Directed by: Sam Newfield
Written by: Fred Myton
Starring: George Zucco, Dwight Frye & Mary Calisle
Reviewed by: Brett H.
“Whence came the story, told in frightened whispers down through the ages of witch and warlock, werewolf and vampire, and all the spawn of hell!”
Part of the fun of checking out a new horror film is not knowing what to expect. One man's garbage is another man's treasure and you really can't predict how any one film will appeal to you until you take that horrifying plunge into darkness. Lately, I've been trying my hand at a few of the dozens of public domain movies in my collection and seeing if I could find another classic to go along with White Zombie or even some craptastic cheese great to walk alongside Don't Look in the Basement or Pieces. More often than not, the films have been dull like The Devil's Hand, a film so meaningless that it insults bad movies everywhere. Will this one follow suit and prove to be wasted disc space? At 64 minutes, at least it won't take long.
Years ago, Elwyn Clayton (George Zucco) left for India and returned a changed man. Apparently while he was abroad he discovered sorcery and tossed good Christian values aside, much to the chagrin of kooky ol' Kate who barges in on his funeral and let's everyone know it. His kind brother Lloyd (also Zucco) is present, even if Elwyn hated his guts. And no wonder, considering this devout Satanist is getting a proper funeral! It turns out that Elwyn's passing wasn't natural, and the evils he learned in India would come in remarkably handy as he rises from the grave with a little help from his hunchback assistant Zolarr (Dwight Frye) to gain his vengeance on those who did him wrong in the name of hellfire and brimstone!
With a title like Dead Men Walk, one would assume they were getting into an early zombie film. While it's true the film deals with the undead, we're talking blood suckers instead of flesh eaters. Devil's Hand, be damned, Dead Men Walk actually has a good amount of entertainment value packed into its short running time. While nothing about is original, even for 1943, it has undeniable charm; the exact kind you hope to find when purging on shoddy public domain prints of shocks from days gone by. While George Zucco performs well in Jeckyll & Hyde type roles, Renfield himself, Dwight Frye steals the show as the familiar old hunchback helper.
While the effects are sparse and reflective of the time (ie: the disappearing vampire schtick), Dead Men Walk excels in its stereotypical supernatural drivel; it seems as though every word out of everyone's mouths has something to do with the "hours of darkness". In a nutshell, this flick would be a TV horror host's wet dream. Run down the checklist: murder mystery, vengeful vamp, hokey effects, horror babble, crazy wacko local, overzealous mob, hunchback assistant, recognizable genre names, mysterious bite marks on a young lady's neck and a couple dozen fun quotes... checks all across the board. This week's episode would write itself.
Unfortunately, Zucco isn't the most prolific vampire out there, but his mean streak is a mile wide when he puts stress on his former family by killing his own niece slowly and damning her to eternal darkness with his bite and making sure everyone in the family knows her ultimate fate. Available on public domain sets everywhere, the print I viewed was on a Platinum disc and was typically just okay in the a/v department. There are some print imperfections and bits of dialogue are tough to hear, but you get what you pay for. Platinum put its logo on the bottom corner like they're known to do, which is a mild annoyance. Dead Men Walk is a fun forties romp with a lot of heart and strong pacing, bringing nothing new to the table but sure to put a smile on your face from the word go. Rent it!
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