Dead Men Walk
dead men walk | sam newfield | fred myton | george zucco | mary carlisle | nedrick young | vampire | monster | creature | creature feature | satanist | drama | dwight frye | fern emmett | robert strange | hal price | sam flint | jimmy aubrey | rube dalroy | frank matts | united states
Film: Dead Men Walk
Director: Sam Newfield
Writer: Fred Myton
Starring: George Zucco, Mary Carlisle and Nedrick Young
This is a movie that I discovered when searching for horror from 1943. The title caught my attention. I also thought I saw Dwight Fyre on the poster. To my surprise, he is in this film as well so I was even more interested. My first thought was that this would be a potential zombie film. Reading a bit of the synopsis as I as queuing this up, we get something a bit different.
Synopsis: the twin of a kindly small-town physician returns from the grave for vengeance against his brother, who secretly killed him because his twin served Satan.
We start this off with revealing what the creature is, a vampire. A book entitled ‘History of Vampires’ is tossed into the fire. A superimposed face appears and warns of things around us. We then shift over to a funeral for Dr. Elwyn Clayton (George Zucco). It is interrupted by Kate (Fern Emmett) who speaks on the evils this man committed before his death. She doesn’t believe he deserves a funeral in the church.
The movie then shifts to the cemetery where his mausoleum is found. Dr. Lloyd Clayton (Zucco) is there with Gayle (Mary Carlisle) who is his niece and her boyfriend, Dr. David Bentley (Nedrick Young). It doesn’t confirm it, but it seems like Elwyn was Gayle’s father and David worked with him. It is revealed that Elwyn went to study in India and came back with beliefs that are different. He seemed to have started worshiping Satan. What is interesting is how racist this idea is, knowing the religions of India. I’ll digress and come back to this later.
That night, Zolarr (Frye) steals the coffin of Elwyn. His master is a vampire and he wants to make it difficult for anyone to set an ambush. He cannot move unless it is night. His goal is then to turn Gayle to be his disciple in the afterlife. She isn’t the only victim. There are others and David starts to believe that Lloyd is hurting Gayle. Things are said that makes this young man believe it. The townspeople also believe that Lloyd is behind the attacks, especially when Elwyn is seen and they know he’s dead. Sheriff Losen (Hal Price) doesn’t want to believe, but without evidence, it is even more difficult.
I think that is where I’ll leave my recap and introduction to the characters. Now I went a bit light because early into his movie I realized that this borrowed the main idea of Dracula. We don’t have the Count being met in Transylvania or coming to London. That is all removed. The basic story elements are when the vampire arrives and the victims are attacked. We also don’t have the Renfield character, but there is Zolarr who oddly enough, is portrayed by the same actor from the 1931 version of Dracula.
Now that I have those opening thoughts out there, let me delve a bit more. Despite this being a mirror of the story elements from that classic tale, I like what we get here. Having these twin brothers, both played by Zucco, being here is good. With Elwyn dead, it makes sense that Lloyd would be blamed. He’s also acting weird so there’s that. It is only Kate who believes him. Something that I didn’t bring up is that Gayle is bedridden since she gets bitten early on. This parallels what happens with Lucy and Mina from Bram Stoker’s tale. I like that David doesn’t believe so he’s against Lloyd at first. He needs proof. It is only Kate who knew that Elwyn was evil before his death.
This version of the vampire is where I want to explore now. What we get here is changing the lore from Dracula. I don’t think he needs to be invited in. Elwyn can appear and disappear. This would be like how Dracula can become mist. I don’t remember him being able to turn others into this creature without needing to a ritual of sorts. I could be mistaken there since it seems he’s only trying to change Gayle. Sunlight can kill him as can stakes to the heart. I do like how Elwyn torments his brother, knowing Lloyd’s battle to prove that he is a vampire.
Now I do need to shift a negative here and it was something I brought up earlier. This tries to set up that Elwyn went to India and got heavy into the occult, sorcery and demonology. I take this as the movie saying that they’re godless people and that because they are so, they must worship demons. It doesn’t make sense knowing that the primary religions would be Buddhism, Hinduism and Christianity thanks to the British. This just feels like a person from the western world, looking at the east and then just lumping them in without knowing. This doesn’t ruin it, but it annoyed me that more care wasn’t put in. What is different as a positive is that this vampire worships Satan. Normally, since vampires have eternal life, they are atheists for knowing the truth. I like here crosses make sense to ward him off since the vampire is a direct opposite of good in the framework.
There isn’t anything more with the story that I want to go into so I’ll shift to filmmaking. I thought that the cinematography was fine. It didn’t do anything to necessarily stand out or take me out of it. The camera work was mostly static. I did like what they tried to do with effects. There is the fading of Elwyn when he visits his brother. I don’t recall showing vampire fangs, but what they do there is fine. They were limited to what was available. That is the era as well. Other than that, the soundtrack and design fit for what was needed without standing out.
All that is left then is acting. Zucco was good here in both roles. I like that he got to be our hero with the difficult task of proving who the monster is. He also gets to play that role. This is the first time I’ve seen him as a vampire as well. Carlisle is fine, but she is mostly in bed. That feels of the era as well since she’s our damsel in distress who needs to be saved. I like that Young doesn’t immediately believe. He is a nemesis through wanting to protect Gayle who becomes his fiancée. He also thinks her uncle is hurting her. Frye is great as a henchman. I like Emmett as a harbinger of sorts. Other than that, Price, Robert Strange and the rest of the cast rounded this out for what was needed.
In conclusion, I wasn’t expecting to get a creature feature that we got here. We are getting a boiled down version of Dracula. That’s not to say that we don’t get good elements. I like Zucco playing brothers, one good and the other the monster. The rest of the acting is fine. This does different things with the vampire lore than others of the era. I’d also say that this is made well enough. Not one I can recommend to everyone. It is lacking so I’d only say to see this if you like movies of the era or out to see every vampire film that is made.
My Rating: 6 out of 10