Monday, April 30, 2007


This perfectly acceptable B-thriller has become something of a cult item among horror/sf fans for two reasons: 1) the title implies that it's a sequel to the earlier cult film DOCTOR X; 2) it has Humphrey Bogart in a supporting role before he became a superstar. The horror content is actually secondary to the science fiction elements, and even those are used in support of a more traditional crime story. Reporter Wayne Morris is on his way to interview a famous actress (Lya Lys), but when he arrives, she's dead, stabbed in the chest and drained of blood. His paper prints an extra with his sensational story, but when the cops get there, the body has vanished and soon she shows up very much alive, threatening the paper with a lawsuit. Morris's job is on the line so he gets Dennis Morgan, a doctor pal of his, to help investigate this mystery, and when a rare blood type-donor is found murdered and drained in a similar fashion, they ask for help from esteemed surgeon John Litel, who winds up knowing more about both cases than he first lets on. Litel has a rather fey but creepy assistant (Bogart) with deathly pale skin, a buzz cut with a "Bride of Frankenstein" white streak, little round glasses, and cold, cold hands, and he's often seen holding and stroking a white rabbit. Our heroes discover that Bogart is actually a disgraced doctor named Xavier who was executed for killing children during experiments and was brought back to life by Litel using artificial blood. The problem is that Litel then needs fresh blood to keep Bogart alive. (The "living dead" actress is in the same boat.) In a nifty "Re-Animator"-type scene, Litel brings a dead rabbit back to life. The climax involves Morris and Morgan chasing Bogart, who is holding nurse Rosemary Lane hostage. This is likely to disappoint classic horror fans for the same reason that the 1932 DOCTOR X is often disparaged: too much comic relief. I'm a fan of B-thrillers and of Wayne Morris, so I enjoyed the film and Morris's bouncy, light performance, but fans of Bogie and horror films probably will not, despite some nice shadowy sets, impressionistic cinematography, and mad-scientist touches. Morris and Morgan make a nice pair, and if you like this, check them out in FLIGHT ANGELS. Litel is rather bland, though it's nice that he's more civilized than the traditional deranged doctor. Lane has little to do, and though some don't like Bogart's performance, I like it because it verges on camp without losing a menacing edge. John Ridgely has a one-line role as the murdered blood donor. [DVD]

No comments: