Dead Men Walk (1943) [31 Days of American Horror Review]

If it’s a month with 31 days in it, you can be sure that Jules will be firing out the horror movie reviews.

So, following on from his on “31 Days of Hammer” in January, his “31 Days of British Horror” in March and May, and his “31 Days of American  Horror” in August, Jules is once travelling across the pond this October with… you guessed it… 31 MORE Days of American Horror!


Director: Sam Neufeild
Starring:  Dwight Frye, George Zucco, Mary Carlisle, Nedrick Young, Forrest Taylor

By 1943 Hollywood was drowning in cheap, Poverty Row horrors, most of them not having much to offer save a slumming guest star phoning it in for the quick paycheck. Producer’s Releasing Corporation were as bad as anyone else for churning out the rubbish, but on Dead Men Walk, they actually made something quite interesting.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not what you would call a great movie, or even a particularly good one, but it’s got a few interesting things going for it that mark it out as worthy of investigation, if not repeated viewings.

Lloyd Clayton (George Zucco) is a small town Doctor who is burying his recently deceased twin brother Elwyn (Zucco again), who perished falling from a cliff edge. What nobody suspects is the good Doctor was responsible for his demise, pushing him over the edge to protect his nerve, Elwyn’s daughter Gayle (Mary Carlisle), after discovering he had taken to devil worship.

Unknown to Clayton, Elwyn’s hunchback lackey Zolarr (the great Dwight Frye in one of his last roles) steals his coffin after the service, for the evil twin has been rewarded for his service to Satan by being turned into a vampire and is now immortal! With nothing but revenge on his mind, Elwyn appears to Clayton and informs him that he plans to drain the life from his beloved niece (his own daughter!) slowly, over days, so he can do nothing but watch. Worse, the villagers start to assume that Clayton himself is behind the murders and set off to mete out mob justice…

It’s important to stress again that Dead Men Walk isn’t particularly good, but what it gets right is interesting enough to set it apart from the poor efforts that were around it.

First of all, what it does with the vampire concept is quite unique. The old European folklore idea of a vampire’s corpse being just that – a normal corpse – through the daylight hours is one that nobody ever took on board, but it’s a brilliant one and adds an extra dimension to the lore of the undead.

Not only that, but Elwyn’s desire to torture his brother is really sick. Gayle might be the unfortunate Lloyd’s Brice, but he’s Elwyn’s own daughter, but there’s no sign of familial love or even interest, she’s a tool to take revenge with, nothing more. It’s also interesting to see a vampire’s chosen target being selected not by lust or hunger, but pure, cold revenge. Nice.

Luckily, Zucco is more than capable of selling both roles here and convinced as much as a well-meaning white hat as the utterly despicable and sadistic undead servant of evil. He’s particularly strong in the latter role and hams it up just enough to stay this side of threatening, so much so that her have been a much better choice to replace Lugosi than John Carradine ever was.

The rest of the cast are fairly forgettable alas, save for poor Dwight Frye as usual. The king of the deranged henchmen looks ill here and it’s sad to think he was almost at the end of both his career and life, but he’s magnificent as always and steals every scene he’s in.

That’s about it, though. Again, Dead Men Walk is far from great, but it’s got some great things going on at points, making it more of a curio than a classic, but still one worth looking out for.

Rating: 2.5/5.

JULESAVThe Writer of this piece was: Jules Boyle
Jules tweets from @Captain_Howdy

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