The Classic Era Horror of John Carradine

And now, the latest in our month long series about classic horror which we launched here.

John Carradine was identified with several genres, not just horror, but westerns and historical costume dramas among them. His movie career was over 50 years long; his work in horror came in several phases. In the 1930s, he was attached to some classics but in a minimal fashion; he was an extra in The Invisible Man (1933), The Black Cat (1934) and Bride of Frankenstein (1934). And his horror work in the 1950s, 60s, 70s and 80s was so voluminous that I haven’t even begun to get a handle on it; stay tuned for a later post or two on that. But in the meantime, there is his work in the 1940s, and (seeing as how he was Universal’s replacement for Dracula after Bela Lugosi stepped out) it was some of his best known work.

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Revenge of the Zombies (1943)

This sequel to King of the Zombies (1941) has the same Nazi-mad-scientist-on-an-uncharted-island plot, but a fairly solid cast for such a low budget cheapie, including Carradine, Gale Storm, Mantan Moreland, and western star Bob Steele

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Voodoo Man (1944)

Quite a disappointment. Imagine a movie with this title without any actual Africans! The “voodoo” scenes consist of Bela Lugosi and George Zucco in wizard outfits with Carradine making idiotic faces and beating a bongo. The nefarious plot? They have trapped four individual female motorists on the same stretch of road and turned them into zombies. Zucco, as the least plausible American gas station attendant ever, tips off Lugosi that the motorist is preceding down the road, and then Lugosi uses a special machine that causes her car engine to fail. Lugosi is trying to do some kind of soul transference. He has kept his dead wife alive for the past 22 years but she is somnambulant. He will use these women to bring her fully to life. Why he is doing this all the sudden after 22 years of not doing this is unexplained. Carradine’s role as a lackey is especially thankless and humiliating. Can he have been that hard up? At any rate, the authorities figure it out somehow and come rescue the women

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The Invisible Man’s Revenge (1944)

Over 20 minutes into this film, there is still no reference to the Invisible Man. A fugitive amnesiac (whose name happens to be Griffin like the scientist in The Invisible Man but whose relationship to the previous Griffins is unclear) wakes up to learn he has been swindled out of half a South African diamond mine, by a seemingly respectable lord and lady. He is rescued by drunken rustic Leon Errol. Later he winds up in home of mad scientist John Carradine, who keeps a bunch of invisible animals. He makes Griffin invisible. Griffin immediately leaves to get his revenge on the people who swindled him. He first terrorizes them—wants all their wealth and also their daughter.  He enlists Errol to be his lackey in the enterprise. A comical game of darts is played. Then he goes back to the doctor for an antidote so that he can win the daughter. The catch is that they will have to kill another man—drain all his blood—for a transfusion. They plan to use the blood of his rival for the girl. Billy Bevan returns as a comical cockney cop. The plan backfires and they end up using the mad doctor’s blood. There is a struggle in the wine cellar, and then the authorities arrive to spoil the party.

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The Mummy’s Ghost (1944)

We are back in the U.S. once again. The connecting thread to the last film is the scientist who identified the mummy in the last picture, a minor character. He tells his class about the mummy and subsequently begins to fool around with tanna leaves, waking the ancient somnambulist. There is also a beautiful Egyptian girl, the girlfriend of the hero. She assists the professor but has strange dreams and sleepwalking episodes. The new lackey sent by the high priest (George Zucco) is Carradine, but it doesn’t save the film from being a very routine programmer. He puts the spirit of the long dead princess into the girl and the mummy begins killing again. Eventually the two are sunk in a swamp…the girl having reverted to her 2,000 year old self just before she sinks.

Return of the Apeman (1944)

Was the first one such a smash hit they needed a sequel? This one has nothing to do with the original. Lugosi and Carradine are scientists working on the problem of suspended animation. They get it to work on a homeless man they have frozen. Realizing that it works, they launch an arctic expedition to find intact frozen cavemen—and they find one! They bring him back to the lab and thaw him out. But the caveman can’t talk to relay what he knows. Lugosi decides to transplant part of a modern brain into his head. Carradine refuses to participate—it will be murder to do so. Lugosi tricks him (with an electric floor plate that paralyzes him but somehow allows him to talk)  and takes his brain. The caveman runs amok in city and commits some murders. Authorities chase him back to lab. Caveman kills Lugosi, but then dies in fire. He should have stayed in bed!

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Bluebeard (1944)

Directed by Edgar G. Ulmer.  Carradine is a creepy Parisian painter and puppeteer, whom (the film would have us believe) is good looking and attractive to women. A sort of ladies man. But unfortunately he garrotes them all with his cravat and dumps them all in the Sienne. (Oddly but conveniently he has a door in his house that leads directly down to the river). Unfortunately he has a bad habit of painting his victims, and his dealer sells the paintings. One is publicly exhibited, providing the police with their first clue. They lay a trap for him and nab him. They chase him to the roof and he falls to his death.

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House of Frankenstein (1944)

Insanely entertaining and chock full of events! A suitable rebound from the dip in quality in Ghost of Frankenstein. Nearly every Universal horror star is in it. The title of the film is ironically fitting, as the house is nearly all that is left of Frankenstein and the original story thread.

Karloff plays a mad scientist, a former assistant of Frankenstein whom we first meet incarcerated in a dungeon. He instructs the hunchback in the cell next to him on how he can reanimate dead bodies (using hilariously simple chalk diagrams). Right on cue, they are freed when lightning strikes the castle that holds them, collapsing it. Outside they find a carnival wagon stuck conveniently in the mud . It contains Professor Lampini (George Zucco) and a show of horrors, notably the actual skeleton of Dracula. Karloff kills the professor, and steals his show, expertly impersonating a carnival barker when the need arises. They travel to a small town where he has an old score to settle. Sig Ruman is a local burgomaster, Lionel Atwill the police chief (sans mechanical arm), and there is a pair of obligatory, nondescript lovers.

Karloff revives Dracula (Carradine) who goes and kills the burgomaster and attempts to steal the girl. Later Dracula is trapped by sunlight and the girl escapes. These characters now pass out of the story completely. Next Karloff and the hunchback meet up with a bunch of gypsies. Just like Quasimodo, the hunchback falls in love with a beautiful performing gypsy girl. They rescue her from a cruel gypsy king who whips her. Then they go to Frankenstein’s castle, finding a mysterious frozen land underneath. There, the Wolf Man (Lon Chaney, Jr.) and the monster (Glenn Strange) are frozen. Karloff thaws them out for his experiments, planning to exchange their brains. Wolf Man wants to be cured of his lycanthropy. He begins to turn at the full moon, killing people. Meanwhile the gypsy girl has fallen in love with him. The jealous hunchback wants the Wolf Man’s body. Out of love, the girl shoots the werewolf with a silver bullet. Then the hunchback attacks Karloff. The Monster throws  the hunchback off the roof. A mob comes after the Monster, carrying Karloff. Then they fall into quicksand and sink. THE END-?

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House of Dracula (1945)

The genre dies a second death here, we’re getting near the end of classic Universal horror. This one concerns a certain doctor whom all the Universal Horror monsters visit in order to be cured of their maladies. First John Carradine shows up as Dracula, then Lon Chaney as the Wolfman arrives. The doctor has a pretty hunchbacked nurse—that should give us some indication of the trouble to arrive! Only MAD doctors have hunchbacked assistants! When the Wolfman turns and escapes, the doctor follows him to a cave…where they uncover the body of Frankenstein (Glenn Strange)! The doctor is tempted to revive the monster, but is convinced it would be evil. Meanwhile he appears to have cured the Wolfman. He is in the process of curing Dracula of vampirism with a transfusion…but the latter turns the tables and puts his own blood into the doctor. Later there is a struggle, and Dracula is exposed to sunlight and dies. Unfortunately now the doctor turns into a vampire. Now that he is evil, he instantly revives the Frankenstein Monster. Mayhem, and an all-consuming fire, ensue.

Carradine would return to the part of Dracula twenty years later, but on that occasion the results would not be so fortunate….

2 comments

  1. Can anyone tell me if John Carradine was a painter ? I have a painting that was given to me by my Grandmother who worked as a maid at a Hotel in Greenwich Village NY during the 1930s and she informed me that the painting was given to her as a gift from John Carradine

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    • Yes, as a matter of fact as a young man he WAS a painter, and that was what he aimed to be professionally. Scenic design first brought him onto movie sets, and that was how he transitioned into acting. Later, in the 40s he hung around with a gang of friends that included painter John decker, art critic Sadakichi Hartmann, John Barrymore (who had also started as a painter) and W.C. Fields, who, among his many other talents, also dabbled into cartooning. Booze, theatre, laughs, and a love of visual arts bound all these men together.

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