Tuesday, October 14, 2014


George Zucco is a chemistry professor teaching a class about his theory that the Mayans had developed a poisonous gas which caused a "life in death/death in life" state in the people who were used as human sacrifices. After class, he asks student David Bruce to help him with his experiments involving that gas. It turns out that he has used the gas to zombify a monkey, and now plans to use herbs and a heart transplant to bring the monkey back, hoping to use the procedure on humans. When Bruce questions the morality of his activities, Zucco replies, "I'm a scientist—there is no good or evil, only true or false." A complicating factor is concert singer Evelyn Ankers; Bruce is in love with her, and though she likes him, she feels she has outgrown his attentions and is setting her sights on her sophisticated, exotic pianist (Turhan Bey). The slightly unhinged Zucco thinks that Ankers is dumping Bruce for him, so to make sure Bruce is no competition, he tricks Bruce into breathing in the zombie gas, then gets him to start digging up graves to gather up fresh hearts for his sinister work. A reporter (Robert Armstrong) figures things out and poses as a corpse to catch the ghouls, but things backfire a bit.

As other critics have pointed out, this B-film, though produced by a major studio (Universal), has the feel of a high-end poverty-row flick from Monogram or PRC, and that's mostly a compliment. The production values are skimpy but not slipshod, and the acting and writing are at least a notch above average. Zucco (pictured above in his creepy protective mask, with Bruce), as he often was in his B-roles, is the best thing in the movie, taking the proceedings as seriously as they should be, not camping around or chewing scenery and not sleepwalking through his part as the mad doctor. The rest of the cast is fine, even Bruce who many critics don't care for. Milburn Stone (Doc on "Gunsmoke") plays a cop. What I liked best about the plot is that, against expectations, there really is no sturdy hero here to save the day; Bruce becomes a zombie, Bey doesn’t get to do much except play the piano, and Zucco is the instrument of his own demise. A little-known solid B-horror flick. [DVD]

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