Thursday, September 27, 2012
Dead Men Walk (1942)
Who's in it?: George Zucco (The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes; House of Frankenstein); Dwight Frye (Dracula; Frankenstein)
What's it about?: A doctor battles his twin brother, who's a vampire.
How is it?: Think Bela Lugosi's Dracula if Dracula and Van Helsing were twins. For that reason, Dead Men Walk is actually the more interesting story. If it only had Bela Lugosi and director Tod Browning, it would have been the better movie overall. It even has Dwight Frye, more or less reprising his Renfield role as the vampire's henchman.
The movie opens on the funeral of evil Elwyn Clayton, who was killed by his brother, the kindly Dr. Lloyd Clayton. Unfortunately, Elwyn resurrects as a vampire and begins to murder young girls. Things get especially tense when he targets Lloyd's niece Gayle as his next victim. It's not clear if that makes her Elwyn's daughter or the child of an unseen, third sibling, but probably it's the latter.
The twins element of Dead Men Walk is more than just a gimmick. The villagers, including Gayle's fiancé, get confused about which Clayton is a threat to the local women and - thinking that Elwyn's dead - they begin to suspect poor Lloyd. That's a cool angle. Imagine the trouble Van Helsing would have had if he had to not only defeat Dracula, but do it while everyone thought that HE was the real threat.
George Zucco is pretty underrated as a horror icon. He wasn't in as many movies as Lugosi and Karloff, but he's menacing and quite memorable. In addition to being an excellent Moriarty and having a small, but important role in House of Frankenstein, he was in most of Universal's Mummy movies and did a great job in the movie I'll be talking about tomorrow, The Mad Monster.