OF THE ZOMBIES isn’t my favorite Monogram, although it’s certainly a novelty when a nagging wife continues to plague her husband after death! CRY OF THE WEREWOLF hasn’t been heard in over four decades, not once airing on Pittsburgh’s Chiller Theater, so who knows where I saw it all those years ago.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s