October 4th, 2015
|10:15 pm - 31 Days of Halloween: Dead Men Walk|
About a decade ago I became aware of an actor named George Zucco who was most active during the 1930s and 1940s. I'm not sure what it is about Zucco, but he reminds me of my maternal grandfather. It was not unusual for me to run into my grandpa during his regular evening walks, and he'd shine a flashlight under his chin and do the "muahahahahahaha" laugh that we all associate with cheesy old movies. I can imagine George Zucco doing this, and maybe if he added a few pounds, he'd look a bit like my grandpa.
Anyway, Zucco played all sorts of roles--sheriffs, soldiers, professor Moriarty, Benjamin Disraeli--but he famously took whatever roles he was offered, which means he spent a lot of time in horror movies--and not always the good ones. He was, however, an Actor with a capital A, who was able to lend a greater touch of class to these movies than they probably deserved, so I tend to watch them just for him. He doesn't get a lot of attention anymore, but in his day he headlined movies.
I've had Dead Men Walk on DVD for ages, and I've definitely watched it before, but didn't find it very memorable. Still, I thought I'd give it a shot in order to continue the theme of older movies.
Dead Men Walk opens with a scary and contextless monologue by Mr. Zucco himself asking us how, as "creatures of the light", we can claim to know what foulness lurks in the obsidian well of darkness. It's a nice speech full of pretentious language that would make H.P. Lovecraft proud, but it's also delivered before we have any idea what the story is about.
The story follows Dr. Lloyd Clayton whose identical twin brother Elwyn has been a devout satanist since his pilgrimage to India some years ago. As the film opens, Elwyn's funeral is being interrupted by the local old maid who considers it an unforgivable blasphemy that such a man should receive a proper Christian service. After the interment, Lloyd goes to Elwyn's house to destroy the man's occult books, and is accosted by Elwyn's hunchbacked servant, Zolarr. We learn that Elwyn fell to his death during some sort of scuffle between the two brothers, and though the authorities are convinced it was an accident, Zolarr is sure that Lloyd is guilty of murder.
Zolarr (who only has one name, by the way) is this story's Renfield, and he assists Elwyn in his resurrection. "I have failed Shaitan," says Elwyn, with the air of a man who knows he's going to have a meeting with H.R., and a strike on his permanent record.
Elwyn may be back from the dead, but he can't go out during the day, and he has to drink the blood of the living to survive. Lucky for him, everybody in this movie appears to stay up until the small hours of the morning every night, so he has plenty to time to menace the townspeople and lecture his brother about murder. Elwyn is spotted peeping into windows and creeping around corners, but he's dead, so the locals assume that Lloyd has become dangerously unbalanced.
As I said, I was unimpressed with Dead Men Walk on my initial viewing, but I had a great time with it tonight, probably because I was in the mood for this sort of thing. There are no surprises here, but it's absolutely dripping with the indefensible excesses of old-fashioned, melodramatic horror: pompous monologues, heavy-handed overacting, a cape wearing villain and an angry mob with pitchforks and torches--all of these things are present. It was made on a tiny budget in 1943, so there are no special effects to speak of, other Elwyn fading into invisibility (that's something vampires do, right?) and some scenes where the two brothers confront each other. Zucco is the only actor I recognize, but the film was directed by Sam Newfield and written by Fred Moyton. I'm not terribly familiar with either man's work, but they were both prolific in the world of B-movies, and I can see why: Dead Men Walk is short (63 minutes) and tight enough that you won't have time to get bored.
You can watch the whole thing on YouTube: