Following on my last 4-movie zombie fest, another set of similar movies, this time about enslaved subjects both living and undead, raised and commanded by remote control thanks to mad science, cult ritual, alien power, or a mobster with radioactive gadgetry.
The Face of Marble (1946): William Beaudine directs this Monogram story of mad scientist John Carradine working with his assistant Robert Shayne on experiments to bring the dead back o life through a combination chemical-electrical treatment. Their first subject revives only halfway in a zombie-like state. Their next, the dog belonging to Carradine’s wife (Claudia Drake) becomes a ghostly Hellhound. Meanwhile, their servant (Rosa Rey) is a voodoo practitioner who uses her powers to bring Drake and Shayne together. There’s almost too much going on between the lightning bolts, a love triangle (quadrangle if you factor in Shayne’s girl Maris Wrixon), apparitions and voodoo dolls, plus a nosy police inspector. Carradine is good, and there’s an interesting turn of events when Drake dies suddenly and Carradine turns her into a limbo creature and ghostly apparition. She spookily walks through walls with her great dane by her side, and both are invisible to anyone but their prey, so there are some good scenes where Shayne and Wrixon try to fight them and we get both their views of the attacks and everyone else’s, of them punching at air. Poetic image and peaceful ending for our undead pair when their voodoo mistress dies and they walk into the sea.
The Man from Planet X (1951): Edgar G. Ulmer’s fascinating low budget, fog-shrouded classic about the expressionless alien with the bloated head who arrives from a dying planet when its orbit brings it near the Scottish Moors. A professor (Raymond Bond), his daughter (Margaret Field, Sally’s mother), an assistant (William Schallert), and an American reporter (Robert Clarke) are there to research and end up encountering the alien. They try their best to communicate and make peaceful headway until greedy Schallert angers the thing by torturing it to extract information. The alien then uses his ship’s humming ray gun tech to enslave Field and many locals, who must be freed before the alien prepares the area for invasion by the rest of his race, and also before the military move in and start blasting everyone. Ulmer’s no-frills production is great fun and surprisingly believable, with basic but memorable visuals. The enigmatic but sympathetic extraterrestrial scares you when he first peeps out at Field through his porthole and there’s good atmosphere created by the moors, a castle with a dungeon, and rocky cliffs beyond which sits that unique, minimalist spherical spacecraft. This is considered the first alien contact/invasion movie.
Creature with the Atom Brain (1955): The first of two Edward L. Cahn movies in this post. Mafioso Michael Granger returns to America to get revenge on everyone who crossed him, with the help of a Nazi scientist who’s perfected an atomic reanimating system that turns dead bodies into remote control slaves. Wiring is inserted into the slaves’ brains so that their eyes transmit what they see to the TV set in the villains’ secret lab, and a mic setup turns the undead minions into Granger’s ventriloquist dummies. They also retain abilities and knowledge such as driving, dropping in on old friends or getting into the police station where they work, and if it wasn’t for the odd violent outburst, like tearing a girl’s dolly limb from limb, they’d pass as normal folks. It’s astounding that their vacant stares, obvious skull-encircling incisions and stitch marks don’t give them away in the height of a city-wide “dead men walking!” panic, but it adds to the fun and the menace. Forensic scientist Richard Denning heads the investigation, which would baffle a lesser mind with its radioactive blood droplets, glowing fingerprints, and seemingly unconnected victims. Once crooks and lawmen alike are told they’re on a hit list, they’re reluctant to go into protective custody until they come face to face with one of Granger’s superstrong robotic henchmen. Denning’s charming home life has some funny little subversive touches, like a daughter who names her new girl-doll Dave, and wife (Angela Stevens) who craves time alone with her husband and polishes off the martini he leaves untouched when duty calls. Nice finale with the zombie horde being riddled with bullets.
The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake (1959): Another Cahn-directed movie, and my most enjoyable one of this bunch. The men of the Drake family have been cursed with early death for almost 200 years, ever since Grandpa Drake wiped out an Amazon tribe and earned the ire of their witch doctor. Now, Drake brother Ken (Paul Cavanagh) has died and his head’s gone missing, it’s up to the fourth target Jonathan (Eduard Franz) to find a way to stop or fill out the terms of this curse. Villain Henry Daniell is delightfully demented, and quite sprightly for a 180-year-old. He describes with great relish how the ritual requires victims be poisoned with a precise prick with a poisoned tip, that the heads must be gently stripped off the skulls without any bone being punctured or cracked, which would cause the victim’s soul to leak out. We get to watch the process of peeling, cooking and shrinking down of a head, see the creepy final grapefruit-sized likenesses with long hair and lips sewn shut, and witness the clean skulls returned to the Drake crypt as reminders to the family. Daniell’s giant assistant (Paul Wexler) is quite the sight, with his luxurious long hair and stitched lips,trudging about the Gothic grounds with his head-basket, impervious to bullets. Police detective Grant Richard struggles to get past his skepticism to embrace the supernatural explanation and comprehend all the strange sights. Plenty more spooks: floating skulls appearing to Franz, Daniell’s head sewn onto a dark-skinned native body, prints from fingers with little skull brands, Cavanagh’s headless corpse in his coffin, and dramatic combustion/evaporation for defeated undead.
I recently watched Cahn’s Invisible Invaders too.