Monday, November 28, 2011

Last Three Pages of the SHOCK! Catalog

In this SHOCK! catalog series, I will be skipping the individual film entries which follow page 8 (unnumbered in the original), placing, instead, each at the end of the corresponding SHOCK! film that may be reviewed on the blog.

So we then arrive at the last three pages of the unnumbered catalog.

Order forms for stills, ad mats, and balops. What's a balop, you ask? It's a slide or card bearing a picture or other visual material for projection in television.

Contact info for "the full SHOCK treatment":

And we end with Frankie!...

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Shock! List (page 8 in the unnumbered original)

The next page of the SHOCK! catalog lists, in alphabetical order, the 52 films presented by Screen Gems to TV station. The catalog numbers run from 693 to 744. I wonder what came before and after?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Audience Promotion to Excite Your Public (page 7; unnumbered in the original)

The next page in Screen Gems SHOCK! promotion book contains advice on "how to excite your public."

One direct audience participation gimmick is to consider what you would cook should a monster come to your house for dinner. (I'm sure we've hosted many a monster at a meal.) The public would be encouraged to send in their menus, from which a winning menu would be selected and then served at a restaurant to people in the city with the name of Frankenstein! According to the writer of the text, there were 13 Frankensteins in New York City at the time. I wonder what the number would have been in smaller cities?

An exploitation item has a "mummy" escaping from a museum that's having an Egyptian exhibit. When the mummy is interviewed by the pseudo-press, he states that he made his escape in order to get his "SHOCK treatment." Crazy mummy.

Another exploitation tactic mentions dressing up a woman in the style of a Charles Adams (sic) cartoon, clearly a reference to Charles Addams' main female character who would be named Morticia when THE ADDAMS FAMILY TV series was broadcast in the 1960s. The Morticia character was already iconic at the time. (Interestingly, Vampira, who took her look from the Addams character and who had been hosting horror films prior to SHOCK!, is not mentioned.) "Monster Society of America" membership cards would be handed out by this female character and the monster riding with her in a hearse.

Fun suggestions all. I wonder how many were actualized?

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Review: Famous Monsters of Filmland: The Annotated Issue # 1

Of all the publications released by the current regime of FAMOUS MONSTERS (shorthanded as FM 3.0 and headed up by Philip Kim "Kong"), I was most looking forward to THE ANNOTATED ISSUE #1. My enthusiasm was slightly lessened when I learned that this publication would most likely contain a major chunk of what once had been published before, a special mock FM edition honoring the 90th birthday of Forrest "Forry" Ackerman, FM's legendary 1st and longest-standing editor. So it seemed to be a reprint, rather than the promised original publication per its promotion, but the original was rare nowadays and, when found, fetching high prices. I was still very eager to own and read this annotated edition, as it would surely, I thought, offer an invaluable look at the crafting of the first issue of the first monster magazine in the world that was published at the epicenter of the Shock Theater craze. After all, that's what the word "annotated" implies, something that digs deeper into the text being offered.

Unfortunately, the people who put this edition together do not know the meaning of "annotated." Annotated is not just reprinting some typescript of issue number one of FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND. "Annotated" is offering editorial commentary at least--notes and research material that explain and expand upon the text being presented. There is no such commentary in this edition. It is not "annotated."

What we have, as the meat of the edition, is a simple photographic reprint of what we are told is the 1958 manuscript of the 1st issue of FM, interspersed with full-page photo illustrations, worked on a bit through Photoshop, so they don't look like the actual photographs being used. The vast majority of the manuscript is type-written, but there are some minor corrections in hand dispersed about, yet there's no way of knowing if these come from the hand of Ackerman or James Warren, the publisher of FM 1.0, a man as equally legendary as Ackerman and who rarely gets the credit he deserves in the making and success of FAMOUS MONSTERS. Nor do we know if a copy of a handwritten listing of contents with remarks on them comes from Ackerman or Warren, either. One assumes they come from Ackerman, but readers will be unfamiliar with Ackerman's handwriting to make a judgement. If one compares Forry's signature, which can be found in the publication, the answer may be that the markings come from Warren! (Warren is still alive and may have been able to resolve this very easily. In fact, it's a considerable lost opportunity that this publication does not have Warren making his own comments on the manuscript or at least offering up an introduction to the whole.)

So rather than providing a genuine annotated edition of issue 1, which would have been work and have taken some knowledge and intelligence to put together, we have a cheat. Something being sold as something it is not.

That said, there are a few perks to this softbound edition, which is admittedly handsomely designed and on glossy paper, with a nice wraparound illustration by Pete Von Sholly. The first 33 pages of the 160 pages is made up of a reprint of Ackerman's "Birth of a Notion," in which the first editor of FM goes through the history of the rise and making of the 1st issue. Forry wrote variations on this article several times, but it's impressively illustrated and quite readable. Two articles follow this one--"Following Forry" by Kevin Burns and "The House that Ack Built (and Re-Built)" by Joe Moe--and both are equally very well illustrated and engaging reads.

There are several typescripts after the manuscript proper that are the most interesting pieces of all. One, shows the editorial markings (or were they the publisher's markings?) on a Shock Theater press release from Screen Gems that was employed in FM #1 as original matter. A couple of other typescripts look of interest, but since there is no annotation regarding them, we are lost in suppositions as to where they may or may not fit into the history of FM 1. The one I got the biggest surprise from is something titled "TV Means Terrified Virgins." As you can see from the following sample sentences, it was definitely not meant for public consumption....

"The chips are down in TV, and so are the heroine's panties. It's the next step after strip-tease: pan-tease."

"One impatient televiewer's reaction was: 'I'd rather see a girl raped by a monster than watch a good five minute commercial.'"

"Yes, TV augurs well for Terrific Vaginas, Thrilling Vulvas and Tortured Victims."

Did Ackerman write this? If so, was it a way to let off steam from the task at hand? Was it sent around the FM "office", ie, to Warren? You won't know in the ANNOTATED edition that's being sold for $29.99.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Daughter of Shock! - Bombay Mail (1934)

Here's an interesting curio, a film that would have fit perfectly into the SHOCK! or SON OF SHOCK! packages--and better than some other films that made it into those two lineups. It's BOMBAY MAIL, a Universal murder-mystery film from 1934, with Edmund "Chandu" Lowe. The music should be very familiar. The score by Heinz Roemheld was reused by Universal, most notably in the Flash Gordon serials. We'll call this part of the never released package of films from Screen Gems, their follow-up to SON OF SHOCK!: DAUGHTER OF SHOCK!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Inspired Stunts (page 6; unnumbered in the original)

The next page in the SHOCK promotional book gives TV programmers suggestions on how to promote the package to potential sponsors and news-people. You are urged to have a party at your studio or a haunted house. (Yeah, good luck trying to find a haunted house!) "Ghoulish props" include masks and daggers on the walls, a coffin, and....

Your buffet supper should be "ghouled-up" with a witch serving meat balls from a steaming cauldron.

Bottles labeled poison, bowls of aspirin and milltown, and a bucket of ketchup labeled "BLOOD" should be placed at convenient spots for the use of your guests.

Masked waiters, horror-inspired door prizes -- such as daggers, nooses, etc., and a public address system emitting weird sounds should add to the creepy atmosphere.

Then come the "inspired stunts" for your guests, such as:

The lights go out -- a scream is heard -- and a "spider-woman" dressed in a long, sleek, black gown enters the studio with a lighted candle.

A shot is heard -- a weird character staggers in with a knife in his back, and falls cold in the middle of the room. He is nonchalantly carried out by two waiters.

Men dressed in Frankenstein's monster make-up, converge on the room.

The day after these stunts it's recommended that you send your guests a bottle of smelling salts and a note asking them if they have recovered!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Stunning Impact (pages 4-5; unnumbered in the original)

The unnumbered pages 4 and 5 from the SHOCK! promotional book. (I've increased the pixel size; click on photo to make larger in a new window.)

Starting with: "For years, tales of terror, macabre stories of ghouls and ghosts have fascinated millions in every form of entertainment. Now, for the first time, this eerie world of the weird and supernatural comes to television with stunning impact in SHOCK -- an irresistible attraction for mood programming of feature films."

And ending with:

"SHOCK! captures audiences! holds audiences! builds audiences!"

... these pages try to convince television programmers about the enduring fascination the public has with horror, and how Screen Gems is offering just what they need to attain impressive audience numbers.

Interesting that the "screen's titan's of terror" includes the Mad Ghoul (hardly on the level of Universal's other classic monsters), but does NOT mention The Mummy! Also of interest is that E. Phillips Oppenheim is placed on the same literary and popularity level as writers Edgar Allan Poe and H. G. Wells. Oppenheim (1866-1946) was, indeed, a popular writer of thrillers, but one wonders if by 1957 his renown had faded. The SHOCK! package included a film based on one of Oppenheim's most successful novels, THE GREAT IMPERSONATION.

The promo mentions Universal's THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME and THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA as examples of the company's "memorable films," but neither of these silent films was in the SHOCK! package--understandably so, as television audiences would not have patience with non-talkie films.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Pop-up Frankie (pages 2 & 3; unnumbered in the original)

If you were one of the lucky TV station programmers to receive from Screen Gems your promotional SHOCK! book in October 1957, you may have been shocked (well, slightly shocked) to have a pop-up Frankenstein Monster jump at you as you opened it up. What a fun idea from whomever crafted this promotional book.

Tellingly, the promotion on the first two pages zeros in exclusively on Universal's monster films, not any of the other films that were also offered in the package.

The first several pages of the book were unnumbered. The numbering is reserved for the films themselves, one film per page.

Shocking Cover (Cover of SHOCK!)

In this next series of posts, we will be taking a look at the Shock! promotional book, sent to TV program directors in October, 1957. The rectangular 11" x 14" publication was plastic-comb bound. The top part of the cover shows a man's frightened upper face peering through his fingers. The bottom part of the cover shows John Carradine as Dracula, Bela Lugosi as the Frankenstein Monster, Lon Chaney Jr. as the Wolf Man, Eric the Ape from MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE and Noble Johnson as Janos, from the same film. In between is the now legendary name for the film package being presented: SHOCK!

We currently do not know who the cover artist was, nor do we know the names of the person or persons who thought up the campaign, including the SHOCK! title. Perhaps one day an investigation in the archives of Columbia Pictures' Screen Gems, if such archives exist, will give us the answers.

Regarding the artist, I would consider the possibility that two artists worked on the cover, one for the top work and the other for the monster gallery bottom, which is a tad more primitive than what's above it.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

More Ads from Nightmare!

Thanks to Michael Monahan (Doktor Goulfinger) for the above ads from Nightmare, San Francisco's Shock showings.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011


The "white room" of the title is the operating room where Dr. Finley Morton is stabbed in the back with a scalpel during surgery on a rich society woman. By the time the operation is over, hard-boiled big city police Sergeant MacIntosh Spencer has arrived and is untangling the various relationships of the doctors and nurses in the operating room in order to find a motive. It is the usual soap opera-- some of doctors and nurses are romantically involved with one another; two rival doctors are competing for the big promotion that Morton is helping to decide; there are senior medicos with a complicated professional relationship involving medical ethics, jealousy, and a five year-old botched surgery; and there's even a skulking senior medical staff superintendent thrown in for good measure. One of the most likely suspects is the dashing Dr. Bob Clayton (Bruce Cabot), but he confounds Sgt. Spencer by trying to solve the case on his own with the help of his lover, Nurse Carole Dale (Helen Mack). There is also an irritating comedy relief couple consisting of a meddlesome half-witted ambulance attendant (Tom Dugan) and a braying, grating nurse (Mabel Todd), but the less said about these two, the better.

The Daily Times-News, Burlington NC, October 28, 1939, seven months after MYSTERY OF THE WHITE ROOM was released theatrically

The only witness that can help solve the Morton murder is Tony the deaf janitor; the killer tries to do away with Tony by viciously smashing a bottle of acid into his face, an attack that leaves Tony blind, unable to speak, and paralyzed. This surprising bit of nastiness is one of the fleeting grotesque touches in MYSTERY OF THE WHITE ROOM that makes this whodunit into something different from the usual fare. The other bit of pulp wackiness is the lurking scalpel-wielding murderer; on the eve of an corneal transplant operation (using Morton's dead man's eyes) that will hopefully restore Tony's sight and allow him to recognize his attacker, the shadowy, surgical-glove-wearing killer appears in the middle of the night on the fire escape outside of Tony's room and hurls a scalpel at him through some venetian blinds.

But none of these almost-horror tweaks is enough to make MYSTERY OF THE WHITE ROOM into anything other than a B-movie murder-mystery of the 1930s. The cast is interesting one that connects MYSTERY OF THE WHITE ROOM to KING OF THE ZOMBIES, KING KONG, SON OF KONG, MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM, DR. X, HOUSE OF FEAR, MARK OF THE VAMPIRE, GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN, THE MUMMY'S CURSE, MAN MADE MONSTER, VALLEY OF THE ZOMBIES, and some of other things, but there's really not a whiff of horror to be had despite the best efforts of some TV horror hosts over the years.
San Antonio [TX] Express, May 2, 1958
The copy in this oddly-shaped ad reads in part: "A mystery 'Shock' thriller about the terror that stalks the corridors of a hospital. To bed before the Witching Hour"

Daily Review Hayward, CA, April 9, 1960

The Capital, Annapolis, MD, December 22, 1973

MYSTERY OF THE WHITE ROOM was one of three "Crime Club" movies that Screen Gems had bundled into the SHOCK! assortment for TV (Universal made eight all together between 1937-39 and MYSTERY OF THE WHITE ROOM was the second to last). Mirek mentioned the "Crime Club" series in a post here two and a half years ago; the helpful "Crime Club" blog sketches out the history of Doubleday's series and includes mention of both the Universal film series and the radio show (CBS 1931-32; Mutual 1946-47). According to that blog, Universal subcontracted Irving Starr Productions to make the films and retained control over only half of them later on, with the last three being sold off to Screen Gems in 1957. I know nothing about the history of the book series' sales figures or its popularity in the late 1950s-- would knowing that this was a "Crime Club" movie draw in viewers to the SHOCK! telecast? I didn't see any promotion of that angle in the television listings, so maybe not...

From the perspective of 2011, the copyright business seems tangled enough to doom MYSTERY OF THE WHITE ROOM to never appear on legitimately-licensed DVD. There's not a big market for obscure B-movie thrillers these days, particularly those that would require some expensive legal wrangling to secure the rights. That's unfortunate, because this might be the best of the "Crime Club" bunch-- once the relationships between all the characters are established in the first reel, this 58-minute film plugs right along and does its damnedest to cover up some of its flaws in narrative logic. And the sprinkles of weirdness help this one go down easy on late-night viewing.

(As a footnote to this, let me add that any viewer interested in seeing a murder-mystery set in a hospital ought to check out the well-made British film GREEN FOR DANGER [1946].)

MYSTERY OF THE WHITE ROOM page from the SHOCK! catalog:

click to make larger

NEXT: "They accused him of risking human lives for his experiment! Shrieking headlines declared he invented a mechanical monster. For top thrills and excitement in televiewing, see William Gargan fight the man-made terror stalking the skies in REPORTED MISSING, the Shock feature film presentation coming on this channel."

Friday, January 28, 2011


Monroe College sociology professor Norman Reed (Lon Chaney, Jr.) is jinxed. A "mental giant" and a rising star, Reed has just returned from a jaunt somewhere in the tropical isles of the South Seas; he has brought back with him new research for a groundbreaking study on religion called Superstition vs. Science and Fact and a new wife, a lovely woman-child native priestess named Paula (Anne Gwynne). He seemed to be on the fast-track to becoming department chair, but that's when things spiraled out of control: his colleague Professor Millard Sawtelle (Ralph Morgan) shot himself to avoid a possible plagiarism scandal; Sawtelle's Lady Macbethian wife Evelyn (Elizabeth Russell) accuses Reed and his "witch" of engineering the scandal; and nasty rumors that Reed "has taken advantage of" his pretty undergraduate research assistant (Lois Collier, who may have been recognized by some SHOCK! viewers for her recurring appearances between 1951 and 1953 on Ziv's "Boston Blackie" TV show) dog him all over campus-- in fact, Reed is said to have beaten up his assistant's boyfriend when the latter tried to defend her honor. Then, while Paula continues to be the target of terrorizing harassment by Reed's bitter ex-lover Ilona (Evelyn Ankers), there is shooting on campus and the blame falls on Reed.

Ad for KUTV-Channel 2's "Shock Theater" with horror-host Roderick in Salt Lake [UT] Tribune, February 27, 1960. COUNTER-ESPIONAGE (1942) was one of the "Lone Wolf" mystery-thrillers

As I've said previously when I've written about the Inner Sanctum series in the SHOCK! collection, these were popular with audiences when they were first released and when theatrically re-released (WEIRD WOMAN made the rounds again starting in 1952). I've also seen a few of them turn up as special midnight spook shows, so Screen Gems' inclusion of these titles in SHOCK! was probably viewed as a selling point for the package.

San Antonio [TX] Light, June 6, 1957. What a Universal horror drive-in line-up! WEIRD WOMAN (the typo that pluralizes the title is actually more accurate considering what happens in the movie) is shown here on Monday night with NIGHT MONSTER.

The Daily Republic, Mitchell, SD, February 24, 1961

Many fans seem to like WEIRD WOMAN best; I prefer it because there is at least a not-easily-explained-away supernatural thread that runs through this picture that you don't find in the other five films of the series. But I also like it because of the almost campy level of neurotic hysteria that energizes everything here, particularly Paula, Ilona, and Evelyn (when all is said and done, who is the titular weird woman, anyway?).

Ordinarily, watching WEIRD WOMAN elicits a few harsh hoots of derisive laughter from me, but I made a very conscientious effort to watch it in good faith this time for the SHOCK! Viewing Project. Lon Chaney, Jr. still seems miscast as the brilliant and desirable intellectual, and his acting cannot keep up with the work done here by Gwynne, Ankers, and Russell, but I wanted to avoid thinking about that and just try to focus on the persistence of supernatural elements in an effort to recreate the horror-movie-on-TV experience as best as I could. And I feel that I largely succeeded-- I think that I could see WEIRD WOMAN's horror movie appeal for the first time.

A big stumbling block for me, though, was the handling of the dance and prayer ceremony on Paula's island. In Drums o' Terror: Voodoo in the Cinema (1998), Bryan Senn describes this more as "a genteel luau" than a "frenzied rite": "Though Paula ominously labels it the 'Dance of Death,' sarong-wearing native girls pathetically stomp their feet and clap and wave their hands in an innocuously choreographed motion, making this weird pagan ritual look like low-rent nightclub filler." I have to wonder if the ceremony could have had a more disturbing edge in the hands of a director other than Reginald LeBorg (John Fulton's shooting star that crosses the sky at the climax of the Dance of Death looked good, though).

The Dunkirk Evening Observer, Dunkirk-Fredonia, NY, January 14, 1958

I enjoy seeing some of the names that television stations used for their late-night movies-on-TV showcases. "Operation: Swing Shift" on WGR-Channel 2 in Buffalo, NY is one of the most unusual names. "Operation: Swing Shift" featured a variety of film genres in their offerings and very few of them seemed to have been horror films.

NEXT: "A young doctor-- a beautiful nurse-- and murder! For spine-chilling entertainment, set your dial to this channel and see MYSTERY OF THE WHITE ROOM starring Bruce Cabot. It's an absorbing feature film, another premiere telecast on Shock. Don't miss MYSTERY OF THE WHITE ROOM."

Monday, January 24, 2011


There is no monster, nor is there any supernatural or paranormal menace. But there are two very sinister humans-- one who murders and mutilates beyond recognition the faces of two women; another who is a greedy, amoral sociopath whose disembodied brain (stolen from the Paris morgue in the middle of the night) is ruled as pathological by an examining criminologist. And there's also a ton of nighttime gothic gaslight atmosphere that makes the movie interesting to look at (even though it's not that great to watch). So while there are others who will complain that THE MYSTERY OF MARIE ROGET is just a murder-mystery that has gotten a lot of hot-air horror-film hype over the years, I'm going to say that it is a very minor Universal horror film that would satisfy those viewers who can tolerate a weird mystery or two every once in a while in their monster-movie diet.

Paris, 1889: Hot-ticket Comédie-Française warbler Marie Roget (Maria Montez) has been missing for a week and half, prompting all of Paris (it seems) into speculation that she's either run off with one of her lovers or fallen victim to foul play. Minister of Naval Affairs Henri Beauvais (John Litel), an intimate friend of the Roget family (especially of Marie's, it turns out), pressures Prefect of Police Gobelin (Lloyd Corrigan) to solve the case. Gobelin calls on his pal, police forensic chemist Dr Paul Dupin (Patric Knowles), for help. Dupin is famous for having solved the ghastly Rue Morgue murders some years back, and he agrees to help out just as word comes that a horribly disfigured corpse of a young woman has been dragged out of the Seine.

San Mateo[CA] Times, August 16, 1958

Things get cluttered and confusing quickly from there: Dupin is hired by the cantankerous Roget matriarch (Maria Ouspenskaya) to bodyguard Marie's stepsister Camille (Nell O'Day, almost looking like a monochrome Gillian Anderson in a few shots) at a swanky party; Camille's sketchy fiancé Marcel Vigneaux (Edward Norris) lurks around and muddies the water a bit; Marie disappears again; Beauvais threatens and blusters and looks suspicious; Madame Roget's pet leopard is accused of mauling the faces of the dead women; and Dupin and Gobelin argue about who and what is behind it all.

Gazette-Mail, Charleston, WV, May4, 1958

To be honest, the mystery doesn't work at all-- none of it makes a lot of sense when the movie is over and you try to figure out some of the basics (like motive). This is frustrating since the movie is very talky in parts as Dupin (as Sherlock Holmes) and Gobelin (as a cross between Dr. Watson and Inspector Lestrade) work through various scenarios in their efforts to solve the case, yet the solution still leaves a lot of unanswered questions: with all the yammering that these two do, why didn't they also have a conversation that ties up all the loose ends of the case instead of introducing more complications? So, as a viewer in search of maximum enjoyment, it's probably just best to kick back and go along for the ride.

Viewers would be less forgiving, I suspect, if not for the impressive work of director of photography Woody Bredell. Bredell did good, textured cinematography for BLACK FRIDAY, THE MUMMY'S HAND, HORROR ISLAND, SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE VOICE OF TERROR, MAN MADE MONSTER, and THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN, as well as the very visually-interesting films noirs THE KILLERS, PHANTOM LADY, and THE UNSUSPECTED. The night scenes in THE MYSTERY OF MARIE ROGET (and there are a lot of them) are really well-done and must have worked wonderfully on late-night SHOCK! television. Whatever horror movie ambiance is in this movie comes from Bredell and he does a helluva job that these screen-caps can't even begin to illustrate. (Perhaps someday soon this title will turn up as a Universal manufactured-on-demand DVD-R like HOUSE OF SEVEN GABLES [1940] recently did and I can finally throw away my murky bootlegs.)

One of the many mysterious nocturnal comings and goings in the garden during Du Lac's party

Lots of coaches zipping through the wet, cobble-stoned streets of Universal's European village set

The cloaked killer escaping across the Paris rooftops in the dead of night

Armed with the Edgar Allan Poe pedigree for this tale, Universal's publicity department did a lot to convince people that this was a straight-ahead horror flick-- the original theatrical trailer for THE MYSTERY OF MARIE ROGET that Mirek posted on Friday certainly seems to push things in that direction as does this movie poster with its spectral, scarlet-cloaked fiend with clawed, clutching hands.

Realart Pictures followed Universal's lead when it re-released THE MYSTERY OF MARIE ROGET in 1951. They refer to the killer as "the Phantom Mangler" in the promotional materials (the name sounds like a foe in an El Santo movie), re-titled the film PHANTOM OF PARIS, and sent it back out to theaters as part of a double-feature with WEREWOLF OF LONDON.

Charleston [WV] Daily Mail, February 13, 1952

But I've got no problems with this sort of packaging because this movie delivers a satisfying kind of horror-movie atmosphere that is missing from many other SHOCK! offerings. For all of its lack of narrative logic and general incoherence, THE MYSTERY OF MARIE ROGET could hold its own against one of the spookier Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes movies (such as THE SCARLET CLAW or THE PEARL OF DEATH), dopey "Inner Sanctum" titles like THE FROZEN GHOST and THE PILLOW OF DEATH, and not-so-weird mysteries like THE CAT CREEPS and SHE-WOLF OF LONDON.

"Superstition and fear terrorize a tropic island in WEIRD WOMAN, the full-length feature film on this channel. It's an exciting Shock premiere. Don't miss it!"

Friday, January 21, 2011


"Is she a beautiful beast? Maddening with her soft caress-- murdering with steel-clawed terror? Only Edgar Allan Poe could pen such a masterpiece of horror and thrills. See THE MYSTERY OF MARIE ROGET, the full-length feature film on Shock on this channel."

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


How many horror-movie fans have actually seen this on commercial-broadcast TV? I pose this question because I was surprised to see just how infrequently THE MAD DOCTOR OF MARKET STREET was shown in the usual "Shock Theatre/Creature Feature"-style time slots. In fact, it turned up more in the late afternoon and early evening, sometimes as part of of showcases with unintentionally amusing titles like "Hollywood's Best" and "Million Dollar Movie" (this movie is a long way from meeting either of those descriptors). Perhaps one reason for its appearance in those other programming niches is that it plays more like a tropical island adventure tale-comedy-romance than it does a horror melodrama.

Mirek first wrote about THE MAD DOCTOR OF MARKET STREET back in June 2008 for this blog and emphasized the atmosphere of the first seven minutes or so when we visit Dr. Benson's lab in San Francisco one dark and stormy night. Most of the research that I've read about this movie says that these scenes were tacked-on as an afterthought-- the entire movie was originally set on the New Zealand-bound luxury liner and on the island after the shipwreck. This underscores for me the possibility that this film had been meant more as a South Pacific island adventure than a horror movie.

Gazette-Mail, Charleston,WV, November 22, 1959

It's worth watching for Lionel Atwill's work as Dr. Benson; the guy seems to be savoring his every line as the megalomaniacal research chemist who believes that he can find a way to make suspended animation a viable medical procedure for beating death. When he sets up himself as the "God of Life" among the island's "superstitious savages," things almost get a little bit Heart of Darkness, but Atwill's mad scientist is too incompetent to really pull off the Kurtz business. He's not a mad scientist because he's brilliantly unorthodox; rather, he's dangerous because he doesn't realize that he's not very smart at all. This is the one interesting idea-kernel at the center of this silly movie: what would happen if one of those sad, creepy misfits who would ordinarily be shunned by society was able to achieve absolute social power? (When the movie was made in 1941, this could very well have been meant as a pointed critique of the anti-social losers who had risen to the top by joining fascist political parties. And then in 1965, that theme gets applied to juvenile delinquents in Bert I. Gordon's VILLAGE OF THE GIANTS, I suppose...) There's not enough time in this movie to explore the theme, but it is in there somewhere.

I also like small parts of THE MAD DOCTOR OF MARKET STREET because I'm a fan of director Joseph H. Lewis; as in a previous SHOCK! offering THE SPY RING, Lewis manages to smuggle in some cinematic style and atmosphere despite the microscopic budget and two-week shooting schedule. (One bit of business that's overdone, though, are the scenes where Atwill delivers anesthetic to his patients by advancing into the camera and smothering the lens with ether-soaked items-- Lewis does this three times in 61 minutes).

Beyond Atwill and Lewis and the mutant fusion of horror, comedy, romance, and South Seas island picture (and it's as messy as it sounds), THE MAD DOCTOR OF MARKET STREET is sort of entertaining in a goofy, Poverty Row horror kind of way. I almost want to like it, but top-billed Una Merkel's shrill, grating Aunt Margaret and Nat Pendleton's distracting mugging as boxer Red Hogan is a deadly, unfunny combination. The two of them all but snuff the life out of this motion picture for me.


THE MAD DOCTOR OF MARKET STREET drinking game: take a shot of liquor every time that Nat Pendleton rolls his tongue along the inside of his cheeks like he's doing in this still. But beware the "weenie roast" scene!

I don't know much about these South Pacific island adventure movies; I've read that they were very popular with audiences over the years. The filmmakers do they best that they can with camera set-ups and blocking to give you the impression that this is a sizable tropical island rather than some Universal studio lagoon beach. The natives on the island are of the usual hokey Hollywood ooga-booga variety and there is plenty of grunting and mumbling gibberish that is supposed to pass for language. African-American actor Noble Johnson-- last seen around here a few days ago in whiteface as Janos the Black One in MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE-- returns in the MAD DOCTOR OF MARKET STREET as chief Elan; he really makes the most of this very limited material and comes off better than you might expect. It's a shame, though, that Dr. Benson's hubristic fall at the hands Elan is alluded to off-screen rather than shown.

Listing in the Lowell [MA] Sun for WLVI-Boston's 10PM double-feature, Friday October 27, 1967. It's a full ten years after the launch of the SHOCK! package on TV and so outside of my usual scope of investigation, but I had to reproduce the listing here-- how's that for some clever programming of a late-night double-feature?!? And what a completely bizarre description of what THE MAD DOCTOR OF MARKET STREET is about...

NEXT: "Is she a beautiful beast? Maddening with her soft caress-- murdering with steel-clawed terror? Only Edgar Allan Poe could pen such a masterpiece of horror and thrills. See THE MYSTERY OF MARIE ROGET, the full-length feature film on Shock on this channel."